December 10, 2018

Mondays with Michael Spencer: Searching for a Community of Strugglers

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. (Paul the Apostle, Letter to the Galatians, 4:19, NLT)

This line from Paul has stayed with me for two days. It comes from a section of the Galatian letter when Paul has shifted from teaching to recounting his personal relationship with the Galatians and the love he has for them. The metaphors here are especially insightful.

Paul isn’t in labor pains for the Galatians to come to faith as new believers. That’s already a reality. No, Paul is in “labor” as the Galatians are struggling in their journey toward Christ being “fully formed” in their lives. In other words, Paul is watching the struggle of real disciples, in the growth process, and his heart is the heart of a mother in labor and a father who longs to see a healthy child.

The Galatians aren’t the Corinthians, but they are in a mess. Flatterers have taken them down the road of a false Gospel. What was a solid church plant is at real risk, but Paul is not just concerned about doctrinal correctness. He is concerned over what will be the result of moving away from Jesus and the work of the Spirit, instead encouraging a dependence on flesh and the works righteousness of the old covenant. He sees dark results ahead if the Galatians lose this battle.

Paul’s view of the Galatians’ struggle spills over into his closing exhortations. He wants them to be a Jesus shaped community, and that means accepting the reality of struggle and helping one another. Here he is in chapter 6.

1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Paul’s investment in the Galatians is a great example. They struggle to be fully formed disciples. He agonizes with them. The Galatians are going to need encouragement and help as they struggle, fail and need a hand up. Paul tells them to gently and humbly enter into the struggles of others.

I read all this with an overwhelming sense that many evangelicals have no idea what it is to “gently and humbly” be part of a community of struggling disciples in the growth process. Their orientation, approach and words reveal a different model of discipleship: Why aren’t you acting like a “fully formed” disciple of Jesus now? Why don’t you get it right the first time.

Let me be the first one at the altar here. I’m so infested with the revivalistic theology of my upbringing that I have plenty of this attitude in my own thoughts and words. I regret it, and I hope I can repent and act more like Jesus and Paul. Too many strugglers have seen me nod is supposed sympathy, but my thoughts and actions were nothing like what Paul writes here or what Jesus demonstrates repeatedly in his mission.

Struggle is annoying to the person who externalizes it and pushes away. It would be a lot more convenient, many say, if everyone in the body of Christ could do the right thing the first time and keep doing it. After all, we are Christians, right?

Of course, real Christians can’t live up to that standard, so we have to decide whether to embrace the role of encouraging imperfect people who have a messy set of problems in their journey toward Christlikeness, or are we going to remove ourselves from the potential problem with a few words of judgment?

What’s been your experience?

One of the things that changed my view of these matters was my own struggles with Denise’s journey to Catholicism. I was struggling and failing. Everyone could see it. I made the same errors over and over. I confessed them to some of my brothers. I thank God for the people who came along side of me and helped me struggle to better place. It was hard for them to see me, a leader and pastor, stuck in a ditch of bitterness and despair.

Their ministry to me was especially valuable because other believers made the other choice: they wanted no part of my struggle and found ways- personally and at a distance- to let me know that my struggle wasn’t welcome. They were shocked that I wasn’t walking in victory, whatever that means. I never felt so excluded from my fellow Jesus follower as when I was struggling with what God was doing in my family and marriage.

It was a painful lesson. I learned that the struggles of growing Christians expose the spiritual condition of the Christians around them. Something as simple as a prayer request can become an indicator of whether someone loves you and is willing to struggle, pray and invest time with you, or instead chooses to pronounce you a loser who is an embarrassment to other Christians, especially them.

Scot Mcknight astutely points out that we have a lot of people taking the church very seriously these days, but ironically, many of them can’t find the church they need. Not because of a lack of entertaining programs and preaching, but because they are looking for a community where they can faithfully struggle alongside other strugglers in the discipleship journey.

Many of us feel that absence. We are parts of community, but we are afraid to confess our struggles. We’ve seen how others are written off, and we don’t want to risk the same kind of rejection. We want to be the kinds of persons who can pray for others as fellow pilgrims. We want to move past being the judges of those who are simply like us: broken people who need a hand.

Scripture has the Jesus shaped community in mind. We find it too risky. We want Christians to get it right the first time and keep on getting it right. When they fail, we don’t want the mess to intrude into our so-called “walk with Christ.” If we embrace a community where strugglers of every kind can find a home and help, we may be overwhelmed at what God is able to do.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says:

    I do thank all IMonkers for their support. I did not imagine I would have such love.
    Like St Claire I feel I need some time of seclusion and silence, but knowing my nature that is highly unlikely.

