John, the Apostle, proclaimed “God is love!” Many wrongly accept that truth as the definitive and all-inclusive statement on the nature God. It is not. Eastern religious movements do not focus on the person of God, but on the essence, thus for them, “Love is god!” They interchange the descriptive adjective and subject. The declaration is not true. God is not merely His Essence. He cannot be adequately defined, for example, by love alone. Tozer argues, “Love is something true of God but it is not God.” He is equally and aptly described as holy, just, faithful and true. Being “immutable – He always acts like Himself.” An integrated “unity – He never suspends one of His attributes to exercise another.” Tozer continues,
God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit; because He is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because He is immense, His is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed.
Forsyth believed the “holiness of God … is the ruling interest of the Christian religion.” Only against the backdrop of holiness do we understand love and grace, sin and faith. “Love is but its’ outgoing; sin is but its’ defiance; grace is but its’ action on sin; the Cross is but its’ victory; faith is but its’ worship …”
The nobles of Florence knocked at the door of St. Francis and declared, “You have a secret”. The modern Church holds no such secret, nor does it have such compelling drawing power. As Kierkegaard would observe, “When everyone is a Christian, nobody is a Christian. True worship is the very heart of prayer and simultaneously an emanation of it. Contemporary evangelicalism offers a ‘preaching centered’ culture that squeezes out personal prayer. Singing and preaching dominate. The worshipper is “sung to,” “preached at” – and “talked to about God,” but virtually no time is given to model personal intimacy with God. Scripture contains 165 verses about singing and over 300 about prayer. Are we out of balance? Our churches entertain, but do not engage people to the end that they cultivate and affirm the actual practice of personal spiritual disciplines. True movements do not have ‘members’ they have ‘participants.’The church today has mere members.
Dr. John A. Mackay argued that Christian reality has four distinct yet interrelated aspects – God’s Self-Disclosure; The Transforming Encounter; The Community of Christ; and Christian Obedience.
- In the place of Revelation, of a Self-Disclosing God, we have a Cartesian approach to theology that allows us to control the ideas – “Theologism: the Idolatry of Ideas” is Mackay’s term. Theologism allows a sterile exploration of God and faith, as if in a laboratory where He is dissected or autopsied. The idea is scandalous. It is familiarity and without reverence. It is arrogant and without emotion.
- Second, in the place of the Transforming Encounter, MacKay says we have enshrined “Impressionism: The Idolatry of Feelings.” A mere impression is hardly life transformational. Superficial encounters become a substitute for deeply profound and soul jolting redefinitions of life. Here too, we hold God at a distance. We taste test. We compartmentalize.
- Third, “Churchism: The Idolatry of Structure” is substituted for authentic Christian Community.
- And finally, in the place of agape’ relationships where Christians “lay down their lives for one another” in sacrifice and Christian Obedience, we serve on committees together. Mackay called this “Ethicism: The Idolatry of Prescripts,” a poor substitute for Christian Obedience. Endless debates rage on the positives and negatives of biblical mandates, meaningless wrangling and wordsmithing over declarations and resolutions. Position papers are written on sin, society and our social-moral and missional responsibility, all with no splinters from crosses taken up to follow Him.
Follow the movement: God reveals Himself to man, and whoever he or she is – is changed in observable and measurable ways. They cannot remain the same – after the encounter with Christ. They are better or worse. The transformed then bond – one faith, one baptism, one hope, one calling – one shared mission. That community is the Church. More than structure, it is an organism whose purpose is radical obedience to Christ. Sadly, pet doctrines now reign. Religious traditions restrain fresh encounters fused with transformation potential. The petrified structure becomes all sacred. Christian Obedience is substituted by formal proclamations and token offerings are rendered. Such a Church is impotent.
“The Christian life is a love affair of the heart. It cannot be lived primarily as a set of principles or ethics”. Jesus would ask the religious experts of his day, “What is written in the law?” The answer came, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart … your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “Do this … and you will live!” Life is found in the doing, not in the intellectual consent or endless, intense wrangling over “Who is my neighbor?” – That is theologizing. The power is in the obedience. Oswald Chambers would say, “It is by the heart that God is perceived, and not by reason.” Such obedience is not mournful. “Joy is the keynote of all Disciplines” and “the primary requirement is a longing after God”. Anselm believed “faith must precede all effort to understand … faith comes first to the hearing ear, not to the cogitating mind. The believing man does not ponder the Word and arrive at faith by a process of reasoning, not does he seek confirmation of faith from philosophy or science. His cry is, ‘O earth, earth, Hear the word of the Lord. Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.’”
So intimacy with God is the disciplined, grace-empowered response to the pursuing God, resulting in a transforming covenant relationship and a life-impacting mission in the context of Christian community.
This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org>
 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 107.
 Ibid, 107.
 Mikolaski, The Creative Theology of P. T. Forsyth, p. 55-56.
 Buttrick, 28.
 Kierkegaard, Attack on Christendom, 41.
 Steve Addison, Movements That Change the World (Downers Grove: IL; Intervarsity Press, 2011), 28.
 John A. MacKay, Christian Reality and Appearance (Richmond, VA: Knox Press, 23.
 Curtis and Eldridge, 8.
 Quoted by Curtis and Eldrige, 9.
 Foster, Celebration of Disciplines, p. 2.
 Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 27).