On any public beach in the summertime, when the weather is sunny and warm, you will find three distinct groups of people. Firstly, you will see the swimmers – out in the deep water, some with flippers and snorkels, having a wonderful time. Invariably they will greet you with shouts of ‘Come on in! The water’s perfect!’ Secondly, you will find another group of people, some distance from the water – these are the spectators. They are sitting about on deckchairs or blankets, reading or chatting together. For one reason or another they have decided that they will not go swimming or even paddling and so, sensibly, they stay far away from the water. Thirdly, there is a final group made up of those people who are having a miserable time – these are the hesitant. They have come prepared to swim but they cannot bring themselves to make that first plunge into the sea. They run into the waves and then retreat to the shore. They envy their friends out in the deep but are afraid to join them. No doubt you have noticed these unhappy souls who stand shivering and undecided, often ankle deep in the water, but without the courage to plunge right in or the sense to retire?!
It was the late Chuck Colson, I believe, who first suggested that ‘Christianity in north America is 3,000 miles wide, and half an inch deep!’ In some ways this is an unfair criticism. Firstly, because there are plenty of Christians who live in either the USA or Canada who think very deeply about their Faith, and take their commitment to Jesus Christ very seriously. Secondly, such criticism cannot be simply limited to ‘north America’ alone … there are plenty of shallow Christians everywhere else in the world, not least here in the UK?!
Concern about the shallowness of much Christianity today has led to a revival of interest in what has become known as ‘Deep Church’. ‘Deep Church’ is a response to what Andrew Walker, describes as exasperation with the ‘fad-driven one-dimensional spirituality of modern evangelicalism’ and the desire to ‘reconnect with and be deeply rooted in the common historical Christian tradition as well as the evangelical heritage.’
The phrase ‘deep church’ was first used by C S Lewis in a letter to The Times in 1952, in which he urged the Catholic and Evangelical wings of the Church of England to make common cause against the pretensions of modernity and recover the historic foundations and practices of the Christian church. Although Lewis expressed these views over 60 years ago now, many of us share his yearning for such a recovery and its ecumenical implications. Edited by Andrew Walker and Luke Bretherton, Paternoster have published a very interesting book on this subject, entitled Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church. It is a collection of essays by various authors, setting out the basis of the ‘Deep Church’ initiative and exploring the implications for hermeneutics, worship, making disciples and spirituality. These various contributions are an attempt to update Lewis’ proposal, calling evangelicals (and others) to value afresh the convictions, spirituality and ecclesiastical practices of historic Christianity.
A number of issues are explored including the shape, practice and mission of the church in the emerging culture; the relationship between scripture and tradition; how we are to read scripture today, especially in a multi-faith society; discovering a more catholic, yet Spirit-inspired, approach to worship; recovering proper preparation for baptismal candidates; developing more helpful approaches to spiritual formation and everyday spirituality … and so on. All of these areas seem to me to be very worthy of our consideration if we are serious about wanting to go deeper with God?! The overall thrust is clear! We need to drink deeply and draw gratefully on the historic resources of the church, paying particular attention to the documents and practices of the historic church, whilst at the same time refusing to be bound by narrower traditions that deprive us of a broader and richer heritage.
The Apostle Paul writes to the Christian Church centred in and around the ancient city of Ephesus to assure them, amongst other things, of his prayers for them. In particular he prays that they (and all God’s people right across the world and down through time) will be able to grasp hold of the ‘width, and length, and height, and depth’ of God’s love (Ephesians 3:17-19). Whatever else these few verses may contain, they encourage us to see something of the expansive nature of the Living God and his love for us and the world. Paul’s prayer for us is that we should realise, discover, explore, reach out into, plumb the depths of, the expansive nature of God himself and his love for us all supremely demonstrated to us in Christ … rather than limit ourselves to simply a fragment of it! ‘Depth’ here is the Greek word bathos which is normally used in the Bible of ‘deep water’ (Luke 5:4) but also metaphorically of the depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33), of the deep things of God himself (1 Corinthians 2:10), and of God’s activities and love (as we see here in Ephesians 3:17-19).
When Paul encourages us here to be ‘deep Christians’, to be ‘deep church’, he does not mean ‘deep’ in the sense of being academically incomprehensible. We have probably all listened to sermons that are so complicated that nobody understood them … probably not even the preacher himself (it is usually men who are like this)?! Some of us have attended academic seminars that have been equally incomprehensible to the vast majority of those present. I am not against academics by any means – but the true academic is able to use his or her God-given abilities to take the deep things of God and make them clearer for the rest of us. Like a rock pool, the deep things of God can be both deep and clear at the same time! To be a ‘deep Christian’ or to do ‘deep church’, means to take God, and the things of God seriously. It means to put in the time and effort to prayerfully think through the deep things of God – things revealed in Scripture and tradition, through reason and the Holy Spirit – and to put these things into practice in our daily lives both as individuals and as church!
Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus
Daily let me go;
Higher, higher in the school of wisdom,
More of grace to know.
Deeper, deeper, blessed Holy Spirit,
Take me deeper still,
Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus,
And His perfect will.
Deeper, deeper! though it cost hard trials,
Deeper let me go!
Rooted in the holy love of Jesus,
Let me fruitful grow.
Deeper, deeper in the faith of Jesus,
Holy faith and true;
In His power and soul exulting wisdom
Let me peace pursue.
Deeper, higher, every day in Jesus,
Till all conflict past,
Finds me conqueror, and in His own image
Perfected at last.
~ Charles P Jones