"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Uncivil Religious Warfare

        It usually starts like this: "I did nothing to provoke such a blatant snubbing! She's not going to get away with treating people that way … she needs to be taught a lesson." Okay, it may not materialize in such lucid terms, but that's often the attitude behind the declaration of uncivil war among church members.
        So let the games begin! The first shots fired are subtle, indirect warning shots, "Are you well, dahling? You seem to have lost weight, haven't you. This calls for a new wardrobe, I should say." (translation: "That dress looks baggy on you.")
        The target reels at the sudden realization that she's just been fired upon, so reflex action ignites a return volley, "Why, thank you for that observation. You're so fortunate to not have to worry about clothes bagging on you." (translation: "Better skinny than fat.")
        If looks could kill, the war would be over before it really starts. But they don't kill, at least not directly. So the exchange of "broad sides" escalates into offhand comments behind enemy backs. And of course those comments find their way back to their subject, more or less—mostly less—accurately, deepening the rift between the brethren.
        The original combatants begin confiding in friends, who become outraged, taking up the offense as their own. Each friend feels it is their Christian responsibility to lift up every last minute detail in "prayer" through a somewhat abridged prayer-chain. Factions form around both horribly mistreated brethren, and with volunteer armies enlisted, people's names are excluded from key social and church functions' invitation lists. After all, we can't have that sort of people poisoning the atmosphere at the dessert social/fund raiser. It simply wouldn't be Christian. "Why, I heard ...." And on it goes.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.(Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV)
        If there is an ungodly behavior that much of Christendom passively accepts, unwholesome talk would certainly not be it—unless, that is, we were to drink deeply enough of God's word that we might understand His definition of the term. Is reading Ephesians 4:29-32 without grasping its message possible? Anyone who has spent much time around "church," would have to admit that it is.
        What may have originated as a thoughtless gaffe soon escalates to open warfare, with allies enlisted on both sides in a systematic campaign of attacks on the other's personhood. And all with airtight self-justification. Outright carnal behavior becomes a holy war as deadly in a way as an Islamic jihad.
        How can anyone who claims to follow the Biblical Christ justify such un-Christian behavior as bitterness, rage and anger? And that's just the short list of wrong attitudes.
        One might wonder how professed Christians manage to justify such character assassination. Perhaps if we isolate each clause of the above quoted passage from its neighbors, we can warp God's word enough to rationalize the message into oblivion. Wouldn't we be in the best of religious company by so doing?
        Today, ungodly people—whether religious or irreligious—can broadcast unwholesome conversation through e-mail, instant messaging and chat far more quickly than their infernal progenitors did by mouth or conventional mail. Though such uncivil war begins with righteous indignation, volleys of "justifiable" anger, bitterness and rage soon follow. While today's brethren may still consider bitterness, rage, brawling and slander to be bad things, we miss the fact that such aggressive behavior quickly follows the more passive sin of unwholesome conversation. Jesus didn't mince words when He said, For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mar 7:21-23 ESV)
        Some will defend their spite with such excuses as, "evil things" aren't even in the same hemisphere as the "unwholesome talk" Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:29. But if a heart and mind hungry for godliness examines both passages, they will see that the offenses are disturbingly similar. They're not only in the same hemisphere, but cohabiters in the same household.
        War between brethren, whether civil or uncivil, is sin. And while Jesus pronounced judgment on the world's sin through His death, burial and resurrection, the church's sins of presumption on His grace remain to be judged.

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