It’s Monday Grace!
When I started this weekly segment of the blog, I intended it to be an encouragement for those seeking to understand the grace of God. But there is a contrast to grace which, sadly, is more familiar to most of us. What I have called “performance spirituality” is the fundamental system at work in most churches. While these churches would be very careful to deny any hope of salvation by works, they still teach that our relationship with God depends on good performance. Good performance, by this teaching, can be measured and compared. Thus, some people are more spiritual than others, some are closer to God than others, and some are more assured of Heaven than others—even within the church.
This performance system is the root cause of all kinds of pain and disunity within the church. It weakens the church’s witness and compromises the church’s compassion.
Last week, I wrote about how believers are willing to betray friendships and unity to separate themselves from people in trouble. In response, I received an interesting question in the comments.
“My question is why are these fearful “Christians” and churches and their leaders so welcoming with open arms to the evil of abusers? “
The answer to that question is troubling. You won’t like it.
What’s the primary fear of those involved in the performance system? No, it’s not sin. It’s exposure. The greatest fear for many who consider themselves Christians is that others will find out the truth of their compromises. The draw toward sin is just part of the daily battle, but exposure of sin is shameful and humiliating. The risk of others learning the truth is the risk of weakness and failure. To be seen as weak is to become unworthy, even to be rejected. To be rejected is to lose honor, privilege, and power.
Last week I wrote that the performance folks fear connection with those who go through trouble. They push away friends and family, even turn against them, in their desire to protect themselves. So, the question is why they are willing to protect those who abuse, why the church seems so dedicated to covering the sins of the abusers and embracing them as comrades. The answer is this fear of exposure.
There are two parts to the answer. First, exposure of the individual’s sin is exposure of the system’s weakness. The truth is that performance spirituality, the attempt to find acceptance with God through the law or works, does not change the heart. The compromises of the flesh continue to reign in the hearts of those who follow the system. Sin is hidden, but not overcome.
So, when the abuser is found out, the failure of the system is exposed. If the sin of the abuser can be covered however, the failure of the system can also be covered. The pastor who fails morally is picked up and hidden like the broken glass from the fit of anger. Evidence of the system’s failure is tucked away so others cannot see. It isn’t that the abuser is not punished by the system, but that the punishment is done in secret and not exposed to outsiders. For most pastors and others there is a price for the damage to the image of the system.
This part of the answer we understand. It is the same reason a company will hide the embezzlement or incompetence of its leaders. It is the same reason law enforcement and the military will cover the infractions of their members and try to handle the discipline behind closed doors. It is the same reason a hospital will cover for drunken or impaired doctors. So, churches will try to “put a good face” on the compromises of their leaders.
But there is another part of the answer, one that reveals even more of the evil of the performance system. The flesh admires strength. Which person appears stronger, the victim or the abuser? A man who has abused women and has been able to cover his sin for a long time will be regarded as both strong and smart by those who look through the flesh. Victims, on the other hand, are considered weak and gullible by the flesh.
There is no mention of any attempt to find and punish the thieves who robbed and molested the victim in the story of the Good Samaritan. The victim was the picture of weakness and failure. The “good Jews” avoided the victim partly because they did not want to associate with his weakness. Job’s friends believed that his sins caused his troubles. Even the disciples thought the blind man’s inability came from sin. Weakness and failure come from sin, according to the performance system. When examined closely, weakness and failure are sin. Thus, the victim is the epitome of failure.
We should not be surprised by this fleshly perspective on the strong and the weak, even if we hate it. The performance system is a flesh system. It is not led by the Spirit, nor under grace. The goal is not to do good as much as it is to look good. Those who commit great sin but still look good are far more acceptable than those who do right and look like failures.
Frankly, it bothers me to write these things. I do know the performance system, perhaps too well. I have seen people lie, cheat, and hurt others in order to look good and claim superior spirituality. I have read too many stories of people being rejected by the church when they have done nothing to cause their problems. The old saying is that the church is the only army that shoots its wounded.
None of this is right, and none of it is necessary. Under grace, we know the compromises of our own flesh. We know that the battle between the flesh and the spirit within us continues to rage. But we are not afraid to admit that truth because there is no shame nor condemnation for us. We cannot be defiled by the weaknesses of others, nor compromised by their failures.
I know that this means we also understand the motivations and compromises of the abusers. But we know that their compromises do not reflect badly on us. Nor do their compromises tarnish the truth about Jesus. We can hate the sin of the abuser while offering the gift of salvation for any who will turn to Jesus. We can love the victim without thinking of him or her as weak or sinful. We know better.
Now, I happen to think that restoration of pastors and church leaders who abuse is the wrong goal. Losing a ministry, being out of a job, suffering humiliation from others: these things are small losses under grace. We know that selling insurance or managing a fast food restaurant is not less spiritual than being a church leader. The right goal is repentance, subjection of the flesh, and walking with Jesus. If that means a person can no longer be in ministry, that’s okay.
Under grace, we should understand the cost of walking in the flesh. That’s what kept us from Jesus for so long. That’s what has compromised our joy and victory even as believers. Our goal is not to look good but to live in the goodness of Jesus. The rest of this short life can be spent walking with Him and allowing the joy of that walk to bless others in our lives.
10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” 12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
1 Thessalonians 5:14
Would you like to listen? I am experimenting with a podcast and thought you might be interested in listening to this post. here’s the link: