The Enemy Within

On a not-too-infrequent basis, Christian commentators will rant and rail against secular and non-Christian forces conspiring to destroy our faith.  Any given day, the Muslims or the scientists or the atheists or the Jews or the secular humanists or the liberals or the homosexuals or Planned Parenthood or the… you get the point.  Google the subject and you will find articles citing each and every one of those I listed as a threat to the Christian faith.  Yet, as I listen to the hate and bile being spewed by those governed by fear and violence rather than by faith, it occurs to me that the greatest threat to the Christian faith are Christians.

If the Christian church in the United States is destroyed any time soon, it won’t be because an outside force conquered it.  It will be destroyed from within.  Science can’t disprove faith.  Atheists aren’t that impressive.  There are as many liberal Christians as conservative Christians, so you can’t call them an “outside” threat.  And Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and dozens of other world religions have no power over Christians.  No, there is only one group on earth powerful and influential enough to destroy our church — and that is Christians.  Christians who would rather battle and argue with each other than find ways to get along.  Christians who would rather debate “truth” in order to ignore things like “justice.”  Christians who attack and condemn each other while spouting that “God is love.”  Christians who are more concerned with how we differ than what we could become if we were united by our faith.

What’s so important about being right?  Why are our conflicting beliefs worth hating each other over?  How can our differences completely undermine our responsibility to act with love, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control?  Do we really believe that God approves of our judgmentalism and derision? Is there any more necessary demand on our current situation than the need for reconciliation, unity and healing?  Why is it that a faith defined by mercy, grace, love and justice leads to such hurtful, hateful, unkind and unjust behavior?

I know that some will see me as the problem — wanting to love the unlovable and accept the unacceptable.  I confess that this IS my reading of the gospel.  I am as bothered by sin as the next person, but I simply don’t see sin as a reason to argue.  We’re all sinners, we all need God’s grace, and we’re better off together than we are split apart.  I would much rather exert my energy to love someone I disagree with than to waste my energy trying to hurt or alienate them.  It bothers me that so much of our faith language is about behaviors in which we refuse to engage.  Righteous indignation seems more appealing than unconditional love.  Hating gays gets more play than amazing grace.  Misunderstanding other people’s beliefs is more important than making sure we understand our own.  But to what end?

Where will this all end up?  We’re not attracting many more people than we are alienating and repulsing.  We are losing credibility with younger, more educated people.  We are often viewed by Christian believers outside of our organized churches as contentious, divided, and hypocritical.  These views aren’t merely about theological differences, but our inability to navigate theological differences.  Holding different beliefs isn’t the problem.  How we behave about our differences is the bigger issue.  Certainly patience, peace-making, grace, mercy, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, inclusiveness and forbearance are challenging, but come on… are we even trying?  Many don’t see it.

We need to be better.  We need to stop listening to those who want to divide us, to segregate us, to put up walls, to ostracize and alienate, and we need to seek a better way.  We need to allow the fruit of the Spirit to define us — as the way we live in the world, and not just nice ideas to which we pay lip service.  I am tired of hearing one batch of Christians bad mouth other Christians as if it is their God-demanded duty.  Humility.  Self-control.  Civility.  Respect.  Servanthood.  These things are all more acceptable than judgmentalism, condemnation, self-righteousness, and contempt.  Yet, many preference the latter list to the former.  Things need to change, and they won’t change for the better if we tolerate the dividing walls of hostility and continue looking for the specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the logs in our own.  We need to learn to get along.

4 replies

  1. Fantastic! I am asking my bishop and all the district superintendents to have you come in to our conference. I have read you articles on what to do about bad behavior and building bridges and learning to speak together in affirming ways. WE NEED YOU. This is the most incisive, true article I have read in a long time. Thank you for lifting us from our denial!!!

  2. Love is our Lord, or Sin is our Lord.
    Jesus is our Lord, or Sin is our Lord.
    God is our Lord, or fear is our Lord.
    The Holy Spirit is our Lord, or lust is our Lord.
    Integrity is our Lord, or deceit is our Lord.
    Sincerity is our Lord, or Hypocrisy is our Lord.

    We comply with God or we comply with the world.
    We take hold of God’s wisdom and live in humility
    or we parade our arrogant ignorance as superior wisdom and live in pride as fools.
    We honor God or we mock God.

    At the end, on Judgment Day, will God lie or tell the truth about us?
    On Judgment Day, will God judge righteously?
    When Ananias and Sapphira sang “I Surrender All”, did God look
    down on that and smile?
    When Simon Magus offered to buy the Holy Spirit from the apostles, was Peter greateful to have a customer?
    Did God’s wrath end when Jesus went to the cross and rose again?
    Is His wrath a contradiction of His love?
    Did God get rebuked and choose to amend His ways in favor of love after learning a new lesson and seeing that wrath produces nothing but bad things?
    Or are we projecting human problems onto the nature of God?

    Do we understand love if we can watch a sinner go to hell unwarned?
    Do we understand love if we can comfort a sinner into hell?
    Do we understand love if we can take God’s Word and give it a twist to fit our poor human concept of convenience of what we think love should be?
    Can we judge another and call them liars and hypocrites because they contradict us even though they are true to God’s Word?
    If we get all jaded, disappointed, disgusted, tired, worn out, burnt out, faithless, hopeless, pessimistic, and just don’t want to deal with it anymore, can we just coast along through life with a “live and let live” attitude avoiding conflict and escaping confrontation as if to tell God, “Just give me heaven and shut up already”?
    Or is God entitled to some respect, love, understanding, and honor?
    And if God be worthy and require it, is it for nothing but to stroke His fragile ego? Or is it for the greater good of the entire universe?

