Monthly Archives: June 2014

Selective Biblicism: Selective Psalmody Continued

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Psalm 7

Psalm 7 is omitted. This is another prayer of David in which he pleads for God to defend him from his enemies. He begins by saying, “O Lord my God, in Thee I have taken refuge; save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me, lest he tear my soul like a lion, dragging me away, while there is none to deliver.” One possible reason that this Psalm is omitted from the Psalter Readings could be that it assumes the reality of enemies. The reality of having enemies is highly distasteful for the modern believer. The general assumption of today’s believer is that if he goes to church and says his prayers, he will then have no enemies. After all, is it not true that enemies only exist when a person has done something wrong? If the believer’s behavior is non-offensive and highly tolerant of others, he should never have any enemies.

Jesus, of course, lived in the real world. He warned His disciples that they would be surrounded by many enemies, even the members of their own households! The reality of having enemies as a direct result of obedience to the will of God is rarely contemplated in our time. Who wants to be unpopular? How can you grow a mega-church when there are many enemies around? No, we are told, it is best to keep a low profile, never rock the boat, and try to live a life with no enemies. Dilute the truth if necessary, but above all else, love everyone and don’t make enemies!

David, on the other hand, lived in the real world of violent confrontation between the followers of God and the haters of God. However, David also realized that it was possible that he could be on the wrong side of a confrontation. He realized that the confrontation could be the result of his own sin. Therefore, before he prayed for God to bring vengeance upon his enemies, he first prays a prayer of self-imprecation. He says, “O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is injustice in my hands, if I have rewarded evil to my friend, or have plundered him who without cause was my adversary, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it; and let him trample my life down to the ground and lay my glory in the dust.” How many evangelicals are prepared to pray that prayer? Who in our churches today has the courage to pray a prayer of self-imprecation? That is the prayer of a man who is supremely confident that he knows and is engaging in the revealed will of God.

David understood that all actions in life are judicial in nature. All behaviors are either obedient to the revealed will of God or they are not. Obedient actions bring blessing, disobedient actions bring judgment. David had been slandered by his persecutors when he had been obedient to the will of God. As a result, he engages in a process of self-examination to make sure that his own behavior was correct. Once he determined that he had been obedient, he moves on to discuss those who are immorally persecuting him. David cries out for God to “vindicate” him. Then, just like in Psalm 6, David lovingly (not affectionately) warns his enemies that bad behavior will incur the wrath of God. He says, “If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts.” David’s warning to his enemies is clear. They need to repent of their sin or face the wrath of God. How could any pronouncement be any more loving? Is there a better example of “loving one’s enemies” than this psalm? Why has it been excluded?

Psalm 9

Psalm 9 is included in the Psalter Readings but the first six verses have been omitted. This Psalm starts with David saying, “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Thy wonders. I will be glad and exult in Thee; I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High.” This psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving. The introduction sets the tone for what follows. However, the first thing that David expresses his heart-felt thanks to God for is His wrath upon His (and David’s) enemies.

The rest of what was edited from this reading is, “When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before Thee. For Thou has maintained my just cause; Thou dost sit on the throne judging righteously. Thou hast rebuked the nations, Thou hast destroyed the wicked; Thou has blotted out their name forever and ever. The enemy has come to an end in perpetual ruins, and Thou hast uprooted the cities; the very memory of them has perished.”

Apparently this beautiful description of God’s righteous judgment, in defense of His servant David, was too mean spirited to be included in the Psalter Readings. The next part of the psalm talks about how God will be a “stronghold for the oppressed”. That much less offensive description of the righteous acts of God is where the reading begins. The fact that God is an advocate for the oppressed is a very popular message. Modern believers love to see themselves as victims. Beginning with verse 7 allows evangelicals to see God as being on their side. That is a good way to add warm bodies to the congregation.

David confesses that God had “maintained his just cause”. That kind of talk is perceived as being very dangerous in our churches. Anybody who goes around talking about a “just cause” is quite likely a “loose cannon” who is on a “mission”. Undoubtedly that person will be “harsh and intolerant”. That is not the kind of person we want in our churches. Certainly we can never read a psalm that might reinforce that type of thought and behavior.

Psalm 10

Psalm 10 is omitted. This psalm is a prayer for the violent overthrow of the wicked. The concept of ‘wickedness’ is a difficult one for today’s believer. There is universal agreement that Hitler was wicked; beyond that it is hard to find anyone else that might fit into the category (I just finished reading a book that took the very popular position that the Reformation theologian John Calvin was an incarnation of wickedness. Anyone who has learned in the government schools that Calvin was responsible for that horrible doctrine of predestination probably believes that Hitler has company.) Perhaps this psalm is omitted from the Psalter Readings because it is not clear that it applies to anyone currently alive?

God’s definition of wickedness in this Psalm is a little different than the evangelical doctrine of wickedness. God describes the wicked man as one who “boasts of his heart’s desire” (vs. 3), who is “greedy” (vs. 3), who is “haughty in countenance” (vs. 4), and who acts and believes that “there is no God” (vs. 4). The wicked man is defined as the man who “says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it'” (vs. 11). This biblical definition of wickedness applies to a lot more people than one dead German dictator. In fact, it is not unfair to say that this description could apply to a fair number of the folks who are sitting in the mega-church auditoriums each week.

I can already hear the howls of anger over that last sentence. However, before you throw this essay into the trash, consider the fact that God describes the wicked as “greedy”. Malachi says that anyone who does not tithe is “robbing God”. I would posit that any church member who does not tithe is guilty of being greedy and robbing God. If recent statistics on giving by members of evangelical churches are correct, then at least 75% (I am being very generous here) of the members of evangelical churches are wicked. No wonder this psalm has been removed from the Psalter Readings!

What does the psalmist want God to do with the wicked? He says, “Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer, seek out his wickedness until Thou dost find none. The Lord is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land.” Wow! How long has it been since you have heard about a God who behaves like that? Quite some time I would guess. How long will it be before you hear about Him in the future? Longer, I would guess. You can’t grow a mega-church talking about a God like the God of Psalm 10.

Psalm 14

Psalm 14 is omitted. The omission of this psalm from a hymnal edited by Reformed theologians is an unconscionable act. This psalm, perhaps more than any other psalm, establishes the doctrine of the original sinfulness of man. Paul quotes psalm 14 extensively in his letter to the Romans. Paul quotes this psalm in Romans 3 where he is establishing the theological fact that both Jews and Gentiles are utterly sinful and deserving of the wrath of God.

The psalmist describes natural man as follows, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’. They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

How can a man understand the good news if he is ignorant of the bad news? This psalm delivers the bad news in stunning fashion. There is no mincing of words, no attempt to soft-pedal the truth. There is no one who does good, not even one! Until this eternal truth is perceived as true in the heart of the individual there is no hope for personal salvation. The good news of the Gospel is unknowable until the bad news of original sin has gripped the consciousness of a man. Why, oh why, would the editors decide to omit this psalm?

I would suggest that the doctrine of original sin does not play well to today’s audiences. It is very difficult to build a mega-church while reading psalms like Psalm 14. It is very difficult to add more names to the church membership roles while preaching the doctrine of original sin. Hence, it is removed.

In fairness to the editors of the Trinity Hymnal, Psalm 53 is included in the Psalter Readings. Psalm 53 is essentially a direct quotation of Psalm 14. Hence, the doctrine of original sin is contained in the readings. However, since the Holy Spirit considered those sentences worthy of repetition in the Psalms, why did the editors of the hymnal not also consider them to be worthy of repetition? The concepts of the paternal favor of God and His unending love for His elect are repeated dozens of times in the readings. Should not the doctrine of original sin as explained in Psalm 14 not at least be mentioned twice?

Selective Biblicism: Selective Psalmody

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

The “Trinity Hymnal” (published by Great Commission Publications) is widely used by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America. Both of those denominations are reputed to be committed to a declaration of the “full counsel of God”. Near the back of the hymnal is a section known as the “Psalter Readings”. These readings are selections from the Psalms and are intended to be used in worship as a responsive reading. Not all of the Psalms are in the Psalter readings and not all of each individual psalm that is selected is present in its entirety in the hymnal. Since the Psalms have been edited for presentation in the hymnal, it makes sense to see what parts were deemed permissible or desirable to be left out of the readings. Recognize that a majority of the written material in the book of Psalms is included in the Psalter Readings. In other words, the material that has been edited out was not removed simply due to limitations of space in the hymnal. Rather, what has been removed from the Psalter Readings has probably been removed for some other reason than time and space considerations. Examining what has been edited out of the readings generates an accurate picture of the theological bias of the editors. What follows is not an exhaustive list of all of the deletions, although it does include the majority of them. The following twenty deletions will make a series of significant theological points.

