I was saved in an Evangelical, seeker-sensitive, culturally-hip church. I have to admit, I owe much to this church. It was a holy place of refuge, a divine community where God rescued me from a life of moral and spiritual decay. Without Jesus and the movement of the Spirit in that church, I could possibly be dead or at the least bound on a highway straight to hell—an eternal destination devoid of God and His love.
While I love the passion and biblical focus that some Evangelicals place on moral and spiritual purity in the Christian life—you know, that focus on sinning less and refraining from rubbing shoulders with sinful people, especially those of “false” faiths—I can’t help but to be discontent after 10+ years of Evangelical metamorphosis with basing my existence as a Christian on such simplistic and rigid markers of spiritual growth.
If anything, I think that life in reality with God is not so much about pursuing idealistic standards of moral and spiritual purity, but more about simply and faithfully trusting God regardless of our perceived spiritual condition or the condition of the world around us.
God loves us no matter how “good” we are, and God is good no matter how “bad” we are. This means He still loves us when we are failures at following Jesus. Put another way, Jesus died so God could forgive the sins of sinners and the sins of saints. It’s the latter He intercedes for and helps (because of our choice to believe) in the battle we now face with our human flesh and the fallen world.
We are human, and God has embraced us in our fallen state. In Jesus, God has lowered Himself into the shadowy darkness of human reality, into the mud and the dirt, into the chaos of contradictions that are part and parcel of human life. Emmanuel. God is with us.
Moral and spiritual purity may be a byproduct of healing and growing in Christ, but it should not be the sole marker that Evangelicals strive after, nor should it be the primary characteristic we are known for. If it becomes the be all and end all, this undoubtedly will lead to an escapist, insular and irrelevant faith of little worth to God and His Kingdom mission in the world.
“God does not use the self-righteous—the merely pristinely polished life—to further his kingdom,” says Micah Mattix in a recent article in First Things. “He rarely uses the elite or the religious ‘pundit.’ Most often, he uses the simple, the unrefined, to accomplish his work, because they, at least, will give glory where glory is due.”
Escaping sinful people and places under the guise of moral and spiritual purity, putting up walls of fear and hate in the name of national security, obsessively avoiding the dangers that come with living in a fallen world—these are not Christian ideas. Yet some evangelicals in North America have fallen for the madness.
The fact that 25 per cent of Evangelicals support elitist billionaire Donald Trump and his policies, although that number may be dwindling, is certainly telling and perhaps even shocking to some of us. Equally shocking, or perhaps more telling, is the fact that well-known Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is backing Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Have Evangelicals lost their minds? Have they gone mad? Have they forgotten the central message of the Gospel?
In Christ, God did not seek to escape or protect Himself from sinful people and places of the world. Instead He became vulnerable to suffering and open to others—all for love. He didn’t come enthroned in a fortified palace in pursuit of safety from the brutal forces of the fallen world. And neither does He call us, His Church, to a life of reactionary fortification against the outside world.
In his book, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, David Wells reminds us what true and historical Evangelicalism stands for:
When we move from Fundamentalism to evangelicalism…we are moving from a counter-community to a community. Fundamentalism was a walled city; evangelicalism is a city. Fundamentalism always had an air of embattlement about it, of being an island in a sea of unremitting hostility. Evangelicalism has reacted against this sense of psychological isolation. It has lowered the barricades. It is open to the world.
Christian moral and spiritual purity is not so much realized by keeping the world at a distance, but by embracing the world with the same all-encompassing love that Christ modeled for us. To be morally and spiritually pure is to act like Christ in the world and to faithfully trust God regardless of the storm inside or the dangers without.
This is Evangelical purity, if there was ever such a thing.