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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Engaging the Mind

If you look around ... not even closely, but in general ... you will likely notice what is termed "syncretism" in the church. Syncretism is when you combine beliefs or practices. So, for instance, when Roman Catholics in the Caribbean added voodoo practices to their religion, it was syncretism. And we see it all around us. We certainly see it in our modern churches. Now, don't get yourself in a tizzy. It's not just "us" and "they" never did it. It has always been this way. Remember, Paul had to "unsynchronize" Peter when Peter tried to merge Jewish legalism with Christian liberty (Gal 2:11-14). It is the constant danger, the ever-present pressure. What is it? "Conform." Whether it's "Conform to your Jewish roots" or "Conform to our current views on sexuality", it is the same. "Conform." And we see our churches conforming. We conform in small ways to technology and to musical style all the way to large things like whole new versions of doctrines and values. We conform.

Paul had something to say about conforming to this world.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)
The word translated "conformed" in this text is ... not important, but it is the source of our term, "schematic." A schematic is a symbol, a representation of a reality. It is not the reality. To "conform" in this terminology is to take on the outer appearance of something. The word there for "transformed" is a different term. It is the root of our word "metamorphosis", and carries the idea of an internal change of reality that gets translated into an external change. It isn't simply an external change; it is a transformation into another form.

Churches these days are largely aimed at your emotions. The music should stimulate an emotional response. The sermon should move me. The trappings and styles should all aim to tug at your feelings. We want a Sunday morning mountaintop experience. And that might seem like a good thing. I mean, we do want to feel good about God, don't we? Yes, we do.

Here's the problem. By focusing on obtaining the proper, good feelings about God, we are ignoring the problem. We are conforming, outwardly, to the world rather than transforming, inwardly, to God's will. The result is syncretism. We take on the world's characteristics without the tools to determine when those characteristics are good or not.

"So," you might be saying, "you're saying we should become sour-faced Puritan-types where fun is banned and we only care about doctrine?" Not at all. You see, what we feel is determined by how we think. If you see something as positive, you feel good about it. If you see it as negative, you don't. If you think of something as a gift, you feel gratitude. If you think of it as your rightful due, you don't. Our feelings are predicated on our thinking. And when we know the truth, our feelings toward God rise. When we understand the truth, they climb higher. When we wisely apply the truth, they go even higher. The proper, good feelings about God that we want are best found in the deeper grasp of God and His Word.

Maybe you are in a position to affect this situation. Maybe you're a pastor or a teacher and you can do something here. If the command is "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" and you have the capacity to aim in that direction, I would urge you to do so. More likely, you are not in a position to change the aim of your church from "feel good" to "think right". (FYI, "orthodoxy" means most literally "right thinking".) The lack of emphasis on engaging the mind is not merely an effect of churches; it is a personal thing. You can engage your mind with God and His Word. You can "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." (Col 3:16) You can study His Word to rightly handle it (2 Tim 2:15). Don't allow mere emotional feeding. Aim for something better. Something biblical.

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