Monday, September 25, 2006

The Radical Watchman

The Radical Watchman Streams of Spiritual Subterfuge-- Part One

As a shepherd I am always concerned about who or what is influencing the sheep God has entrusted to me. In this age of mass communication this is an almost impossible task. There are countless ways in which one can be imperceptibly influenced, either positively or negatively. Rather than assuming the role of thought police, it is much easier to try and teach believers to think more biblically. True wisdom from above is required to keep from becoming another fatality to the world’s ideals and philosophies. This must be taught as well as caught.

The book of Proverbs addresses the very dilemma I pose:

Proverbs 22:3 “The prudent sees the evil and hides him, But the naive go on, and are punished for it.”

Proverbs 27:12 “A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, The naive proceed and pay the penalty.”

Proverbs 14:16 “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless.”

These three verses all convey the same central idea. The point is that the truly wise person is aware of the dangers that surround them. The wise-one responds by taking the necessary steps required to avoid the potential trap and the accompanying consequences. Contrast this with the na├»ve or the simple. They ignore the danger signs and subsequently make no effort to avoid the raging stream that is headed right for them. As Matthew Henry rightly notes, “The simple who believe every word that flatters them will believe none that warns them.” I shutter to think how many times I’ve warned some senseless sheep who thought they knew better than God on some issue, and ultimately they suffered the due recompense of their rebellion. God is never mocked.

The wise on the other hand are discerning and maintain an acute sense of what is going on around them. They are honest with the subtlety of hostile thought before them. The wise consciously acknowledge the pesticide of the world’s perverse logic and ideas. Therefore, they are not deceived by self or otherwise. They both see and acknowledge the temptation that confronts them, so they clothe themselves in the full armor of God and stand their ground in the might that only Christ can afford!

What amazes me today is the pure subtlety of the seduction of our minds. Yes, even the believer’s mind is never exempt from this. This is why Paul warned the Colossians to take heed so that they would not be taken hostage by the world’s false systems of knowledge and faulty erudition (Colossians 2:8). I maintain that the church of Jesus of Christ is being inexorably seduced in a very surreptitious manner. Many well meaning Christians think they are orthodox in their doctrine and practice, yet they are being influenced in ways they don’t understand or acknowledge. This has led to the weakening and distillation of their faith and ultimately the church.

There are four cardinal streams of thought that I would like to introduce (This is by no means exhaustive) . These four tributaries are impacting us in ways we are not even aware of. Thus, if we are not conscious of these influences, we are probably being commanded by them without even realizing it. These are the four major influences we should be alerted to: individualism, egalitarianism, democracy, and freedom:

The world’s cultic obsession with the notion of individualism has not left the church unscathed. Though the Bible acknowledges the fact that we are individuals, it certainly never elevates this truth beyond its limits. In the Untied States we have a wonderful document called The Declaration of Independence, which has sadly become the creed of many individuals, even in the church. This creed of strident independence has produced the love of self over and above love for God and for fellow man.

The rugged individualism espoused by the west today has spawned the whole human rights movement. The crux of the human rights movement is nothing more than an attempt to rid oneself of any form of discipline, obligation to others, and the avoidance of moral imperatives. It has become another way in which to camouflage sin.

The Bible, on the other hand, seeks to focus christian thinking not on human rights, but rather on christian duties that are often other oriented. Man has a duty first before God, and secondly a duty toward his fellow man. Hence, the greatest commands-- to love God and then man! The very concept of duty implies an authority that is external to us. This further implies that we are accountable beings, not islands unto ourselves. We actually answer to someone other than ourselves .This external authority means we are accountable rather than responsible. The word responsibility is currently in vogue. Responsibility is a word that infers we are in charge; we control the situation in some way. This is why it is common to hear someone speak of their “responsibilities”, but rarely will one hear it said that one is “accountable”. Where the things of God are concerned it is more accurate to speak of our accountability to Him rather than our responsibilty

The sum of individualism finally leads to division, not unity. Yet, unity is the goal of the politically correct jet-set and the intellectual elite. In this, the world is oxymoronic, they scream “unity” while at the same time sowing the seeds of division through their pious platitudes on individualism. How ironic.

