Christian Movements and Spiritual Fruit
The more options the better. Right? Well, not really. When it comes to religion there are all sorts of options and many pitfalls. As to the Christian church we live in an age of multiple church movements. How can we distinguish between what is true from what is false? We have to assess spiritual experience. History shows that orthodox statements of faith or creeds alone have not been enough to avoid a shipwrecking of faith. What people say and teach is to be coupled with how they go about the practise:’ Watch out for false prophets…A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them’ (Mt 7v15-20). We are to be wise about what we believe (doctrine), but also to look at what we do (praxis) as the fruit of this teaching. The writings of Jonathan Edwards* (1703-58) help us to be discerning over new movements or teachings by applying seven key principles:
1. Non-signs: strange experiences do not necessarily mean it is of God -in fact, they don’t tell us one way or the other!
2. Spiritual origin: the devil can counterfeit spiritual experience, but there are certain things that the devil can’t or won’t do e.g. God alone will convict us of sin.
3. New sense: the work of the Spirit of Christ gives us the eyes to ‘see ‘and ears to ‘hear’ spiritual truths of scripture.
4. Esteeming truth: a greater esteem for the Holy Bible, so that we are attracted to its teaching rather than repelled by what we read.
5. Humble love: a love for others is the greatest commandment (Mt 22v37-40) and is characterised by self-sacrifice.
6. Discernment, not judgment: we may look to see if someone is truly following Christ, but Jesus alone can distinguish between the sheep and the goats.
7. Passion, not passivity: we are not to be gullible about a new movement which is not authentically Christian, but then again we can forever hang around on the sidelines and never commit ourselves to joining movements that are doing Christ’s work!
So, where does the rubber hit the road? For Christian movements it is not the style, the gifts or the numbers that are key, but the character of those involved. Lent presents a time of review and change: engaging more deeply with the Bible’s teachings, to ask the Lord to scrutinise our lives and direct us to become more like him and engage in his work with enthusiasm.
* A useful introduction to Jonathan Edwards writings is: ‘The God Centred Life’ by Josh Moody (2006, IVP pp176).