I've been stewing on this blog post for months. It is so multifaceted that I was having trouble working out whether it should be one blog post or several. So hang on to your hats, and open your hearts. This is a biggie.
In looking around at the world lately, I've noticed a rather serious problem to which there are numerous contributors. I was having trouble pinpointing which one was the exact cause, however now, I do believe that I have finally been able to boil it down to one common denominator -
I'm aware that is a harsh, not-entirely-true statement, but as painful as it is to admit, we Christians have caused a fair chunk of trouble in our culture by the conflict between us. The result is that it creates a mixed message for the rest of the world: the very ones who are meant to be a light to the lost hide their candle under a bed. The ones who were meant to carry the peace and love of Christ throw stones and shoot poisonous barbs. We argue relentlessly over so many different issues, yet claim to all believe the same thing. Our lives are often visibly riddled with sin, and yet we have the audacity to point fingers at the world. We say that as Christians, we all serve the same God and yet we split into a hundred-and-one different denominations and try to persuade non-believes to come to "our church" (no, not that church down the road, nah, it's weeeiiird...). When you step back and take a good long look at the body of Christ as a whole, one can't help but shake their head. Small wonder atheists don't want bar of what we have to say! Our lives and words simply do not line up: our "one God" concept simply does not compute to them when we are all so busy mudslinging our "allies".
I'd love to say that worldly people are the only ones to suffer this "Christianity", but sadly, it does more damage on the inside. Christians attack Christians with judgement, ridicule, condemnation and slander left right and centre. They bicker and quibble over the dumbest things in stupidly extensive debates, throwing around hefty punches via words like "heresy", "sin" and "hellfire". Now don't get me wrong, I love a good discussion. Get me in a room full of Christians and a chewy subject, and I am like a kid in a candy store. Sharpening each other through debate and discussion is an awesome thing, however I'm noticing more and more that instead of discussing something for the benefit and exhortation of all parties involved, people nitpick, split hairs, and vengefully argue over the most insignificant and pointless topics; slamming fists, pointing fingers, and blatantly telling each other they are wrong. It seems as though a Christian debate has evolved into something that must be won, rather than be a place to freely express your perspective of a truth for the edification of others. Is it just me, or does it seem hypocritical of us to be so consumed with the nitty-gritty, ridiculously irrelevant topics that we miss the big picture of who Jesus is in the conversation, completely ignoring the fact we should be encouraging one another with humility, love and grace?
It may be just my little ol' opinion, but I truly think there are some debate topics that aren't worth the time debating, and trust me - I've seen some doozies. I came across a webpage not long ago dedicated to exposing the evil of owls, Scriptural references and all (including the way the devil is using hot air balloons as a satanic metaphor. No joke). I've seen a well-meaning person write a lengthy blog post on the dangerous undertone and rebellious message communicated in a completely-removed-from-context Disney song. I've also seen full blown discussions on completely hypothetical situations, such as the question of whether or not there was a race of people preceding the first Adam. (wha??!)
Honestly, am I alone in the belief that we Christians take ourselves wayyyy too seriously sometimes? Even if the topic is legitimately worth discussing, I've seen almost every debate begin by drawing a line in the dirt, and everyone taking a side. It's like a huge multiplayer boxing fight, where there are no holds barred, and if you can't beat someone up, you attempt to drag them across to your side of the line. I'm not going to pretend that I'm innocent of this. There have been times I was quite passionately involved in a discussion, and I allowed my temper to flare in the most unbecoming and unloving manner. But later, as I inevitably mull over the conversation, it slowly dawns on me:
What was the point?
I mean, is it really my job to persuade someone of something? If it's true, won't God prove that to them in time? Everyone is on a journey, so why should I get so wound up because someone doesn't keep pace with me? If we really stopped and took the time to think about it, perhaps the reality would catch up with us that, if what we believe is actually the truth, and if our fellow believer is seeking after God wholeheartedly, shouldn't we just rest in that knowledge and trust that God will reveal that self same truth to them in due course? Could we perhaps take a pause for the daunting idea that maybe we don't have all the answers ourselves? Or, what if - wait for it - we happen to both be right?
Heaven forbid! That would mean there’s no winner! Because Christianity is totally about competition, right?
Ahem. I digress.
I think part of the problem is that I've noticed that a lot of Christians have taken 1 Corinthians 6:1-5 and grossly misapplied it. It reads:
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?If then ye have judgements of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 1 Cor 6:2-4This passage has become a license for many to bag out their brother as much as they like. They often quote Matthew 7:1-2 in their defense; that we are meant to judge other Christians, but to be careful how we do it because we will be judged the same. So if I have convictions and beliefs about certain issues that you do not, it's my God-given duty to pound my point into your thick skull until you concede, and thus, I've saved your now-miserable-hide from hell. Or the wrath of God, at the very least.
