It’s an interesting conundrum of fact and perception that God Almighty, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are forever unchanging, and yet our theology – the specific thought set we have about them – is not. The very thoughts and feelings we have toward that which does not change changes over time. I’m thinking particularly about our Christology, which seems to swing, pendulum-like, between two of the facets of Jesus’ – redeemer on one side and judge on the other.
Let me preface this by saying that I grew up having had a brush with legalism. My family wasn’t really into it, but I had friends who were borderline Pentecostal Amish with their zeal for obscure rules. The rules varied from house to house. Some played cards, some didn’t, and a third group played but not on Sundays. Most didn’t dance, a few did if it were deemed in the Spirit, and even fewer just danced because they were happy, although that issue may have been more a reflection of how little happiness there was in that camp than any real dance conviction.
Most of this was terror based – everyone lived in mortal fear of missing the rapture and convinced that following a list of rules would make all the difference in the world. I’m not trying to play ‘raised stricter than thou’, only to say I understand what’s in the ditch on that side of the road, and it’s not pretty.
The pendulum has swung hard the other direction for the last twenty years. It was initially a divine correction. God brought an emphasis on Godly freedom, and the grace felt good. Since then, there has been a plethora of needed teaching on what it means to be in Christ, how to live without guilt, and how a man or woman’s heart condition hinges on more than a few habits or strict rules. The church grew beyond formulaic belief into relationship and permission.
In this time, we have spread our wings and soared, albeit some times into places we weren’t meant to fly. Once grace became the default, people one step removed from the Biblical revelation of it began to veer a bit. If not properly led, a person’s understanding of amazing grace can become abject license to sin. Unfettered freedom always finds a way to reconnect with our ungodly desires, giving birth to a dangerous life of self justification – a sort of spiritual inoculation whereby we carry just enough Jesus virus that we don’t actually get the full blown disease.
We have swerved so hard from the depths of legalism on one side of the road that we’ve ran into the ditch of licentiousness on the other. The same pulpits that once featured explosive sermons on the sin inherent to sports on Sunday now are filled with people leading a discussion where all perspectives are validated under the banner of conversation and no one is challenged with their own wrong ideas or bad behavior.
It’s interesting how, living in a postmodern culture, we have become leaders comfortable with embracing the both/and in every area of life except for one – the person of Jesus. We want things both ways for ourselves and for those we lead, but we are intent on keeping Jesus to one side of His personhood – the side of grace, ignoring the fear of the Lord that exists on the side of His righteousness.
I’m not arguing for a return of Scary Jesus who is just waiting to smack your hand with a ruler, but neither am I willing to accept Goofy Jesus who, when He notices you’ve sinned, slaps you on the back like drunk uncle at the family picnic.
What happens if there is no great theological correction?
The power in examining ideas lies in taking them to their furthest natural extent. Given the current bend of the church that argues for extending full spiritual church membership of the sinner apart from repentance, where do we end up? If we don’t make an effort to embrace Jesus’ other half – the half that calls us to change our behavior and attitudes out of our love for Him – what sort of church will you be leading in coming years?
A church void of a prophetic voice.
In a very real sense, we’re already racing towards this reality. Innumerable studies have shown very little difference between the evangelical population and the general population in things like divorce, alcoholism and pornography addiction. What we considered a healthy view of grace often degraded into participation in the very things we were saved from. In refusing to hold ourselves to simple, biblical standards, we have lost our authority to declare those standards to the world. A church participating in unchecked sin can try to declare the word of the Lord at the top of her voice – but no one is listening because they see no difference in lifestyle.
A second rate social institution.
Once we surrender our authority to speak the word of the Lord, we quickly fall back on what we are able to do (without changing our own attitudes or behavior) on our own. The church sacrifices it’s office of a watchman on the wall for an innkeeper who has rented rooms to all sorts of unseemly travelers but has no room for the Christ. Lacking the anointing that rests of God’s word, we settle for the charisma that we might be able to muster as we go through the motions of caring for people without actually challenging them. We become a Jesus-tinted Shriners Club with our own goofy hats and customs. We take our place in the parade but we never really lead it, and if we try and make our way to the front, we’re sent to the back. We’re allowed to march but we have to stay in line with the rest of the world.
So now what?
I’m not arguing for a dismal return to legalism in pursuit of power. I’m arguing for an embracing of the power of God that demands a level of integrity from those who want to handle it. I’m arguing for an openness to the idea of the fear of the Lord. I’m begging that we think about reacquainting ourselves with Jesus’ other half, knowing that unless we embrace all of Jesus, we embrace error in His stead.
“Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you, your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night. In the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgements come upon the earth, the people learn righteousness.”