Tag Archives: theological debates

Back to ministry

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Ted Haggard, a name you might remember, is serving again as a pastor in Colorado Springs. Jim Bakker has a television show and ministry. Bill Gothard is back with a new ministry and new books. Mark Driscoll just announced the opening of his new church in Phoenix.

Each of these men were disgraced in their former ministries and brought shame on the name of the Lord. But, like so many others, they just waited a while and then went back to work. How and why does this happen?

For several years I served my branch of the church in disciplining pastors. That involved investigation of accusations, organizing groups to judge the truth of these accusations, and suggesting limitations or disqualification of future ministry. This was a challenging and unpleasant job. Part of what made it so difficult was the rapid way these men could and would return to ministry. Most denominations today have a “restoration” process that begins almost as soon as the accusations are proved true.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the pastor cheated on his wife or stole funds from the church or was cruel to his staff and domineering in the church. The goal seemed to be getting these guys back into the pulpit. The assumption was that they would learn their lesson, repent, and we would all forgive them. Just like that.

Sometimes Romans 11:29 was brought to the table:

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 

Besides the fact that their interpretation of that verse is in error (it is a reference to God’s choice of Israel), the Bible itself shows that those who misuse their calling can be set aside. Narcissistic pastors who abuse their people and position should not be allowed back into ministry.

Of course, not all pastors are narcissists, nor are all who fail morally. But it has been my observation that those who were the most abusive of their people and their ministry were the ones who found a way to return. We might wonder why they would want to risk all the trouble again, and why the people or the system would encourage them.

Returning to ministry is rarely a financial decision. There are many jobs that would pay more. Some of these folks still had income from investments and books, and skills that would transfer to other work situations. No, the need is different. Rehabilitation of narcissists is very difficult, certainly not a process that can be adequately handled with a few counseling sessions. The addictions to attention, worship, and power are not overcome easily.

Returning to ministry validates the narcissist. Yes, he may have messed up, but it was the result of outside things. Too much church pressure, too much interference from others, too much temptation, too much work, too many expectations. Getting back to work allows the narcissist to prove that he is not a pervert, not a crook, not as bad as some have said.

Returning to ministry reopens the feeding grounds. Being alone, even with just family, is almost a death sentence for a narcissist. There must be a source of supply. The addiction that had been fed by the adoration of loyal minions cannot be replaced by selling insurance or working construction. Ministry provides so much more than other occupations for narcissists.

Returning to ministry proves the need of the people for what the narcissist offers. As long as there are followers, the narcissist is needed. A new book of lessons learned through the trials. New lessons that can be taught to the masses. The narcissist is so important that ending his ministry is a disservice to the church. He (or she, of course) is convinced that the people need him.

Okay, so we see why the narcissist would want to get back, but why would people allow it? Why would they want to associate themselves with a new ministry by one of these guys?

The leader’s return offers validation for those who stood by him. His charm and control carried their support through all the troubles, now they feel that his return to ministry is a way to prove to their critics that they were right all along. He was just a good man who slipped up, or was misunderstood. They know him better than his accusers.

The leader’s return validates the system that credentialed him in the beginning. How could the system have allowed such a person into ministry in the first place? What about all those leaders who stood with him in the pulpit, who appeared to approve of his ministry? They want this person to prove his real worth so they don’t look bad. The system that sent him into ministry wants him to show that he can handle things and do well.

The leader’s return offers a closer relationship with greatness. Just like there are always people wanting to connect with famous people who are in prison for murder or other gross crimes, there are those who will run to the pews when they hear that a famous person is in the pulpit, no matter what he has done. Maybe he will shake their hands after the service, or teach a Bible study they can attend in his living room. He will know their names, and they will be closer to him than they ever could have been before the trouble.

After a drug overdose, the only way to assure safety and avoid recurrence is abstinence. Small amounts of the drug will begin the addiction process again. The failure of a narcissistic pastor or leader is much like a drug overdose. The accumulation of power and adoration escalates and causes compromise and failure. To allow, or worse, to bring, the leader back to ministry may simply be the beginning of another addictive process. People will be used and abused until failure happens again.

But what if it doesn’t happen again? What if the new ministry is both successful and not abusive? Well, then maybe the pastor was not a narcissist, but just someone who got caught up in the opportunities ministry can give for self-service. Or maybe the narcissist has learned how to operate better within the system. Or maybe it just hasn’t happened yet.

18 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Imputed Righteousness

 

Back to Grace!   

“How righteous are you?”

That’s a question I ask from time to time. The answers I receive are predictable. “Well, I try. Hopefully I have some righteousness. I know I’ve done a lot of wrong things, but I’ve done some good things, too.” It’s a question that makes believers squirm. We have been trained to think of ourselves as unrighteous. In many churches, believers are told how their sins separate them from God and they have to repent in order to be forgiven. Then they are led in a prayer, asking God for forgiveness. But they know it will never hold. Next week they will have to do it again.

So, how righteous are you?

Do you get a little squirt of righteousness each Sunday and try to live on that for a week? Are you trying to do good things so that the righteousness in you will outweigh the unrighteousness? Are you hoping that no one will see the wickedness in your life and you can just somehow slip into Heaven unnoticed? Or are you expecting a good scolding and some temporary punishment when you get to those pearly gates? Christians have all kinds of strange ideas, and almost all of those ideas come from bad teaching.

Ready for an answer?

“How righteous are you?”

“I am as righteous as Jesus!”

WHOA! How can you say that? Jesus was perfectly righteous. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. He always did right. Everything Jesus did pleased the Father. How could anyone say that he or she is as righteous as Jesus?

Then out come the verses:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…”
“There is none righteous, no not one…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray…”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”

And all of these verses are true, and I believe all of them. But that’s what we were, not what we are. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short. No debate. It is true that no one, save Jesus, is without sin and righteous on his or her own. No argument on that. If we say that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. That’s true also. Those statements are about what used to be and what would still be true if we were apart from Christ.

But we are not apart from Christ. We have been washed and sanctified and justified (1 Cor 6:11). We have been cleansed of all sin (1 John 1:7). We have been forgiven (1 John 2:12). In Jesus, all these things are true of us.

In the Bible, the concept of righteousness is portrayed as an account sheet. Sins are listed as negative, I presume; while good works are listed as positives. We have a couple of problems. There are so many sins that our good works will never catch up. Then, even our good works are so often compromised by our sins. We do things we want to do and in the way we want and for the people we want. So few good works are truly pure, without the stain of sin in themselves. And more, even those few good things we do that are actually close to selfless are not truly our work, but the work of Jesus in us and through us. All of that means that our moral account is in pretty bad shape. Not even close to righteous.

The theological word connected to all of this is “imputed.” To impute something is to give it to another. In the Bible, this particularly refers to moral or spiritual accountability.  And righteousness is imputed, given to us from outside of us.  The only righteousness we have is imputed righteousness.

So the gospel teaches us that Jesus, who was perfectly righteous in Himself, washed away our unrighteousness by His sacrifice for us on the cross and granted to us His own righteousness. So Paul says:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

We become the “righteousness of God.” Even about himself, Paul says that his only goal in life is to be found in Christ:

…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith Philippians 3:9

In other words, if you were to ask Paul how righteous he was, he would tell you about the righteousness of Christ in him. Why? Because there was no other righteousness in him.

So here you go. Apart from Christ, no one is righteous. But those who have come to Him for salvation by faith are not apart from Him. In Him, you have His righteousness. Because He is in you and you are in Him, His righteousness is your righteousness.

How righteous are you? If you belong to Jesus, you are as righteous as He is. That’s the message of grace!

5 Comments

Filed under grace, Grace 101, Theology and mystery

Why does God allow it?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

If God is good and God is strong and God knows everything, why doesn’t He change the circumstances that hurt us so much? This question haunts many believers and non-believers. Some would say that they became unbelievers because of this question. If they were honest, some may say that they became unbelievers because of the answers they were given.

 

In our comments this past week this question has come up in the context of the painful narcissistic relationship. How can God allow some people to use and abuse and cause so much pain to others? How can God stand by while we lose so much? Why doesn’t God deal with the abusers?

