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"Vigorous Fellowship" in the Body of Christ

F. Earle Fox

How do we talk with each other in the Body of Christ when there are volatile and profound issues dividing us?  How do we speak the truth in love when the truth appears to be harshly critical of one or another of us?  What principles can we set for our responses to one another?  (See also Objectives, Strategy, & Tactics

The following begins with an email introduction to the article. 
 

Greetings, One and All,
 
        I have followed the discussion, led largely by John H and Gregg J on the state of affairs among the conservative organizations fighting the sexuality and other battles, with alternating delight, shock, and dismay.  And so offer the following as hopefully pointing the way through our conflict.  It needs to be understood that this kind of conflict is (1) very common in the Body of Christ, (2) is a breeding ground for the Dark Side, and (3) can be turned to the glory of God -- to the extent that any of us are willing to die to our old selves -- of which we no doubt all have plenty left. 
 
        I have placed some further comments after the article.
 
Resurrection Blessings, Earle Fox

 

"Vigorous Fellowship" in the Body of Christ

What Kind of Language?

Every person is of infinite value, no matter how badly that person has behaved.  Christ died for the "worst" as well as the "best" among us.  That militates for speaking softly. 

On the other hand, Christ used very rough language toward some of His own people -- as in John 8:39 ff., calling them sons of Satan.  It does not get any rougher than that.  And Jesus promised to bring a sword as well as peace and unity (Luke 12:49 ff.).   What can this mean but that truth must be the basis for peace and unity?  What is the Sword of the Spirit about if not for cutting and separating between truth and falsehood?  That can be painful. 

The Bible and Christian history are full of examples of God cleansing the Church of backsliders and imposters.  So how are we to discern the proper way to address situations of potential erosion and betrayal? 

Assigning motives (rather than sticking to observable behavior) is always risky.  We are often wrong, it raises walls of defensiveness, and makes reconciliation only harder, not easier.  That does not mean it should never be done.  Jesus did, but He could read the hearts of persons in a way that we cannot. 

So accusations of bad motive should be reserved for the most critical situations, with adequate support of evidence, willingness to bear the cost of ultimate rupture, and the possibility of a stern word from the Lord if one should be wrong.  It should be reserved for situations where there is clear, persistent, systematic subversion of truth (see Romans 1:18 ff.). 

Being, Doing, & Original Goodness

Dealing with sinners is our common lot.  There are no non-sinners among us. 

But the nature of God's creation tells us something about how we must distinguish between sin and sinner.  The sinner is different from his sin.  One's being, one's identity, is different from his behavior. 

Homosexual advocates provide a good example.  They commonly confuse one's being with one's doing.  It makes a better PR case if one can claim that homosexuality is "inborn", "innate", "genetic", because then "they cannot help what they do..."   It makes it difficult to criticize the behavior because it is made to look as though one were attacking a person rather than a changeable behavior. 

That is both bad logic and self-destructive.  If a homosexual person believes his behavior to be part of his identity, he will find it intolerable to stop the behavior, no matter how self-destructive.  So, many homosexual persons continue the behavior and kill themselves.  Refusing to stop a behavior when warned that it is lethal is a primary sign of an a compulsive and addictive behavior.  So we MUST keep a distinction between who we are and what we do.  As in this case, homosexuality is a behavior, not an identity.  Such behavior is open to criticism, but not the person

The Creation was persistently pronounced "good" before it fell.  So there is an Original Goodness that precedes and surrounds Original Sin, and which makes redemption possible.  The Fall is the separation from our Original Goodness.  Salvation is restoration to our Original Goodness.  Our being comes directly from God, and is, without fail, good.  God does not make anything defective or evil. 

Thus we are commanded (Matthew 7:1 ff.) never to pronounce judgement on any person as such, we do not decide who will and who will not go to heaven.  It is always, without fail, good for me to be myself.  It is always good for Suzy Smith to be Suzy Smith.  That is who God has created her to be, herself -- and no one else.  I never have to repent of my being.  And so, no one other than God Himself can critique my being. 

But Original Goodness applies to my being, not my doings.  I may well have to repent of my doing, my behavior, my actions and reactions, my attitude, my purposes.  All these things are up for critique by others, but my being is not.  Only God can judge my being. 

If my behavior is so consistently bad as to distance myself from my Source of being, then my being indeed begins to erode and collapse.  I starve my being to death.  C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce describes this process of how people go to hell (or to heaven).  God forces us to choose between life with or without Him.  Which choice we make is ours, but make it we must. 

All this tells us that in our critiques of one another, we ought to (as in "must") avoid condemnation of persons and focus our condemnation on behavior or attitude or purpose -- on our doing, not our being

We thus ought not call a person "a liar", we ought rather to critique his lying behavior.  A great deal of "name-calling" comes under this category, tending to create a sense of self-condemnation in the targeted person rather than focusing him on repenting of his behavior.  Name-calling fosters self-hatred and self-condemnation, which always paralyzes repentance.  That may seem pedantic, and indeed Biblical persons, including Jesus, used the harsher language.

