Audio version read by author creed-or-compassion-8_20-ss.mp3
Polarization is the name of the game and Christianity is not immune. Just as certainly as violence and hatred have taken advantage of the movement for justice, a less obvious divide continues to erode the foundations and witness of the church.
It is urgent in these divisive days to acknowledge that creeds promoting predominantly individualized devotion have overshadowed the call for compassion in much of the church. We do a lot of preaching without reaching, we offer platitudes instead of support. As foundations are being shaken, let us assist in reshaping a superficial religion that packs the churches on Sundays but leaves the marginalized in the margins. “Be warmed, be filled” as the saying goes. Silence seems to be the prevailing response to the current outcry of our brethren. And although it is painfully evident that the cause for justice is being used by sinister anarchists for their own nefarious ends, there is no excuse for withholding a loving embrace from those who worship the same God. Understanding and love are vital to facilitate a much needed Christianity reset.
Conversely, there are those who have left off with doctrine that seems to focus so heavily on the soul that it neglects the body, and have instead become social justice warriors. Secure in their moral activity they look with disdain on their Christian brethren who pursue personal holiness without involving themselves in the struggle of their suffering neighbors. Advocating seems more righteous than meetings, and is indeed unquestionably required of God’s people. However, the church needs the involvement, not the scorn, of these ones to catalyze action alongside God’s parallel call for worship, prayer, and teaching.
Our viewpoints operate much like the “stage light’ setting on the iphone photos ap, which spotlights the focus and greys out the edges.The problem is “we only see along the lines of our prejudices – our evangelical or un-evangelical prejudices, the prejudices of our belief or our agnosticism; we cannot see otherwise until events operate on us. The surgery of events is a most painful thing.” (Oswald Chambers – Baffled to Fight Better) These painful ‘events’ are now our daily fare – opportunity is knocking.
Both of these approaches to spirituality have their relative merits, but is it possible that the leaven of the Pharisee lurks in both? God desires both personal sanctification and advocacy for the vulnerable, but it is easy to become so indoctrinated in one’s spiritual preferences that condescension and criticism feel acceptable, even honorable. Jesus reserved His most scathing denunciation for religious elites, and we must guard against unsuspectingly becoming His opponent, convinced of our moral high ground. “The nature of Phariseeism is that it must stand on tiptoe and be superior. The man who does not want to face the foundation of things becomes tremendously stern and keen on principles and moral reforms. …A Pharisee shuts you up, not by loud shouting, but by the unanswerable logic that he presents; he is bound to principles not to relationship. There is a great amount of Phariseeism abroad today, and it is based on devotedness to principles. Devotion to a cause is the great mark of our day, and in religion it means being devoted to the application of religious principles. A disciple to Jesus Christ is devoted to a person, not to principles” Oswald Chambers
Harsh? That our performance, either in the church or on the streets could be well intentioned service to a principle and not a Person? That is the litmus test for each of us – “except your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees…” Unbidden, self-righteousness threatens our hearts and poisons our minds. Correct doctrine does not make one immune. Neither does social reform activism. Listen honestly to our thoughts: “Lord I thank you that I am not like that man”. Does our principle isolate us? Jesus, after the hyper-symbolic act of washing His disciples’ feet, tells them that the world will recognize His followers by their love for one another. Do you love Jesus enough to love your brethren? The church is diminished by your absence. It is also diminished by your inaction.
Are we not alive for such a time as this? Judgment begins at the house of God! We cannot keep making the same mistakes, relying on the same flawed system. We need each other, both our creeds and our compassion. We need to hold our leaders accountable. The church, with Christ as head, was designed to be a healing influence, but it is hobbled by business model mindsets and practices. It is time to spearhead reconciliation in a broken society, but we must start by repairing a broken church. We need to repent, to lament, to cry out to the Lord in desperation for mercy and grace. Let us submit to the Holy Spirit’s leadership so the church can again produce disciples rather than adherents. Let us give God the courtesy of being in charge of His people. Action without listening is counterproductive. Listening without action is lying. Let us follow the One Who is intimately and painfully acquainted with the process of reconciliation. Dedication to anything less than Jesus Himself is Phariseeism.
John Perkins’ prayer for reconciliation in a divided country aptly applies to the church:
“Lord God, grant that we may see and know the measure of Your displeasure with us as we claim to belong to You yet choose to be separate from one another. May the fire of Your Spirit burn within our hearts so that we are thrown from our places of complacency and comfort and find ourselves hastening to make You known among the people of the earth, because we Your Church are one.”
John Perkins One Blood
Here is a bonus – a short video about one man’s thoughts about restructuring the church Francis Chan