The Heretic, the Believer, and the Accuser

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.

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(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.”

Pause.

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? 

 

 

 

 

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Find Your Voice Again

Most people wish that God would speak to them at least once in their life. They hope and they pray that they’ll be directed to exactly WHAT they are supposed to do, WHEN they are supposed to do it. But what if God spoke, and you interpreted it wrong? What would that look like? What if God breathed life into you about something, and you walked away from that creation without even knowing it? How could you get back to being in the breath of God again? Because you can. You really can.

I’ll give you an example.

When we moved out to the suburbs years ago, we knew what church we had been sent to, but we didn’t like it. In an act of rebellion, I started looking for other churches. I found one that was INCREDIBLE. If I were a scout for looking for churches that would one day be the most influential in our nation, I would have put money on this one. They were a lone source of truly gracious hospitality in a very withdrawn, isolated place. They cared for the things that millennials cared for (namely the poor, authenticity, community, and direct trade coffee), giving them half a shot of maintaining their congregation’s numbers as they grew. They understood the value of the Holy Spirit’s place in prayer without becoming kooky. And most of all, they had one hot-shot of a pastor. The guy was 30 and was better than anybody else I had ever seen in the pulpit. And believe me, I’ve seen a lot.

On one of our first Sundays with that congregation, he shared how the church came to be. At the time, he was on staff at another church. He was sitting in a meeting with a lead pastor that he would have followed into the grave. When, all of a sudden, he heard God speak in a non-audible, but definitively God voice:

“I did not make you to follow another man. I meant for you to lead.” (Or something like that.)

That one line caused this young pastor to plant a church in an area that desperately needed it, despite the fact that there were mega churches and long established denominational churches close-by. The area needed a young pastor who would win back the hearts of rebellious twenty somethings who had been hurt by legalism, and those who had been shunned by stringent standards. And he was the guy to do it. He had quick wit, a couple of tattoos, and one hell of a gutsy wife to stand by him.

They set out, with two or three other couples, and the church just shined. Everybody knew that they had something special. Something that they just couldn’t put their finger on, but something nonetheless.

But then, this horrible thing happened. The young pastor became infatuated with two prominent pastors voices: one locally and one nationally. He started preaching like them, mimicking their jokes and even their ticks — and then started preaching their messages. Their congregations didn’t know that he was plagiarizing, but because we were still in the church of the man he idolized, we knew. We had heard that same sermon two months ago.

The young pastor became best friends with that older prominent pastor. He defended him. He followed him. He treated him like a father. And eventually, he started taking his church down the road of becoming like this mega-church instead of fostering the unique identity that Jesus wanted to give them.

I don’t know how many times I have wondered what that church would look like today if the young man would have made friends with the prominent pastor, but also would have insisted on following the vision that Jesus gave him for that young church. I wonder how many people could have seen something truly unique — a move of God. I even wonder how the prominent pastor’s church could have been motivated by this young church plant if he had held his ground.

This pastor’s story isn’t unique though. I see beautiful voices on social media channels that succumb to this error every day. They re-tweet other voices instead of fearlessly preaching what God gave them. Or  they create content that they think will get them published. Or just say something that “fits” but they’re not even sure if they really believe it.

Can I encourage you to walk away from that today?

Can I encourage you to go to prayer and ask the question:

What would I say if didn’t fear? What would I co-create with God if I really believed that He was behind me? What would I avoid if I really believe that I could be a unique creation of God, uniquely creating for His good?

I pray that you find your voice again. And that you stand in that voice with unwavering fear. That you create something useful and applicable and different. That you allow God to flow through you like you’ve never seen — and that you would be unapologetic when He does.

 

Love,

Pam