Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tearing Down the Body of Christ (Part 2)

Last night, during an exchange with an online Christian friend, I had the feeling that I was walking through a minefield located in a cow pasture - no matter where I stepped, I was in trouble. The gist of the problem came from the fact that she had evidently drawn sharp, uncharitable and horrifically racist criticism on her blog for appearing to admire/endorse certain non-Christian music stars with immoral pasts. Not knowing about the most recent firestorm, I asked who a certain rapper was and why she had a picture of him. Evidently she saw me as another divisive mud-thrower, even though I was just curious.

Everyone, please pause for a moment and take a good long look at my profile and accompanying picture. Do I look like someone who knows anything about rappers? (I believe the politically-correct term might be "hip-hop artists". I have never been accused of being politically correct, either).

3.) Another huge way in which the Body of Christ is tearing itself apart is by ascribing motive.

In this case, sharing God's heart for social justice - extending compassion to "the least of these" - has indeed brought venomous attacks out of the woodwork. I've seen this before, but I will admit I was shocked at the intensity of the criticism in this particular case. Lack of compassion and utter disregard for even the most general type of love is particularly ugly when it appears among Christians, and gives enemies of the Cross cause to rejoice and point out hypocrisy among the Body.

Oh, then there's the backlash effect, which tears down the Body even further. Let me lay this out: loveless, professing Christians attack those "bleeding hearts" who truly desire to follow Christ by lavishing love on the unsaved. Their sympathies may or may not be misplaced, but that is not the point - a Christ-follower ought always to err on the side of love. Then, wounded by the unexpected attack, the individual lashes out at his/her attackers, by labeling all fellow Christians hypocrites and evil (even quoting non-Christians to make the point). Meanwhile, non-Christians on the sidelines have ever more ammunition in their arsenal - they don't even have to quote Freud or Marx; they can just point silently to an ongoing battle.

Smugly ascribing motive to other believers doesn't even have to come in the form of argument. I once heard a guest evangelist come dangerously close to saying that you are selfish, spoiled and in disobedience to God unless you are serving on the foreign mission field. As a working mother of four, I found this assessment stunningly disrespectful no matter what spiritual language was used to cloak it.

People, last month I watched an all-out catfight explode online over a relatively minor point of doctrine (on a Christian site). It reminded me why I left "Christian" forums several years ago, and even now avoid most discernment sites and many other blogs. There is, sadly, little there that meets the Philippians 4:13 standard, and fuels my already-cynical thinking. It is even worse, however, when the attacks become personal and affect the well-meaning Christian's relationship with God and other believers.

Related to these cruel attacks is what might be described as a knee-jerk reaction to:

4.) a perceived worldliness/ambivalence towards sin.

Fortunately, I have never heard the word "contextualization" or "relevant" used in church, nor do I anticipate doing so. I have read about the so-called "Emergent Church", mostly online and in CT, and realize it is its proponents' fascination with worldliness and trend-setting that has caused a downhill slide. Why, all of a sudden, is it "cool" in the post-modern church to look like the world, act like the world, dress like the world, and cuss like the world - while slapping a "Christian" label on it? Since when does "outreach" mean heading down to the local coffee shop to smoke with the locals, all the while "engaging" them with "dialogue"? Is this how Paul spread the Gospel (of faith and repentance?)

The smug, superior attitude of many among the so-called house church and emergent church movements is staggering. With no Scriptural backing whatsoever, a derision of doctrine, a re-writing of the Atonement and replacement of the true Gospel with the "social gospel" has infected the Western Church at an alarming rate. Concurrently, the "seeker-sensitive" message has reduced the concept of sin to an archaic, "judgmental" precept. While urban poverty is certainly an area where Christ calls us to serve, why is it suddenly so much less important to address the underlying factors contributing to this condition?