    “Scripture has the Jesus shaped community in mind. We find it too risky. We want Christians to get it right the first time and keep on getting it right. When they fail, we don’t want the mess to intrude into our so-called “walk with Christ.” If we embrace a community where strugglers of every kind can find a home and help, we may be overwhelmed at what God is able to do.”

    I read today’s entry with a great deal of certainty.
    The community of faith supported me physically and spiritually yesterday when I was ill.
    We can be so fortunate when we find a community of faith who supply so much.
    I received such Grace from them.
    Put away the text books and the reference guides, we have all been there done that.
    Hands on Christianity works just so well.

    I awoke this morning singing the last verse of an old, old hymn.

    ‘Faint not nor fear; His arm is near;
    He changes not and thou art dear;
    only believe and thou shalt see
    that Christ is all and all to thee.’

    Blessed be His Holy Name.

    Susan

  2. Pellicano Solitudinis says:

    The only time most people are able to support someone trying, failing, and trying again is when that someone is a child. Even then, we often lack patience and understanding. We aren’t good at dealing with our own struggles either. It’s not surprising that we tend to do even worse with other people’s struggles.

    • Eeyore says:

      I think it’s due at leaat in part to the baseline assumption that if we know something is wrong, that knowledge imparts to us the capability of resisting it. Why this belief persists in the teeth of the overwhelming evidence against it is beyond me.

      • Burro (Mule) says:

        In my case, knowing that a practice is wrong invariably leads to a fascination with it. Knowing that an ideology is despised will attract me to it. What I don’t understand is that for the majority of the posters here, the “Post-Evangelical Wilderness” is actually the Democratic party’s Globalist Feminist Technocratic Plantation, and y’all are such docile slaves. It ain’t so brave to go that way.

        • Eeyore says:

          I’m already sparring with two trolls this morning. Take a number and wait in line. 😛

          • Stbndct says:

            If it makes you feel better to call me a troll then that’s fine. I was only giving my opinion which you didn’t like and needed to resort to name calling.

            • Eeyore says:

              I called you a troll because you assumed that I enjoy fighting with Seneca. I actually don’t. If that was not your intention, i apologize.

        • Patriciamc says:

          “the “Post-Evangelical Wilderness” is actually the Democratic party’s Globalist Feminist Technocratic Plantation, and y’all are such docile slaves. ”

          Now, now, we’re not all that dumb.

          • Burro (Mule) says:

            I’m fully aware that a lot of you think it’s the best place to b, or you wouldn’t be heading in that direction.. Not an issue with intelligence per se.

            I think it has a lot more to do with the wanter than the thinker.

            • Clay Crouch says:

              I guess that makes is it easier for you to dismiss a lot of us, whether it’s true or not.

            • Robert F says:

              You think it has a lot more to do with the water than the tinker? That’s nice. Just remember what opinions are like, and that everybody has one.

        • Robert F says:

          @Mule — You don’t think “America First” is a global plantation? Lol!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Actually, I’ve been expecting an “America First!” pushback reaction for some time.

            Ever since I read Strauss & Howe’s 13th Gen in the late Eighties.

            13th Gen was an analysis of what’s now called Generation X (the throwaway gen between the Baby Boomers and their Mini-Mes the Millenials) using Strauss & Howe’s idea of generational cohorts working into a four-gen, 90-year recurring cycle. Basically Gen Xers are a “reactive generation” who got hit with the side effects of the Boomers’ “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Idealist generation Grand Ideological schemes.

            Specifically, a passage about Xers conflict with their “multi-culti professors” who taught that America should NEVER EVER act in its own interests, but “always defer to ‘international decision-making bodies’ (like the UN, which every Trekkie knows is what will become THE FEDERATION — “Kum-ba-yah, Kum-ba-yah…”). This hit me as a setup for an America First backlash/pushback as the side effects and resentment built up — Communism (compulsory forced Unselfishness) begetting Objectivism (atomistic Utter Selfishness) on a nation-wide scale.

    • Christiane says:

      “We aren’t good at dealing with our own struggles either. It’s not surprising that we tend to do even worse with other people’s struggles.”

      wise words 🙂

  3. senecagriggs says:

    CM WROTE:
    I read all this with an overwhelming sense that many evangelicals have no idea what it is to “gently and humbly” be part of a community of struggling disciples in the growth process. Their orientation, approach and words reveal a different model of discipleship: Why aren’t you acting like a “fully formed” disciple of Jesus now? Why don’t you get it right the first time.
    ______

    I AM one of those “evangelicals” – who has received multiple angry comments from the “post evangelical wilderness” strugglers if you will.
    __________

    The irony often strikes me. The P.E.W.s scourge me for not being gentle and humble about my faith. They scourge me in a way that is neither gentle nor humble.

