Are We Guilty Of Embracing The Cult Of Judgmentalism?

One of the accusations thrown at Christians is that we are amongst the most judgemental people in the world. Interestingly enough that accusation comes equally from churched folks as it does from the none churched. Why do we have such a reputation? I don’t think that we aim to judge others – or ourselves, rather I believe that we simply don’t understand grace. For that matter I wonder if we actually believe in grace?

Before I get a few nasty notes let me say this first. I do believe that we need to make character and situational judgment calls. I’m not against judging in the right circumstances and appropriate ways. What I am talking about is ‘judgmentalism’. I believe that there is a huge difference and that I’m not simply splitting hairs. I wrote on this judging thing in another blog which you can check out by following this link:  https://thesavagetheologian.com/2017/10/30/to-judge-or-not-to-judge-what-does-jesus-say/

It’s almost like we are embracing a cult of judgmentalism instead of embracing the gospel of grace. Some time ago a Christian friend came to me in distress. He’d had too much to drink while out with some friends. He’d known them for years and would regularly drink in moderation with them, but on this occasion, he’d lapsed in his self-control. As far as he was concerned, he’d just blown several years of witnessing to them.

We have a prayer ministry offered every Sunday at the end of the service, called the connection corner. We were thinking about how we could encourage more people to make use of it, when one lady said, “Well I’d never use it. I’d hate for other people to assume that I had a problem.” Seriously? Unfortunately, it was serious.

Both these incidents reveal an underlying malaise in many of our churches. I’m not sure we really believe in grace. We do, in the sense that we teach it and assent to it in our confessions. But perhaps we don’t, in the sense of really living it. The issue, I suspect, is something of a misstep in our formula of what it means to live for Christ. It’s like we think we’re Jesus’ PR agents. “If I look good, then Jesus looks good.”So, we hate the thought of not looking good. That’s what Christian failure looks like to the average person I think.

Here’s our problem though. If this mindset of being Jesus’ PR agent permeates a whole church family, our life together becomes a matter of performance. What results is a bunch of underperforming, over expecting Christians putting on their best Christian masks, taking deep breaths, and then heading out to church wondering how long they can keep this charade up. It becomes unbearably exhausting. I know – I’ve done this too many times in the past.

Listen, if Christian parents adopt this mindset, parenting becomes about trying to perform well in front of the kids, making sure they only see the highest standard of Christian behaviour from us. This may be a common way of thinking, but it’s disastrous. It leads to hypocrisy. The reality is, we’re not good, and we can only keep up the façade for a little while before the cracks begin to show.

We all know that our little mini-me’s see it right away anyways. They know what we’re really like and can immediately tell when we try to put a Christian sheen over it. And when we really make a mess of things, the last place we want go to is a church gathering. We’re supposed to look Christian there, so when we know we can’t remotely pretend things are together, it’s easier simply not to go. Best to keep the mess away from the other well put together folks – except that they’re not.

All this is a sign that while we may be professing grace, we’re not actually inhabiting a culture of grace. We’re not Jesus’s PR agents, and he is not our client. We are broken men and women, and he is our Saviour. It’s not the case that I need to look good so Jesus can look good; instead I need to be honest about my colossal spiritual need so he can look all-sufficient so that Jesus can look awesome.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t need to look good so Jesus can look good. In fact, the true reality that I need to wrap my head around is that I need to get really honest about my messiness of life and my colossal spiritual need in order that Jesus can look all-sufficient to everyone else around me.

Bottom line is that I don’t increase so he can increase; Instead I need to speak and live like John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30. Decreasing means being honest about my flaws, not embarrassed about them. But imagine the difference this would make to our witness. Rather than thinking I have to constantly be looking good and shiny, less sinful than every non-Christian I know, I am instead liberated to be myself, warts and all, so that I can show that my confidence is not in me.

So instead of my friend beating up on himself or for that matter me beating up on my friend who had too much to drink, he now has an amazing opportunity to be an authentic witness to Christ – not by pretending we Christians don’t have any sin, but by demonstrating what we dowith it.

If it’s about performance, then my friend really has blown it and will be too embarrassed to see his friends. But if it’s about repentance, and about forgiveness, then he gets to model that repentance and to show brokenness about sin and sheer relief in a Saviour. That’s the gospel after all.

