I recently posted a blurb online that generated some discussion among my like-minded friends and a few who I consider friends but not necessarily like-minded. Here’s what I wrote and, in a desire to amplify the thought, I’ve added a few more words of explanation below. I address most of what is said to those who are committed to the worship, ministry and fellowship which occurs in local churches. This is not an indictment of any individual, past or present, with whom I interacted. The mindset I’m exposing in my words is indicative of a prevailing attitude that is poisoning our churches and diminishing the perception of Christ’s glory among His followers. At the very least I hope you will think about this with me. It would be great if you would post comments of your own below.
“Perhaps the people who we should be most concerned about in our churches are those who have quietly decided that they have things summed up and figured out. These are less likely to think, pray, study and wait upon the Lord. They look to man, tradition and denominational expectation to secure them in their faith. They ask few questions and become edgy with those who do. They certainly are not open to anything outside of their pre-fabricated box of faith. If a church has too many of these people, something other than God’s power will eventually be relied upon and there will be no legitimate sense of God’s presence and purposes. Only counterfeits and substitutes. I pray that God would forbid me from ever revisiting those sad days in my own life. I pray that you never go there at all.”
When I first posted this thought, those who did not wish to endorse what I wrote above seemed to have one thing in common. It was not that they did not agree with what was said, it was that they were somewhat skeptical of where I wanted to go next with the connected thought. My statement was too broad for them, they needed more information lest they say Amen to something which could be hijacked by me or someone else and turned in a direction they were not comfortable with. There seemed to be a concern that I might get too specific and they might themselves indicted by words instead of affirming them. ‘Where are you going with this thought, Jeff?‘ was what they seemed to want to know. Interestingly, a few others thought the comment was incendiary and more accusatory than anything, and it came off as a slam of the brethren. It’s hard to prove when something is written in broad terms with no inflection in voice but, I promise, the comment was an observation…not an accusation. I think it is 100% accurate and don’t back off an inch.
Here is what I’m thinking when I make statements like the one above: there is no honor for the Christian to become a non-thinking, non-seeking, non-praying, unchanging person. We would likely all agree with that assertion but, when it comes to our own individual thoughts, traditions, convictions, standards and presumptions about Kingdom living, we tend to default to a position where we assume that we are the exception to what I’ve written. The other guy is the one who needs to think more about his beliefs, become more teachable, listen to the person on the other side of the aisle and patiently wait for God to, perhaps, adjust his thinking. We love the concept of being flexible, ever-learning and fluid in our spiritual journey. We like the idea but too often we assume it doesn’t apply to us because we have things figured out. We were taught once and taught well therefore we sense no call to ever re-evaluate our positions on Kingdom living and believing.
I have committed my life to serving Christians in the context of the local church. I love the local church – the visible expression of an invisible entity. Serving and worshiping with an eclectic gathering of believers is one of the chief joys in my life. In nearly two decades of being a member of the same church coupled with nearly 17 years of serving that church in a some role of pastoral capacity, I’ve seen it all. Very little surprises me anymore and I am pleased to say that the great majority of my experience has been positive, even exhilarating. What has me concerned, however, is what I see occurring when some in the body of Christ are brought to a place where they have to place what they believe and live under the light of direct analysis by Scripture. What their mentors taught them is challenged. Their individually cultivated traditions and standards are put under the microscope of God’s word. Doctrines have to be disassembled, examined and then reassembled to see if they are constructed according to what the bible actually says. So often (painfully often) I have seen those who bear the name of Jesus Christ reach a place when they declare by word or action, “Enough is enough. I know what I believe is true. Leave it alone.” They draw a line and will not hazard their sacred cow to be tipped. Sensing that they will be stretched beyond comfort, led out of places where they once firmly stood, called to retract previous dogma and humbled to admit they did not see all that could be seen…they choose comfort over consecration. They choose mantras over their Master. They side with tradition instead of Truth. In essence, they protect Self instead of crucifying Self. It is here that relationships end, fear rises up, the Spirit is dismissed from superintending the spiritual growth process and the dreaded reality of Religion takes root. This is what alarms me in these days. This is why I often cannot be silent. The thought of us who name the name of God the Son turning from His glorious commitment to shepherd us into all truth and, instead, hunkering down on the last place we felt comfortable is unthinkable to me. What if God is seeking to lead us to change? Do we dare stifle that possibility? Yet is happening at epidemic rates. So with the Psalmist we must cry out, “I believed, therefore have I spoken…” (Psalm 116:10).
Friend, you must know why you believe what it is that you believe. If you do not know why you believe a thing, but are convinced that it is the right thing to believe, then may I caution you to hold on to that thing loosely because you have made yourself very vulnerable. If it is precious enough for you to hold it as a deep conviction then is it not important enough for you to learn why you do so? What if the person who lovingly imparted that standard or conviction to you was sincere but … wrong? We are not to doubt their intent but we surely can recognize they may not have executed properly? Good men and women make large mistakes. Godly men and women will admit those mistakes and rectify where they are able. We would be neither good nor godly to blindly hold to some form of teaching or tradition, unwilling to examine it for validity, and then to pass it on to others who will also not examine it. Friends, be wise about what you allow to build walls between you and your brethren. If the wall needs to be there, examine each brick that makes it up. Make sure those bricks are solid, sound and sturdy, leading downward to a firm foundation built on truth. If you do this regularly you will discover as I have at times that those restrictive walls are nothing more than wobbly stacks of baked brick, floating on the shifting winds of unsupported ideas and traditional presumption. When those weak walls topple, they heap rubble on the people standing on both sides of the wall.
Let’s not do that to one another any more.