What is Dead Textualism?

A reader read my post below about the issues within conservative churches (Slice Archive Update) and asked what I meant by my references to dead orthodoxy, dead textualism and so forth. I think that the reader thought I had been sipping emergent Kool-Aid. I want to assure them and everyone else that nothing could be further from the truth. I am posting my response comment to the reader to clarify my concerns.

“For most of my childhood I attended conservative churches that had the right biblical doctrine, hymns and Gospel songs, Sunday school, and so forth but the churches we were in were not spiritually healthy. Two were actually in the process of dying. They had the form of godliness but the members were grossly complacent, largely prayerless and there was no power in the lives I witnessed. These are churches that would never have an Elvis impersonator or other foolishness. They would inveigh against such things. They were dedicated to doing things right. But there was a lukewarmness and a coldness. “Lifeless textualism” is a term used by A.W. Tozer to describe those in his denomination, the Christian Missionary Alliance, who would never compromise on the infallibility of Scripture, but for whom the Scriptures never seemed to penetrate into the reality of their lives. Pastor Noblit referred to these passionless Christians in his sermon when he was here. These are people who will go to the guillotine over whether the Bible is inspired and infallible but yet the Scriptures have no place in their everyday lives other than a cursory devotional reading. Often the fruit of these churches is found behind the scenes, in fractured relationships, in deeply troubled families, in gossip and conflict. These are churches where there is often a lack of love and concern for others. Please read Revelation chapter 2, verses 1-7. Scripture very clearly describes such churches. They may even have a discernment ministry to warn others. Christ is speaking here. Verse 2 reads,

“I know thy works, and thy labor and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil; and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars; And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake has laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

These are the dead textualists. They have the Word. They have their doctrinal ducks in a row, they are really good at discernment, but they are lifeless because they have lost their first love. We must have the Scriptures and hold them high, but we must also have life through daily fellowship with the author of the Scriptures. Life is in the Vine. It is not optional. Additionally, such churches actually serve to scatter the sheep of Christ’s flock who are desperate to find life somewhere. Young believers can be seduced into believing that the emerging church down the street is more “real”, has more passion and more interest in others than the orthodox church they just left. This is the danger.

I hope that answers any questions that I raised. Without the Holy Spirit’s enlightening power, the Word is a dead letter to us. How we need the Holy Spirit of God to fill us and empower us. Without Him, our lamps will soon flicker and go out.”

5 thoughts on “What is Dead Textualism?

  1. Lori says:

    Michael Pearl has an interesting take on these verses. The verse says “repent, and do the first works…” He interprets those first works to be spreading the gospel. I tend to agree with him. The church I now attend does very little in the community and has little emphasis on missions. It is dying. Another church down the road from me is continually involved in giving and missions. The pastors go on many missions trips to Africa and South America. They always have hundreds of baskets in the front of the church for local military families, homeless, and all those in need. That church is on fire!!!! I believe that when we forget to reach out to the lost around us and become a self-absorbed church, we’ve lost our first love.

    Love,
    Lori

  2. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Lori,
    I still believe the “first works” refer to devotion and fellowship with Christ himself. Having been in ministry all my life, I know many who are so busy with evangelism that they have no time for Christ himself. When the Lord will say someday, “Depart, I don’t even know you”, some of those people did “mighty works” in Christ’s name. I find that verse one of the most alarming and sobering in the Bible. Evangelism definitely does flow from a heart that loves Christ, but first works first. First love, then service.

  3. rose says:

    I think you need to be following Christ in order to grow as a real Christian and not merely a textbook one. There’s much to be said for not being ignorant of God’s word but there is more to be said for the excellent practice of following his examples and trying to be like Him.

  4. Robert says:

    Our first love is Jesus Christ himself . Everything else flows from this . When we allow anything else to cause us to drift from our passion for Jesus as the love of our lives it affects everything . Even ministry can become idolatry . I watch 100 Huntley Street and you occasionally get visitors that are really on fire for the Lord but most of the time the people rarely mentions Jesus Christ (I wonder of their conversion) it’s usually “God” this and that and self help psychology clothed in Christian lingo .

  5. Carol says:

    To be capable of loving God or Jesus, one must know them. They can claim they have their “first love”, but they don’t even truly have a spiritual Biblical understanding of truths.

    There are people who know their Bibles, can quote verses, but it’s all a “head” knowledge. There is no “heart” knowledge, no true ability to understand the Word of God in their hearts to be able to live what they know out. Works and church attendance can be done by anybody without any thought or true heart for what they are doing, but walking by the Spirit and walking in love, having that joy of the Lord that enables one to endure living in the world comes only from being a follower of the Lord Jesus, no matter the cost.

    There are many believers, but not many followers.

    One must have works, but they must first have the true love of God.

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