    But that’s the internet; so quickly exposes hypocrisy in an anonymous way.

    • senecagriggs says:

      Here’s my humble and gentle encouragement. It probably does not benefit you to blame your personal problems on “evangelicals” whoever they may be.

      • Eeyore says:

        Have you not listened to any of the folks here who have suffered shunning, abuse, and insults at the hands of evangelical churches and Christians? Would you tell a victim of family abuse not to blame their problems on their family?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Fake News(TM).

        • senecagriggs says:

          And I have suffered shunning, insults and written abuse at the typed words of those who believe they have been victimized by Evangelicals.

          So what do you do? Luxuriate in your victimization – which appears to be an incredible popular option in our social media obsessed culture?

          I say, that’s not the road to joy.

          • Eeyore says:

            Do you see no difference at all between supporting victims and calling out their abusers, and “luxuriating in victimization”? Do you have so little empathy?

          • StuartB says:

            “Quit persecuting me!” they cry, as their fist hits your face, and their boot stomps you head.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              PERSECUTION!!! = Not being allowed to persecute everyone else.

              Eagle’s planning on a long post on this subject when he clears out his current backlog.

          • Clay Crouch says:

            You’ve not been shunned. You have been called out for lobbing hand grenades by way of making generalized pronouncement then not really engaging with those who respond. Just last week you made several pronouncement about the mainlines in general and the ECUSA in particular but failed to answer simple questions regarding those judgements. Sometimes I wonder what your reason are for commenting here. Most of us have given you the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t think you are serious about dialoguing with those of us who have left the evangelical wing of the American church.

    • Eeyore says:

      Your case might be improved if you had correctly attributed the quote. IMonk wrote this, not Chaplain Mike.

      • Stbndct says:

        Eeyore, Why would his case be improved if he had named imonk instead of Chaplin Mike. I think you delight in your little digs at Seneca. Perhaps walking with him would like the article says benefit more.

        • Eeyore says:

          Because, it might lead one to suspect that he’s not paying attention to the context and is just skimming for stuff to get offended at?

          • ChrisS says:

            If you have a contentious and defensive point of view going into a dialogue that is typically the type of response you will get from the other parties. If you’re looking for a little battle and you throw a few lines out there you’ll usually get that battle. SG often confronts the post and often gets confronted. A genuine query, asking a question you don’t already have your own answer to, rarely meets with derision. In SG’s case, once you’ve built a reputation it’s hard for listeners to filter their skepticism even if you’re not being particularly confrontational at a given point. It is most often the case that he is ‘defending’ Evangelicals while this site is loaded with ex-evangelicals who are moving toward something else. It is certainly true that many good things by many pure hearted individuals are continuing in the evangelical world and we are not around to witness them because we have left. Nonetheless, the selling of the Evangelical soul (as a block) to the corrupting influence of radical politics, as a good number of evangelical leaders have honestly reflected, along with the continuance of other trends like prosperity gospel, etc. leaves me with no desire to go back. The whole purpose of this site is to shed light on those trends and to move forward to a better way. That has its own pitfalls but so be it. SG can’t sit in his recliner when he comes here. He must draw his epee and say, “En garde”. That was a long winded way of saying, “I agree u

            • ChrisS says:

              I agree Eyeore

            • Eeyore says:

              The problem is (getting back to the OP), he first denied the charge (“I AM one of those “evangelicals” – who has received multiple angry comments from the “post evangelical wilderness” strugglers if you will… (t)he irony often strikes me. The P.E.W.s scourge me for not being gentle and humble about my faith.”)

              …and then (I assume inadvertently?) he proved the very point made by IMonk in his very next comment (“It probably does not benefit you to blame your personal problems on “evangelicals” whoever they may be.”)

              What do you do in the face of that?

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              If you have a contentious and defensive point of view going into a dialogue that is typically the type of response you will get from the other parties. If you’re looking for a little battle and you throw a few lines out there you’ll usually get that battle.

              Used to be a troll on Spiritual Sounding Board with the handle “Born 4 Battle”.

              B4B lived up to his name. REALLY lived up to his name. I think he ended up getting blocked, and SSB returned in its regular time slot.

              • Patriciamc says:

                Seneca, if you’re still reading this, and I doubt you are, you have a whole blog devoted to complaining about the Wartburg Watch blog, so don’t you do a bit of scourging yourself?

                FYI – WW reports on spiritual abuse in the church.