Practically speaking the fruit of this dogma can be seen in a variety of ways in the twenty-first century church:

Through novel interpretations of God’s word--I have encountered this more times than I care to remember. Though believers should be encouraged to be good Bereans this doesn’t imply they should come up with their own self-styled, designer fashion labels for the Bible. Because of the mass media explosion and the cyber space revolution, well meaning Christians are often exposed to an avalanche of bad or, at the least, questionable teaching. This often leads them to individualize what they have learned into their own unique theology. This is what I call idiosyncratic theology.

Suddenly every one is an expert peddling their own self-styled brand of theology that often runs contrary to the truth. The kicker is that these unique interpretations are often promoted as cardinal doctrines that their defenders tenaciously promote to the detriment of the major pillars of the faith. Such people are a like a guitarist that only plays one note in the same key over and over again. This becomes monotonous and boorish in a relatively short time. It is often a reliable indicator of a person’s true maturity level in Christ. Practitioners of this approach usually swat at a gnat while swallowing a camel. They emphasize the minors to the exclusion of the majors. They prate on endlessly about issues like tongues speaking, spiritual warfare, the KJV 1611 only, diet, allegorical interpretations, conspiracy theories and the like. They love to be heard for their much speaking. They pretend to be authorities on something they really know nothing about. These self-proclaimed experts are both a danger and a menace to the church because they thrive on a crowd. Thus, they are influencing others in the church.

In some instances it becomes necessary to apply Titus 3:9-10 to such persons,
“But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the
Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and
second warning.”

A second fruit of individualism is subjectivism. Because self is firmly ensconced as the premier authority of one’s life, it goes without saying that what “I” think or feel is paramount. One can hardly have a conversation with another believer without hearing “Well, I just feel…” As David Wells so poignantly pointed out “We have been feeling a lot these days. The problem is we aren’t feeling so well.”! The rugged individualist makes life transforming decisions without thought or regard for others that might be affected adversely by the decision made. How many a marriage has ended because one or both partners make important decisions without consulting the other? God created us to be proactive creatures not reactive. When we live life from the cuff, then we are pursuing a subjective course of life. This is a direct result of rugged individualism.

A third fruit of individualism is that of ecclesiastical (church) isolationism. The autonomy of the individual asserts that church is no longer necessary. What really matters is my personal relationship with the Lord. The mantra of those who suffer from this malady is “I really don’t need church. I actually feel closer to the Lord when I stay home and listen to CD’s and read my Bible and pray.” What they are really saying is, “I avoid authority and accountability. I will selfishly pursue my own course without regard for the church for which Christ gave His own life blood (Acts 20:28). I will intentionally withhold my gift of service from the body of Jesus Christ and serve myself instead.”

Tragically this blatant creed is epidemic today. Yet the command of Hebrews 10:24-
25 still rings true, “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of
some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing
near.” This is a command not a mere suggestion. The imperative nature of this
passage is reminiscent of the old saying which states, if Christ thought enough
of the church to give His life blood for it; well might we think it important enough
to expend a little sweat for it. In the end, true love for Christ portends a real love for
His church in some local expression. To profess Christ and then remain
unchurched is a contradiction. One’s love for Christ will naturally lead to a love for
His church.

A fourth fruit of individualism in the church is an unteachable spirit. When one is completely self-centered and the highest authority is self, then what can they possibly learn that they don’t already know? I have actually had people in the congregation who sat with their feet kicked out and their arms folded, with a look of utter defiance that said, “Go ahead and try to teach me something I don’t already know. I dare you!” Their body language says all that needs to be said. They refuse to listen. Pride and arrogance circumscribe them. Though they refuse to be taught, they are always ready to teach you and others. Yet their lives usually reveal how little they really know, for they are long on talk, but short on action.

Finally, the fruit of individualism is the catalyst for disunity in the church. The ardent individualist is always pursuing his own agenda at the expense of others in the church. They selfishly promote their own idiosyncratic theologies and contradict the pastor at every turn and undermine what he and the leadership are trying achieve. Confusion and disruption are their specialty. Like an arsonist, they throw lit matches into the brush causing conflagrations amongst the flock. You can always tell where they have been because of the charred, barren landscape they leave behind.

It is interesting that in the New Testament there are thirty-five one another passages. Certainly the word of God is loudly promoting the fact that the lone ranger approach to Christ is to be avoided at all cost. Philosophical individualism is impacting the church in a profound way. We need to be wise to this and on guard against the nefarious affects of this pernicious dogma. As the ancient sage once said, “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless.”

*(In part two the other three streams of thought will be considered—egalatarianism, democracy, and freedom)

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