 

What I have found over the years is that the pat answers, no matter how good they sound to the one who gives them, rarely give real help to those who are hurting. Here are a few:

 

  1. It’s because of sin in your life. If you obeyed better, these terrible things wouldn’t be happening to you.
  2. It’s for your good. God loves you and sent the abuser to make you what He wants you to be.
  3. God is preparing you to be strong because something worse is coming.

 

Now, I don’t find any of those to be helpful. The first one makes evil my fault. The second one makes evil God’s fault. The last one makes my future seem dreadful. There is no comfort in any of these.

 

Please understand that this is one of the great mysteries of the faith. The answers we have do not come easily. This post will take a topic that could encompass many pages and boil them down to one, and that will be less than satisfying for any of us.

 

So here’s what I know:

 

  1. God is good and He loves me. He is not malicious or wrathful. He does not send trouble into my life to hurt me.
  2. God is strong enough and wise enough to stop the pain and change the circumstances. The fact that He doesn’t, does not change the fact that He could.
  3. God does not initiate evil, nor does He send it on us. His plan for us is good. The abuser is responsible for the evil he does.
  4. The world is broken, not working the way it was meant to work. Evil is a natural part of this brokenness. Those who do evil, narcissists and other abusers, participate in evil without any prompting by God.
  5. God does use difficult circumstances to draw us to Himself and He is able to turn curses into blessings. While He is not the author of the evil we suffer, He can use it for good in our lives.
  6. There are worse things than the pain we suffer. In the moment it is very hard to feel the reality of this, but it is true. The loneliness and confusion and emptiness of life apart from God’s love is one thing I would consider worse.
  7. All evil is temporary. Most of it will end in this life, but all will be gone in the next. That which is broken will be re-created and pain will be gone forever.
  8. In my pain I am never alone. The Lord is always with me, always near when I cry out to Him. Even when I cannot feel His presence, I can take comfort in knowing that He is with me.
  9. Those who look to Him and trust Him in the midst of their pain do find a special grace, an ability to live above their circumstances and to find their identity apart from their suffering.

 

Does this help me? Yes, it does. It reminds me that I don’t need the pat answers. As much as I want to understand, I really don’t need to. My desire to understand is usually a desire to control. I want to approve of my circumstances, even the difficult ones. If I know the purpose, then I might be able to give permission. But that is not my place. When I am able to trust Him, I find the peace He wants me to have.

 

No, I do not find this easy. I wish I could just live this way consistently, no matter what happens. But I am just as weak as anyone, just as fearful and just as doubtful. The only thing I have is the one thing I know—Jesus loves me.

 

Do I still wish He would change things sometimes? Of course! I pray against pain and suffering, in my life and in the lives of others. But as long as we are in this world, the brokenness will affect our lives. Sometimes, some amazing and wonderful times, God reaches in and changes things. The pain ends and life is good again for a while. I praise Him and rejoice in my peace. But I am learning to find that peace even in the times of struggle. Learning slowly, but learning.

 

No more pat answers. Don’t blame evil on me or on God. It just is. There may be causes and explanations, but none of them help my situation. What helps is to look on the One who loves me and trust Him.

 

That’s my prayer for each of you. Look to Him and trust in His love. Do what He leads you to do. If you can leave the narcissistic relationship, do it. If you cannot, then look to Jesus and find His overwhelming love in the midst of your struggle. He is there for you.

27 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Relationship, Theology and mystery

When not to debate

A friend of mine was recently challenged to a debate. He is fully capable of defending his position and I have no doubt that he would impress his audience with his knowledge and wisdom. However, I thought the particular debate would be unwise for several reasons and I wrote them in the following article.

After I wrote it, I realized that it had applications beyond the particular theological argument I was addressing. In fact, many within the church community would do well to understand the risks of a debate structure in answering challenges.  Politics, work situations, community organizations, even families suffer certain risks from debate-structured discussions.  Even those who come here to learn about narcissism will find these points to be familiar.

So I offer the article here and welcome your comments.

 

WHEN NOT TO DEBATE

 As Americans, we believe in debate. We have been taught that reasonable discussion on various sides of a topic will lead to a reasonable conclusion that all can accept. If every voice is given equal opportunity and status, truth will prevail.