Envision the difference this would make to our church life. Rather than having a stigma about being anything less than spiritually holy, we can come together as a group of people who are open and free about our colossal spiritual needs. The assumption stops being “We have to be good if we’re coming here,”and instead becomes “You have to be a real mess to show up here – thank goodness I’m not the only one.” Which do you think sounds more inviting? Which is going to foster deeper confession and public repentance?

Imagine a church community that repents often, forgives freely and extends grace continually as a matter of habitual living. Instead of feeling embarrassed about going forward to receive prayer, that would invite us to experience the joy and relief of knowing we’re all ultimately in the same boat. Grace, then, becomes not just a formal doctrine but a felt reality.

We should foster our discipleship machine’s in such a way that the DNA’s of our church gatherings become places where no one is too low, too far gone, too needy – too anything – to worry about not fitting in. Our testimony should not be “I was a mess, then Jesus showed up, and now I’ve got everything together,” but “I was a mess – and I still am – but I’m a mess who belongs to Jesus, a mess he is committed to sorting out. He came to me, has stuck with me, and continues to be my all in all.”

I resonate with John Newton who said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world – but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

 So Christian friend, let’s give up this cult of judgmentalism and let us live out the gospel of grace. We’ll all be glad we did.

Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

I love travel documentaries and one of my favourites has been, “Parts Unknown” on CNN hosted by Anthony Bourdain. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Anthony was found dead by suicide this past Friday June 8th2018. According to his mother, Anthony had everything to live for. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” Gladys Bourdain told the New York Times.

Another celebrity, Kate Spade, sounded happy the night before her body was found in her New York City apartment last Tuesday morning. “There was no indication and no warning she would do this,” her husband Andy Spade said in a heart-wrenching statement published in the Times.

For more than four decades Antoon Leenaars has tried to construct a theory to explain why people kill themselves. Among his findings is that those who die by suicide are often tragically gifted at concealing their true intentions, even from themselves. “We find it in the suicide notes and in the psychological autopsies,” said Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist whose archive of more than 2,000 suicide notes is believed the largest collection of its kind in the world. “There’s both a conscious and unconscious intent to be deceptive, to hide, to mask,” he said.

I think that’s why, for the most part, we are often surprised when someone takes their own life. I haven’t personally experienced a close friend or family member commit suicide, yet I have been around many others who have had close friends or family take their lives, and I can tell you that it can be terribly confusing and heartbreaking. For the friends and family of that person who has taken their own lives, grief can be like a wild animal inside, thrashing to get out. There are times It won’t be contained, spilling out in sobs and screams, while at other times it turns inward, causing those left behind to desperately examine every interaction over the weeks and days preceding their loved one’s death, wondering what they could have done differently. It’s a terrible place to be.

Does the bible say anything about committing suicide?

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does the person who self kills go immediately to hell? Within the church community, this controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. For example, for those who grew up Roman Catholic the prevailing view is that suicide is definitely a mortal sin, irretrievably sending people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. This of course causes much angst and problems for the survivor to process through. As a result, the approach is most often an emotional one. Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

1) A true Christian would never commit suicide since God wouldn’t allow it.

2) A Christian may commit suicide but would lose his salvation.

3) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

As purposeful as those statements are, we still need to ask what the Bible, not tradition or opinion says. As much as we don’t have all the answers, let’s begin by talking about those truths we do know as revealed in God’s Word.

We know that humanity is totally depraved (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-18). Of course, we should understand that this doesn’t mean we’re as evil as we could be, but rather that every human capacity – intellect, heart, emotions, will – is tainted by sin. We also know that even after regeneration, a Christian is capable of committing any sin except the unforgiveable one. We see the unforgivable sin mentioned in Mark 3:25-32 and Matthew 12:32. A study of these passages leads us to the conclusion that they are referring to the continual rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion, ultimately referring to a committed unbeliever.

I think that it’s important to remember as well, that a believer is quite capable of taking the life of someone else, as David did in the case of Uriah, without this action invalidating his salvation. After all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has forgiven all of our sin – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). Still, suicide is a serious offense against God because it represents arrogant violation of the gift of life the Creator has given. However, if a genuine believer is theoretically capable of taking another’s life, why is it impossible to conceive he or she could ever take his or her own?

The truth is that the sin a Christian will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary – where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable; he made us justified (Romans 3:23-26; 8:29-30).

Granted, some point out that Scripture contains no instance of a believer committing suicide, while it includes many cases of unbelievers doing so, thus coming to the conclusion that believers simply don’t (won’t) commit suicide. But this is an argument from silence. Scripture doesn’t explicitly mention many things in life. Moreover, some hold suicide robs a Christian of her salvation because it doesn’t provide an opportunity for repentance. But if you were to die right now, would there be any unconfessed sin in your life? I think that we could only say that yes, of course there would be.

The sacrifice that covers the unconfessed sins we have remaining until death is the same sacrifice that would cover a sin like suicide. Suicide is not what determines whether a person gains entrance into heaven anyways. If an unsaved person commits suicide, she has done nothing but “expedite” her journey to hell. However, that person who committed suicide will ultimately be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because she committed suicide. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We should also point out, however, that no one truly knows what was happening in a person’s heart the moment he died. Some people have “deathbed conversions” and accept Christ in the moments before death. It is possible that Anthony Bourdain could have had a last-second change of heart and cry out for God’s mercy, we don’t know, but if he did, we can know that God’s mercy would have reached him even there.

Back to our original question. Issuicide the unforgivable sin? If we’ve established that a Christian is capable of committing any sin, why can’t we conceive that someone could commit the sin of suicide? And if we believe Jesus’ blood is capable of forgiving any sin, wouldn’t his blood cover this sin too? The wonderful truth of the matter is that if Jesus’ sacrifice has made believers perfect forever (look up Hebrews 7:28-10:14), could any sin remove their salvation? Based on scripture, I’d have to say a resounding no – including suicide.

Further to this point, if someone like Moses (and Job, and Elijah, and Jeremiah) came to a point where he wished God would take his life, couldn’t a believer with schizophrenia or extreme depression, who lacks Moses’ strength of character, make this wish a reality? Martin Luther believed that a true believer could be oppressed by demonic powers and thus driven to the point of suicide. The suicide of a believer is evidence that anyone can struggle with despair and that our enemy, Satan, is “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44

Having said that, on the basis of Scripture, history, and the experience of God’s people – as well as the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace in the church – it’s most likely that suicides will be rare (though not impossible) for genuine believers.

How should we respond to a survivor?

Even still, when a suicide does occur, we should seek to comfort, not accuse. Instead of identifying the horrors we should seek to comfort the hurting. Our chief focus should be on that about which God has said much (salvation), not on that about which he’s said little (suicide).

Sometimes the best thing we can say to a survivor (friend or family member of someone who took their own life) is NOTHING! In fact, sometimes the best reaction is no words at all, but a hug. There is much comfort that comes with the caring presence of friends, and the assurance others are praying for them. Even still, if you do feel led to say anything, here are some examples you can use that I have found helpful as I have come along side those who are hurting.

“Tell me a favourite memory of…”

“I love you, and my prayers are with you.”

“How can I help you today?” (Following through with errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, going to church with them, etc.)

“I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail.”

“I’m here.”

The best advice to anyone who wants to comfort a suicide survivor is: “Show up, let them see you care, and respect the griever’s right to feel bad for a while (guilt, anger, sadness, etc.). Too many survivors reported “friends” who avoided them altogether after their loved ones’ suicides rather than to risk saying the wrong thing. Please don’t do that, because that hurts most of all.

Do You Really Believe In Grace?

Some time ago a Christian friend came to me in distress. He and his wife had a pretty loud blow out – you know, one of those shouting matches for the ages – the type that all the neighbours heard. They’d known their neighbours for years. As far as he was concerned, he’d just blown several years of witnessing to them.

We have a prayer ministry offered every Sunday at the end of the service. We find that often people don’t take advantage of it because as one individual said, “I’d never use it. I’d hate for other people to assume that I had a problem.”