                • senecagriggs says:

                  Patriciamc, the evangelical church I attend is composed 100 per cent of sinners – of which I am surely one.

                  However, if you insist on lying about my tribe, I may not simply let it slide.
                  ______________

                  If you are, in fact, a hypocrite, I may push back against your accusation that I am a hypocrite. I say, “Welcome to the club” fellow hypocrite.

                  • Eeyore says:

                    Even if – *if* – nobody at your particular congregation has ever done anything along the lines of what is being criticized here, the general pattern amongst the whole of evangelicalism is still there. If you insist on taking all criticisms of evangalicalism personally, you’re going to invite speculation that you (and your congregation) indeed actually are doing the things we’re criticizing.

                  • Patriciamc says:

                    What are the lies, and did I lie?

                    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                      Patricia — He reversed charges and put you on the defensive by counterattack.
                      It’s a variation on gaslighting —
                      Now he is in control and you’re reacting to him.

                    • StuartB says:

                      BINGO

                    • Patriciamc says:

                      I just don’t have the depth of deviousness to play his game. I guess I’m just too normal emotionally.

    • David H says:

      You conveniently omitted the very next paragraph: “Let me be the first one at the altar here. I’m so infested with the revivalistic theology of my upbringing that I have plenty of this attitude in my own thoughts and words. I regret it, and I hope I can repent and act more like Jesus and Paul. Too many strugglers have seen me nod is supposed sympathy, but my thoughts and actions were nothing like what Paul writes here or what Jesus demonstrates repeatedly in his mission.”

      In IM’s essay, I see gentleness and humility overflowing. I see a man speaking from decades of personal experience and insightful wisdom. Yet, your contributions here consist predominately in (unjustifiably) making yourself a martyr, pointing out others’ hypocrisy, and showing an inability to empathize or engage in meaningful, constructive dialog. Which is a shame seeing as I believe you do have a lot to offer here.

  4. Burro (Mule) says:

    In my case, knowing that a practice is wrong invariably leads to a fascination with it. Knowing that an ideology is despised will attract me to it. What I don’t understand is that for the majority of the posters here, the “Post-Evangelical Wilderness” is actually the Democratic party’s Globalist Feminist Technocratic Plantation, and y’all are such docile slaves. It ain’t so brave to go that way.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Here we have it. Chest-beating, misogynist infantalism. In response to the post above. The mind boggles.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        When all you have is a Hammer…

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          I find it very enlightening. I am an atheist, but it is important for me to have empathy with peoples’ struggles – call it spiritual, call it psychological – nomenclature is irrelevant. Of course I don’t believe in the spiritual – but that does not mean cannot see how it can be a metaphor for the difficulties of this life.

          However, as the responses here prove, some individuals who are serious about their religious beliefs have to take the opportunity to, and excuse the language, crap all over other peoples’ struggles. This tells you who they are. Goodness and crappiness are determined by the individual, not on which peg they hang their worldview…

          (BTW, I fully acknowledge that I struggle to empathize. It is not always easy. But being good and calm and reasonable rarely is)

    • Robert F says:

      @Mule — When you use that Southern Man way of talking, it makes me want to ignore you completely.

    • Patriciamc says:

      “What I don’t understand is that for the majority of the posters here, the “Post-Evangelical Wilderness” is actually the Democratic party’s Globalist Feminist Technocratic Plantation, and y’all are such docile slaves.”

      Now, now, we’re not that easily deceived or even left-wing. You know for many or most of us, “feminist” means treating women with respect and giving them equal opportunity.

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    Based upon the propensity of people to not only struggle but to be assholes – case in point, some of the commenters here, including myself (and at times I would bet Michael Spencer would’ve said it about himself) – I would amend Michael’s original title to “Searching for a Community of Struggling Assholes.” That captures not only that we have to do community with people who are strugglers, but also with people we may not like very much.

    • Christiane says:

      I was thinking about how some folks seem to have a basic need to be exclusive to ‘outsiders’ who are not like themselves;
      while other folks not only welcome diversity into their communities, but also treasure the odd eccentric ducks and old curmudgeons who feel welcomed enough to ‘be themselves’ without being put out on the curb for having offended ‘the right people’ . . . . .

      and I was thinking of how our Christianity applies to these extremes and also to all those of us who fall in the middle of this continuum of humanity . . .

      And I was thinking of what makes things better.
      And what makes things worse.

      And what is the role of ‘fear’ and ‘fearfulness’ in this dynamic?
      And what is the role of ‘kindness’ in the sense of ‘chesed’ in this dynamic?