    Do we even know God?

    I don’t know about you, but I know there is nothing at all that is good about me except that which was brought about by God, and knowing that, I am happy and satisfied and thankful just to have a relationship with God.

    I don’t give a rip about appeasing those who fight for ways to justify slaughtering babies in the womb. I don’t care about the moral or ethical requirements that sin would impose on God or His servants. I don’t care about keeping a fair balance between God and Satan according to Satan’s perspective. I don’t comply with the demands of a redefined rendition of love. I don’t want to be running from ghosts that are not there. Nor do I want to be entertaining ghosts who are there while pretending they’re not. I don’t give a rip about getting Satan’s approval of what it means to be a Christian. Nor am I seeking permission from anyone to trust in God.

    Now if that is somehow repulsive or arrogant or proud or naive or indecent or hypocritical or foolish or abusive or whatever in your eyes, get over it. It’s your problem. Not mine. I care about people of all races, religions, and such, but I don’t care about the gods of all religions in the least. If you wish to take that as disrespect for the people who engage in other’s worship, just remember that this is not my concern.

    If you are an atheist crying out for me to be fair according to your standard, I would ask you how well your atheists are doing in treating Christians fairly, say, in North Korea, or in China, and how well did your Stalin and Pol Pot do in regard to “tolerance” toward Christianity?

    If you are a Muslim, I may love you and respect you dearly as a friend, but if you feel I have a moral obligation to respect and honor your religion, I would ask you how well your religion did with our WTC, with the 500 to 600 churches that were burned down in Indonesia only a few short years ago? And how tolerant is your religion when a Muslim wants to convert to Christianity in, say Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Lybia, Somalia, Malaysia, and many other Islamic nations? Would you like America to promote your freedom to promote your religion here the same way Muslims promote freedom for Christians to promote our religion in those lands?

    And how about Hindus. Would you like to have the same respect and freedom given to those Dalits or the “Untouchables” caste in India who were poor and destitute and had their villages burned because they wanted to convert to Chritianity, a religion that believed people of all races were precious enough for Jesus to die for?

    When you speak of “tolerance”, what do you mean? Tolerance of the poison that would send a soul to hell never to hope for escape through all eternity? Is that love?

    Or is the problem that sin has been redefined manipulatively and abusively in order to control individuals, such as in the selling of indulgences to support the building of churches and advancement of a religion, or the carrying out of Inquisitions?

    To whom are we accountable for our lives? A tall hat? A collar? An institution? The approval of man? The manipulations of a charlatan or abuser or cult leader? Do we need a mediator between God and us other than Jesus Christ to filter out His Word lest we be led astray by the Word of God? Or does wisdom demand we listen to everyone who asks, “Has God really said not to eat of the that tree?”

    Ministry is not about getting people to worship and serve and honor us for our superior wisdom and position in religion. Ministry is about serving God and being faithful and loving in God’s eyes. It isn’t even about getting others to believe we are faithful and loving in God’s eyes. It’s between God and us. It may be true that we cannot be convinced when someone lies and says their religionship with God is real and that’s all that matters. Their relationship with God may be nothing more than something they hope will protect them and win undeserved trust, and their claims may be nothing but an attempt to strike back and abuse those who don’t have a legitimate reason to trust them. Yet it remains true that our relationship with God is a choice we make–a choice nobody else can make for us. We can be liars, or we can be honest. We can love or pretend to love. We can manipulate or bully and hurt people, or we can trust God. And people on the outside will judge us falsely whether we’re good or bad. We may receive honors we don’t deserve and slanders we don’t deserve.

    Whatever may happen, on that final day, where will we be with God?
    That’s what matters.

  3. Dan, you write in small part: “I would much rather exert my energy to love someone I disagree with than to waste my energy trying to hurt or alienate them.”

    While God knows–and others too–that I will give in to hurt speech myself at times, I think you are on to something here. Love-is-a-decision and all that. Given the unfathomable magnitude and possibility of God’s love, we can choose to put our energy into putting love and grace into play–or we can choose to try to block it. The command, the invitation, the practicality is to put love into play.

    Brueggemann writes in JOURNEY TO THE COMMON GOOD that the triad of steadfast love, justice, and righteousness is the better choice over the triad of wisdom, might, and wealth. (p. 64 et al.) One leads to life; the other, to death.

  4. Interesting that you should write about this at this time. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to watch a couple of different programs on television put together by a “religious” organization. Each one proceeded to preach/teach about the anti-Christ, using both historical information and Biblical prophecy. Their conclusion was that the Catholic Church is the place from which the anti-Christ will rise, and that the Catholic Church fulfills all the requirements of prophecy for this to occur. That many of the prophecies have already happened, and that only the Church in Rome is the place that meets this claim.

    How many people with no knowledge of Biblical prophecy watched these programs and now have a misguided view of Catholics and Catholicism? While I’m not advocating a “one world” church structure, I do believe that it’s only through a unified message that the Church Universal can bring forth the love that God has for His creation. Jesus came for us, He died in our place, and that through Him the world might be saved.

    The sooner we can accept this truth, and share it in love, the sooner we can get over ourselves and our self-righteousness.


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