Sunday, April 17, 2005

saved sinners or sinning saints?

"Confession is so difficult a Discipline for us partly because we view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. We come to feel that everyone else has advanced so far into holiness that we are isolated and alone in our sin....We imagine that we are the only ones who have not stepped onto the high road to heaven. Therefore we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy...."
-- Richard Foster, "Celebration of Discipline"

to add to that statement, sometimes there are believers who, with intentionality, forward themselves as being on the high road to heaven. during my tenure as a youth pastor in florida, there was an assistant pastor on staff with me who was quite the legalist. not only that, he was a "my way or the highway" kind of guy. he was quick to point out sin in others, believe the worst about anyone of whom he was suspicious, raise the banner of sniffing out satan's efforts to infiltrate the church (he often railed against the roman catholic church), all the while painting himself as the model of personal holiness.

i've had other friends who want to concern themselves with who in the Church is "drifting" and "infecting" the Body with doctrinal error and dangerous practices, but ignore real lives and real problems.

this isn't a new phenomenon. Jesus dealt with it 2000 years ago:

"Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called "Doctor' and "Reverend.'

"I've had it with you! You're hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God's kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won't let anyone else in either.

"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.

"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God's Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment--the absolute basics!-you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that's wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?"
matthew 23. 4-7, 13-15, 23, 24

it seems to me that too often, even after 2000 years, we "swallow camels and strain at gnats" and forget the words of the prophet, micah:

But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what GOD is looking for in men and women.
It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don't take yourself too seriously--
take God seriously.
micah 6.8

love God, love people