Please. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, we are meant to exhort one another in truth and love [Eph. 4:15, 2 Tim. 4:2]. However it's important to note the difference between freedom from the law, and sin. If you read through Paul's letters in the New Testament, you will see that Paul often takes the time to list a great many things that are sins of the flesh that should be put off with our old man [see 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 5:5]. Looking at those lists, I get a fair idea what God calls sin (for a more in depth study, research the Biblical definition of what sin actually is). These things all separate us from God in drastic ways, and damage our relationships with people. Big time. To call something sin is a huge deal - God takes it seriously, and so should we. Just looking at a brother with anger God equates with murder (Matt. 5:22), so whenever we are selfish with our belongings, begrudging in our giving, or harsh with our words, we are sinning. Thankfully though, Jesus paid the price for our sins so that we can live free of condemnation. Though God does convict us of areas in our lives that need to be surrendered to Him more fully to work on (sometimes made aware to us through other people's exhortation and/or rebuke) He no longer imputes our sin against us because are washed by the blood of Jesus and made righteous by His death and resurrection. Which leads me to wonder: if God Himself no longer judges us for our sin, can there be any reason for us to judge one another? Food for thought. Moving on.
So in light of what sin is, we can now see what sin is not. Paul addresses many issues concerning Christian living in his epistles, yet I am intrigued by the fact that so many of the things I get hammered for from other Christians are never mentioned by Paul in the context of sin, dead works, the flesh, immorality, or the devil. How is it so many Christians see fit to tell their siblings in Christ that they going to hell because they wear jeans, or that they are sinning because they listen to rock music? Where do people get the idea that eating meat is a big no-no, and that you're worshipping satan if you celebrate the Sabbath on a Saturday? In what context is ridiculing a girl for her high modesty standards in dress ever a good thing? Why do people think they can judge against doctrines of faith, healing, or God’s provision? What makes other Christians want to sharpen their pitchforks if they see me standing at the pulpit - as a woman - to deliver a message God has given me to speak? Who has been given authority to point the finger at someone who does (or doesn’t) celebrate Christmas and/or birthdays? By what reasoning do they fire shots at each other for doing something work related on a Sunday? And who gives these Christians the right to publicly slander, ridicule and tear down speakers or preachers in the eyes of others - some of them being confused unbelievers wondering what on earth these weird Christians are doing to their own? And I haven't even mentioned the other judgment-fodder pick-a-side topics such as Calvinism vs. Arminianism, cessation or continuation of spiritual gifts, predestination, and God's sovereignty yet!
It's intriguing to look at just what it was Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for. Many people use Jesus' harsh statements such as "brood of vipers" to slander prominent speakers today for preaching doctrines they don't agree with. However false doctrine was not Jesus' reason for calling them names. Gasp! He even said to do as they told you, not to do as they did [Matt. 23:3]. The scribes and Pharisees' crime was not that they obeyed the law. It was because they believed they could be saved by it without Jesus. When we focus too much on our behaviour and what we need to be doing for God, it is dangerously easy to start inserting our own own opinions between the lines of Scripture. When we focus too much on the law, we lose sight of our relationship with God and begin placing undue emphasis on rules. We begin inserting our beliefs and perspectives into God's Word and call it law.
It is very difficult to write an article like this that addresses the point without coming across in the very way I’m speaking against (“You need to quit judging and start loving! I’m judging you for judging!” ie, not cool). Even whilst I am against division and for love, it’s very easy to come across in the same attacking way I am in opposition to, so please hear me right: I'm not saying that there is no merit to discussing things like what I mentioned above. I'm not saying we shouldn’t study the Word and find out what God says about these issues. I'm not saying that any/all of these points are petty arguments. They're not. And I'm certainly not arguing here whether any of the previously mentioned accusations are right or wrong. It is important to know what God says about these doctrines, and it is important to examine everything [1 Thess. 5:21]. But traditions of man are incredibly subtle, and it can be so easy to allow ourselves to be dominated by our own opinions, and "facts" we have been told rather than what the Bible actually says. It's so easy for us to assume something is a "sin" because we have labelled it that way. I’m also not discounting conviction. We are all so vastly different, and Paul acknowledges that if we can not do something in faith, then it is sin for us [Romans 14]. I’m also not advocating that there is no such thing as sin. Not in the least.
But really, what if we truly took to heart the fact that a person’s walk with God is between only them and God? Would we interfere a lot less? If we truly believed God was as powerful and authoritative as He truly is, wouldn’t we have more faith in His power of convicting someone of legitimate sin then in our own abilities of pointing it out? Again, not to say there is never a place for that; it can be a blessing to have someone who has sought God and as a result, brought an issue to your attention. But though we have the ability to draw one's attention to something, it does not mean we are obligated to make them change.
