Tag Archives: divisions

But What About…?

Grace 101

In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of three primary enemies of the sower’s intention for the seed.  I have used this little story as a structure for teaching about the enemies of grace.  First, there was the trodden ground, the hard path, where nothing could grow.  Then there were the predators, the birds of the air that swoop in to devour the seed before it can grow.  Finally, there are the distractions, the thorns that grow up and choke the life out of the new growth.

One of the most common things we experience once we begin to understand this amazing message of grace is that we forget.  It seems so easy to be distracted and to fall back under the shame and pressure of performance.  Fortunately, the Lord reaches in and reminds us from time to time.  But wouldn’t it be better to avoid those distractions?  Wouldn’t it be nice simply to walk in the light of grace?

Maybe thinking through some of these distractions will help.  At least we might know a little better what to watch out for.

I suspect that most heresies and unorthodox ideas begin with the words, “But what about…?”  Years ago I took the training of a popular evangelism program.  They taught us that we should be prepared to pull the discussion back to the gospel when we heard those words.  I have experienced this often as I have shared the good news of salvation.  People will say, “But what about my loved ones who have died?” or “But what about the dinosaurs?”  or “But what about politics?”  These might be worthy questions or discussions of their own, but they are distractions from the main point.

Lately the grace message has been greatly distracted by the universalist debate.  Before that it was the demonic debate.  Before this it was the charismatic debate.  Before that it was the Calvinist/Arminian debate.  Some of these things are never settled.  They are still distractions from the wonderful message of grace.

And the result of the debates is that those who love the message of grace are divided and discouraged.  In spite of all we know to be true about the unconditional love of God in Jesus, we still add things to the message.  “Grace is nice, but you have to see it from xyz perspective.”  The distractions choke the life out of the message.

Don’t let yourself get distracted and discouraged by these debates!  If you know the message of grace, proclaim it boldly and cleanly.  Tell people of the love of God and put the debaters into a room where they can only distract each other.  There are too many people who need to know the truth of love and grace.  We don’t have time for distractions.


Filed under Grace 101

Avoid them


What good is having a blog if you can’t use it to rant just a little? 🙂  I have been in a discussion on another site with someone who is arguing against the grace and love of God by telling believers they should be focused on sin and condemnation.  It is frustrating, time consuming, and fruitless to get into these arguments.

You know the people I mean.  They just can’t stop.  Their logic is stretched and their words are cutting.  These guys pull out verses and claim certain Greek skills and ignore any real challenges to their ideas.

Paul met these folks, probably much more often than you or I do.  His advice?

9 But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. 10 Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. Titus 3:9-11

17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. Romans 16:17

Avoid them!  Don’t let them suck you into their traps.  It’s hard.  I find that I want to speak out against their lies and errors.  But it is a trap.  It distracts you, upsets you, and you don’t win.  They will have the last word, no matter how stupid it is.

Yes, sometimes I do speak up.  I seem to think that I can get a word in as a teacher.  But I have learned that it will be unfruitful.  The best I can do is help others see the foolishness of the other’s position and statements.  I confess that I almost always come away feeling used and dirty somehow.

In the discussion I have been in this morning, the arguer referred to the pain and struggles of those who have come out of legalism as “dog poop” and “dog piles.”  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  When logic fails, be prepared for the jabs and depersonalization.  Like the narcissist, the legalist will use whatever means he can to “shut you up” so it can look like he has won.

Then, if you ever do manage to paint him into a corner, he cowers and cries and wonders why you are so mean.  He ignores his own attacks and cruelties and projects that on you.  By trying to counter his statements, you are hurting him.  And, again, he wins.

So Paul says to avoid them.  That makes a lot of sense to me.


Filed under grace, Legalism

To Trust Again

“Trust is not something to be earned, but a gift to be given.”  Those are my words over many years of ministry.  I don’t know if they are original.  I know others have said similar things.  My concern is whether I still believe them. 

I know that many of those who write to me or read this blog have difficulty trusting others.  Some have been victims of manipulation, lies, or abuse.  Some have been part of a system that taught people to judge and condemn others and have felt the betrayal of “friends” who turned against them for the sake of rising within that system. 

Trust is not something that returns easily for those who experience abuse or betrayal.  Nor should it.  Suspicion and isolation serve an internal purpose of protecting ourselves against pain.   The problem comes when we find ourselves living in that cave.  Relationships become difficult.  We see others through the glasses of fear. 

Unhealthy mistrust is something that happens inside.  It has less to do with the meanness of others than with our judgment of ourselves.  We feel weak and vulnerable, somehow accountable for the fact that others have misused us.  We become angry at ourselves for allowing the abuse, for not seeing the truth earlier, or for simply being so stupid.  So we build walls with the idea that we might not have to suffer that again.  But the walls do more to keep us imprisoned than to keep others from hurting us.

Many of us grew up trying to be nice.  We were taught to think of others as better and more important than ourselves.  In a good world, things like deference and openness are positives.  For many people, the world is not good.  It is filled with people who use and shame and hurt.  Deference and openness are tools that can be turned against us.

Part of learning how to trust again is the willingness to lay the sins of others at their own feet.  It is not un-Christian to understand that someone has hurt you and that what they have done is wrong.  How can you sincerely forgive someone unless you accept that they did something wrong to you?  When you reject the idea that it was all your fault, you begin to see the real world and you begin to heal.  You can face the world again if you understand at the outset that others fail and sin and sometimes they will hurt you. 

The one you give the gift of trust to is yourself. 

Let’s think about this more…


Filed under Freedom, heart, Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship

“You shouldn’t feel that way!”

One of the underlying factors that opened my eyes to the link between legalism and narcissism was the constant attempt to change the way we felt.  It seemed important for our emotions to be controlled.  We learned about conquering anger.  Sensual desire was always evil.  Almost any kind of desire was to be rejected.  Any desire for change was seen as motivated by sin.

So, we were often told, “Don’t feel that way.”  If something happened and we were sad, we were somehow wrong to feel sadness.  If something happened to make us angry, we were wrong to feel anger.  We were supposed to feel according to an approved formula or we were rejected.

Why is this manipulation of feelings so important in legalism?  There may be several reasons.

  • Legalism rejects differences.  Any system is based on conformity.  Formulas and mathematics are the core of systematic thinking.  Legalism teaches a cause and effect theology.  If you do this, you will get this.  If you do that, you will get that.  If each individual has his or her own thoughts and feelings, the system doesn’t work.  So we were taught to think of groups, rather than individuals.  Spiritual gifts were limited in number and people were lumped into groups.  There were prophets who responded to situations a certain way and exhorters who responded differently.  There were several groups, but no individuals.  No differences that could not be fit into the system.
  • Legalism requires control.  For the system to work, each part must do its job and not cause problems.  Free or uncontrolled thinking is dangerous.  Legalism must put boundaries and fences around thinking and feeling.  If two or twenty people respond to some situation in different ways, the system can be adjusted and defined to account for the differences and control them.  But if hundreds or thousands or millions respond differently, the system would be impossible to implement.
  • Legalism rejects the person.  Perhaps the strongest link between legalism and narcissism is depersonalization.  You and I don’t really matter in the legalist system.  We are part of the number, part of the group, but not much more.  The system is what is important, not you and me.  Because the person is rejected, all kinds of cruelty can be inflicted.  In the name of the system, people have been rejected and abused.
  • Legalism rewires the mind.  In order to welcome all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, the legalist system must change the thinking and feeling of a person.  There is no order in the variety of perspectives found around the world.  There is one way to worship, one way to dress, one way to talk—the right way.  Anything outside of that way has to be eliminated and replaced with better thinking.  Feelings come out of thinking and must conform as well.

So your feelings must conform or you will be rejected.  “Don’t feel that way.  Feel this way.”  Never mind what is happening in your own heart.

But the effect of this manipulation and control, the effect of legalism, was the loss of self.


Your thoughts?


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

“Really” Saved

How would you determine that someone is saved?  In most of the churches I have been in the primary requirement for membership is to be saved.  Of course, everyone who comes to the church says that they are saved, but how are the elders or the pastor supposed to know?

I made a comment recently about people who call themselves believers without trusting in Jesus.  In response, someone told me that he agreed and said the evidence was that so many failed to live by godly standards.  So, in this person’s mind, the measurement is how well someone lives by the standards.

Another brother and I were visiting recently about doctrinal divisions.  For some people, some organizations, the factor that determines if someone is saved is what that person believes.  If he or she believes according to a certain teaching, then he or she is saved.  If not, then not.  You know what I mean.  In some churches anyone who speaks in tongues cannot be saved.  In other churches anyone who doesn’t speak in tongues cannot be saved.

Sometimes people want to be gracious and don’t like to think of others as not saved, even though the other person doesn’t fit their criteria.  They might refer to the people who attend another church, not of the right denomination, and say: “Well I know they are believers, but I don’t understand how they can be really saved.”

Sometimes people look at other believers and judge their lifestyles to be less than acceptable.  They might say: “I know they trust in Jesus, but sometimes I wonder if they are really saved.”

To be “really” saved is to fit the criteria.  Never mind that the criteria are different from church to church or even from believer to believer.  How good does someone have to be in order to be “really” saved?  What percentage of the church doctrine does a person have to understand and agree with in order to be considered “really” saved?  Chances are that no one has quite determined the exact requirements.

And how is “really” saved better than just plain old regular saved?  Does the person get a bigger mansion, a closer seat to the front, a better spot in the heavenly choir?  Are there levels of salvation?  Can someone be less saved than someone else?  We could imagine a hierarchy, I suppose, where some are just barely saved while others would be more secure and still others would be “really” saved.

In fact, if this were allowed to go on, we would have all kinds of different churches with different standards and different doctrines.  Each would think the others were wrong and some would think that they were the only ones “really” saved.  Wouldn’t that be crazy?

Oh wait.  That’s what we have.

Maybe we should just let Jesus decide who is saved and who is not.  That way we don’t have to just focus on people enough like us to be acceptable.  That way we could learn to enjoy others who think and act differently.

So, here’s my bottom line: Anyone who proclaims Jesus as his or her Lord and hope for salvation gets my vote.  I could be wrong sometimes, that’s okay.  I think Jesus would rather have me welcome a sinner than reject a brother.


Your thoughts?


Filed under Church, Legalism, Relationship

Ad Hominem


Ad Hominem is a Latin term that means “against the man.”  It is used to refer to a logical fallacy that subverts the argument by focusing on the person rather than the idea.  Here’s an example:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  How could that be true?  You are just a hairy loser!

Silas dismisses the assertion of Esau on the basis of what he thinks about Esau.  Rather than discuss the idea Esau presents, Silas sidesteps the argument and attacks Esau personally.  This is a logical fallacy that is seen very often.  Nothing positive is gained from the argument.

Usually the comment isn’t so direct, of course.  Here’s another:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Just because your Canaanite wives don’t know how to make anything better doesn’t mean that’s the best way.

This time Silas attacks the associations of Esau.  Esau is discredited, Silas believes, because of his wives.  We often see this in arguments, particularly in political and theological discussions.  Certain opinions are dismissed without real discussion because of the associations of the one who states the idea.  This is also an ad hominem argument, “against the man.”  One more:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Well, you also thought that your birthright was worthless.

Again, Silas dismisses Esau’s statement, but this time on the basis of previous opinions held by Esau.  Because Esau believed something that proved to be foolish at one time, Silas attributes that foolishness to the current idea.  This is also widely used in political debates and can be heard almost every day during election season.  The only problem is that it is again the ad hominem fallacy.  Esau’s opinions on the birthright might cause someone to question his judgment but they do nothing to establish or negate his opinion on the quality of his soup. 

In theological arguments, the ad hominem fallacy is an easy way to avoid real discussion.  If the goal is understanding and the proclamation of the truth, attacking the man is not helpful.  In fact, ad hominem arguments may be the cause of much of the division seen among believers.

The discussion of an idea is appropriate and beneficial for the community.  But it is never good for us to disrespect a brother or sister.  If the idea is wrong and hurtful, someone should say something.  Attacking the character or reputation of another believer should not be part of that discussion. 



Filed under Relationship, Theology and mystery

Because of Love


Some years ago cards were written that were to be used for sharing the faith with friends and family.  I remember the outside of the card more than the inside.  It said, “Because I care…”  Why do we tell people about Jesus?  Because we care about them.  Love moves us to step past our discomfort or even past the lines of their comfort to share the things we feel are important.

Now, I know that is used as an excuse for all kinds of legalistic judgments.  “Because I love you I want to put you under condemnation and into bondage.”  Well, maybe it isn’t that honest.  But the misuse of love as a motive does not negate it as an appropriate motive.  I have been attacked by people who disagree with me “in love.”  I doubted that love was the motivation.  It seemed much more that they wanted to defend their own way of thinking.  They wanted to “straighten me out.”  It wasn’t love.

Yes, there are risks to this.  But there is more to love’s motivation than a single person when the error comes from a teacher.  What about love for all those who are being taught?  Is there no responsibility or desire to protect them from the error?  Because of love, we have to say something.  If we do not, it appears that we agree with the teacher.  At least we don’t see an error worth correcting in the teaching.  Love seems to be a right motive for saying something.

On one hand, we don’t want present ourselves as superior or become judgmental toward others.  On the other, we care about them and want them to find joy and avoid error.  Most of us become uncomfortable when we hear error, but are stymied by this dilemma.  So we don’t say anything.

Help me out on this.  What do you think? 


Filed under grace, heart, Legalism, Theology and mystery

Good People can have Bad Ideas


The Presbyterian Church is going through a hard time these days.  In one recent mailing from folks who are critical of the movements in that denomination I found this line:

“…it is difficult to critique ideas without being accused of criticizing the people behind the ideas.”

No kidding!  How many times have we questioned ideas presented by a teacher only to be chastised by his supporters for daring to criticize “such a good man”?  A few years ago I dared to mention my disagreement with a certain teacher in an email newsletter and received a scathing rebuke from a woman who claimed that the teacher had helped so many people and I was unchristian to say anything against him. 

Well, I need to address that way of thinking.  First, it is not “unchristian” to disagree with wrong ideas.  Duh!  (Oops, a little sarcasm is creeping in.)  Wrong ideas should be challenged.  If those who know the truth don’t speak up against error when they hear it, who will?  And, listen, good people sometimes have bad ideas. It is more than possible that a well-intentioned believer, even a quality teacher, could have certain ideas that would be dangerous for the people of God.  Who is supposed to say something about that? 

In chapter 2 of Galatians, Paul acknowledges the leadership of the apostles, particularly Peter.  Then he tells about a time when he had to stand against Peter to challenge an error.

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; Galatians 2:11

Peter was wrong.  Paul said something.  That was the way it was supposed to be done.  He didn’t disrespect Peter or stop loving him.  He simply pointed out that what Peter was doing was wrong. 

Frankly, we are supposed to do this for each other.  The more we love someone, the more we care about the way they think.  Love and truth are never separate in the heart of God. 

What do you think?

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Filed under Church, Freedom, Theology and mystery

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”  About a year after the incident in which he was stopped by police for speeding, Rodney King asked this question.  Because of the tragic actions of the police the night of his arrest, King became a famous figure.  He stood before the crowd on the third day of the riots triggered by the acquittal of the police officers and asked his famous question, “Can we get along?”

Well, sadly, the answer is, “Probably not.”  But, shouldn’t believers, at least, be able to get along?  Aren’t we supposed to have one mind and love for each other?  Aren’t we supposed to be brothers and sisters, dependent on the love of God in Jesus?  Shouldn’t those things count for something?  Of course!

But there is a problem.  Within each of us is this system of living called the flesh.  The flesh serves and sees only itself.  Other people are to be used or just get in the way.  That’s the way the flesh was designed; and that’s why even Christians find it hard to just “get along.”