      No conclusions that everyone else hasn’t thought of already, I’m sure. But spending time on imonk gets me thinking about things like this. 🙂

      • Rick Ro. says:

        –> “And what is the role of ‘fear’ and ‘fearfulness’ in this dynamic?”

        HUGE. Fear and fearfulness drives most people these days, especially the a-holes.

        Oh, that and PRIDE, capital P-R-I-D-E.

    • senecagriggs says:

      “I would amend Michael’s original title to “Searching for a Community of Struggling Assholes.”

      That’s pretty awesome RickRo

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Paul isn’t in labor pains for the Galatians to come to faith as new believers. That’s already a reality. No, Paul is in “labor” as the Galatians are struggling in their journey toward Christ being “fully formed” in their lives.

    Which is where St Paul differs from today’s Evangelicals, who place 110% of their efforts on “come to faith as new believers” with NO effective follow-up.

  7. Let me be the first one at the altar here. I’m so infested with the revivalistic theology of my upbringing that I have plenty of this attitude in my own thoughts and words. I regret it, and I hope I can repent and act more like Jesus and Paul. Too many strugglers have seen me nod is supposed sympathy, but my thoughts and actions were nothing like what Paul writes here or what Jesus demonstrates repeatedly in his mission.

    Interesting that you write this today. I came from a background drenched in the thoughts of Charles Finney. That ethos combined with my own brokenness created a toxic mess. Just yesterday I said to someone that its a world of difference to look at others through the eyes of love rather than the eyes of judgement.I have been in recovery since 1985!

    I’ve been hanging out here since Spencer.
    Yes, there is a time to grieve, to be angry and get all the poison out, and this place has been great for that. But there also is a time to forgive, if for no reason other than our own mental health.

    Here’s the rub: As long as we sit here week after week and just lob hand grenades at Evangelicals and criticize all their flaws we haven’t changed a bit. All we have done is change the labels on the can.

    • StuartB says:

      We can’t change them. We can’t cause revival. We can’t improve things.

      Revival and growth are myths that the victors in theological and ideological struggles told about their history. The SBC takeover was a “revival”. Josiah’s pograms were a “revival”. The Great Awakening was a “revival”.

      All lies.

      You’re right though. There needs to be a time to grieve, to be angry, and a time to forgive.

      And a time to leave. Let them consume themselves. Let them distill. Let them grow toxic. We’ll be there for the survivors.

      And we’ll be there to fight back when they try to takeover the country again.

      • We can’t take responsibility for the evangelical movement.

        We can take responsibility for our own attitudes going forward. And as long as we demonize them we are the pot calling the kettle black. Because in the old days, at least for me, I demonized others as part of my evangelical ethos. When I started to change I then demonized the old evangelical movement I was part of. Eventually I had to forgive and start looking inward and ask where all this stuff was coming from. This calls for much self reflection.

        I can no longer stand before God and blame them. I can only allow Him to work grace in my life to view others through the eyes of love rather than judgement.

        And that is just about the toughest thing I have ever encountered.

        • Thanks for this, Ken.

        • Radagast says:

          As someone who stands outside of the tradition looking in … I agree. I have been walloped by bible thumpers and I also know a couple who to this day are my role model in humbleness. As individuals some are further along in their spiritual depth and journey than others. Yes, there are things that annoy me about the evangelical movement, but there are some things they do better. In the mainline churches I love that they pay attention to Church history and liturgy and Church calendar… but struggle with what is perceived to be anything goes.

          And I have my romantic idealistic thought about EO… but I realize they to struggle, from cultural sectarianism (word?)….

          But I agree with your points.

  8. Rick Ro. says:

    –> “If we embrace a community where strugglers of every kind can find a home and help, we may be overwhelmed at what God is able to do.”

    YES.

    Several months ago, I posed this question to the Saturday morning men’s group at my church: If as individuals we are to be image-bearers of Jesus, what are we to be image-bearers of as a CHURCH?

    Our conclusion falls right in line with today’s classic iMonk post: We decided that a church should provide a safe haven for broken and struggling people, thus the image we should bear is that of a safe haven of and for broken, messy, struggling people.

    • John barry says:

      Rick Ro. In the dreaded evangelical church, I am generalizing , to repent means to change I.e. I am not what I was. Any wretched sinner is welcome to join the wretched sinners and come to worship God. If a church considers some act a sin why would you go to that church to worship unless you have an open mind to repent or change? Would a convert to the Jewish faith expect that BBQ be service at the next worship event?

      To the evangelicals the church is the people again. I would not go to a church that supports same sex marriage but if I did I would not expect the church to change their church for me. A lot of homeless will not go to the Salvation Army as they require you attend a worship or counseling service as part of the package.