Both these incidents reveal an underlying condition in many of our churches. I’m not sure we really believe in grace. We do, in the sense that we teach it and assent to it in our orthodoxy… in our outward confession. But I’m beginning to think we don’t actually believe it based on how we express it (or don’t) in our orthopraxy.

 I wonder if it’s because of our mistaken attempt at Christian chivalry. What I mean by that is what we think it means to live for Christ. We think that we’re protecting Jesus’ honour by how we live as in: If I look good, then Jesus looks good. So, we hate the thought of not looking good and when we don’t look like shiny specimens of Christendom, we look bad for Jesus and so failed (at least we think that). The problem with that mindset however, is that our life becomes all about performance.

And so, we put on our best Christian masks before heading out into our community of faith. Soon life experiences such as parenting becomes about trying to perform well in front of the kids, working hard at making sure they only see the highest standard of Christian behaviour.

But this is a disastrous way to live or think because it always leads to hypocrisy. The simple fact is, we’re not good, and we can only keep up the façade for a little while before the mask slips off of our growing noses. It’s our kids who see it right away. They know what we’re really like and can immediately tell when we try to put a polished Christian spin to it.

And then we wonder why they don’t want to join us any more in our Christian fellowships. They certainly know that you, or they, are not exactly perfect and have made a mess of this Christian chivalry thing, maybe even feel that they (or you) have let Jesus down. The natural progression in this kind of thinking is that good church folks see this as failure.

We don’t support making Jesus look bad of course and so we must root out the bad apples in the bunch. After all, one bad apple will ruin the whole barrel. We might not say it, but the average Christian doesn’t feel supported in a community of faith when they do fail, so of course the last place they’d want to go to is a church.

Think about it. If we know we can’t begin to pretend things are together and church is the one place we’re supposed to look squeaky clean, then it’s probably just easier simply not to go because after all, it’s easier to keep the mess away from the holy gathering than it is to be as holy as we’re expected to be.

All this is a sign that while we may be professing grace, we’re not actually inhabiting a culture of grace. Truth is, we’re not meant to be Jesus’s image protectors, he can handle his own image. Instead we need to remember that we are broken people, and he is our Saviour. In other words, I don’t need to look good so Jesus can look good; rather, the truth is that I need to be honest about my massive spiritual need so that he can be seen and celebrated as all-sufficient. I don’t increase so he can increase; I decrease so he can increase(John 3:30).

 Imagine the difference this would make to our witness. Rather than thinking I have to constantly be looking less sinful than every non-Christian I know, I am instead liberated to be myself so that I can show that my confidence is not in me.

Please don’t hear me say that that we are free to sin with abandon. Paul dealt with that pendulum swing in Romans, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Romans 6:1-2.

 So, no I’m not saying that we are freed up to sin, however we also need to realize that God is working in us, sanctifying us and we are a work in progress. It is what we do with those moments and how we receive others in spite of their shortcomings that make all the difference.

As an example. My friend and his wife who had that blow-up shouting match now have an amazing opportunity to be authentic witnesses for Christ – not by pretending they don’t have any sin, but by demonstrating what they do with it. If it’s about performance, then my friend really has blown it and will be too embarrassed to see his neighbours. But if it’s about forgiveness, then he gets to model repentance, to show brokenness about sin and sheer relief in a Saviour.

Imagine also the difference this would make to those looking in, and for that matter those already ‘in’ who continually feel that they don’t measure up to our particular standard. The assumption stops being “We have to be good to come here,”and instead becomes “This place is for the messy – like each of us.”

Which do you think sounds more inviting? Which is going to foster deeper confession and public repentance? Instead of feeling embarrassed about going forward to receive prayer, we can experience the joy and relief of knowing we’re all ultimately in the same boat. It fosters a sincere attitude where we repent often, forgive freely and extend grace continuously.

I love what John Newton said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world – but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Living with this understanding, grace becomes not just an orthodoxy we know about in theory, but a deeply felt reality – a true orthopraxy that is expressed in the very being of who we are. Our testimonies are no longer, “I was a mess, then Jesus showed up, and now my life is perfect.” Rather the testimonies become, “I was a mess – and I still am – but I’m a mess who belongs to Jesus, a mess he is committed to cleaning up. And in spite of the mess, Jesus came to me, stuck with me, and continues to be my everything.”