One of the most famous stories of all time—thanks to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s classic 1939 motion picture production—is L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story features a protagonist, Dorothy, who is swept away by a ravaging tornado in her Kansas home, and mysteriously lands in a fantasy world. Her only objective is to get home, and she is instructed by a group of natives to follow the yellow brick road to the emerald city to meet the infamous wizard of the land of Oz, who could surely help her find her way back to Kansas.
On her journey, however, Dorothy meets three interesting characters: a dim-witted scarecrow, who longs for a brain; a rusty tin man, who longs for a heart; and a cowardly lion—who longs for courage. These memorable characters join Dorothy on her quest to Oz to meet the wonderful wizard who resides there. All their hopes rest on the belief that this mysterious—mythical?—wizard will be able to fill their respective voids.
What I want us to consider for a moment is that these four infamous and beloved characters represent four types of Christians: every single Christian will fall under one (or more) or these four stereotypes.
The Scarecrow: The Ignorant Christian
The dim-witted, yet often lovable, scarecrow represents an unfortunately large number of Christians: Christians who lack scriptural, and thus general spiritual, knowledge. This class of God’s people, however, is neither limited to the 21st-century church, or even the New Testament church.
The prophets Isaiah and Hosea both lamented that the Old Testament nation of Israel would go into captivity “for lack of knowledge” (Isa. 5:13; Hos. 4:6). In the original Hebrew in both of these places, “knowledge” has the article, which indicates that “specific knowledge…of God and his word, is meant.”¹
Furthermore, this problem was not foreign to the New Testament church of the first century, as the writer of Hebrews expressed:
“…we have may things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing you are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time you ought to be teachers, you have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food…” (5:11,12).
As Robert Milligan wrote:
“The word rendered dull (νωθροί) means sluggish, indolent, slow to move; and that which is rendered hearing (ταῖς ἀχοαῖς) means the ears or perceptive faculties of the soul. Instead of quickening the powers of their understanding and the susceptibilities of their heart, by the regular and systematic study of God’s word, many of the Hebrew Christians had become (γεγόνατε) dull in their apprehension of spiritual things. They had…ceased to be diligent students of the word of God, and had therefore relapsed somewhat into the darkness and errors of [false teachers].”²
These Christians were apparently fine with knowing the “basics”—the “rudimentary” things of God’s word, and had no desire to further their knowledge. After all, “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1), right? But, we must remember the important fact that “God takes notice of the time and helps we have for gaining scripture-knowledge… From those to whom much is given much is expected.”³
The Tin Man: The Indifferent Christian
If the scarecrow represents a large number of today’s Christians, the tin man is right up there with him—for, the tin man and the Christians he represents have something in common: they have no heart.
In Revelation 3, Jesus had a message for the church at Laodicea, which was His sharpest of the seven:
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I wish you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15,16).
Notice very carefully that the Lord plainly states that, as far as He is concerned, He would rather a Christian be ice cold than lukewarm! This is because an ice-cold “Christian” doesn’t pretend to be a Christian! In other words, one who is ice-cold isn’t fooling anyone. On the contrary, a lukewarm Christian may exhibit some visible signs of faithfulness, and may show up to occupy a pew every single Lord’s day morning, but then give his brothers and sisters nothing but discouragement by neglecting them on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, by a lack of involvement in any church-related activities, rejection of congregation-wide social events, et cetera. In other words, an ice-cold “Christian” doesn’t pretend to be something he is not, and thus it is no surprise to his brothers and sisters when they never see him except Easter and Christmas, when he drags himself to the church building to please Momma; whereas a lukewarm “Christian” pretends to be a disciple of Jesus, and thus continually disappoints, discourages, and distresses his brothers and sisters, even offering them occasions of stumbling to be as neglectful and lukewarm as they are.
Thus, the Lord would rather them be cold than lukewarm—that is, He would rather them openly disdain Him than to be immovably indifferent (cf. Mal. 1:10). But why? Because, in the words of John T. Hinds:
“Inconsistent and hypocritical members of the church exercise a more deadly influence against the truth, and keep more people from obeying the gospel than outright sinners.”4
Likewise, as Alfred Plummer elaborated:
“Active opposition may well be a less deadly evil than careless ease. The man who, by willful action, increases a disease, may repent of his deed, and try to recover from the danger to which he has exposed himself; but he who lives on in careless ignorance of the existence of the malady can never improve himself until he has awoke to a full knowledge of his own state.”5
There was apparently a large number of members of the congregation at Laodicea that had “lost its enthusiasm, zeal, and excitement concerning their holy religion. Therefore He told them something they needed to know about themselves:
“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1).
As far as the Lord is concerned, an indifferent church is a dead church. Likewise, an indifferent Christian is a dead Christian.
The Cowardly Lion: The Indecisive Christian
Finally, there are those who lack courage—they are conflicted inside; they are undecided. Even before the NT church was established, there were Jews who struggled with this disease:
“Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God” (John 12:42,43).
Likewise, there were Christians in the first century who had the same problem:
“Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John [Mark—cf. 15:37] departed from them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).
In Acts 15:38 we learn that this was not a peaceful departure, but that John Mark had abandoned them. Why would he do this? One possibility surely stands out: F-E-A-R—it appears that he made it to Pamphylia, and “chickened out.” Paul likely tried to convince John Mark of the same thing he later wrote to Timothy:
“For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Have you ever considered this question:
If we, like John Mark, find in ourselves a spirit of fearfulness or cowardice;
And if that spirit of fear did not come to us from God;
From whom did that spirit of fear come?
I think we know…
The tragedy of the story lies in the underlying mentality behind each character, a mentality which plagues many Christians today: the “if only” philosophy.
Many Christians today, just like these, seem to be waiting for some wonderful wizard to *zap* them with Scriptural knowledge, or zealous dedication, or the courage and boldness to stand up for the truth. But they at least had this: They were able to see that they had a deficiency that needed correcting.
Thus, they began their journey to make the necessary changes. Are you ready to do the same? If not, why not? And, if so, why wait?
¹ G.J. Polkinghorne. Zondervan Bible Commentary. F.F. Bruce, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. p. 910. Print. Emp. added.
² Robert Milligan. Hebrews. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1963. p. 165. Emp. added.
³ Matthew Henry. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Vol. 6. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991. p. 734. Print. Emp. and ital. added.
4 John T. Hinds. Revelation. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1963. p. 62. Print. Emp. and ital. added.
5 A. Plummer. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. 22: 1 Peter–Revelation. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2011. p. 115. Emp. and ital. added.