Psalm 3

Psalm 3 is omitted from the Psalter Readings. King David wrote psalm 3 as he fled from his son Absalom. David begins by saying, “O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me.” One of the men who had raised himself up against the King was his own son, Absalom. David’s affection for his son is unquestioned. II Samuel 13 describes the feelings of the King toward his murderous son. Nevertheless, David prays this prayer about the enemies who were persecuting him; and that included Absalom.

David concludes his prayer by saying, “Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God! For Thou hast smitten all my enemies on the cheek; Thou has shattered the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; Thy blessing be upon Thy people!” David, as God’s representative, had many enemies, including his own son. David exults in the fact that God blesses His people by defending them from their enemies. Not only does He defend them, He hits them in the face and shatters their teeth! This graphic description of a violent physical assault upon the enemies of God causes David to praise his God for the fact that “salvation belongs to the Lord”.

Evangelicals have a serious problem with passages that talk about God beating up on His enemies. We are told that the Old Testament God of vengeance has been replaced with the New Testament God of love. The NT God of love would never shatter the teeth of His enemies. Rather, we are told that He would love them until they made a free will choice to enter into the Kingdom. Nevertheless, this is an inspired prayer of King David. Unfortunately, it was not considered worthy of being included in the Psalter Readings.

Psalm 6

Psalm 6 is omitted from the Psalter Readings. This is another Psalm of David and he is once again found praying about his enemies. Since Jesus said that we are to “love our enemies”, evangelicals have a difficult time with Psalms in which curses are prayed upon a man’s enemies. A good deal of this problem originates from the fact that evangelicals have no idea what ‘love’ is. ‘Love’ is generally understood to be a feeling of fondness toward another person. It is difficult, if not impossible, to pray a curse upon another person while at the same time maintaining feelings of fondness for that person. Rather than define love as the Bible does (as ‘agape’, as an act of the will to behave lawfully towards another without regard to personal feelings), Christians believe that the best way to deal with the assumed incongruity is to simply eliminate all references to prayers of imprecation upon enemies.

David had no such trepidation when it came to asking God to protect him from his enemies. He concludes this prayer by saying, “Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication, the Lord receives my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly dismayed; they shall turn back, they shall suddenly be ashamed.” If what David says about the Lord hearing his prayer is true, and we would be wise to believe that it is, then does it not necessarily follow that David is behaving lovingly by warning his enemies that they are in a dangerous position because of their persecution of him? If God really does defend His people, as Psalm 3 says that He does, then how can it be considered a loving act to not warn the persecutor of the great danger he is in? Clearly it is possible to love one’s enemies and ask God to defend oneself from them at the same time. This Psalm should not have been removed from the Psalter Readings.

Selective Biblicism: Introduction

This is first of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

A wise, old pastor once told me “a half-truth, masquerading as a whole-truth, is an un-truth”. That slogan asserts that it is possible to be wrong when dealing with something that is right. It also argues that it is possible to assert a general proposition that is false, within a specific proposition that is true. I accept it as a fact that teaching only a select percentage of biblical truth will inevitably result in a false conception of God and His will in the minds of the recipients of that teaching. As a result, we can have a Church that is filled with biblical preaching that, nevertheless, worships a false god. In this essay I am going to prove that the evangelical Church in the United States does a good job of preaching a small percentage of the truth about God; however, the practice of selective biblicism has brought about a state of apostasy in which a false god is being worshiped in many of our churches.

Different religious traditions believe that there are different sources of information about God. Roman Catholicism believes that revelation is derived from the twin pillars of Scripture and Church Tradition. Pentecostals and charismatics, in a continuation of the ancient practice of mysticism, believe that revelation from God is found in the Bible and in personal mystical experience. Protestants have historically believed that revelation consists exclusively of the biblical texts. This particular reformation doctrine is known as “Sola Scriptura”. I will assume the doctrine of Sola Scriptura to be correct in this essay. That means that passages from the Old Testament are just as valid as passages from the New Testament. Most evangelicals have adopted a modern expression of the ancient heresy of Marcionism. Marcionism denies that many OT passages are authoritative because they were inspired by the Old Testament God who has either died or changed His mind about the things that He said. I will have more to say about the Marcionite heresy in my essay on Evangelical Heresies.

In this essay I am not going to deal with the allegation that authoritative revelation may be found in sources other than the Bible. I will, in Evangelical Heresies, engage in a critique of alternative sources of revelation. For my purposes here, however, I am going to limit my examination to Scripture alone. When the Bible is considered to be the exclusive source of information about God and His will for His people it becomes vitally important to exegete the entire Word of God.

