Self-Sufficient Christianity

dreams“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” -Rev. 3.17

On May 27th of 1963, German-Swiss Theologian Karl Barth wrote a letter to a theological student of Jewish origin at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. When I read the letter several years ago, I nearly fell from my chair. The letter was interesting, but it was how he signed off that jolted me. Here is his closing:

I wish you all perseverance in your plans and a wholesome influence on the all too self-sufficient “Christianity” of your country,

Yours truly,
Karl Barth

(Karl Barth: Letters, 1961-1968; Eerdmans Publications, 1978; p. 100; italics mine)

The “all too self-sufficient ‘”Christianity'” of America! What a statement to make in the closing of a letter. But it struck my heart because it had the ring of truth, and the powerlessness of most of our ministries, and the carelessness of most of our lives testify to the fact.

The resurrected and ascended Christ was seen by John, moving through the “lampstands” of Asia Minor, commending that which He was pleased with and judging that which was not in keeping with His heart. Among the Churches, Laodicea was perhaps the most scolded, and He spoke straight into her situation much like He is wanting to speak into ours. Hear Craig Keener on this:

Jesus’ challenge to the Laodicean Christians’ self-sufficiency (3.17-18) reminds us how readily we Christians absorb the attitudes of our culture without pausing for critical reflection on this behavior.

…. The church in Laodicea reflected the values of its culture: proud, self-sufficient, not needing any outside help, including much from the Lord (3.17). They contrasted with suffering churches that recognized their own desperation for God’s intervention. Comparing the church in North America with churches in many other parts of the world, I fear that the problems of Laodicea’s Christians are most like our own.

…. Prayerlessness or dry devotional times, so typical of many of our lives in the West, often stem from a lack of sense of need before God. Our material abundance can, if we are unwary, prove a source of spiritual poverty as it did for the Christians of Laodicea.

(The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation; Craig Keener; Zondervan, pp. 159, 167)

This is not a call for some kind of sadistic poverty mindset, thinking that because we are without possessions that we are somehow free. It is, rather, a call to turn from all that has possessed our hearts and lives, a call to relinquish our self-sufficiency, so that we might come into the humility and dependency on God that befits those who will dwell in His house. How shall we break from the spirit of self-sufficiency? Keener gives us insight:

The solution to Laodicean Christianity is repentance (3.19)- admitting that we consume our fabulous dinners without the presence of Jesus (3.20), who dwells only with the contrite and broken (Is. 57.16; 66.2; James 4.6). We eat without Him because our self-glorification, which resembles that of the world (Rev. 18.7), nauseates Him (3.16). If we humble our hearts and listen to His voice in the Scriptures and through the churches elsewhere, we may yet overcome.

(ibid., p. 167)

May it not be said of the Church in these last days that she is the bearer of a “self-sufficient Christianity.” May we be freed from the spirit of this age, and brought into the apostolic glory of the Church, which is the “fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”

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