      We recently had a post about the John 8.11 stoner woman, yes she was probably from Colorado or Ca. If she came back and told Jesus she wanted to follow him but want to keep her lifestyle what would Jesus do?, He told her go and sin no more, she wants to be a follower of Jesus but keep her lifestyle, what should the church do.

      I say come to church, learn, pray and repent if you want to be a part of that particular church, either the individual changes or the church changes. I think the former Episcopalian church Bishopa disservice with his personal choice over this church obligations. Same with wife beaters, and all the rest who betray the trust of the faithful.

      I do not want to get into the whole homosexual or same sex marriage just a prime example, who needs to change, the existing church or the individual who wants to set the standard,just know what is happening.

      I think my What Would Jesus Do comment might catch on, but I am still recovering from the 25 year coma I was in. What Would Jesus Do, he would do great things.

      • John barry says:

        Notice the computer made an error It should be The Episcopalian church Bishop did a disservice. My keyboard is produced a lot of typing errors lately, must be hacking.

      • I think a key word here is ‘trajectory’. Are we moving toward being Christ-like? Are we dealing with our stuff?

        Sometimes those in the revival tradition seem to think Paul’s letters are descriptive, not letters to communities that are a work in progress.
        So they set the bar high as if somehow we have already arrived. It seems to rarely work and instead what happens is we put on faces and become chameleons

        The answer to this is not license to do whatever we want. And I think some have moved in that direction, Episcopalians in the forefront (I can say that – its my tribe).

        What is our trajectory? Are we moving toward moral transformation?

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “I think a key word here is ‘trajectory’. Are we moving toward being Christ-like? Are we dealing with our stuff?”

          I like that.

          –> “Are we moving toward moral transformation?”

          Not sure I like that, though.

          Let me explain. A gentleman came to Saturday morning men’s fellowship this last Saturday, total stranger, about my age. At first he appeared to be quite relaxed, but the more he talked and shared, the more I realized he was wound up tighter than a spring. Then he said something like, “If we have given ourselves over to God’s grace and truly have Jesus in us, then we should be more perfect as He was perfect. Thus we have the power to make the right choice with each and every decision.”

          Words like “transformation” then came out, and “sanctified,” and I thought, Oh, gosh…this guy’s theology has him worrying over every single decision and every little sin.

          So Yes, our trajectory might be moving us toward being Christ-like, and yes, helping us deal with our stuff, but “moral transformation”…I’m not so sure. That lays a heavy burden on our human brokenness.

          (We suggest to the guy that he needed to lean into Jesus’ grace a bit more.)

          • Rick Ro. says:

            Ken, I should’ve also pointed out this comment of yours:
            “So they set the bar high as if somehow we have already arrived. It seems to rarely work and instead what happens is we put on faces and become chameleons.”

            Yes. And that’s what I felt with this guy on Saturday. He spoke as if we all should’ve “already arrived.” I think it’s that “I should’ve already arrived, but why am I still sinning” that winds people up tighter than springs.

            • I hear you and that is what I am talking about. The holiness movement where the expectation is that we have arrived, taking scripture descriptively as if Paul is saying being squeaky clean is normative.

              All his letters to me say we are a work in progress, so bit by bit we are being transformed! Another way of putting it is we are being redeemed.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Rick, that heavy burden was one of the things that propelled me into the wilderness (years before I knew anything about EO). I was in a church with many sincere, Jesus-following people who said “I’m a sinner” but who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – be specific about their sin, and more tellingly, couldn’t be honest about any of their needs, and were afraid to look inside to find out what that “ME” was about – hurts and fears as well as sympathies. I was at that point myself, and I felt like I was speaking a foreign language they didn’t understand, and most of them were very uncomfortable when I asked questions. It wasn’t a question of rank hypocrisy for most of them, just lots and lots of fears and inability to look at them. I needed help, and I couldn’t get it within Evangelicalism anymore.

            Your instincts are sound wrt “moral transformation.” As Fr Stephen always says, Christ did not come to make bad men good – he came to make dead men live. Also long ago, I came to the conclusion that morality is morality – Christian morality is only “better” insofar as it comes from another place. And that place is The Life of the Age to Come – the mode of existence that Christ lives, which is granted to us as pure gift as we turn toward him in honesty about who we are, and in trust (repentance). This mode of existence is eschatological – it is a down-payment of how we will be after the Resurrection, in the fullness of the humanity God planned for us. It is the existence for which God created us from the beginning. It is existence in self-giving love, a love that defeats death because it pays it no mind or anything else, and which we can’t summon up for ourselves, but which changes us as we enter into it more fully. This is why it serves no purpose to try to “get better” or more moral; we aren’t able to see the state of our own soul most of the time. Yes, we should do good and relieve suffering and work for the poor; absolutely! But not in order to “be moral” – rather, in order to be Human.

