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With all Vigilance

By Michael Roop

“I’ve watched a lot of people leave their church over politics. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone leave their politics over their church.”

I heard this observation at lunch with a wise and seasoned Christian whose profession puts him in contact with a lot of churches. Together, we were lamenting the state of the church in the U.S. It’s no secret that American evangelicalism is fracturing, and not along theological lines. The same convictions remain about the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word, the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, the need to be born again, and the need to live according to the claims of our faith. So where did we go wrong?

It wasn’t until I reflected on a verse out of Proverbs 4 that I started to formulate a hypothesis, at least one that makes more sense to me than the self-righteous, blame-shifting story I was telling myself previously. Toward the end of Proverbs 4, Solomon spends six lines of poetry encouraging his son to heed to his advice (4:20-22). And then he gives it: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23).

Having grown up in the cultural waters of the post-enlightenment west, we have been catechized to view the life of our minds as the control center of our being. Churches in the west have more or less accepted this belief. You can tell by how we programmitize “discipleship.” In almost any American evangelical church, if you find a discipleship program, you’ll find a classroom curriculum. Whether it’s 10 weeks, a semester, or a year, we have reduced the idea of discipleship down to imparting the right information. Underneath is the assumption that right belief will necessarily lead to right action.

I’m no expert in sociology or religious history, but I’m beginning to wonder whether some of the current state of the evangelical church can be explained by a departure from the timeless wisdom we find in Scripture. I wonder if we have spent so much time keeping our minds with all vigilance — reducing discipleship to information transfer and watching over the minute theological debates that ostensibly signal a descent down a slippery slope - that we have left our hearts exposed and vulnerable. We’ve allowed our passions to wander, and to attach to worldly idols of political power and ideological supremacy.

I became more convinced of this hypothesis when I considered the passion imbalance in my own life. I state beliefs in the supremacy of God, the tender love of the Father, the reign of Christ, the ongoing presence of the Spirit, and God’s cosmic plan to make all things new. But the comfort, poise, joy, and hope that ought to emerge from these beliefs were absent when I began to lose respect and admiration among a segment of our congregation. My passions (anxiety, frustration, anger, despair) told a different story, revealed a deeper longing in my heart that, in the end, triumphed over my right beliefs about God.

And the more I watched, the more I saw that this trend is not unique to me. Could it be that we’ve let the wisdom of Scripture “escape from our sight” (Prov. 4:21)? What does it take to find our way back?

As a pragmatist, I deeply appreciate the clear steps Solomon gives toward keeping our hearts with all vigilance. In the verses that follow his admonition, Solomon gives four disciplines that will keep our hearts; four tangible actions that will facilitate an intangible result. So in this blog series, I plan to spend the next four weeks exploring each of these disciplines, with a special eye toward how I can grow in them.

Because I think I’ve left my heart exposed. Have you?