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Evangelical superficiality

April 2006 | by Don Haddleton

‘God? He’s my big mate in the sky’, proclaimed a Christian taxi driver. A young Christian, asked why he always used the name ‘Jesus’ and never ‘Lord’, explained, ‘Because “Jesus” is more acceptable to people outside the church. It’s more “user friendly”.’

‘I don’t pray to the Lord, I pray to Jesus’, explained a pastor to his church members. A young Christian woman who was asked what she was enjoying most in her first-year theological studies wrote, ‘Fellowship; and my two wonderful men (Jesus and my husband)’.

It is clear that many Evangelicals are doing what Calvin advises us not to do – we ‘fashion God according to our own whim’.

In Evangelicalism there is a growing trend toward frivolity and superficiality, affecting Christian life, prayer, witness, evangelism and worship. ‘Easy-believism’, ‘user-friendly-ism’ and ‘feel-goodism’ are taking over the church’s life and witness. What has gone wrong?

Reverence and awe

Three men who ‘saw’ the Lord may help us answer that question.

What was Ezekiel’s response to the vision granted him of the glory of God, recorded in 1:22-28? He fell on his face, prostrate. Ezekiel also had other visions of God’s glory (8: 4; 11:22) – would frequent exposure to such sights lead to a blasé attitude on the part of the prophet?

No! As his prophecy draws to a close, in chapter 43, Ezekiel sees the same glory of the Lord as he had seen at the beginning by the river Chebar. His reaction? ‘I fell on my face’, he writes! No amount of repetition lessened the awe and reverence Ezekiel felt in the presence of his God. Familiarity did not breed frivolity.

How did Isaiah fare when the glory of the Lord filled the temple (6:1-5)? ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!’ he cried. Why such an extreme reaction? Because the sight of the glory of the Lord brought home to Isaiah not only his humanity but also his profound sinfulness (‘I am a man of unclean lips’).

What about John, the disciple whom Christ loved – the intimate friend who held such a warm place in the Messiah’s affections? How did this aged and spiritually mature disciple react to the vision of the ascended Lord of glory?

Did he say, ‘Jesus, mate, it’s great to see you again’? God forbid! The beloved disciple, who had lived with Jesus for three years – who ate and drank with him and shared his every waking hour – fell at his feet ‘as a dead man’ (Revelation 1:17).

Fear of God

Here, says Calvin, is ‘real religion: faith so joined with an earnest fear of God’. But hold on a moment! Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Perfect love drives out fear’? Yes, but the misapplication of that statement is one of the core reasons for present-day evangelical superficiality. For Scripture also says, ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29).

We have emphasised the love and grace of God to the exclusion of his awesome holiness and wrath against sin. By cancelling out one Scripture against another, many Evangelicals have become superficial in their life, witness and worship.

We have not exposed ourselves, in personal meditation or in public preaching, to the glory of our Lord. We have not seen, understood or experienced the awesomeness of our creator God.

Nor have we fully grasped that this Jesus is the Lord of glory. Fully human, yes, but now clothed with the majesty he had with the Father before time began (John 17:3).

Friend and judge

Isn’t Jesus the friend of sinners? Yes, but he is also the judge of all humanity (Romans 14:10). The one who says, ‘Come to me all you who are heavy laden’ is also the one who will say to those he never knew, ‘Get you gone you accursed, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 11:28; 25:41).

The one who wipes away every tear is he also who casts the unbelieving into the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).

Christ Jesus the Lord, who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking wick (Matthew 12:20), yet ‘treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God’ (Revelation 19:15).

As Evangelicals, do we worship, love, obey and know the God who is ‘a consuming fire’and to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13; 12:29)? Or are we worshipping and witnessing to a ‘god’ and a ‘jesus’ of our own making?

Awesome majesty

If we have truly been born of God’s Spirit, we have truly seen our native sinfulness. If we have truly understood the great salvation granted us in Christ Jesus – and the just and everlasting punishment we deserve at the hands of our holy and righteous God – we could never again be casual in our life, prayer, witness or worship.

Again Calvin says, ‘Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty’. Here lies our great problem. Spiritually, we are far too ‘healthy’ in our own eyes! We have not ‘compared’ ourselves with Christ’s awesome purity.

The answer to evangelical superficiality lies in a fresh vision, experience and understanding of the awesome holiness and transcendent majesty of our great God – who is at the same time merciful, gracious, loving and forgiving.

It is Christ’s work to show us the Father, and the Spirit’s work to show us the Son (John 14:9; 16:14-15). Let us then seek to know Christ in all his fulness – for to know him is life eternal (John 17:3).