In fact, that rarely happens.

There are several reasons to avoid debating, particularly when the challenger wishes to debate the status quo. Here are just a few:

 

  1. Audience – There are four audiences in these debates: those who already support the current speaker; those who already disagree with the current speaker; those who have not yet made up their minds on the issue; and those who are outside the issue but enjoy the entertainment. That means three out of four are unnecessary. Those who already support one side over the other will very rarely be changed by a debate. Even if their side obviously loses, they will find excuses for the loss and carry on. Within the fourth audience, the ones who haven’t made up their minds, there will probably be many who will never come to a conclusion and the debate will not affect that. Thus, for many debates, the purpose of convincing the audience is insignificant.
  2. The primary reason most challengers wish to debate is for legitimacy. The debate forum, in our culture, appears to give each side equal footing and equal validity. One side may be wrong, but they are considered “worth listening to.” One recent book lists differing perspectives on various theological issues without judgment. By doing so, the author ignores the fact that many of these perspectives have been soundly and widely rejected among evangelicals. The reader is led to assume that these are equally valid perspectives simply because they are listed together. Two sides or more represented in a debate are assumed to be equal. Even though the status quo (SQ) may have superior scholarship and longer tradition, the challenger appears to have the same strength.
  3. The challenger has the most to win, because he has the weakest definition of winning. While the SQ appears to be burdened with everything included in traditional perspectives, the challenger simply has to create doubts or make the SQ look foolish. Many times the challenger doesn’t care about points or convincing the audience; he simply enjoys the opportunity to state his case and make the traditional look less appealing.
  4. Playing rules are different between the debaters. While the challenger is easily forgiven for overstating his case and attacking his opponent personally, the SQ is rarely afforded the same privilege. Our culture somehow expects that the underdog must stretch the rules and be more aggressive to make up for the weight of the authority of the tradition. In a Christian culture there is a burden on the SQ to be “nice.”
  5. The vocabulary is not equivalent. Challengers often redefine words. The audience believes that it understands the words as defined by the tradition, but the challenger uses the same words to mean something else. This deception is rarely explained and, if the SQ points out the discrepancy, the challenger finds a way to sidestep. By changing the definition, challengers give themselves opportunity to deny or affirm with little accountability.
  6. All statements are presented as truth in a debate, whether or not they are true. The expectation is that the opponent will be able to point out the error or deception in his time allotment. The challenger will use this to put the SQ on the defensive. When a statement is made and support is given, the opponent is not able to make clear to the audience the point of error without sacrificing his own opportunity to make a point. Once the challenger sets the tone of the debate so that the SQ is on the defensive, he no longer cares about the truth of his statements. When pressed, he can simply move to other statements to make himself look strong and his opponent look weak.
  7. The burden of proof is on the SQ. While tradition expects that the challenger should provide proof in order to support his challenge, the audience is usually less affected by a lack of proof from the challenger. The audience expects the challenger to appear weaker. However, they are greatly affected by the apparent weakness of the SQ. Since the two sides are debating, when one appears weak, the other appears strong. The challenger will seek to attack the SQ in ways that force the SQ to support the tradition. Any inability to do this will affect the audience far more than a lack of proof from the challenger.
  8. There is no common authority. When the debate lacks common authority, the opportunity for progress is stifled. We witness this often in debates concerning creation and evolution. One side appeals to the Bible as ultimate authority, while the other appeals to science. These debates usually frustrate both sides and the audiences. Even when the authority, like the Bible, is accepted by both sides, the interpretations may be sufficiently different to negate the commonality.
  9. The pull to the middle. One must always ask about the overall goal of the debate. If the debate is seen as a dialectic, the pull to the middle will be the goal. Dialectics are effective in “both/and” discussions, but not in “either/or” discussions. For example, if the abortion debate is framed as “the rights of the unborn” vs “the rights of the mother,” a dialectic approach may help to form laws or policies that address both concerns—because we want both concerns addressed. If it is framed as “the rights of the unborn” vs “the lack of rights of the unborn,” a dialectic approach will only lead to confusion. How could both be true? When the culture sees both sides as equal in the debate, the expectation will be that some middle ground represents truth.
  10. The appeal to the mind. Ultimately a debate is an attempt to convince by reason. Christian concepts are usually not learned or understood by reason, particularly reason alone. An appeal to reason in the Garden was what got us into this mess in the first place. The serpent simply questioned details of the truth until Eve’s reason took over and made a decision. When faced with the details or logistics of miraculous events, for example, reason struggles. And we tend to reject that which causes our reason to struggle. We may debate the reality of a world-wide flood in the days of Noah, but when the audience is confronted with the details of feeding the animals or cleaning the ark, they become troubled. The mind wants to be able to understand these simple things, rather than release them to the miracle. Debates give the impression that truth can be rationally discerned, when Scripture tells us the opposite.

(Notice that I could not find a better word for the defender than the “SQ.” Almost any word for the one who seeks to maintain the traditional good or right has negative connotations. We are a culture that admires the challenger and the underdog. I think that means they have an advantage in debates.)

 

So those are ten of my reasons. Anyone have any to add?

8 Comments

Filed under Church, Theology and mystery

The Real Message

There are so many reasons I consider the message of grace to be the central message of the Scriptures and the ultimate doctrine of God’s love. The Scriptures tell us over and over that God loves us and that He is the only one who can do what is necessary for us to be saved—and sanctified—and glorified. He does what we need. That’s grace!

There are many messages that have come to and through the people of God. Some say that we have to work for our salvation, either to earn it or maintain it. Some are saying today that all are already saved, no matter what they have done or what they believe. But God sent only one message of love to us—Jesus. And, I believe, the only message that allows Jesus His true position in the world and in our lives is the message of grace. It rings true throughout the Scriptures because it is the right message, the message God wants us to hear and to tell.

So here it is: God loves you and offers all that you need for “life and godliness” in the gift of His Son, Jesus. Your part is simply to be willing to receive, to take what He offers, to let Him love you. The day will come when we will see Jesus at the center of our existence, the source and goal of our lives, and that will truly be Heaven.

The message of grace is the message that keeps our eyes on Jesus.

3 Comments

Filed under grace, Grace definition, Relationship

I am good enough

Words of Grace 

 

I confess up front that this post is a reaction to something I heard recently. I have heard it over the years, but this one hit home. You have heard it also; maybe you have even said it: “I’m not good enough.”

The young man says it as he walks away from a relationship. The young mother says it as she walks away from a church. The son hears it from his father. “I am not good enough.”

Not good enough for God to bless you. Not good enough to have that relationship. Not good enough to fit in with the others. Not good enough to expect something positive out of life. Not good enough.

Those are hateful words. Lies. Venom from the heart of the evil one.

All day long the evil one stands before God and says that none of us is good enough. He accuses us of sin and brokenness. He reminds us of what we have done. He tells us that we are not good enough.

Who has not sinned? Who does not need a Savior? Who can cast the first stone? Let’s face it. We are all the same. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “None is righteous. No not one.” All who come to Christ do so as sinners who can neither escape their sin nor atone for it. We all come the same. Needy. Broken. Sinful. Unclean. If one of us is not good enough after coming to Jesus, then none of us is. Either the Savior is enough, or we are without hope . . . all of us.

One of the most grievous sins must be for one person to look on another and think that the other is not good enough. How dare any of us hold ourselves to be better than another! The only difference between any two people is Jesus. Those who have come to Jesus have their sins washed away and stand now in His righteousness. Those who have not come to Jesus stand in their own faulty and insufficient righteousness.

But all of those who come to Jesus for salvation are the same. No one is better than another. No one can boast of superiority. Nor can anyone accept inferiority. It’s about Jesus, not you or me.

And we are as good as He is. Otherwise we are nothing. His righteousness, His goodness, is in us. He is our Life. So we are good enough, if He is good enough. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

I am good enough.

Jesus is my goodness.

I am as good as anyone who belongs to Him.

Because He has made me good

I am good enough.

5 Comments

Filed under grace, Words of Grace

Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

7 Comments

Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery