Churches of a Lesser God
There are many things I love about my wife. Certain aspects of her personality and character and giftings fill me with both pleasure and gratitude. I appreciate and am naturally drawn to many of her traits. There are also things about her of which I am not so fond. Sometimes, she really irritates me. Other times, I do not understand the way she thinks or the way she makes decisions. On occasion I wish she were more like me.
But I don’t just love part of her. I love all of her. After 23 years of marriage, I am not necessarily less annoyed by parts of her, but I now understand that there is great value to her as a whole. I have come to realize that the parts that are less appealing to me actually help inform and enhance the parts I more naturally love. Her faithfulness and compassion and thriftiness and order and style and leadership and sensibility and non-materialism are in many ways tied intrinsically to the aspects of her personality that do not always make my heart flutter! If she were just comprised of the parts to which I am drawn, she would not be who God fully created her to be. To love part of her would be to love a lesser version of who she is. If I love a lesser version of her, I do not really love her at all. And as someone greatly influenced by her, to love a lesser her creates a lesser ME, as well.
As I read and hear more reports on churches slowly morphing into either something fortress-like, designed to keep culture out, or something soft and more culturally palatable, designed to lure culture in, it seems to me that many local church bodies and denominations are crafting a lesser god. Clearly God does not change based on anything man does or does not do, or thinks or does not think, or feels or does not feel. But the god many churches are sharing is often lesser than the fullness of the God of the Bible. We seem to be, in many ways, crafting a god who only has the attributes that we more naturally like or to which we are more naturally drawn.
Churches that are hard and callus — full of legalism and lacking compassion — have accepted God’s harsher traits. They love God’s judgment, truth, wrath, high standards, holiness, and justice, but seem to ignore His grace, love, mercy, steadfastness, patience and kindness. Churches that are soft on sin — adopting worldly standards for sexuality, marriage, discipleship and salvation — often enthusiastically embrace God’s softer side. They love the very characteristics of God that the harsh churches ignore, and ignore the very parts of God that the harsh churches embrace.
But the world does not need a lesser God anymore than I need a lesser wife. God is not one-dimensional. For each of us, no matter where we are naturally drawn, God is multi-dimensional — and all of his parts help inform all the rest of his parts! His judgment helps inform his mercy. His righteousness helps inform his grace. His holiness helps inform his forgiveness. To dismantle the fullness of his character is to create a god in our image. And a god in the image of man is a lesser god. And a lesser god is a powerless god who, ultimately, will never deliver on the promises man makes on his behalf.
The whole of God’s character provides the foundation of our faith, and opens us to the fullness of His power to change lives and to equip us for His calling on our lives. No matter what we think, our experience does not change God’s character. Instead, God’s character changes how we see and live out our life experiences. A god defined by our experiences is a god who is always changing, and our God does not change. We need ALL of Him. We need His justice AND mercy AND truth AND grace AND forgiveness AND wrath and all of who He is — none of which are contradictory, and all of which are complementary. He is all of these things with regard to every bit of our humanity. Each part of His character is necessary as we submit to him our marriages, our sexuality, our relationships, our bodies, our finances, our hopes, our dreams and our eternity.
A church founded on a lesser god will crumble on its fragmented foundation and will prove itself powerless. But the church founded on the whole God will last forever, and is unlimited in its power. The world is full of lesser gods. Let’s serve — and share — and love — the one true God. All of Him.