Trading the Fad for Real Growth
We say it every year. A new year is here; can you believe it? 2016 has arrived and the question on everyone’s mind is “what’s in store this year? Believe it or not, I think I know, and I am not talking about any election. This year, as there has been every year, there will be another battle for the souls of men and women. I can even tell you what at least one of these battles will look like. It will be some spiritual fad that will distract the attention of God’s people from the true work of biblical application.
The spiritual fad has become a regular occurrence in the American church. Some truth, some method, some spiritual discipline is given a unique twist or a special design. This twist or design is also given a guarantee that spiritual power or maturity will follow. These are often not worth the paper they are written on because they are just inventions straight out of man’s mind. But some have a strong biblical element woven into them which is why they get a foothold into the church. We live in a time when discernment is low, quick fixes are attractive, and many churches are not protecting and teaching their people as they should. Therefore, fads keep coming and coming.
The problem with fads is not that they are devoid of truth. Remember, Satan can only be the deceiver if he weaves lots of truth into his deceptions. Presence or absence of truth in the fad is not the crucial issue. It is the failure to produce spiritual maturity and discernment to rightly divide the whole counsel of God. A fad is focused on one thing, one method, one technique that is supposed to be the silver bullet for all your spiritual issues. It won’t be. Fads are the stick-on tattoo of the church. They are bright, eye-catching, and stick for a while, but eventually they wear off. Despite this recurring reality, churches slap these on regularly, even putting them on their very faces. How embarrassing, distracting, and a waste of time and money!
Let me prove this to you with a best-case-scenario. It was only a couple decades ago that a fad gripped the church so completely that the whole nation took notice. It was the WWJD fad. This acronym stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” If that acronym could be printed, etched, embroidered, or scribbled on something, it was. Then it was rushed to the store shelf before you could pray the prayer of Jabez.
Now, what is wrong with asking “what would Jesus do?” Absolutely nothing. In fact, the Bible drives us to do that. Jesus routinely demanded that we follow Him. 1 Peter 2:21 explicitly says that Jesus left us “an example that you should following in His steps.” Therefore we are compelled to ask and answer the question “what would Jesus do?”
But this is exactly where this fad can be exposed as the unhelpful ball and chain that it is. It is a question with no answer. It leaves you adrift on the ocean of uncertainly with only a paddle of your own imagination. People start answering that question in all kinds of faulty ways that take them far from what Jesus actually would or did do.
The proof of this fatal flaw is found in the very book that started the movement. In 1897, Charles M. Sheldon published the book In His Steps. It was a fictional book that told an inspiring story of a pastor and a church that committed themselves to ask the question “What would Jesus do” before making any decision. The book found success early on, and resurged again in the late 20th century. There is much to commend the book, but it risks promoting a social gospel. But for the purpose of this blog, I wanted to highlight the critical moment in the whole book.
The pastor had just issued a call to the congregation. If anyone was willing to commit to asking that question before making a decision, and following through with the perceived answer no matter what the result, they were to meet in the church classroom. There in that room two main questions were asked, “Who is to decide for me just what He would do in my case” and “What if others say of us, when we do certain things, that Jesus would not do so?” Those are great questions. But the answer the pastor gives is lacking and mystical. “There is no way that I know of, replied the pastor, except as we study Jesus through the medium of the Holy Spirit.” He quotes John 16:13-15, about the Holy Spirit guiding a person into truth and then says, “There is no other test that I know of. We shall all have to decide what Jesus would do after going to that source of knowledge.” The pastor finally says, “After we have asked the Spirit to tell us what Jesus would do and have received an answer to it, we are to act regardless of the results to ourselves.”
Now those unqualified answers will quickly lead a person into mysticism. Mysticism is the term for teachings that assert a person can have unmediated access to God. In some way God is going to speak to you directly. That is guaranteed to take you in all kinds of directions which will be unbiblical at worst, and questionable at best.
So what is the answer to the question “what would Jesus do?” The answer is the whole Bible. It is not just the gospels, but Genesis through Revelation rightly divided and wisely applied. But this is where most people balk. “The whole Bible?!” That doesn’t help me right now! I would have to know the Bible thoroughly and have a group of godly, wise Christians around me to help me know and apply the whole Bible!” Bingo! A fad will leave you needing what you were supposed to do at the start; being regularly taught how to rightly divide the Word of God and apply it in real world situations.
This is the heart of why fads fail. Tricks and techniques are not what a Christian needs. He needs the Word of God and the people of God regularly pouring into him. He needs the church. A fad is just a way to avoid, or be distracted from, what God has ordained, which is the Word of God coming through the people of God. A fad will possibly give you a stone or two to step on in the foggy swamp of the world. But a church is the people of God, weekly building a highway of biblical knowledge through the swamp, upon which they help each other wisely walk together.
What we need is a fad of faithful membership in the local church; where people hear the Bible taught, are equipped to interpret it and apply it themselves, and where they live out the one-anothers for the glory of Christ. That is a bandwagon that will ride all the way to the gates of heaven itself.