While we're on the subject of holiness, drunkenness, addiction, theft and sexual promiscuity are still sins. This is a subject that hits close to home for me, first as a former addict; secondly as someone who works regularly in criminal court and sees all kinds of rationalizations given by defense attorneys; lastly as one who has studied biblical counseling. (I do counsel addicted women, online and by phone - I am not yet certified.) Jay Adams, the father of the nouthetic counseling movement, wrote Competent to Counsel in the late 1960's. Even at that time, the tendency to blame society for one's own poor choices was becoming evident. Adams lamented the demise of personal accountability - citing the "insanity plea" that was coming into vogue judicially - and asked if ever would come a time when we are all "victims" where no one is responsible for anything anymore. That time has come, when even the Church winks at sin and blames "society". (The blending of secular psychology with Christianity is one more evidence of this error).

Even disregarding the courtroom, in the Christian counselor's office the notion of sin has become so unpopular that counselees abhor it. Last week, a friend who is in the midst of her supervised counseling requirement admitted to me that a counselee got visibly irritated with her for talking about Total Depravity (the fact that we are, by nature, evil and would not be inclined to seek God on our own.) Total Depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we could possibly be, but rather that there is no part of our nature that has been untouched by sin. People, naturally, are repelled at being confronted by their own sin - because of pride. I've got it; you've got it; your pastor's got it and the prizefighter from the ghetto's got it.

But let's not minimize, rationalize, or blame-shift when it comes to sin. Seeking reasons outside of self for one's own sin, while it is tempting, is patently unbiblical.

Recently, in this context someone said to me: "You have no idea what it's like to have experienced ____ and ____!" Supposedly the circumstances of one's childhood, at least partially, vindicate one's ethical responsibility. (I saw a public defender try a variation on that argument last month down in Orleans District Court. It didn't work on the judge.)

To get personal for a moment, the implication of that statement annoyed me. I endured horrific abuse as a child and adolescent, and barely scratched the surface in my book. There was a purpose in this - my testimony is to show God's glory and redemtion, not make readers feel sorry for me. I deliberately avoided the more graphic descriptions of the nightmarish life I lived because nothing can be used as an excuse for my own sin. Nowhere in the Bible do we see a person (or society) being held responsible for another's sin. Yes, our upbringing influences us - for good or bad. Yes, our values are largely shaped by the culture in which we live. But all of us has been given a conscience, and general revelation of the difference between right and wrong (Romans 1).

While we cannot fault unbelievers for acting like unbelievers, lacking the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it is wrong both ethically and morally to make excuses for sin. We who claim the Name of Christ have even less excuse. When He regenerates us, He makes us new. If we ignore His conviction and refuse to pursue holiness, we have no one to blame but ourselves - no matter how hard that is to hear. No one "made" us this way.

Few people in my adult life know anything about my past. They assume that I lived an "easy" life and am just being unsympathetic because I appear professional, pulled together, and educated. It is only because of Christ and the pit He pulled me out of - no thanks to privilege or a presupposed life of ease. I get frustrated at excuse-making and those who languish in sin (Christian or non) only because I know first-hand how long that prolongs one's misery. The sooner we confront sin head-on and deal with it, the sooner we can walk free and help others do the same.

Another HUGE factor tearing apart the Body is the spiritual cancer Christ warned us about:

5.) Unforgiveness.

I freely admit I'm often guilty of this one. Despite my in-depth review of John Macarthur's "The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness" last March, forgiveness still remains, for me as for many other believers, a spiritual Achilles' Heel. For instance, there are many occasions when I am still required to interact with my main abuser. She has never repented nor asked my forgiveness for the unspeakable torment she has caused me (and, to a lesser extent, my family). I do not love her. I do not want to forgive this evil person, and know that as an unsaved soul she is still at enmity with God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21). Yet even so, I know that as a follower of Christ the standard set for me is not the world's sense of justice. My refusal to forgive distances me from the Lord - and subsequently, other Christians.

Apply this same dynamic between Christians and you can see the devastating results. Imagine if you held onto every time a fellow Christian hurt you, snubbed you, or let you down? Instead of walking in the light, when Christians nurse grudges they're destroying any real fellowship that might exist (not to be confused with the fake fellowship that paints on a smile and sells you a ticket to a Church Related Function). Unforgiveness is a poison that infects believers first individually, and then corporately.