So, for the next few posts (excepting, of course, Narcissist Friday), I want to look at this thing called the flesh.  I hope that it will help you as much as it helped me to study and understand what’s going on inside.  It is kind of confusing, and I doubt that anyone has the final word on it, but we should be able to learn some things about why we act and feel the way we do and why relationships degenerate. 

Much of what most of us have been taught is less than helpful, particularly concerning what goes on inside our heads.  Many preachers tell us that we have to be in constant battle with our “sin natures.”  Some say that demons are oppressing us and we have to conquer them.  Others tell us that we just need more Bible memory, more quality preaching, more good works, more time in church, or more whatever.   Or maybe we already have too much: television, spare time, evil friends, wrong thoughts, etc.  Teachers spend a great deal of time telling us what to change to make our lives better.

But the guilt and shame don’t seem to be making much of a difference.  In fact, the church has preached better performance for a long time and we aren’t getting better.  Maybe something else is going on. . .

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Filed under Church, Narcissism, Relationship

What if it is heresy?

What should you do if you believe someone is teaching something that is not only wrong, but dangerous to the body of Christ? 

Well, let’s start by saying that there are lots of heretics out there.  Why would this one bother you?  What motivation would you have to oppose this one when you haven’t opposed all the others?  If you don’t have an answer to that, then don’t worry about it.  God may not be calling you to be involved in that debate.  On the other hand; if people you care about are affected; or if a body of believers you care about is being pushed to division; or if you are in an official leadership position with the charge of caring about these things—then you may have a good reason to become involved. 

But how?  What are you supposed to do?  Here’s what I think:

First, your goal is to expose the error, not destroy the teacher.  Check your heart.  Personal vendetta, which almost always factors into church disputes, really should not be a part of dealing with heresy.  Other concerned people, who don’t have a personal stake in any feud, should come around the parties involved and make sure that the discussion does not degenerate into hate.  If you can’t deal with the issues apart from personal anger or animosity, then trust that the Lord will lead others. 

Second, while it is natural to want to convince the errant teachers to turn back from their error, it is not necessary.  In the past, people who chose error were put to death.  But even that strong response didn’t solve the problem.  The errors, some of which we accept as truth today, continued and those who died are remembered as martyrs.  The point is that the Spirit alone convinces our hearts, not the arguments of people around us.  Pray for the teacher.  If possible, try to discuss the issues.  Expose the errors publicly.  Do what is necessary; then realize that you can’t force someone to agree with you.  Not really.

Third, as I said a few days ago in another blog article, let the circle of the original teaching be the circle of your exposure.  I mean that you can answer a blog with a blog, a FB comment with another FB comment, a book with a book—but your public opposition may introduce people to the error and they may become intrigued.  If your attack is beyond what is necessary, they may see you as the negative one and be even more open to the error.

Fourth, there is a time to separate from the error.  Sometimes we are connected to error by associations.  Many denominational splits have come about because of people on one side of an issue desiring to be seen as different from those on the other side.  That might be acceptable, depending on the issues.  A public policy on abortion or homosexuality, would be an example of the cause of separation in our day.  If you believe that your ministry will be harmed or that your message will be compromised by the error of those close to you, you may have to separate from them.

According to the old story, the apostle John went into the public bath one day only to find that Cerinthus, the Gnostic teacher, was there.  John ran from the building and encouraged others to do the same lest, when the roof caved in through God’s judgment on Cerinthus, they should be caught in the collapse. 

Finally, and this is important, you don’t have to win.  Maintaining the purity of the church and its message is the Lord’s responsibility.  He may call you to do something, but He never requires the results from your hand.  Instead, you simply do what He has called you to do and leave the results up to Him.  Many may follow the error.  That’s not your responsibility.  Seek to teach truth.  Expose the error.  Then, when it’s over, let it be over.

There is such a thing as heresy.  There is heresy that is so contrary to the gospel that it perverts the message.  There is heresy that endangers the people who accept it and compromises their message.  Some are called to speak up when heresy is revealed.  Not everyone.  But those who are called shouldn’t enter into the battle with either fear or hatred.  We are better than that.

Thoughts?  Anything to add?  Disagree?

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Filed under Church, Theology and mystery