I have started writing this blog post about a dozen times. It started off firstly, about why a lot of Christians scare me. They scare me because they judge, ridicule, trample, and condemn other Christians for their beliefs, or else they patronize and treat them as if they’re inferior, ignorant, or rebellious because they differ to their opinion of what God's Word says about certain issues. The next time I attempted to touch this topic, I came at it from a law vs. grace tack; how we are all so diverse in our understandings and opinions, that we should have the same grace for one another's differences the way God does. The last time I tried to write this post, I called it "The Debate Debate" and was going to expand on the pointlessness of so many topics for debate Christians waste their time getting divisive over. This time, I realized I could boil this whole mess down to one point: Christians.
Guys, the very word means "little Christ". In Him we live and move, and have our being. Sure, we might be human, but we are joined together not by our beliefs, opinions, or perspectives, we are joined by a Person, and the blood He shed for us. We need to stop arguing over trivial matters that divide us over and over again. We need to stop judging, condemning, and pointing fingers. We need to stop trying to win fights; we need to stop squeezing people into our me-sized boxes. I think we try too hard to play God sometimes. We feel like if we don't say something about how short that girl's skirt is, she's going to hell for sure. Or if we don't tell that punk his music is evil, God won't hear his prayers. Honestly, God is bigger than we give Him credit for. We are brothers and sisters for goodness' sake. If we are all striving toward the common goal of becoming more and more like Jesus, do we really need to split hairs over what food we eat, or what day we set apart? Is it really going to encourage a person in the Lord? Wouldn't it be better to ask that person how they're doing, and if they'd like a listening ear? Wouldn't it mean more to a Christian brother or sister if you told them that they were doing a great job and that God loves them, rather than tearing them down for their faults that I am certain they are already well aware of? The sad truth is that it is easier to forget God's love for us than it is our own failings. Most Christians have enough trouble bringing their shortcomings to God, let alone having their own siblings hate on them for their taste in clothes or movies.
I loved how Jesus never told a sinner outright that they were a sinner. He never went and told the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the liars, the thieves, or the outcasts that what they were doing was wrong. He never told them to get into shape before He called them. He loved them where they were at. Jesus, the Son of God, who knew everything and knew every detail of the truth in all its fullness, with nothing at all hidden, could've shared the deepest secrets and the boldest truths of how terrible hell is and how bad sin is. But instead, He chose to tell them about the Father who loved them more than they could imagine. And isn't that what we are called to do? Why should we waste our time, our words and our energy trying to prove our own silly points when there is a world of people out there who simply need to be told there's a God who loves them? There are millions of people dying for love, and yet we sit at home on our computers and debate eschatology. Aren't we awesome little pharisees?
Recently a passage of Scripture has really challenged me. It's not one that gets spoken about a whole heap. Probably because it's really hard, and everyone kind of squirms if you think about taking it seriously. It's found in Philippians, and it goes like this:
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. - Phil. 2:1-4If the verse concerning being of one accord and one mind wasn't scary enough, the idea of considering other people better than yourself is enough to put you on shaky legs. As a result of meditating on this passage, I have invented a game, which I will now dare you to play. The object of the game, is to lose. If you find yourself as a winner, you have lost. You can only win by losing, and letting anyone know that you've won negates your winning. For a quick example, letting someone have the last word in a debate without rising to defend yourself, you win by your apparent loss. Getting the last word and stumping the other person looks like you've scored, but you actually lost.
Try this in everything: conversations, debates, traffic lights, grocery shopping queues, buffet lines, arguments, you name it. The object of the game is for everyone else to be better than you. It's a hard game. I've not won many times. The temptation to have the last word, to make a point, to take the first place, or the best piece of pie; selfishness is so hardwired into us that it is a difficult habit to break. But the only way to fulfill the first half of this passage, is to work on the last half. It brings to mind the last part of the passage in 1 Corinthians that is often overlooked:
Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to the law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? - 1 Cor. 6:7Indeed, why not, I say. Can you dare to let someone else be right, despite what you believe? Could you perhaps allow someone to have an opinion, without calling them a sinner for it? Would you dare to look foolish, cheated, or accept a wrong in order to keep unity among the brethren? Is it really so hard for us to swallow our pride and allow the other person to discover the truth on their own? There is a time and place for everything else concerning rebuke and reproof, but for the most part, I think it's high time we laid aside our arguing and simply shut up and love people.
Above all things, have a fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. - 1 Pet. 4:8For further reading:
Why Unity in the Church & Amongst Us Really Matters
"You're Going to Go to Hell!"
So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore