Thursday, April 21, 2011

Look for the Christian Label

Recently a few different articles have come my way. One was from the blog of a person who had experienced physical or emotional abuse by her "evangelical" parents. Another was an article from a friend saying that "dispensational theology" may be a "wolf in sheep's clothing." I encountered a person with an opposing point of view, taking "dispensationalism" as a badge of pride, then expounding on how bits & pieces of the King James Version (the "only true version," of course) proved it.

In this article I'm not going to expand on my issues with all of the above. I just have one thing to say:

Stop the labeling, already!

In the interest, or lack thereof, of full disclosure, I am not a Dispensationalist. I am not a Calvinist. I am not an Arminian. I am not a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran (either type), Wesleyan, a Smith-follower (neither Chuck nor Joseph), an Evangelical, a Fundamentalist, or any other label you wish to try to stick on me.

"But how can that be?" you may ask. "Don't you believe in...?" I happen to believe in several dispensational beliefs. I happen to agree with some of what Calvin said. I also happen to agree with some of what Jacobus Arminius ("the other guy") taught. John Wesley had some agreeable things to say, and I do like what Chuck Smith, Charles Stanley, Jerry Falwell, and numerous others have taught.

But I don't follow them.

Paul knew that the church at Corinth was dealing with something similar. In 1 Corinthians 1:11-3:15 (yes, I know, a long passage, but it's all important) Paul hits them head-on with that fact. The Corinthians weren't a united group of Christians. There were followers of Paul. There were Apollosians. Some even downgraded Jesus to "good teacher" status and added Him to the mix.

Paul had enough of it. He treated them like little children, because that's how they were acting. He told them to break down the walls and remember that it was Christ who gave His life for them (1 Corinthians 2:2). It's a simple message, simpler than what these people who prided themselves as great philosophers and possessors of expansive wisdom wanted to hear.

Consider †his: the grace offered on the cross is that simple!

Christianity isn't complicated. There's no good reason to make it complicated. It only causes division, which makes a world literally dying in its sin wonder what we have that they need. They don't need division. They don't need high-sounding labels! THEY NEED GOD!

Plenty of people have plenty of good things to say. Many people need what God reveals through the Bible. Nobody needs to have a theology degree to come to Him. Theology can enrich one's life, and that can be used for God's glory, but not when it divides and allows the devil to conquer our delivery of the Good News.

I refuse to be labeled by theology, politics, or anything except my name. Even then, if my name doesn't make somebody think of Christ, then I need to change that label, too.

What labels do you need to throw away today?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Personal Responsibility

Recently I talked a bit about the current trend towards having an "accountability partner." I took a rather negative view of the whole thing.

This time I want to deal with something else: responsibility.

For me, being "held accountable" and being "responsible" for an action or attitude has never been a positive thing. In my past either one was always used as a bludgeon to shame me into not being "good enough." (For somebody from New England, especially New York City, I've noticed that's considered "encouragement." To a depressed child who never really felt good about himself anyhow, though, "do better" always seemed to come out as "your best isn't good enough." But that's still another topic of another post.)

I suppose other people have taken that same outlook on the term, because today the word "responsibility" only applies to someone else, never to oneself. Each one of us is a "victim" of something that wasn't our choice. It could be childhood abuse. It could be chemical imbalances. It could be drugs, alcohol, or tobacco taken by mothers during pregnancy.

Even some Christians have an "out" in the theology of John Calvin, who supported the notion of the "elect." To simplify the whole package now referred to as Calvinism, God pre-chose certain people to come to Him, and others He did not. Those He chose were predestined to be conformed into the image of His Son. They were also called, justified, and glorified. Those who weren't chosen … well, I guess they don't get in on the offer.

The sticky part of that whole concept is that there is Biblical support for it. What I wrote up there is essentially a paraphrase of Romans 8:29-30, though I suggest you check out the surrounding text. (In fact, it dovetails into a tricky little bit of Romans 8:28, where it talks about all things working together for those who are called according to His purpose.)

So how can God be fair if He not only knows ahead of time who will and who won't turn to Him, but chooses them? Well, that's where the counterpoint to Calvinism, called Arminianism after Jacobus Arminius, comes in. Arminius stressed the aspect of free will. After all, God wouldn't be "fair" without it. Well, that didn't set well with some folks, so John Wesley took a stab at trying to unite the two concepts. Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA, in his book Calvary Chapel Distinctives, admits that the Bible teaches both, and that he cannot unravel the paradox, so he teaches predestination when the text shows that, and he teaches free will when the text goes that way.

