Fear Formed Fathers
2. Fathering the nations


The first study attempted to explore the foundation upon which God can bring the diverse ethnic groups of the Church into a functional unity in the cause of global mission. Its central thesis was that fear of the Father is an indispensable key for transmitting growth in the likeness of God. Fear-formed spiritual fathers are men and women readily recognised by their steadfast refusal to compromise the will of God, no matter what the cost. They impart to successive generations a holy awe which teaches that sacrificial obedience to God is more important than anything else, including our own lives.

Beware the Aussie!

A friend visiting here for the first time asked me a profound question about local culture; “Why do people keep saying, ‘No worries.’?” “No worries” is a national mantra expressing our prevailing casual optimism and easy going attitude to life. Just yesterday I was on the phone getting help for my local internet provider, even though the accent was South Asian the response to my gratitude was, “No worries.” I was walking around the streets near home recently and saw a transport driving past, on its front was the motto, “Nothins Changed”[1]. This proudly Aussie frame of mind is intensely disturbing and threatens God’s missional purposes for our nation. Let me explain.

Several years ago I sounded a warning to a local ethnic church in Perth about where their spirituality was almost certainly headed. This caution was based on both the letters to the seven churches in Revelation and the sociological dispositions of immigrant communities. Revelation gives us insight into the condition of the church about 50 years after the gospel was first shared with the Gentiles and by this time most churches had compromised deeply with the surrounding culture.[2]  Characteristically the gospel lifts the first generation of converts out of spiritual/physical poverty and this “redemptive-lift” is transferred to the next generation. By the third generation however people take their faith for granted. It is a tendency to which immigrant communities are particularly prone as they strive to work hard and successfully establish themselves as part of the wider society.

One of the greatest evangelists of all time, John Wesley, despaired of the problem,”wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and carefulness, which, in the natural course of things, must give birth to riches! And riches naturally give birth to pride, love of the world, and every habit that is destructive of Christianity. …wherever it [Christianity] generally prevails, it saps its own foundation.”  I sense that there is a limited window of opportunity for the multicultural Church in Australia.

I deeply appreciate the spiritual vitality, missional heart and prayerfulness of the Africans, Asians and others whom God has sent amongst us, but am constrained to sound a warning. The pervasive laid back “No worries”, “She’ll be right.” cultural disposition of our “lucky country” is a deceptive power that will creep up on your children’s children and sap their spiritual vitality unless something dramatic happens to prevent this. Only a decisive manifestation of the kingdom of God in Australia can prevent such an insidious cultural creep.

Just as urgently, the mainstream Caucasian Church in Australia has a limited time to move into tandem with the passionate ethnic churches in the land. They are a gift to our nation that must be understood and released in our midst. The Spirit wants the lukewarm spirituality that pervades the national Church (Rev 3:16) to end once and for all. The message of this article is therefore imperative.

Holy Fathering

In my first article I used the life of Abraham and Jesus to teach that mature fathering arises out of a holy fear of the Lord.  In the New Testament this reality is illustrated most fully in the life of Paul. The Pauline testimony at the start of 2 Corinthians sets out a pattern common to all apostolic fathering[3].

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies….For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 8-10 ESV)

Paul’s praise of the Father flows from the anticipation of an unbearable loss which against all odds issued however in a miraculous deliverance. This pattern of sorrow and joy was the secret of Paul’s extraordinarily fruitful ministry. It was something from which he never pulled back, for it conformed his life to the death and resurrection of Jesus[4].

The terror that entered Paul’s mind in Asia so that “we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor 1:8) was not the prospect of death itself but a premature departure before the appointed task of preaching the gospel to the Gentile nations  had been fulfilled (Rom 15:8ff.). The same fearful agony which struck Abraham’s heart as he prepared to sacrifice Isaac, the child of promise, was being experienced once again by this fear-formed father of the new covenant of promise. Paul’s terrible trials do not finally produce despair but the mature fruit of holiness which imparts a transfixing missionary vision.

The most intense the suffering endured through the discipline of the Father the greater the sense of the value of his kingdom. As Jesus realised the measure of God’s love for humanity through the depth of his suffering, Paul learns the value of the Church to God through the extremities of his trials and imprisonments (Eph 3:1, 13). He is given an insight into the amazing beauty of the Church in eyes of Christ (Eph 5:25-32) because of how much he is called to suffer for her! Only suffering for the cause of God’s kingdom can impart a deep sense of glory. Most of the affluent Western Church refuses to mature because it does not want to struggle in order to be holy[5].

New Christians intuitively understand that without pain and desolation they would have never come to depend on God. The dominant Church culture however with its niceness and strategies for a successful and stress free life progressively dulls the edge of true discipleship which “counts the cost” of following Jesus (Luke 14:25-33). Holy fathers cannot tolerate such superficialities and exercise an uncompromising ministry of the Word which create an atmosphere of godly awe in which the fullest possible obedience can be offered to Christ[6].

Those who truly fear God understand that “the loss of all things” is not a matter for shame, but a sign that they are following Christ in the  way which leads to glory and eternal life (Phil 3:7-11). They know that the hardships of life they endure for the sake of the gospel mean they are being honoured by God to suffer as Christ did in order to reveal his holiness as a Father. Such men and women are considered by God to be trustworthy of spiritual children because he knows they will pass on to them one central revelation; sacrificial obedience to God is more important than anything else, including our own lives (1 Cor 7:25).

Trustworthy Fathers

John Wesley once said: ‘Give me 100 men who will hate sin and nothing else and fear God and nothing else and I will change the world.” As a true father of the faith Wesley understood that sin-haters and God-fearers are not only trusted by God but can be implicitly trusted by men. Fear formed fathers form a bond with their spiritual children that is sacred and trustworthy.

Such leaders take no pleasure in passing on a Word which must lead to deep sacrifice, but understand that only an atmosphere of holy fear can train sons to discern the difference between good and evil (Heb 5:11-14). These spiritual fathers and mothers have embraced the difficult ministry of bringing a message to the Church which creates a climate of awesome fear that alone has the ability to form righteousness. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28 ESV). Where the ministry of the Word is not feared we can be sure that a true image of God as the Holy Father is not being conveyed (Heb 12:5-11). Immaturity in the Church can be reduced to this single problem; the failure to provide godly discipline in the manner that Christ commanded (Matt 28:19). As Jesus was exalted through the pain of the cross, so spiritual sons are honoured by their fathers through painful loving discipline[7].

Maturity comes through killing and through dying “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13 cf. Col 3:5)[8]. True spiritual fathers train their disciples in the skill of applying the slicing sword of the Spirit to sanctify their lives. There is nothing pretty or polite in this process, but its fruit is eternal (John 15:1-3). It is now time to relate these truths of fathering to bringing together the diverse ethnic groups of the Church into a functional unity in the cause of global mission

Hope for the Nations

The author of Hebrews explains how all Christians know they have a common Father.   “God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2:10-11 NLT).  As Jesus entered into glory through suffering according to the will of God, so Christ sanctifies us as God’s children in the painful manner. We are children of the cross on the way to glory, and the origin of our mutual tribulation is the Holy Father.

This eternalising of our humanity is such an awesome vision that it induces such a fear of partiality that it puts to death in holy leaders all natural born favouring of those most like them. Having crucified fleshly pride in their own humanity, they must say to their brothers and sisters from every tribe and language and people and nation, “our homeland is in heaven” (Phil 3:8, 20). Our thoughts about an “African” Church or an “Asian” Church or an “Indigenous” Church are natural and reflect the tangible realities around us. The eyes of those for whom the fear of the Lord is the beginning and goal of wisdom see “a better country, that is, a heavenly one”. (Hebrews 11:16) where all the family of God are one.

This is not to deny the actual history of nations, but to realise that under the sovereign hand of God the purpose of all of history is to shape the nations through experiences of death and renewal into the likeness of Christ. All genuine spiritual fathers consider the characteristics of their nation of origin as existing solely for the purpose of leading their people to receive and obey the gospel (Matt 28:19). These men and women possess a vision of seeing all people groups, including those so naturally different from our own, worshipping the same God through Jesus[9]. Under the hand of such leadership, the Church truly images the purpose for which God created, to have a single family united in love adoring and serving him forever.


Jesus said to the church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Rev 3:19). The mainstream Australian Church steadfastly refuses to believe Jesus’ words because it has imbibed the easy going attitude of popular culture that refuses the disciplining hand of God as Father. Unless we quickly repent we shall surely miss the great global missionary calling upon our nation.

This repentance must be led through the wisdom the Lord imparts to the true spiritual leaders from all the people groups he has sent amongst us. These fear-formed fathers and mothers of the faith see buried inside every ethnic group facets of a diamond to be brought into the light of God to reflect his eternal glory. They know that no one group can possess all the facets of such a precious stone, and that only together can we radiate the one full glory of God amongst the nations. This compelling vision of the breadth and depth of the divine glory “in the Church” (Eph 3:21; Col 1:27) can alone lead to functional unity in the cause of global mission. Such effective world outreach will not come easily, but is entirely dependent upon the simple uncompromising message of fear-formed fathers of faith: sacrificial obedience to God is more important than anything else, including our own lives.

[1] I couldn’t help but think of 2 Pet 3:4 “They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

[2] Revelation is generally dated in the mid 90’s A.D.

[3] See also explicit self confessions of the fear of God  in 1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 5:11; 7:1

[4] Cf. 1 Cor 4:8-13; 2 Cor 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-29; Gal 2:19-20; Eph 3:13; Phil 3:10; Col 1:24

[5] E.g. Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Thess 2:2; Heb 10:32; 12:4

[6] E.g. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12 cf. 2 Cor 10:5-6 )

[7] Needless to say, this has NOTHING to do with authoritarianism, control or bullying.

[8] Such discipline leads immediately into the Spirit’s revelation of God as “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-16).

[9] I am using “worship” in its fundamental biblical sense, the offering up of all of life to God (Rom 12:1-2).

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