This Sunday 1st John began a five part sermon series on being a trinitarian church. The first sermon in the series was based on Jeremiah 6:16 "Thus says the LORD: 'Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'" (ESV).
Staying on the Path of Truth
John began with the example of John Bunyan, the 17th century English Baptist who was imprisoned for preaching and wrote Pilgrim's Progress while in prison. Bunyan was told he would be released if he promised not to preach any longer. He responded that if released today he would be preaching the gospel tomorrow. He spent twelve years in prison where he wrote the majority of his books. In the Pilgrim's Progress, Pilgrim's guidebook is the Bible. When he stopped attending to the book he went astray from his path to the celestial city. John recommended we all read Pilgrim's Progress and commended Spurgeon's practice of reading it twice a year.
John explained that the ancient paths refer not to old cultural practices or to the use of the KJV. Rather it is a call to listen to God's word. He pointed to the context where the people have become deaf because they have made God's word an object of scorn and where the prophets and priests are servants of their own greed. Therefore judgment is coming because the people have abandoned truth for the voice of culture and lying priests and prophets. According to John it doesn't matter how much progress you are making on a path if you're going the wrong way. He closed this portion of the sermon by looking at Proverbs 14:12 "There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death." One of the problems with a pragmatic approach that depends on letting results speak is that you may not find out you're wrong until too late. The burden for the traveller is to follow the old path so there is a responsibility to stop and ask whether we're on the right path.
From here John turned to an illustrative story from 1 Kings 13. An unnamed prophet from Judah heroically rebuked King Jeroboam of Israel and pronounced a curse on the altar at Bethel. The prophet had been told not to eat or drink until he had returned to Judah by a different way then he had come. He obeyed this despite the king but on the road home he met another prophet who lied to him and said he had a message from God saying the first prophet should come eat with him. He did so and on his way after that he was attacked and killed by a lion in judgment. John said that this story had bothered him as a young Christian but that it now terrified him as an older leader now that he understands it better. It shows that you can serve God and do wonders in his name but that does not release you from the obligation to obey what he has said. The lion does not always come on the day of the first disobedience but there will be judgment even in spite of apparent success. John referred here to the example of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the trials it is going through after abandoning God's word. He also pointed to 3 John 3-4 "For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." The way of joy is the way of truth.
Finally he turned to two specific examples of people leading the church away from its ancient paths pointing to the hermeneutical work of Kevin Giles in his book on the trinity and subordination and to William Webb's "redemptive movement hermeneutic". John accused both men of elevating the voice of contemporary cultural standards over the words of scripture in the Christian life. Giles takes a postmodern approach claiming that scripture does not interpret scripture but is lifeless signs on a page until given meaning by a human reader and that if we are truly to understand what God is saying about faith and practice we have to read it from contemporary culture. Webb denies the clarity of scripture using a complex system of interpretation and claims to have discovered a number of points wherein contemporary culture has a superior ethic to the New Testament. These two are important because their work has had a major influence on the national board of the Association of Vineyard Churches.
John closed by reminding of us of C.S. Lewis' words about chronological snobbery, the belief that modern ideas are better merely because they are modern. John believes that much of our culture has uncritically accepted the premise of technology that new is better. The question is not, "Will the past influence us?" but, "Which past, the ancient past or the past of yesterday."
John closed by looking back to the word "rest" in Jeremiah 6 and pointing to its recurrence in Matthew 11:29 where Jesus' yoke brings rest for our souls. We will only find rest when we stay on the path of truth.