I still remember the first time I heard a Christian slandering another group of Christians. I was 8 years old, and a family friend started slamming the “New Age” churches.
In the Roman Catholic church in the 1990s, the “New Age” was a movement of people who committed two “heinous” errors in the sight of Orthodox Catholics. Namely, these churches moved the tabernacle* to the back of the church and moved the pews and chairs in the sanctuary. Instead of long rows of cathedral style seating, the congregation now sat in a semi-circle around the altar.
(To be fair to orthodox believers, there were also fears of “too much spiritualism” and a genderless God. For example, instead of saying “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” some New Age members would say “In the name of the Creator, the sanctifier, and the redeemer.” These fears often were not grounded in actual experience of hearing or seeing these events, but the speculative belief that congregations would eventually be led that way.)
Unfortunately, this slandering has not been an isolated incident in my life. Once converting to Protestantism, I’ve found that the Evangelical church also has this cold, civil war. It’s the perpetual fight between the Emergent and conservative believers. The theological left and right, so to speak. It’s Mars Hill Seattle vs. Mars Hill Michigan. And there are sides. Oh boy, are there sides.
In either case, there is the eventual outcry of “HERETIC!” In other words, “You are not one of us!”
A year ago, our family left a church that we had only been a part of for a short time. In that short time, we saw a lot of unhealthy behavior. If the goal of the church is to be like Jesus, and Jesus was sent to bind up the broken-hearted and set the captives free, then this church was as far from the goal as possible. The legalism and religiosity of the church was overwhelming. And in the time we spent there, my husband and I encountered shattered lives: people who had been hurt by this church but couldn’t leave because they had been led to believe that it was their fault. One lay leader even told me one day that God allowed her perpetual pain because it was needed to keep her character in check. In other words, Jesus couldn’t possibly change her heart with His love. He needed to hurt her, like an abusive husband or father, in order for her to be obedient. Yikes!
In a fit of anger during prayer one day, I asked Jesus why He let it go on — Why He let this church keep hurting people. As He usually does, He asked a question back, “What would you do? Do you want me to just destroy them?”
I thought about the mandate given in Matthew 18: If your brother has (actually) sinned against you….. The last part of that mandate is “And then, if they still don’t listen, then wipe your hands.” In essence, I was trying to decide if they were my brother. Because if they were, I needed to pray for them. But if they are not my brother, if they were just a cult misusing the name of Christ, then I should pray for their destruction.
I thought about all the harm this church had done. How they misrepresent Jesus, and His tone, and His people. I thought about their forcefulness and abuse. My anger bubbled to boiling.
And in a moment of complete rage, I said “YES! Yes, Jesus. Please destroy them.”
And then He said, “I’m not going to do that, but we do need to deal with your heart.”
It’s easy to lob accusation at each other. It’s easy to see each other’s sins. It’s easy to see gross misrepresentation of the gospel – whether by people who have been led into myths, or those who have used the Christian model as a method of control and manipulation.
It is easy to see. But what’s not easy to see is each other as equal. As image bearers of Christ.
When we’re frustrated by each other’s sins, it’s almost impossible to see clearly. But to not see each other clearly leads to disastrous results. It leads us to be like Satan — accusers of one another — and to be destroyers.
I’m not 8 anymore, but it still hurts to hear one Christian accuse another of not being in Christ. There’s something horrendously sad about it all. It’s like watching your family being torn apart, and feeling powerless to do anything about it. You want to scream, “Don’t you know we need each other?”
Heresy is an important thing. Doctrine is an important thing. But as my husband always reminds my son, insisting on demanding your rights always is going to cost you something. As he teaches our boy, “You need to think: is this worth the cost before demanding that you are right and your way should be law?”
The cost of the accusation is that you alienate your brother. The cost of the fight is you start a war in God’s family. Are you sure it’s worth the fight?