The intellectual father of Protestant Liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), correctly discerned a great turning away from Christianity in educated European culture. This has continued in our Western world up until today.
To protect religion against its “cultured despisers” Schleiermacher proposed that the foundation of religious practice could not be found in rationality nor in ethics but in a “feeling of absolute dependence” common to humanity.
Schleiermacher had insight to see that enshrining divine revelation in propositions about God was like turning the dynamic of a lava flow into cooled and hardened dead rock.
This is an error many orthodox Christians have unconsciously submitted to, substituting sound theological ideas for personal God’s personal self-exposure. Liberalism however failed by substituting a generic human “feeling of absolute dependence” for Christ’s own personal consciousness of his unity with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Worryingly, just as Schleiermacher saw the doctrine of the Trinity as a sort of appendix to practical lived religion, I fear that many Pentecostal and Evangelical believers has done the same to the spirituality of Jesus today!
Conscious of Whom?
As the essence of Liberal spirituality is listening to one’s own heart above other sources of authority, such as Scripture or tradition, similar trends can be discerned in the praying of contemporary non-liturgical churches. It is not wrong to pray about the many this worldly needs which continuously confront us all, like illness, economic distress, relational breakdown, summer fires and so on.
There is a problem however when these causes become a predicable focus for our prayers to the neglect of the cause of the kingdom of God. Jesus was quite emphatic, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew chapter 6 verse 33). The haphazard prayers of our “free” assemblies seem to have forgotten that the reason all things were created was for the glory of God (Isaiah chapter 43 verses 6-7; Revelation chapter 4 verse 11).
Once great Christian composers placed S.D.G. (for Soli Deo Gloria = Glory to God Alone) at the end of their works; that spirit has largely disappeared. The traditional ending of the Lord’s Prayer “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew chapter 6 verse 13) isn’t in scripture, but we desperately need a revival of its emphasis in our churches today.
Self-Consciousness Gone Mad
The ever lengthening of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community, at times satirised as “the alphabet people”, is a witness to the wrath of God intensifying in our society (Romans chapter 1 verses 18-32).
If what sets humanity above the beasts is a true consciousness of God, today we see humanity turning in on itself in a tyranny of consciousness of self. As a lost teenager my inner sensitivity led me at times to bash my head against the wall or desire an escape into non-existence, later, God’s grace later helped me mercifully realise these were a foreshadowing of the absolute solitary confinement with one’s self we call “hell” (Matthew chapter 8 verse 12).
As the name of Jesus is driven out of our culture, e.g., “Happy Holidays”, the more we will witness psychological distress amongst youngsters trapped with themselves. We need a revival of Christ-consciousness.
“Christ-Consciousness” isn’t focussed on our consciousness of Jesus but a sharing in Jesus’ own consciousness. As the perfectly Spirit-filled person Christ had an immeasurably more powerful awareness of his Father than of his own “I” or self. A such he could testify, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John chapter 14 verse 28).
The single great all-saving exception to Christ’s complete Father awareness is the cross. This is where we hear the heart of the Son of God crying out in the darkness of being left alone with his self to carry away the sin of the world, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark chapter 15 verse 34; John chapter 1 verse 29).
Praise God that the fruit of this cry is a resurrection into glory where the human consciousness of God in Christ is perfected for all time. Wonderfully beyond words, when we savingly enter into union with Christ (1 Corinthians chapter 6 verse 17), we begin a journey of becoming increasingly aware of God as our Father in the presence of Holy Spirit. This is what the glory of God is all about.
To be “saved” is much more than having sins forgiven to get to heaven. Salvation is the gift of grace in being empowered to share in God’s own ability to intimately know God. This means nothing less than to live eternally in the glory of God. As Jesus prayed for each of us as the gift of the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John chapter 17 verse 3).
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html