I don't normally post twice in one day, much less on a Saturday night before preaching tomorrow, but I was checking the news this evening and came across this article on Fox News about Bush's trip to China.
I suppose that in the world of politics, one must do certain things as a part of protocol, particularly in international politics. But it distresses me to see Bush go to China and attend the state sponsored church. As if that weren't enough, he even praised it. I would rather he not go to church at all, then to go and send the message that everything is A-OK in China. I suppose that there are Christians in the state church, but China is well known for its persecution of an underground evangelical church. Her pastors have been jailed and the churches have been underground for many years. And they don't get much press. I know that Bush is no theologian, and he certainly isn't a national pastor, and we can be thankful for that. However, I hope that he will turn up the heat on the religious persecution that still continues in China.
But what actually caused me to blog this was a theological point, since politics holds less interest for me these days.
Bush is reported to have said, "The spirit of the Lord is very strong inside your church." I have to wonder by standard he judged this. The Spirit of the Lord is known by his fidelity to biblical doctrine, to the gospel with all its implications. Can one really tell in one service in a state sponsored church in a foreign language how strong the Spirit of the Lord is? It seems unlikely to me.
I don't judge Bush's salvation. He gives as clear a testimony as any politician I have heard, I suppose. But I am not sure he has the theological acumen to determine the strength of the Spirit's moving in such a circumstance.
The Spirit's work must first be judged by theological fidelity—Is the message from the Word and in line with the Word? If the message preached is not from the Word and true to the Word, then it is not the work of the Spirit, no matter how eloquent, humorous, practical, motivational, or moving it might be. To try to catch the "wave" of the Spirit's work (as one popular author puts it) is a bit more complicated than simply looking around to see what works. It begins with a prior point: Is this message even true?
The Spirit's work must also be judged by transformation of the heart—Are people's lives being changed by the gospel preached and the Word taught? This is admittedly a more difficult criterion since it can easily be faked, and its genuineness is sometimes hidden. If the Spirit is at work, then lives are being changed on some level. Gathering a crowd isn't necessarily a sign of the Spirit's work and neither is having emotional services, though both of these might be the fruit of the Spirit at work.
What is more important is that we discern the times by careful attention to Scripture. We need not praise the Spirit for something he is not doing.
I recently heard one person comment about a particular concert that he "could really feel the Spirit there." I wondered what exactly that felt like. Perhaps Bush could explain it to us when he returns. Or perhaps not ...