In this essay I am going to examine four different portions of the Bible. First, I will look at the Psalms. In particular, the psalms that are included in the “Psalter Readings” portion of the “Trinity Hymnal”. The Trinity Hymnal is the hymnal used in my church and it is also used in a great number of reformed and Presbyterian churches around the country. Then I will examine the hugely popular book of Jonah in light of the largely unknown book of Nahum. Next, I will answer the popular question, “What would Jesus do?” with an examination of the sayings of Jesus in the book of Mark. I will conclude with a critical look at the Apostle John, the popularly acclaimed “Apostle of Love”. There are dozens of areas where evangelical Christians totally ignore major sections of the Bible in order to construct a false view of God. The four mentioned above, however, will be sufficient to make my case that we have abandoned the biblical God in favor of a god made in our own image and crafted from our own carefully edited biblical texts.

Unity: Conclusion

This the last of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

The lack of biblical unity is the most abominable sin that currently exists in evangelicalism in this country.  Our disunity is a negative testimony to the beautiful unity of the Trinity.  We blaspheme the nature of God daily by remaining separate from one another.  We have seen how there are only two types of conflicts, those related to sin and those related to weaker brother issues.  We have seen that God’s Word gives us clear instructions on how to resolve those conflicts.  Furthermore, we have seen that compete biblical unity does not consist simply in the absence of conflict but is only realized when each believer crucifies himself and considers his fellow believers to be more important than himself.

I have no hope that biblical unity will ever be established in my lifetime.  It would take a tremendous miracle of God for true biblical unity to come to pass in the Church in the United States.  The mere fact that we glory in our factionalism renders it impossible for us to ever make ecclesiastical progress towards unity.  The fact that most all believers spend most all of their lives protecting themselves from challenges to their personal insecurities renders it impossible for us to ever make individual progress towards unity. The fact that the current leadership of the Church excel in establishing weaker brother doctrines as normative for the Church while, at the same time, ignoring the clear teachings of the Bible on conflict resolution virtually mandates that nothing will ever improve.  This is not pessimism, it is realism.  However, God can and will do whatever He wants.

In the meantime I will speak to the remnant.  God has always had His remnant and His remnant has always been sensitive to His Word.  I believe with all my heart that what I have written in this essay is biblical truth. We must be united.  Each true believer must do everything he can to establish unity in the people of God.  But we are small and have very little influence in the visible Church in this country.  As a result, much of what we do will be negative.  Here are some suggestions of things we can do to bring about some degree of biblical unity:

1.  Individual believers must immediately cease “leaving” a local church without just cause.  This means that no separation will ever take place unless the principles of discipline recorded in Scripture mandate it.

2.  All believers must immediately implement the biblical means of conflict resolution for all conflicts that arise.  Sin matters should be dealt with judicially according to the provisions of Matthew 18.   Weaker brother conflicts will be resolved by mutual acceptance and tolerance in the context of agape-love.

3.  Weaker brother issues must never divide believers.  It is never acceptable to seek out a “like-minded” church when you find that you have a weaker brother dispute in your own church.  We must stay together and learn to love each other.

4.  Individual churches must immediately cease “leaving” their denominations without having followed the procedures of discipline established by God in the Bible.  If a church has a problem with the doctrine of the denomination, it is the sworn duty of the elders of that church to resolve that conflict with the denomination biblically.

5.  All believers must immediately cease fighting with one another over weaker brother issues.  This is a horrible offense against God.  Of course we can challenge each other’s beliefs, that is not the issue.  But the extreme level of rancor and abusive speech that currently circulates around discussions of weaker brother doctrines is a terrible sin.  Rather, we are to accept each other, and not for the purpose of passing judgment upon each other’s opinions.  Instead of separating, we are to embrace the tensions caused by the weaker brother doctrines as an opportunity to exercise agape.

6.  Lastly, we need to realize that the relationships we forge with fellow believers in this life are the relationships that we carry into the eternal state.  Let us live today so as to not be ashamed tomorrow.

Unity: Philippians 2:1-4

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.

This passage reveals the complete anti-self state of mind.  We are exhorted to regard one another as more important than ourselves.  It is not possible to do this and be thinking about ourselves at the same time.  The only way to consider someone as more important than myself is to forget myself and think about him.  What does it mean to consider someone as more important than myself?