Consider †his: God holds us responsible for our choice to accept the free gift of His Son's sacrifice for our sins, even though He knows already whether we will or not.

I refuse to accept the sum total of Calvin's, Arminius', or Wesley's treatment of the whole thing. I won't accept any of those labels (which is yet another topic to come). I do know this, though: none of us will be able to use predestination as an excuse to bypass God's justice. John 3:18 says that we are all already condemned if we have not accepted the free gift of God's grace. That's predestined, if you like. Is it our choice? Let's be honest. Yes, we choose to sin. Yes, we're under a curse on a cursed planet in a cursed universe. Jesus showed that we're without excuse, because He, though not born under the curse, lived a sinless life. God promises us a way to escape any temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), even when the temptation is caused by chemical imbalances, childhood abuse, genetics, or whatever.

We still choose to sin.

We are still responsible for that choice.

We are still responsible for the choice we make about Jesus' sacrifice in our place.

What choices are you going to make today?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Gone On The Account[ability]

Something that seems to be popular in churches today is the idea of "accountability." As far as I can tell, the idea is that people "open up" to someone they can "trust," confessing their faults either voluntarily or when asked by one's "accountability partner." The word on the street is that this helps keep you on the right track.

10 years after being first exposed to this idea, I have to say one thing: huh?

I guess one example of this was when a friend who went to the same church we did (the same one that introduced to me the concept of "accountability" being a good thing) asked me, "where are you serving now?" The idea was that I needed to be "serving God" somewhere in that church.

Hold the phone!

Consider This: we are accountable to God, first and foremost!
Anybody who doesn't realize that needs to discuss some things with their "accountability partner" and/or pastor. Yes, we are to encourage one another. Too many "accountability partners," though, take a heavy-handed "tough love" approach. That's just fine IF that's what you need.

For somebody like me, it doesn't work. Usually I'm already so wrapped up in guilt over the slightest thing, I don't need somebody to come down hard on me. It would be like trying to heal a man's crippled legs by beating them so hard with a stick that you cause further injury. (Never mind that at least one false teacher in the news a couple of years ago did just that.)

In his book, 52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday (And Why the Truth is So Much Better), Steve McVey puts it quite nicely. He says:

The common idea of an accountability partner is a cheap counterfeit of an authentic relationship based on trust and encouragement, and it actually gets in the way of our developing that kind of relationship. We do need each other. God has built us so that we are not meant to live out our lives alone. … [T]he accountability partner movement comes across more like the secret police. It's simply Pharisaism in modern dress.

Harsh? Yep. True? Too often so. In the example I gave above, my well-meaning friend didn't know that I was one of about 8 people writing a daily devotional that got posted on our church's web site. When the devotional team first met, we agreed that only our initials would appear below our devotionals. This would allow people to know who "transcribed" what the Spirit gave us without "risking" being prideful over what was written. (That in itself may have been heavy-handed for some, but it seemed right to the group at the time.) I also did several other things outside the church, including this blog (though not as frequently as I try to do now).

In my past being "accountable" for something meant little more than you took the blame when something went wrong, and got told how you should've done it better when nothing went wrong. There was nothing positive about "accountability" or its close cousin, "responsibility." (How "responsibility" led me to a power-dive away from any hope in Christ needs to be another blog post that, honestly, I'm still discovering.) There was no trust or hope in being "held accountable" for something, only guilt and shame.

Those of us with that negative background probably aren't helped by an "accountability partner."

McVey points out something that I need to echo here. Some people, even those with a negative view of accountability, do need accountability partners! People who have a hard time overcoming an addiction, say to online pornography or offline alcohol, may need somebody to help distract them & steer them away from such things. People who don't realize that "God is watching" may think they can get away with stuff. For them, an accountability relationship might be a good thing until they are set free from that addiction. That accountability relationship, though, needs to help them overcome that addcition, though, not merely keep them out of trouble!

The "proof" text of accountability relationships tends to be Ecclesiastes 4:12 and its reference to a "cord of three strands." Context, however, shows that Solomon merely notes that a man left alone, perhaps by following vanity to the point that he has driven off his family & friends, is significantly weaker than one with family and/or friends. We do need each other.

That doesn't mean, though, we need a personal "police officer" around 24/7 to make sure we do the right thing.

This touches on an issue of personal responsibility and "getting out of punishment," but I'll leave that for another post.

Has "accountability" truly worked out for you? Has lack of "accountability" caused a failure? Do you find "accountability" to be a blessing or a curse?
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