This last one is not so much a phenomenon that directly pits Christians against one another as it is a contributor to a growing sense of individual alienation, and even depression:

6.) Self-absorption, pride, and morbid introspection.

I was listening to a sermon by Kevin Williams the other night in which he addressed the Christian's tendency to slide into depression when he/she disbelieves God. My ears pricked up when he mentioned the counseling room - many people stop coming to counseling when they hear "you need to stop trusting yourself, repent, and start believing God's Word again." One thing, Pastor Kevin noted, that is true of all spiritually depressed individuals: they refuse to bend the knee.

Spiritual depression may not be what we normally think of as pride, but it is a subtle form of this sin. The depressed individual is looking to him or herself as the source of joy, rather than trusting implicitly and unwaveringly in God's goodness and sovreignity. Personally, I have fallen prey to this MANY times and know that when I distance myself from God, it stems from sin (which I am unable to atone for myself) and reflexively thinking "God's mad at me". This is, as Kevin noted, a form of works-righteousness - acting as if "maintaining" our standing with God depended on us (praise God it doesn't!)

Instead of simply confessing the failing (or ungodly thought), Christians sometimes retreat deeper into themselves, find fault with all other Christians, and walk around in a spiritual haze. It happens. And sooner or later, it shows up in their relationships with other people -- or lack of them. You see this all the time - in your Bible study, in the blogosphere, on Facebook. How much time you spend at the feet of Christ is inversely proportinal to how focused you are on yourself.

I was counseling a woman last week who had been told she was bi-polar. Once she learned to renew her mind by staying it on Christ (and habitually turning to Him in times of temptation), she realized that she didn't have a biochemical problem at all - she had a self-absorption problem. The greatest freedom, she finally realized, came from trusting Christ's promises - not her own wildly fluctuating emotions!

Another source of pride that can implode a person's relationship with Christ can actually be ministry. I worked so hard for so long on my book, a testimony to God intended to help His daughters, that now that it is sitting with two publishers and I am waiting....there is a void. The writing itself became a bit of an idol to me, and overshadowed more "mundane" (but vital) ministries such as prayer.

So What Do We Do????

So what do we do? We humans, saved or not, are not like computers - program with the appropriate data; desired results automatically are produced. We are, in fact, complex and emotional creatures (women more so than men, which, I am convinced, is the reason God's plan is male leadership in the Church). No matter how long we have been blood-bought disciples, some aspects of our personalities - emotions included - remain unsanctified. People are imperfect. While God will always preserve Himself a remnant of true believers, the Church is imperfect. The answer is not in re-writing the script, as the EC and liberal church would have us believe, but in steadfastly clinging to the one we already have - the Bible.

I realize this sounds like an oversimplification, and I do not always take my own advice in this area. As I confessed in my last post, I have come to the point where I am so disappointed in the "fakeness" inherent in American Christianity that I sometimes question whether the whole thing isn't profoundly stupid. However, like my parents-in-law who have invested their entire lives in the lie of a communist utopia, there is too much at stake for me to go back. If I took Christ out of the center, there would be a huge vacuum - the whole purpose of my life and ministry would collapse (like theirs if they admitted communist ideology is a futile, deceptive lie and they've wasted their lives). What a tragic mistake, and for what? Because other professing Christians irritate me at times, or engage in fleshly behavior?

Stop tearing each other apart. Learn what the Bible says (hint: it's actually God's Word, and it actually IS non-negotiable) and rest in His love. I was about to type, "....and start doing it", but as Christ Himself said, apart from Him we can do nothing. Until you know that love and really allow Him to change you - from the inside out - it's all in vain.

Believe it or not, I woke up this morning with the song "Blessed Assurance" running through my head. I have no idea where that came from, but meditate on the final refrain:

Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.

That's what it's all about right there. Looking to others to please us will always lead to unhappiness and a critical spirit. Learning to find your joy in Christ alone is the only way.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

What a lot of work - but a great, thought-provoking article!

Marie said...

Thanks! I needed to write something today. Focus Publishing and now Shepherd's Press still have my book; my fingers were just itching, I guess.

Marnie said...

Amen Marie!