This verse is often misunderstood because it is taken to be saying that I have to construct an imaginary world in my mind in which I pretend that you are really more significant than me when we both know that isn’t true.  Others say that it means that I have to give you some sort of elevated status in my mind that is not based on reality.  God never tells us to create imaginary worlds and then live in them.  This exhortation does not primarily apply to our beliefs about reality, for in reality I always consider myself to be most important.  This exhortation does apply to our behaviors.  My behavior towards you must prove that I consider your life to be more important than mine.  How can I possibly behave towards you in such a fashion that anyone judging my behavior would determine that I consider your life to be  more important than mine?

Verse 4 provides the answer to that question when Paul says, “look out for the interests of others”.  Notice that this does not mean that I am to reinforce your sinful or foolish interests.  As we have seen those interests need to be rebuked or admonished.  But, and this is crucial, I have to actually think about you, and not myself, for long enough to learn what your interests are and to determine if they are sinful, foolish, indifferent, or good.  Then, once I have made the preliminary determinations about your interests, I have to look out for them.  This requires an ongoing effort to think about you.  If I am doing this all the time there is not much time left for me to think about myself.

If I am actually doing what Paul tells me to do in this passage then I am going to be thinking about the priorities and motivations of others most of the time.  Here is a test, if I am really thinking about the interests of others most of the time then I should feel like I am continually sacrificing for others.  The simple fact is that the interests of others are generally not my interests.  Things that are not my interests don’t interest me.  I have to pretend to be interested in things I am not interested in.  Pretending to be interested in things that I am not interested in is hard work.  I can only do the hard work of pretending to be interested in things I am not interested in by expending a great effort and sacrificing things I am interested in.  Therefore, if I am doing this I should be aware that I am in a position of continual sacrifice for others.  To top if off, even though I am aware that I am continually sacrificing for others, I am never allowed to make that truth public!  It is not hard to see why almost nobody makes any effort to love others.

Unity: Colossians 3:12-16

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Look at how many “put ons” there are in the above passage.  The key to overcoming our insecurities is to stop thinking about ourselves and put something else on.  The key is not to be found inside us.  All the psychoanalysis in the world is not going to do us any good.  There is no “good” to be found inside of us and it is fruitless to spend time searching for it.  All psychoanalysis eventually fails because it only reinforces the innate selfishness that already exists in men.  The Bible gives us the key to overcoming our insecurities and it is by “putting on” something outside of ourselves.

Another key to overcoming our insecurities and eliminating elective grief, and one of the “put ons”,  is to “bear with one anther”.  It is impossible to bear with somebody without at least thinking about that person.  Once again we see the key.  To overcome ourselves we have to think about others; even if the thinking we are doing about others consists of “bearing with” all the nasty things they do to us.  Remember, the nasty things others are doing to you do not indicate that they are thinking about you.  They are nasty because they are always and only thinking about themselves.  Paul recognized that relational reality and exhorts the Colossians to do the hard work of bearing with the nastiness of others.

An important point needs to be made about the exhortation to “bear with others”.  If a person is doing this properly, the other person will never have any idea that it is being done!  I have known hundreds of folks who made great public displays about how they have been “bearing with others” for years.  That is all a charade for their public statement only proves that, once again, they were only using others as an excuse to think about themselves.  The person who is truly “bearing with others” will not be thinking about himself at all and will most certainly never tell anybody what he is doing.

Paul says to “above all things, put on love (agape)”.  We have already looked at the definition of agape in I Corinthians 13.  It is enough to remember that agape is the exact anti-self state of mind.  It is impossible to agape somebody and be thinking of yourself at the same time.  It is also very important to realize that agape is something that can only be done by somebody who has the Holy Spirit.  Never expect an unbeliever to display agape.  It is impossible.  Never be disappointed when unbelievers do not display agape.  That is foolishness.  Only believers can display agape and they are ordered to do so.  If every believer “put on agape” there would be perfect unity in the Body of Christ.  There would be no elective grief.  There would be no conflicts.  We would have heaven on earth.

Lastly, notice that all of this is predicated upon the Word of God.  The Word of God is both objective and subjective.  The Word of God objectively tells us the will of God.  The Holy Spirit subjectively applies the Word of God to our hearts in His ministry of illumination.  The Word of God is our perfect guide to unity.  Everything that we do must be based upon and grounded in the clear teachings of the Word of God.

Unity: The Problem

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

The problem can be stated quite simply.  All of God’s people have particular insecurities that lead to unwise priorities that cause interpersonal tensions.  The key to relational intimacy is the elimination of personal insecurities.  Although easily said, it is extraordinarily difficult to do.  All of us have spent decades nurturing and cultivating our own little crop of insecurities.  In our own minds, our personal insecurities, no matter how bad, selfish, or counter-productive, define who we are.  The thought of challenging our own insecurities is too much for most of us to do.  As a result, we never do it and we remain in a permanent state of spiritual infantilism.

To help us come to grips with the problem it is important to mention a fundamental presupposition.  I presuppose that our intellectual limitations are insurmountable, but our relational limitations are not.  Although many people are intellectually lazy and could expand the use of their minds considerably with a little effort, it is nevertheless the case that there is a limit to intellectual ability.  Even the most diligent student will eventually reach the point where he cannot understand what he is studying.  For most people this limit is reached fairly quickly.  Frankly, most people are just not that smart.

Our relational limitations, however, are not insurmountable.  As far as I am aware, Jesus never preached on the importance of getting smarter, reading books, or getting a college degree.  In fact, He seemed to accept people at whatever intellectual level they happened to be.  On the other hand, Jesus continually preached on the need for greater relational intimacy.  “Greater love has no man than this…, I go to prepare a place for you and I will receive you to Myself…, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…,I am the Vine, you are the branches, abide in Me…, I no longer call you slaves, but I have called you friends…, Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one,even as We are.”  Jesus expects us to make progress in relational intimacy, both with Him and with His people.  In order to do so we must seek out and destroy our personal insecurities.  But how are we to do that?

One of the best methods to use to become aware of our individual personal insecurities is to ask this question, what am I afraid of?  The answer to that question will reveal our personal insecurities.  All of the answers to that question will fall into one of two categories, objective fears and subjective fears.  Objective fears will be things like, I am afraid of being attacked by a grizzly bear when walking in bear country in the springtime, or, I am afraid of being in a car accident when driving on icy roads during rush hour.  Objective fears may be ignored.  They reveal nothing about our personal insecurities.  Objective fears may be accurate or inaccurate but they do not get to the core of our being.

Subjective fears get to the heart of our personal insecurities.  For example, most people confess to having a great fear of public speaking.  In some surveys that I have seen the fear of public speaking is ranked higher than any other fear.  Now why would that be?  Unless one is speaking to a group of armed terrorists bent on killing public speaking Americans, it is highly unlikely that there is any real, objective reason for the fear.  Why are most people terrified of having to speak in public?

In a word, selfishness!  The first principle for understanding human behavior is that everybody, always and only, thinks about themselves.  When the time comes to have to make a speech the thoughts going through the mind of the speaker are that everybody will be looking at him!  “Everybody will be thinking about me!”  “What if I make a verbal blunder?”  “Everybody will think I am dumb!”  “When I walk into the auditorium everyone will be looking at me and analyzing the clothing that I am wearing!”  “Everyone will look at my face and notice if I have wrinkles!”  “Everyone will check out if I have a bad haircut!”  The fear of public speaking would disappear immediately if the speaker only realized that everyone in the audience is always and only thinking about themselves.  Nobody is thinking about him, and they probably never will.

I have a rule about public communication that I have found to be true over the years.  It only makes sense when it is understood that people listening to a public speaker are spending that time primarily thinking about themselves.  Here is the rule:  10% of what I say gets heard, 10% of what gets heard is understood, and 10% of what is understood gets applied.  As a result, only .1% of anything I ever say in public will have an impact upon the audience.  In 30 years of public speaking I have found this rule to be quite accurate.  Why is it so?  Because the people in the audience are consumed by their own personal insecurities and thoughts about themselves.  Nobody is thinking about me or my message, so how could they possibly understand what I am trying to say?  Everything that I say is filtered through an immense grid of personal insecurities.  That grid is designed to ensure that no challenging idea ever gets through to the real person.  The role and purpose of the grid is to protect the self, exactly as it is, forever.

This is the way most people live and this is the way most people will die.  Nothing will ever change.  For the true believer, however, staying in this position is unacceptable.  The true believer must open himself up to challenges.  The true believer must be on a mission to seek out and destroy his personal insecurities since he realizes that they are a tremendous deadweight that impede his progress in spiritual growth and maturity.  I would exhort all true believers to make a list of the things they fear.  Then, analyze that list to eliminate the rational, objective fears.  Lastly, ask yourself this question about each of the subjective fears, why am I afraid of this?  In addition to an analysis of our fears, I also believe that an examination of our behavioral priorities can illuminate our personal insecurities.

Our behavioral priorities can often illuminate our personal insecurities because they usually are derived directly from them.  Most people spend a great part of their lives engaging in behaviors that will protect their own personal insecurities.  An objective analysis of behavior is a great way to get at the personal insecurities that motivate them.  Incidentally, that is why there is so much elective grief in the world.  Since our behaviors are entirely motivated by the desire to protect us from each other, and since each of us is doing this while remaining completely oblivious to one another, it necessarily follows that we inflict tremendous amounts of elective grief upon each other.  In a very real sense we are not trying to be mean to each other.  Truly evil people are extremely rare because in order to be truly evil it is necessary to think about somebody else.  Since most people never think about anyone else, the nasty things we do to each other are just the by-products of our self protective behaviors.

Here are some behaviors that I have witnessed over the years that were only being done in order to protect personal insecurities:

  1. An ex-drunk established an Alcoholics Anonymous group because of his own fear of drinking.
  2. A woman joined a militant anti-abortion group in order to absolve her own guilt from a previous abortion.
  3. A home school mom joined a political action committed in order to try and feel relevant and powerful.
  4. A father became a “fan of his kid” because of the insecurity of his relationship with his son.
  5. A single female had intense emotional bonds to her dogs because of her fear of relationships with men.
  6. A woman continually engaging in cosmetic surgeries in order to overcome her insecurity about her appearance.
  7. A man assumed a domineering position in his home to compensate for his own fears of failure in the world.
  8. An athlete trained exceptionally hard who was motivated to do so entirely by the fear of athletic failure.
  9. A father immersed himself in outward objectivity because of his intense fear of relational intimacy.

Make a list of your behavioral priorities and then ask yourself this question, why am I doing these things?  Be honest!  Sometimes it is difficult to break through that barrier of self protection and get to the real reason.   Some of the most “successful” people in the world are successful because they are driven by their own personal insecurities.  Some of the most “successful” people in the world leave behind them a mass of broken and failed relationships.  It does not matter that a man be successful to the point of owning the whole world, if the cost of doing so is broken relationships with all the people he had met along the way.

There are two passages of Scripture that deal with how to overcome our personal insecurities and experience relational oneness.  We will examine each in turn.

Unity: Conflicts Due to Insecurity and Unwise Priorities

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

I conclude this essay with an examination of conflicts that arise from personal insecurities and unwise priorities.  The conflicts that arise from these contexts do not form a third class of conflict.  In all cases, the conflicts that arise in this arena can be subsumed into either the category of sinful or weaker brother conflicts.  As either sinful or weaker brother conflicts they need to be resolved by means of the principles and procedures I have already discussed.  I have included this section in recognition of the fact that a lot of conflict among believers is not the result of well-reasoned theological positions or diligently considered weaker brother behaviors.  Sadly, a lot of conflict between believers is simply the result of selfishness.

I would be remiss in my attempt to fully describe the doctrine of biblical unity if I did not address the conflicts that arise from our selfishness.  The important point to realize here is that biblical unity is not simply the absence of conflict.  Up to this point I have been discussing how to resolve what everyone recognizes to be a conflict.  Obviously there is no unity when conflict is present.  Not as obvious is the fact that unity does not automatically come into existence the moment external conflict disappears.  Many of the most intensely held animosities in our churches fall into this category.  Biblical unity will not exist until conflicts that are the result of our own selfishness are also resolved.

The Goal

The goal of biblical unity consists of more than the absence of external conflict.  Unity extends far beyond what we believe or even the way we behave.  We have seen how the Church has often confused doing, saying and thinking the same thing for biblical unity.  Besides the absence of external conflict, the final goal of unity is to eliminate all interpersonal tensions between believers.  The elimination of interpersonal tension is something that is subjectively appraised.  Nevertheless, it is something that needs to be attained.

There is no interpersonal tension between the three Persons of the Trinity.  Biblical unity is based upon the unity that exists in the Trinity.  There will be no interpersonal tension between the individual members of the Body of Christ in the eternal state.  Biblical unity during this age is to be a “down-payment” and a reflection of the unity that we will experience in the eternal state.  Just as we strive in our services of worship to attain to some measure of the quality of worship we will be performing in the eternal state, so we should strive in our interpersonal relationships to attain some measure of the quality of relationship that we will have in the eternal state.  Is this a utopian dream?  Of course it is!  So is the desire for the elimination of the sin of denominational factionalism, the desire to have a theonomic civil government, and the desire for perfect obedience.  It is not a question as to whether these goals are attainable.   It is a question of obedience.  Of course our obedience will never be perfect.  But does that mean we are not to strive to be obedient at all?  I think not.

Our goal should be to come to a position in our relationships with each other where we have entirely eliminated a phenomenon that I call “elective grief”. There are two types of grief in this world, necessary grief and elective grief.  Necessary grief is the grief that is associated with our sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world.  Necessary grief exists because of the existence of sin.  People die, so we grieve.  Natural disasters happen, and we grieve.  Sickness robs men of their vigor,  all of us continue to experience the loss of natural ability due to age, and the law of nature determines that a vicious cycle of death and rebirth will exist throughout all of creation.  All of this is grievous.  All of this is grief that is unavoidable; no matter what we do we will not be able to prevent grief.

Although also related to the sin, elective grief is preventable.  In every case of elective grief there was some point along the line where somebody could have stopped the process and the grief would never have occurred.  Elective grief is grief that we produce, often because we wish to harm or punish somebody else, and always because we are selfish.  .  Most of the sorrows, tensions, and conflicts that we experience in this life are directly related to elective grief.  I suspect if you sat down and wrote out a list of the things that brought you sorrow over the past year and then categorized them into elective or necessary grief, you would find that the elective grief side is much longer.  Of course, this is not always true.  People can go through “Jobian” periods in their lives where it seems as if everything is falling apart.  But for most people, most of the time, the sorrow and pain that we feel is usually related to things that could and should have been prevented.

There are three realities that we need to be aware of when we strive to attain biblical unity.  First, the Christian life is fundamentally objective but primarily relational.  When a person becomes a Christian, a very real objective change takes place.  God, in His grace, elects, regenerates, justifies, and sanctifies His people one at a time.  When this happens to an individual, his legal standing before God and the world undergoes an objective change.  That person becomes “born again”, and a “new creation”.  The first thing a new Christian does is set about to be grafted into the Church.  Objective statements of belief are made, objective vows are sworn, objective promises are made, and the new believer is objectively joined to the local church.  All of these objective behaviors are absolutely good and entirely necessary.  However, the objective reality that is seen only exists because of the subjective reality that under girds it.

At the heart of the Christian life is the reality of relationship.  When God, in his grace, decides to save an individual from his sin, He first sends His Holy Spirit to establish a relationship with the individual.  When the initial relationship is forged that individual comes into relationship with all three Persons of the Trinity.  After a relationship is established with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the next thing the new believer does is establish a relationship with the Body of Christ.  In the church, there are hundreds of personal relationships that are established with the other members of the body.

It is not possible to have a Christian life without both the objective and subjective elements.  However, I believe it is fair to say that the Christian life is fundamentally objective but primarily relational (subjective).  Second, a believer’s position in the Kingdom of God is wholly determined by how relationally intimate he is with God.  This is a difficult assertion to believe for intellectual Christians.  Intellectuals like to believe that because they know more about God, they are closer to God.  That is not necessarily the case.  Although some knowledge about God is obviously required in order to be relationally intimate with Him, it does not follow that the level of theological knowledge determines the level of intimacy.  It is entirely possible that a mentally retarded believer could be far more relationally intimate with God than a seminary professor.

We all have different intellectual abilities.  Therefore, our ability to understand theological concepts is widely varied.  But I see no evidence in Scripture where theological knowledge is ever lifted up as the litmus test of relational intimacy with God.  On the other hand, most of us have barely scratched the surface of our relational abilities.  For reasons that I will discuss later, most of us live our lives trying to keep relational intimacy at arm’s length.  Since relational intimacy is the primary reality of the Christian life, many Christians spend their days in a sort of relational infantile paralysis that essentially guarantees that spiritual growth will never occur.  If we want to make progress in sanctification, most of us have to work on our relational intimacy more than our theological knowledge.

Third, our relational intimacy with God can be determined by examining our degree of relational intimacy with His people.  We are all at a certain point along the continuum of relational intimacy.  I do not believe that it is possible to be more relationally intimate with God than we are with the people of God.    I John 4: 20 says, “If some one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  The man who says that he has great relational intimacy with God but can’t get along with any of God’s people is a liar.  The measure of our relational intimacy with God is our relational intimacy with His people.  Based upon the horribly low level of relational intimacy that exists in the Church, it is fair to infer that our relational intimacy with God must be terribly stunted.

The lack of relational intimacy exposes the myth that unity can exist simply because of a lack of external conflict.  A lack of external conflict is a lack of external conflict, it is not unity.  True biblical unity is founded upon the two towers of no external conflict and relational intimacy.  We have already examined the problems with resolving external conflicts.  Now we have to examine why we have so little relational intimacy.