            This is a big reason I love being Orthodox. It’s so simple, not much at all “in the head” (though there is plenty to satisfy an intellectual person): go to Church (includes participating gratefully and humbly in the Sacraments), say your prayers, remember God, share your stuff. Fr Stephen says that on the Cross, Jesus’ concerns were for his Father, his mother & the beloved disciple, those who were putting him to death, and the terrorist brigands with which he was crucified. He wasn’t concerned about “morality” as he was dying. He is our pattern.

            In other news, if anyone prays for such a thing, please pray that my tech person will be able to retrieve the data on my hard drive, which crashed last week; that’s why I haven’t been around. I have to grab a few minutes in between when my husband needs his computer. I have the capability for back-up, but since the medical transcription petered out, I haven’t needed it for employment, and so have not done the back-up for some months… I would be very unhappy to lose the personal info on my machine, and yes, I have learned my lesson. Computers – oy vey. You can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em…

            Christ is risen!
            Dana

            • Rick Ro. says:

              Thanks for your note, Dana. And prayers going up for the computer hard drive thing. Ugh.

              Here’s a little “additional” flavor to the Saturday story. Our men’s group is at a Nazarene church. In the midst of our visitor’s speech on “Wesleyan/Nazarene tradition holds to this…” (again, this guy was wound up tight over this stuff), I stopped him and said, “Let me give you a little background on the group here. About a year ago I took an anonymous poll ‘how many here believe in once-saved-always-saved and how many believe in you-CAN-lose-your-salvation. And guess what the vote came out in favor of?”

              And our visitor said, “Well, if you’re Wesleyan and Nazarene tradition, you believe that yes, a person can lose their salvation.”

              And I said, “Well, here’s the funny thing: the vote was split exactly 50-50. And the reason I tell you that is because we never discuss theology and doctrine, and we hate that kind of divisive stuff. We are here to read the Bible and discuss it, differences of opinion are okay, theological rabbit-holes are not.”

              Not sure he liked that or not…LOL. I guess we’ll know if he returns next week!

            • Radagast says:

              Even us tech people get caught by hard drive crash… in 2007 I lost all my genealogy research to a water main break…. stupid me did not back up the only copy of the family roots on the only computer to survive the four feet of water in my basement… and one day my encrypted hard drive stopped… never to be recovered again… ugh… still pains me to this day.

        • Radagast says:

          “The answer to this is not license to do whatever we want. And I think some have moved in that direction, Episcopalians in the forefront (I can say that – its my tribe).”

          This.

          Sometimes reading here it seems folks move a full 180 degrees from where they came from… again perception and may not be reality.

          I am from the Catholic tradition. We have conservative and liberal opinions but we do not expect the Church to change as we change in our journey… its not all about me. The Church is liberal in some areas (social justice) and conservative in others (moral thinking)… but I think of the Church outside of those monikers and focused on two things… Love God with all your mind/heart/soul and love others as yourself.

      • That Other Jean says:

        Sometimes, John, it IS the church that needs to change. Changes toward inclusiveness in the church are, at least to me, a good thing.

    • Christiane says:

      “Our conclusion falls right in line with today’s classic iMonk post: We decided that a church should provide a safe haven for broken and struggling people, thus the image we should bear is that of a safe haven of and for broken, messy, struggling people.”

      Hey, Rick Ro.

      some day we will wake up and realize that those ‘broken and struggling people’ included US also . . . and then we might get it right that part of our healing IS caring for others who are also wounded

      the DIFFERENCE between two Churches:
      one where the ‘righteous’ preach down to the ‘lost’ and evict them from their midst if they don’t shape up in the time allowed

      OR

      one where all of the community pray to God, ‘have mercy on us sinners’

      ?

      my guess is that grace may be best found among the humble communicants who seek God’s mercy on a daily basis because they know their own need for Christ and acknowledge it

      • Rick Ro. says:

        –> “some day we will wake up and realize that those ‘broken and struggling people’ included US also . . . and then we might get it right that part of our healing IS caring for others who are also wounded ”

        Exactly, Christiane. Frankly, we will only be the Church as it’s supposed to be if we recognize we are both the damaged and ones who can help God fix the damaged.