But, our present circumstances require a precision of language perhaps not previously necessary.  In earlier times, before we invented "relative truth" (which is a logical impossibility, which thus no one can actually live by, and which is mostly an excuse for lying), and before we had invented "victimization" as a political strategy (to promote a pseudo-healing and self-pity and thus sidestep moral responsibility), the insanity of our times could not have happened.  People lied, but they understood that lying was evil and unacceptable to God.  Today, for a large segment of Western society, moral language and God language have been destroyed. 

The distinction between being and doing helps get rid of the "victim" image, by showing that criticism is not an attack on a person, but on behavior.  Honest critique of behavior is not victimizing. 

We must therefore hone our skills to become as precise as possible.  We must show that precision in our personal and public moral conversations in order to cast a penetrating light through the smoke and mirrors being perpetrated upon us.  And that requires a clear distinction between our being and our doing.  The whole of the Gospel message hangs on it.  My being is what is being saved.  My (evil) doing is that for which I must repent. 

Spiritual Warfare

  The first sign of spiritual warfare is the subversion of truth (Romans 1:18 again).  If we are talking with someone who will not accept an honest discussion of his words or behavior, we are no longer in an honest conversation, and are thus in spiritual warfare.  We must make clear the terms upon which we make judgments against that person's behavior or words, never condemning him as a person.  The first step is the recovery of honesty in discussion, openness to the truth, willingness to be corrected on all sides.  Apart from that, nothing good can happen.  Living in the Light. 

In Jude, verse 9, we read, "But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.'"  We are not to attack the personhood even of Satan himself.  It is his works which we are to crush under our feet.  Judgement of persons is the Lord's business, not ours.   

When we are critiquing the beliefs or works of honest persons who disagree deeply with us on spiritual issues, we can say to them, "Be the best <Hindu, Buddhist, atheist> you can be, but keep asking honest questions..."   If they become pursuers of truth, they will bump into the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  If they are systematic subverters of truth (which is different from one who tells an occasional lie and can repent), then they are systematically distancing themselves from God, and so we must distance ourselves, having no serious fellowship with them. 

We sometimes must face the serious consequences of sin.  All sin, persisted in, leads to death.  Some more obviously than others -- such as homosexuality, murder, or abortion.   But the sin Jesus castigated the most furiously was the subversion of spiritual truth by the pseudo-spiritual leaders of His own people.  Nothing kills more perversely than subversion of spiritual truth.   Love is tough, and rightly calls a spade a spade.  Only the truth can set us free. 

So, we must guard our own boundaries, making sure that we as individuals, our families, our churches, and our nations are ruled by the law and grace of God, and persistently judging the behavior of others by that same law and grace -- always with a hope and aim toward reconciliation.   No compromise of truth and no compromise of love.  Neither will survive without the other. 

End. 

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Further Comments

        I had many years ago wondered about "judicial review" and how that was being implemented.  I was ignorant of politics, the Constitution, and law in general, so assumed that "they", the experts, knew more than I.  But something smelled bad.  I have come to see that the experts in question were high-jacking America, and were expert mostly in deception and mind-control.  Mind-control works only so long as the victims are ignorant of their plight, and only so long as they have no backbone to stand against it.  It is easy to remove the props from under such a process IF one is willing to speak the truth at any cost to oneself.    

      It now appears that judicial review was being used as a decoy to sucker the people into attacking the judiciary, when all along the real enemy was the executive.  As someone pointed out, a bad law has no effect until it is "executed".  The executive is the real target.  In a shell game, you watch the non-moving hand, the moving hand is just a distraction away from the real problem.  So, Schwarzenegger can claim, "the judiciary made me do it!"

        I think John H and Gregg J are right on target about that, and that any serious move forward among conservative leadership MUST take that into account.  Our forward strategy must go for this jugular vein. 

        But we must also find ways, if possible, to repair the splitting among us.  If there has been name-calling, wrong or hasty assignment of motives, if any critique (in either direction) has been wrongly (or inadvertantly) aimed at persons rather than behavior, then let us fess up and get on with our mission.  Ask, "How might the other person understand this, given the way I wrote/said it...?" 

        We do not need pages of self-justification, we need, first of all, some serious time with the Lord, asking, "Is there any truth in what they say....?"   All of us.  All of the time.  Ask, then listen, and let the truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves.  If we find ourselves in the wrong, we should never, never, never beat up on ourselves.  Repentance means changing my behavior, not trashing my being.  It means renewal of my being, recovery of my Original Goodness.  And Satan loses another victim. 

        We cannot afford to allow ourselves to be manipulated by the Dark Side.  Divide and conquer has been his terribly successful strategy from the start.  We are not to be "soft" on each other.  We do not need that.  We must call each other to our highest.  But we must each be open to critique of our critiques.  If we believe we are right, we should stand our ground.  But never, never, never close the door to correction or to reconciliation.  We must state the conditions upon which that could happen, and be willing to say (with Saint Socrates), "If I am wrong (if that teeny remote possibility just might be the case), I want to know."     If I cannot say that, then I am not engaging in honest discussion.  And that puts me in league with the Dark Side.

        So, let us covenant together on those (always improvable) principles, praying for each other by name, loving each other no matter the cost. 

Earle

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Date Posted -  06/11/2008   -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012