As often happens when family members get together during the holidays, we had THE big religious discussion. It got a bit heated. Feathers were ruffled.
The subject of the discussion was how rigid or loose should we be with one another under the umbrella of Christianity.
Lately, I am seeing more and more people who are hurt or disturbed because they feel that someone is acting too rigidly. And on the other hand, I am seeing people who are discouraged because the members of their church don’t seem to be making Jesus Lord.
So what is the answer? The answer is we need both rigidity and looseness.
I believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures. I believe they need to be the standard for our lives. But I also think different situations call for different approaches. My husband needs to hear hard sermons that spur him on. I need to hear more about grace and God’s love, to assuage my over-guilty conscience, and to inspire me.
And I think God knows this. No two people come to faith in the same way. They come at different times in their lives. God orchestrates it perfectly. Yesterday Rick shared his story at church of being a drug addict, and how finally, one day, he was in the right place at the right time and visited church. It took me years to get to the point where I was ready to admit my marriage was in shambles, and I couldn’t achieve my dreams for my life by myself — that I NEEDED to turn myself completely over to God.
But we forget this when we try to help others find God, as indeed we must in making disciples. We want to have a formula. We want them all to come in the same way. We have a study series. We have certain things we expect them to do.
Sometimes this is really effective. And sometimes it falls short. People don’t cooperate. They have a hard time letting go of self and sin. They have a hard time seeing clearly what they need to do.
And here is my question — how much do we expect people to repent right away, and how much do we allow God to work on them through the circumstances of life? I know, even now, that I struggle with things and muck about for a time, until I am finally brought to a place where everything clicks — the events of my life, the Bible verses I hear, even things happening in the world around me — and I finally see clearly what I need to do.
How much do we rely on this process, and how much do we expect immediate obedience? Loose or rigid?
I don’t think there is a hard and fast answer. I remember our old Atlanta church women’s leader saying that everyone hits a bump when they study the Bible. Everyone comes to a place where it seems too hard, and they have to wrestle it out.
Bumps have their place. We experience them not just at conversion, but all through our lives. They make us build true convictions. We follow God not because we’re supposed to, but because it has become our heart to do so.
So there’s a place for letting the process work.
In raising my children, one thing I found was that there was no formula. I wanted there to be this list of things I could do, and if I did them, my child would be guaranteed to be a great person and make the right choices. I would get them with Christian teens all the time. We would have family devotionals. I would have a lot of good talks with them. And so on.
But the more I tried to do the right thing, the more I found that there wasn’t a formula. I had to pray every day for wisdom, my daily bread, just for that day. What worked one day might not work the next, what worked on one child might not work on the other. So I had to pray anew each morning.
And God’s grace was sufficient. That was what I relied on. That was my formula — that God would provide the wisdom for that day, that God would order that day so that my children would get what they needed.
In the same way, I feel like we can’t just rely on Godly procedures when we help one another. We also need God to provide wisdom and guidance for each individual situation.
There has to be a place for the Holy Spirit to give direction in this. There is a reason Jesus didn’t stay on earth, but gave us His Spirit. It is to be our Counselor.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you. John 14:26
We need to become listeners more, being able to discern what is the voice of a “thief” and what is the voice of Jesus. “...the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.” John 10:4
There is always a danger in following the Spirit that we will become too feelings based. We do still need to follow the scriptures. The truth is we need BOTH: broad Godly procedures based on scriptures and narrow wisdom given by the Spirit for each individual situation.
The goal is twofold. We seek to honor God. We need to call one another to live like Jesus as much as possible. Christianity simply doesn’t work when we’re only partially putting it into practice. We have a form of godliness but deny it’s power. Our lives are ineffective. We’re not helping others have effective lives. And the result is God isn’t glorified.
The goal is also to not cause anyone to stumble. “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matt 18:6 In calling others to be like Jesus, we need to be very careful to not create irreparable damage. Yes, we need to speak the truth to others, and this can cause them to struggle. As I said before, hitting bumps is something we all face. Learning to wrestling through obstacles in our faith is a good thing.
But there must be a careful reverence for what God is doing in these people’s lives. We must become part of His process, productive, not counterproductive. We must not jump to conclusions when things don’t go the way we think they should. We must not be quick to apply the rote solution.
It occurs to me that there is a very good reason that James said, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1)
James goes on to talk about the damage the tongue can do. And then he discusses the perils of having sin in our heart, and how it adversely affects everything: “where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)
If our heart isn’t right, our teaching will be tainted.
Thus, teaching has potential for great good or great harm. I just read an article in Salon Magazine on how studies are showing that Christianity is detrimental to some people. But the truth is that Christianity isn’t detrimental to anyone, the perfect Creator designed it to be infinitely helpful.
It is the misapplication of Christianity that is harmful.
So we need to be careful how we teach, but this DOESN’T mean that we give up teaching. We are tasked with, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” (Matt 28:20) Paul said in Romans 15:14, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”
We ARE competent. We have been given the Bible. We have been given the Spirit. We have Godly brothers and sisters who can share wisdom with us.
The key is taking the time to search out the scriptures, pray and meditate, and get advice. The key is constantly challenging our ourselves to search out what is true and best.
Last night I experienced a good example of this. We got advice from a wise, older disciple on the direction to take in a family matter. I was impressed with the care with which this individual gave us counsel. He and his wife had taken time to seriously discuss the matter. He stressed that he knew that this choice, which seemed like not too much of a big deal, had the potential to have great ramifications in the future.
And that is how I want to approach situations more. I want to treat them deserving of careful deliberation. I can’t treat things lightly. These things have long term impact on people’s lives.
Rigid or loose? Both are needed. We need to hold to the teachings without compromise. We need to implement time proven methods that are effective.
But if we rely on these, we’re not relying on God. When we allow God to be our guide, there IS a way for EVERYONE to follow Christ.