        • Christiane says:

          that is what is ‘missing’ in the fundamentalist-evangelical equation, I think . . . . a sense of embracing the humility of the publican in the temple, instead of the pride of the pharisee

          Domine non sum dignus . . . . one prayer that still has great meaning in the Church

  9. seneca griggs says:

    Eeyore said:
    “Have you not listened to any of the folks here who have suffered shunning, abuse, and insults at the hands of evangelical churches and Christians? Would you tell a victim of family abuse not to blame their problems on their family?”
    __________

    Eeyore, I’m sure you’ve noticed; sooner or later life kicks your butt. Sometimes it’s in the form of your enemies, sometimes your family and often friends – or now ex-friends.

    The aforementioned shunning, abuse, insults, are they not part of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?”
    What adult hasn’t been insulted, shunned, abused, used etc. Is that not simply a part of life as we know it?

    As to the future;
    As David Jeremiah once spoke – “We’re all just waiting for the next trainwreck.”

    • Eeyore says:

      When a lightning bolt wrecks your car, or a river floods your crops, or the stock market crashes – those are slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. When other people insult, abuse, marginalize, and otherwise do bad by you, that is not “misfortune”… that is *injustice*. And while the NT counsels acceptance of injustice perpetrated on Christians by non-Christians in the form of persecution, it is absolutely UNaccepting of injustice perpetrated on Christians by other Christians, and ESPECIALLY if that injustice is defended on religious grounds.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        ESPECIALLY if that injustice is defended on religious grounds.

        “For ye rob widows and orphans, and for justification make long prayers…”
        — Some Rabbi from Nazareth

        • Christiane says:

          I’m thinking of how it is that the recent tax ‘improvement’ RAISED taxes on the lowest class by 10% . . . . . single mothers, the working poor . . . .

          all the while, the evangelical world glorifies the administration that takes from those most in need OPENLY and with impunity and with 41% of our nation’s people approving the action

          What is our national religion these days? What will Pence make of his ‘Christian nation’ ?
          That increase of taxes on the poorest of our people was an overt statement of contempt for them, in my own opinion. It’s hard not to come to that conclusion. And if we have contempt for the ‘widows and the orphans’ class, do we as a people not also have contempt for the One Who spoke FOR them? Exactly what IS being worshiped in our land? Or shall I say ‘who’ is being worshiped? (end of rant)

          • Stbndct says:

            Let’s have some specifics and numbers of where you find this. Blanket statements with no backup are not helpful

            • Stbndct says:

              The lowest class pays no income tax which is fine with me but just throwing numbers out there out of the blue does not answer the real question

            • Eeyore says:
              • Stbndct says:

                The Tax Policy Center has updated its estimate of the percentage of Americans who pay no federal individual income taxes. And the number is: 44 percent—roughly what it was last year but well below the 50 percent peak during the Great Recession. TPC projects the fraction will decline slowly to 40 percent a decade from now.

                Taxes could not be raised on the lowest 10% because 44 per cent pay no taxes. Another liberal progressive mind meld

                • Stbndct says:

                  Eeyore, the tables you list may be valid but even if they go up no taxes are collected. If 44 percent don’t pay taxes who cares if the bottom level is raised. It does not mean dollars collected. Please research what you do not know.

                  • Stbndct says:

                    It’s really not brain science. If 44% of the people pay no taxes how can the lowest 10% be paying more ? They can’t no matter how you twist the numbers. Just more scare tactics. From the progressive liberals who hate the Trump tax cut. I don’t care for Trump at all but the tax cut was a piece of good legislation.

              • Christiane says:

                Thanks for the stats, Eeyore 🙂

      • john barry says:

        Eeyore, But when the moon hits your eye that’s Amore’ but luckily it has the effect of a big pizza pie, perhaps Mike the G Man can tell the science behind that. Of course that was before the advent of frozen pizza so it might cause damage now.

        And I am going on record, I am against robbing widows and orphans unless they make a love offering, then it is voluntary. Please send no cash, coins or mites.

    • senecagriggs says:

      Nope, our problem is NOT other Christians, or non Christians for that matter.

      The enemy? Me

      • Eeyore says:

        Beware that your words might be found to be truer than you realize…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Lunatic-fringe Calvinists often play “Can You Top This?” combined with “More Utterly Depraved than Thou” in a race to the bottom.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          That was probably one of the few statements by Seneca that needed no response, Eeyore. 😉

          Plus, ya gotta admit… that’s one of the few statements he’s made that I think we can ALL agree with, not just about Seneca, but ourselves, too. The Bible is one long story about how we mess up our own relationships with God and each other. PRIDE, PRIDE, PRIDE and FEAR, FEAR, FEAR.