It’s Narcissist Friday!
While I believe that there is only one way to Heaven, through Jesus, must I also believe that someone has to come to faith a certain way?
I consider myself an evangelical. That word carries a certain tradition, as well as a certain doctrine. Evangelicals are deeply tied to Scripture and less tied to church. Heavily influenced by Moody, Scofield, Dallas Seminary, and Billy Graham, American evangelicals have a clear process through which a person can become a Christian. Yes, that sounds a little presumptuous. And, yes, it probably is.
There are somewhere around 2 billion people calling themselves Christians in the world today. The largest group, of course, are the Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox believers come in second if we divide Protestants the way they seem to want to be divided. Evangelicals make up only a small part of all that.
If the only real requirement for salvation is a relationship with Jesus, perhaps it is wise for us to recognize that believers from different groups define that relationship in different ways. For some, there is great value in the community of believers that makes up the church. Belonging to the church is the same as identifying with Jesus for them. Some pray in different ways from others. Some don’t even understand the language used in their church. Some express their faith through sacrament and ritual. A relationship with the One who is God in flesh may not be as easy to pin down as we sometimes think.
Evangelicalism began as a rejection of the meaningless formality experienced in the historical denominations. Some people wanted to return to the basic word of the Scriptures. Others wanted to enjoy a relationship with a personal Savior. Others just wanted something they could call real. In the state or traditional churches, they saw compromise, hypocrisy, and faithlessness. They wanted something more.
That was a worthy pursuit, and it was accomplished for many people. But it wasn’t long (historically speaking) before that same compromise, hypocrisy, and faithlessness could be found in evangelical churches. So, did they really offer something better? Yes, I think so, but the exclusivity that came from the “rebellion” caused them, and many of us, to dismiss all other ways of thinking.
So, let me say it this way: If someone comes to me and asks how to become a Christian, I will help them to ask Jesus to take away their sins and be the Lord of their lives. But the Orthodox priest in Egypt or the Ukraine will tell them something quite different. We will both minister to the person out of our traditions. We may each even think the other is wrong somehow. But it would be very foolish (and short-sighted) for me to think that other person didn’t become a “real” Christian.
And what does all of this have to do with narcissism? I suppose it has more to do with grace, allowing the Lord to lead people to Himself in a variety of ways. But perhaps it reflects a certain insecurity or fear for us to demand that the only real way is our way. I won’t go so far as to say that evangelicals are narcissistic, but I will suggest that requiring God to accept only our definition and only people who come to Him our way is not submitting to Him.
The narcissist must have things his way because he neither acknowledges the values of others nor trusts the thinking of others. In his fear, the narcissist requires a world he can understand and, therefore, control. Freedom, creativity, non-conformity— these are anathema to the narcissist because he feels they threaten his security. Once he has made a decision about what is best, he must not only continue to believe that but make sure that all others believe it. If they do not, he doesn’t know what to do with them.
Those who are insecure in their own faith, who find it hard to trust in the wisdom and love of God in Christ, also find it hard to trust others. Since no one has the right answer except them, they cannot believe there is another answer.
Now, to be very clear. I believe there is one way to Heaven, and that is through Jesus. I also believe a relationship with Jesus can be real even when expressed in different ways. I understand that might make some people uncomfortable. I really do. There is a risk in me writing such a thing. But if the Church of Jesus Christ is only made up of evangelicals who think like me (or you), then it is not only very small, it has failed its mission.
Such a narrow view of who can be saved (my way or the highway) sure looks narcissistic to me.