Archive for August, 2015

Saints Revisited

August 20, 2015

A few months back I blogged a fairly uncomplimentary review of the Bill Murray film St. Vincent.

I was prompted to a bit of further thought by this review, which focuses on the catholicity of the film’s basic theme and protagonist.  The reviewer picks up on exactly what the movie wants us to – that Vincent is a saint because he’s really a good guy underneath his gruff exterior.  His sainthood is deserved.  His goodness outweighs his badness by some indefinable quantity.  His badness is really probably just a result of some of what life has thrown him and therefore he shouldn’t be held accountable for it.

The idea of saints as special people lends itself to this definition, I think.  But our ideas of saints are rather limited in scope.  Our assumption is that sainthood is warranted if the good qualities outweigh the bad qualities in an individual.  But as I argued previously, that’s a rather arbitrary assessment of things that is a) impossible to quantify and, b) apart from Scripture, impossible to qualify.  To go one step further, this is not a Scriptural understanding of sainthood or our position before God through Jesus Christ.

That’s why I find Romans 5:6-11 so comforting.  If my confidence in God’s good favor towards me is based on my own self-assessment, what comfort or assurance do I have?  If my status before God is the result of how other people think of me, what comfort or assurance do I have?  As Vincent is fond of saying, What do you know about me?   I know that nobody around me really can have an accurate understanding of me.  So it’s easy for me to discount their opinions, whether they’re favorable or not.  And because even my self-knowledge is imperfect and hopeless biased, I will swing through wild arcs of hopeful confidence and abject despair if my own assessment is my metric.

But God doesn’t allow either of these metrics.  For while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.  In our worst moments, that’s when Christ died for us.  He did not offer himself in exchange for our moments of nobility, but offered himself in atonement for our moments of complete, abject, willful failure.  Paul’s term in this verse translated as ungodly has the same root word for what Paul says in Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men  What God reveals his wrath against is the very thing that Jesus dies to deliver us from.  Our worst, not our best.  Our rebellion, not our weak faith.

At the end of the film we feel good about Vincent because he seems transformed to a certain degree.  We like transformation, and one hopes that some of the events of the film would help to transform him.  But that isn’t what would make him a saint, in Biblical terms.  Only the sacrifice of Christ, and Vincent’s weak and highly imperfect and limited trust in that sacrifice can make Vincent a saint.

That’s why I still insist that the film that best deals with the very difficult reality of our simultaneous sinfulness and sainthood is Robert Duvall’s The Apostle.  If you haven’t seen it, go and rent it or stream it.  You won’t like Duvall’s character.  You’re not supposed to.  Yet I think Duvall understands the miraculousness and the unlikelihood of grace and what it can look like in a person’s life, and he’s done the best job I’ve found in portraying it on screen.

To God alone be the glory – that’s the way it is and always will be.

Difficulty Sleeping?

August 20, 2015

Maybe save this article for one of those insomnia bouts.  The topic is actually kinda interesting, and examines the realm of national defense and geopolitical stability from an angle rarely if ever discussed in news streams.  Enjoy, although perhaps that’s not the best wish to accompany this article?

Fools and the Eighth Commandment

August 19, 2015

Long-time readers might remember I have an ongoing fascination with the implications of the Eighth Commandment – not bearing false witness (lying) about your neighbor.  I had a great discussion with Gary on this some time back.  I think this commandment is very bearing on how we conduct ourselves literally every day of our lives, and certainly in our polemic culture, it’s a commandment we need to take seriously when talking about those who disagree with us.

Thanks to J.P. for sending me this article, taking exception to this article.  Read the second one first.  In the second article the author cautions us against consequentialist rationalization – defending an act that might otherwise be considered wrong or evil, based on the fact that the act definitely or potentially accomplishes greater good than the injury it causes.  He uses the very dramatic example of the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and I must admit he makes a compelling case.  He then extends this line of reasoning to the recent secret video-tapings of the Planned Parenthood meetings, where Planned Parenthood officials discuss the selling of aborted baby parts with who they assume are potential customers.  The upshot is that ends don’t justify means, or at the very least that we need to be very, very careful about legitimizing our ends willy-nilly with difficult to quantify means.

The first article defends the secret videotapings by an appeal to Augustine’s threefold categorization of lies.  Some lies are done specifically to injure someone else, and this is obviously problematic, to say the least.  Some lies are told for play – like when an actor assumes another identity on stage or on screen.  Other lies are necessary or obliging.  They are willful misrepresentations that seek good, rather than harm.  This aligns well with Tollefsen’s consequentialist definition.

Fiene in his response to Tollefsen’s critique essentially acknowledges Tollefsen’s point – sometimes we do something that we know will be harmful, hoping that the benefit outweighs the cost.  However Fiene would prefer to utilize a more positive example of this – a Polish nurse who lied to the Nazis and faked IDs for Jewish children to save their lives.  In doing so, Fiene doesn’t refute Tollefsen’s argument per se, but rather demonstrates the very fickle and tricky nature of a lie.  Sometimes it can be easily seen as a good act.  Other times, it leaves itself open to diverse interpretation.   The intent is to bring about greater good, to avoid greater harm, and this is the core issue.  However the use of deception is always dangerous.  We employ a tool of Satan and attempt to control it for our own purposes.  At the best it can have tragically beautiful results.  At worst the tool can end up mastering us, blinding us to our real motivations or at least the vagueness of our intended goals.

What interested me in Fiene’s article was how quickly he dismissed Augustine’s second category of lie – the lie of playfulness.  He dismisses it because the subject is so serious that nobody would treat it playfully.  The weight of the subject matter the lie engages is anything but playful, and I agree completely.  But I would suggest that this is exactly why sometimes the playful lie is the one that can allow the truth of a situation to be fully revealed.  This is the power of art – to show us truth in a form we might not otherwise have expected it from.

I think of the medieval jester, the court fool.  Entertaining the king and queen might seem like a simple task, but in an environment charged with political manipulations and ambitions, it was anything but child’s play.  The jester had an interesting position in that he was able to observe much of what went on in the courtroom somewhat objectively.  Nobody presumed that the court fool had any political aspirations of his own – his role was very well defined and there was no upward-mobility in it (to my knowledge!).  But he could listen and watch as myriad others schemed and plotted and sought their benefit through the power and wealth of the king and queen.

There is a historical interpretation (or at least a literary one) of the court jester that suggests that the court fool really could be one of the savviest and wisest of persons, and in the unique position – through jest and song – to speak truth in an environment where nothing – and no one –  was as it seemed.  We might easily think of the court fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear (my favorite Shakespeare play!), for example.  The fool is able to call the king a fool, while others who criticize the king are exiled.  The fool in this play sees truth where and for what it is, and recognizes artifice and hollow praise when he hears it.

Could the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) deceptions be considered in this light?  They adopt a persona and simply reflect the reality that this persona allows.  It is playful not in what is at stake, but the CMP simply draws aside the curtain of what is already happening on a regular basis – a basis so regular that those who are recorded are perfectly comfortable and at home with what they say and do.  There is no awkwardness, no blushing or other hesitancy.  Business as usual.  CMP as the jester simply allows the very words and actions of Planned Parenthood to be heard and seen as they are.  Any ‘real’ potential customer would have seen and heard the exact same things.  CMP just allows a broader audience to know what is going on.

It is up to us to decide what to do with the truth revealed to us.  We, the American public are the king or queen in this situation.  The playfulness with which a court fool might reveal the double-speak of a plaintiff before the throne seems very similar to the flip side of the Planned Parenthood coin, where those convinced with the appropriateness of destroying human life still refer to that human life as they pick through the detritus of their work.  “It’s a boy!” is the ultimate incrimination of someone who knows the truth of the situation while trying to fool others, and perhaps herself, with a falsehood.  The jester merely allows the king and queen to hear the full story.

I can agree with the argument of the obliging or necessary lie, acknowledging that it is dangerously consequentialist.  We live in a broken and fragmented world, and are ourselves shot through with sin on so many levels we truly cannot count.  Not even our virtue can be trusted, so stained are we with ignominy before our truly righteous God.  We who cannot know the future perfectly must with humility always acknowledge that the noblest of our actions are suspect, regardless of the tools we use to accomplish them.  But I would also suggest that CMP has performed admirably as the fool, and now stands back, consigned to accept the decisions we as the monarchs make, yet, as with Lear’s fool, hopefully just as steadfast in their efforts to guide us towards the best response.

Marrying Jesus

August 18, 2015

Perusing the pop press, you never know what you’re going to find.  Consider this relatively snarky article from a British paper regarding an American woman who married Jesus recently.  A considerably more detailed, and less snarky article, is here.

Not knowing much about this sort of thing, I did some brief Internet research.  They have their own association and website, which is impressive.  Women may take vows as a consecrated virgin.  If they are already nuns they have already pledged vows of chastity, which means that the title of consecrated virgin is almost always used to describe a woman who is not a nun, but is living out her life and vocation in the world.  There is usually a two-year process to enter this calling, giving the candidate time to reflect on the nature of the vows and to make sure she is ready to commit her life to them.

It was interesting research!

In a mostly unrelated tangent, I thought that the UK site’s characterization of Jesus as having been dead for two thousand years is interesting.  Once again evidencing the bias against a claim that contradicts assumed ideas about reality, even if there is no solid basis to dismiss the evidence, and inadequate solid evidence to support the bias.  The assumption is that nobody can rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, despite very specific eye-witness testimony to the contrary.  The bias avoids addressing the evidence entirely, preferring to assume that the issue is settled without ever actually engaging in the process of evaluating the issue.  You see this a lot, once you are familiar with it!

Uncommon Community

August 17, 2015

Here’s a curious approach to creating and maintaining community – build a neighborhood with your close friends.  It certainly isn’t an option for everyone – finding a locale that is affordable and house designs that are mutually acceptable would be challenging.  But I think it’s an interesting commitment to one another, and mirrors perhaps a situation several generations back where multiple family members all lived in the same neighborhood or on the same street.

Reading Ramblings – August 23, 2015

August 16, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 29:11-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 5:22-33; Mark 7:1-13

Context: If last week’s readings gave us the grounds for our faith in Christ, and demonstrated that we are never satisfied with the evidence and proof He has given us, this week pushes us to confess our sinful tendency to remake God in our own image. We are always tempted and inclined to hear and see only what we want to, until even the very words of God and the God who gave them must be twisted to our preferences and ideas about things. Praise God that He forgives us over and over again, and gives us hope not through our own efforts but through the incarnation, death, resurrection, and promised return of his Son.

Isaiah 29:11-19 – This chapter begins with a prediction of the suffering and woe to come upon God’s people – the siege of Jerusalem itself. Yet it rapidly transitions in verse 5 to promises of ultimate delivery. God’s people might well be tempted to take this as an affirmation of their faithfulness, but this is not the case, as verses 11-19 make clear. God’s people will not remember these words when these events come to pass. They won’t recognize the prophecy for what it is.

God’s response is not their destruction, as we might expect. Rather, He recommits himself to them. Through his goodness and blessing, they will once again see his glory and righteousness rather than focusing on their own wisdom (wisdom that brings them to exile itself!). As such, those who think that they can hide or fool God are themselves foolish. Those that would remake God in their own image, according to their own desires – they too are foolish. But God will perform such wonders as to open their eyes (vs.17-19). Always the emphasis is on God and what He does for and to us, rather than what we do for ourselves or him.

Psalm 14 – It is foolish to deny that God exists, to assert our independence from him rather than acknowledging him as the source of all things. This inevitably leads us to dark and terrible deeds as we are lost in ourselves rather than finding ourselves in him. Nobody is immune from this – we all suffer from this willful rebellion to a greater or lesser degree. We might (and should) point our fingers at those who most egregiously violate God’s will, destroying others and exploiting them to their own selfish ends. But we do so knowing that we suffer the same lack of vision, even if we are not inclined (or capable) of using our blindness so willfully to our own advantage. However this condition will not continue indefinitely. We may forget or ignore God but this does not alter his reality and presence. So verses 5-7 can assert that God has not forgotten his faithful – his sinful faithful! – and that those who actively fight against him will ultimately be frustrated in their efforts. We look forward to that day when, as Christ returns, evil is finally banished from creation once and for all.

Ephesians 5:22-33 – This famous passage comes as part of Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians to holy living. Those who would discard these verses as anachronistic can only do so by rejecting the rest of Paul’s exhortations and admonitions – something that part of our culture has, in fact, already done.

Paul begins addressing relationships here, though truthfully he has already entered into this arena in chapter 4 in his call to unity. But what does unity look like in various specific relationships, such as marriage? It looks like wives who submit to their husbands and husbands who love their wives enough to lay down their lives for them. Wives are called to submit themselves – husbands are not called to demand their wives’ submission. Husbands are called to love their wives – wives are not called to dictate the terms for this.

Paul appeals to a larger order or hierarchy in his exhortation. Wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ. We should hardly be surprised that wives find it difficult to submit to their husbands when the Church is often so poor at submitting to Christ!  Likewise husbands fail to love their wives properly about as often as the Church fails to love Christ properly!  Husbands are to love their wives because Christ loves the Church. What we often interpret selfishly is grounded in the unselfishness of Christ. A healthy and strong marriage will see the wife submitting herself and the husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church. Respect and love. This is not anachronistic or archaic or somehow dishonoring of women or men. It is only our sinfulness that sees it as such and too often makes it as such.

Mark 7:1-13 – Jesus challenges the religious authorities, citing Isaiah 29:13 to condemn their misinterpretations and misapplications of the Law. Mark explains the source of this issue in vs. 3-4. The Pharisees are offended that Jesus and his disciples are ignoring certain cultic rituals. They are zealous for these regulations, and in their zeal they fail to demonstrate love, but rather judgment.

Is there something wrong with human traditions? Of course not – we are free in the grace of Christ to develop traditions that are helpful. The problem arises when those traditions begin to contradict and supplant the underlying laws of God. The law to love our neighbor as ourselves is contradicted and supplanted by an expectation of what someone else should do simply because that’s the accepted way of doing it.

Jesus goes on to illustrate an example of hypocritical pietism, how ultimately it is our selfishness rather than our zeal for God that so often expresses itself in our interactions with one another. Corban in Judaism refers broadly to any kind of sacrifice, but can also be more specifically a sacrifice related to a vow. The historian Josephus makes mention of the idea of funds dedicated for holy use (Wars 2.9.4). Funds could be designated for holy or Temple use, meaning that they could not be used for other purposes, including apparently the support of one’s own family. I’m not clear on whether or not the funds remained in the hands of the owner until a later time, or if they were conveyed immediately to the Temple treasury. But in either event, love of one’s family is neglected in favor of a potentially sincere – but still misguided – love for God. To claim to love God yet to ignore the fourth Commandment and therefore ultimately to violate the command to love your neighbor is problematic, to say the least!

There are many ways that we all seek to make the Bible say what we want it to say. Activists want to recast or reinterpret or ignore passages of Scripture that prohibit practices that are culturally acceptable, such as homosexuality to abortion. Likewise we are easily inclined to ignore the command to love our neighbors when they take these stances. We must acknowledge that we are always inclined to reshape God in our own image, supporting our preferred causes and practices. We must always be on guard from appropriating God to our own purposes, instead of conforming ourselves to his love and law and forgiveness.

Defending Miley

August 16, 2015

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Miley Cyrus.  The famous former Disney star has blazed her own path in the few short years since aging out of Disney’s star-making machine.  The carefully cultivated girl-next-door image necessary for maximum marketing purposes has been replaced with a considerably non-family-friendly persona.

So it is more than tempting to dismiss Cyrus’ claims that her early fame messed her up mentally.  But – perhaps for the first and only time – I empathize with Cyrus, and suspect that her claims are closer to reality than even she suspects.  For a young child to be subjected to that sort of pressure to look and act a particular way – I can’t imagine what that must be like.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I sorta can.

Like most Americans I went through public school most of my life.  I walked the hallways of a junior high school and high school where there was enormous pressure to fit in, to find your niche and then to stay in it.  While there were some people who successfully remade themselves midstream, it was an exception rather than the rule. Often those changes were in rebellion to other roles, more of a rejection of being a jock or a preppie.  But regardless of how you got there,  roles were expected to be as clearly defined as cultural touchstones like The Breakfast Club showed them to be, even as it tried to deconstruct those roles.  Cyrus’ struggle is not unique, but is amplified and exaggerated by her very public presence.  I suspect she echoes the dissatisfaction and rage that some young people experience as they recognize how relentlessly they are bought and sold.  A whole new generation continues to discover for itself what it means to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

The tragedy is not the rebellion itself, nor even the marketing frenzy that tries to hammer us into roles that can be accessorized by consumer consumption.  These are hallmarks of being human.  We all seek identity and purpose and meaning.  We all struggle for a measure of autonomy as well as cohesion in a larger social setting, whether our immediate family or our larger culture.  We all have tendencies to exploit others and in turn to be exploited.

The tragedy lies in not having a better alternative than selling out on your own terms.  The tragedy lies in not having a better alternative than shock and awe in a way that demeans yourself and those who idolize you.  There is an alternative to having your identity pre-packaged for you by commercials or a television contract.  There is an alternative to self-destruction and embracing the extremes of the human condition in flight from commodification.

That alternative comes in acknowledging our core identity as creatures, not accidents.  To recognize that we are loved not because of what we wear or say but simply because we are.  To recognize that just our bare existence speaks to a love that pre-existed us, that knew us and crafted us for something beyond being bought and sold.  The alternative comes in the increasingly radical assertion that not only am I not yours to be exploited, I am not even my own.  Seeking out a healthy identity in that context becomes truly possible.  Still not easy, perhaps, but possible.

So I empathize with Miley.  I applaud her for being willing to call the exploitation what it is.  It’s a reminder to parents that they are responsible for protecting their child and equipping them to protect themselves.  I can’t imagine how complicated that must be in the entertainment industry.  I hope Cyrus will find herself in an active role as a proponent and defender of other young people still in a marketing pipeline (whether Disney’s or another).  But she has at least reminded me that life and youth and celebrity are very complicated things individually and together.  I hope she can blaze a path suitable not just for herself, but for others to follow, and ultimately an identity bound up in the God who created her and sacrificed himself for her.

Apologetic Resource

August 15, 2015

Thanks to Becky, who made me aware of this apologetic resource online – Cold Case Christianity.

This web site is a great resource for short articles on a variety of apologetic topics.  For instance, if you’re in discussion (or anticipate being in discussion) with someone who thinks that life evolved from non-life, you might want to review this article, which briefly details the problems with that theory.  It isn’t enough to argue with your college biology professor for very long, but it details the basic problems that this theory has, so that it can be demonstrated that it is reasonable to doubt that life did, or even could have, evolved out of non-organic compounds.

Another good online resource is Stand to Reason.   You can access a list of broad topics and then review specific apologetic articles within a particular topic.  The articles are brief, providing often a single major point – which is perfect.  So if you’re interacting with someone who thinks that the fossil record is evidence of macroevolution, you could read this short article that briefly summarizes one key problem with such an assertion.

When dealing with apologetics, do your homework.  If you’re seriously grappling with an apologetic issue – an what appears to be an intellectual disproval of the Bible or evidence of an alternate, contradictory theory- either personally or in dialogue with another person, do your homework.  Reading these short articles is very helpful.  But each one alone isn’t enough.

I encourage people to read articles and authors who argue against Christianity and the Biblical record.  This frightens some people, as though if they read opposing viewpoints their faith is going to be destroyed.  What I’ve found in reading the works of those opposed to Christianity is that the opposite happens.  I come away with a stronger faith.  Assuming that opponents have a stronger argument that has no reasonable rebuttal has proven wrong time and time again.  Instead, what I find is that opponents of Christianity and the Bible have just as many leaps of faith as we do.  We interpret data differently, but in either case, there is no silver bullet that proves inarguably the veracity of an atheist or Biblical world view.  In either case we are forced to live by faith.

So do your homework – for your own benefit as well as the benefit of those you engage in conversation with.  You’ll be grateful you did!

What are some other apologetic resources you’ve found helpful?

Cruel Intentions

August 14, 2015

I’ve read a few articles on the young couple from Mississippi who were arrested as they attempted to leave (under false pretenses) and join ISIS.

I’m curious about a process that probes potential threats for months, yet never lets on to anyone else what they’re seeing in these two teenagers.  I wonder how this story might have been different if somehow the families of these youth could have been discretely warned about what was going through their kids’ heads.  I question whether every story like this has to end only in arrest, whether intervention might not often be possible and preferable.

Granted, there are hardcore people who are not going to be successfully intervened upon.  Who determines that is the case or not is another thorny subject.  But it seems pretty clear that these two young people in Mississippi might have benefited from intervention, whether it was obvious or not.  I’m guessing that there aren’t many secret agents who are instructed not just to probe for condemning statements and evidence, but actually to try and dissuade people from pursuing a path with false information.  In the stories I’ve read so far, neither of them were likely to go out and try to blow up or kill anyone here.  Perhaps there is more to this story than we have been informed of?

I find it interesting that the article goes to great lengths to demonstrate the moderateness of the boy’s Islamic parents, but says nothing about the girls’ upbringing other than that it was Christian and she wasn’t particularly zealous.  What does that mean?  How did her parents feel about her conversion to Islam?  How did her pastor feel?  Did anybody know?  Her assumptions about the reliability of the Bible vs. the Quran were erroneous on multiple levels, but was any of her church family or actual family talking with her about these things?  If she felt that Western reports about ISIS were inaccurate, what sorts of reports was she being fed instead – and by whom?

Presumably, given the level of shock indicated in this story, if either of the youth’s parents had been brought into the loop, they might have worked to dissuade them from their intended course of action.  Hopefully this would have included education, not simply threats.  And perhaps it would have resulted in a broader net being cast to indict those responsible for working to recruit these youth.  Why am I left feeling that there is a lot more to this story that we don’t know, or aren’t being filled in on?

There might have been the possibility of salvaging at least one of these young lives.  Instead, they face decades in prison.  Let me be clear – I’m grateful for and acknowledge the necessity of individuals who help identify dangerous elements and engage them to determine the threat they might pose.  I just wonder if perhaps there is more that could be done for some of them than encouraging them to the point that you have enough evidence to just arrest them.

The Dones

August 13, 2015

Thanks to Lois for sending me the link to this article, which in turn is a brief discussion of this larger report.  I’ve read the article, but not the report.  I’m not interested in spending $40 on a report that already tells me much of what I already know.

Frankly, 30 million is clearly a number intended to shock.  But unless you’re blessed to be in a congregation that isn’t shrinking, or is actively growing, this number shouldn’t shock you.  You already see the evidence of this number.  The reasons may be elusive to you, but you see the evidence.

Looking just at the issues the article addresses, I have these thoughts.

Judgmentalism can be a dangerous thing.  If by this what is meant is a shallow, legalistic moralism that somehow confuses piety for salvation, then this is a dangerous thing indeed.  However if what is meant is standing by Biblical definitions of right and wrong rather than bowing to cultural dictates, then judgmentalism isn’t a bad thing.

But we need to be careful, as it’s easy to confuse these things, and it’s certainly easy to emphasize them in improper proportions to the Gospel.  What saves me is the Gospel, not my living up to a largely arbitrary standard of holiness.  That’s the point of the Gospel, after all.  The only standard of holiness that matters is God’s, and I am incapable of living up to that.  Even on my best days.  Thus, Jesus comes to do what I can’t, and what I largely don’t even want to.  My response to this should be a growing humility – an awareness not only of the depths of my own sinfulness, but a greater measure of humility when dealing with everyone else around me who, I now know in the Gospel light, is just as broken and sinful as I am.  Maybe not in the same ways, but there is no difference before God.

Community is a challenging concept today in our culture.  We tout our digital connectivity yet report higher levels of depression and feelings of isolation.  We allow the news to scare us to death of everyone around us.  Everyone we meet is a closet ax-murderer waiting to disembowel our kittens while stealing our ice cream.  We’ve devastated marriage and therefore family life through divorce and abortion and separating sexuality from marriage.  Is it any wonder that community suffers?  This is not a Christian issue either, but rather a human one, certainly a cultural one.

A faithful church takes community seriously.  But that community may not look the way you think it should.  It may not address the needs you think it should.  In which case, is the proper response to get fed up and leave?  Or is the proper response to jump in as you’re gifted and led to, in order to help embody and create the type of community God has shaped you for?

Some people – and I fear that number is growing in our hyper-individualistic culture – aren’t willing to do this.  They insist that everyone else must act and be the same way they are.  They must express their faith in the same way.  They must be fired up about the same types of ministries.  They must evidence the same spiritual gifts in roughly the same proportion.  And when they are – not surprisingly – disappointed in their expectations, then they become judgmental.

I don’t mean to belittle this report I haven’t read.  But the article talking about it does a poor job – I hope – of capturing the essence.  Instead it focuses on issues that are related not to church, but to human nature.

Christians don’t have the market on judgmentalism.  Witness the judgmental attitudes of the New Atheists, or pretty much anyone else.  We’re all judgmental, because we’re all trying to justify ourselves.  An easy way to do that is to judge other people so that I feel better about myself.  This is not an issue with church, this is an issue with people.  A good church will address this issue as it becomes evident, just as a good manager will with her employees.  If you’re looking for a church where this is never an issue, you won’t be able to find one.  And guess what – in the process, you’re being judgmental.

Humans also have a need for structure or, in the negative sense, bureaucracy.  It’s built into family structures.  It’s all around us in the workforce and in schools.  Any club or organization we join has it.  So yes, churches have it, too.  And just like in every other environment, it can be a devastating and hindering thing.  There are situations I’m sure where this issue alone may need to prompt people to find another church to participate in.  But to talk as though such structures are inherently wrong is oversimplifying a human issue and attempting to pin it on the church.

And, by the way, the proper response when encountering a church that is harmfully judgmental or needless bureaucratic is not to quit going to church.  As Christians we are not given that option.  Your duty is to find a new one.  To go elsewhere.  And in the process to make as sure as possible – through the use of valued Christian friends and mentors, that you aren’t simply trying to scratch your own itching ears, but rather are truly trying to be faithful as followers of Christ.

Paul writes to some pretty dysfunctional congregations, so this is nothing new.  It’s nothing new because people are nothing new, and in terms of human sinfulness, there really isn’t much new under the sun.  Just in the last few years I’ve learned about and even experienced some devastating church experiences.  I try to give the benefit of the doubt and as such it’s hard for me to acknowledge how much perversity exists and how much damage is done through congregations that should be living out the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  If you’re not in a healthy Christian community, and if there are no options to change it, then you need to leave.  But you need to go find a new Christian community, not simply decide you’re done with it.

Are you one of the Dones?  If so, you aren’t done yet.  Not until you’ve found a place to worship and live out your faith both communally as well as individually.  I’d be happy to talk with you more about this and encourage you and pray with you and for you as you seek out such a church.  They do exist!