Have you ever felt a real sense of anxiety in our congregations? I think there are a few reasons for it and it is completely unnecessary.
First, going back to my previous post, we have created a bar that must be jumped over but the bar is theoretical. It is the bar of the Established 33 AD first century church. We are supposed to be like them but they weren’t like them. None of them had perfect doctrine (all the letters are written to correct doctrinal problems), all of them had sin problems, and yet Paul still addressed them as the Lord’s church (see his the opening verses of his letters). That tells me that perfect understanding and perfect imitation of that standard isn’t what defines God’s people. Jesus defines his own people. So anxiety comes from trying to attain a standard that is theoretical, not practical. The early church wasn’t as flat as we describe it. It had more variety than we appreciate.
If you set a standard for yourself that is in theory concrete but in practice nebulous and poorly defined then you have a recipe for anxiety. When we did that new thing last week in worship, was that like the early church? Probably not. Are we going to hell for it? Maybe so. Well we better not do anything new then, we better keep things like they were in the 1950s…er 50s. Then we will be safe because we know churches back then were sound and so if we stick to our roots from 60 years ago we are on solid ground because they were trying to be the first century church. Now we have another layer of complexity! We are imitating a generation we venerate for their zealous attempts at attaining the early church pattern. Guess what? The church in the 1950s didn’t get it right either! They goofed in some big areas but as long as we hold to their traditions and doctrine we can be sure we are sound.
Second, we are poorly differentiated from other Christian groups. Differentiation has to do with telling yourself apart from someone else. On one hand we seem extremely differentiated. We have done a lot of talking and writing on exactly why we are different from everyone else. But I think at times neurotically so…uncomfortably so…done so in a way that displays a lot of anxiety and hypersensitivity. That tells me we are poorly differentiated. If one must perpetually teach and demonstrate their differences from other people they aren’t secure in themselves. We have tremendous insecurity! And so we have a high level of congregational anxiety.
Third is autonomy that isn’t autonomous. We fear what other congregations think about us. We fear what they say about us. We fear what they will write about us. We worry they will tarnish our reputation and we won’t be considered “sound” by the right groups or people. It’s the wrong competition. We aren’t here to please people. We are here to please the Lord. This leads to more anxiety in our fellowship.
Fourth is an “everything you get wrong will send you to hell” mentality. If you want to be anxious make everything a heaven/hell issue. There are no higher stakes in life than that. You are lost if you are wrong on Instrumental music. You are lost if you celebrate Christmas. You are lost if you believe the wrong thing on divorce. You are lost if you [fill in the blank]. The problem is I don’t see any of that taught in the Bible itself. Here is the key – we have a view that God’s grace can forgive someone of moral failings but not doctrinal failings (things done in the body but not in the mind). That is not the Gospel of the Bible! In fact, it is quite the opposite. If you go to the “won’t enter heaven if you do these things” lists in the New Testament they are always about behaviors and not doctrinal opinions. Here is the other key – Doctrinal error is to be corrected. Sin is to be forgiven. There is a difference. This makes us tremendously anxious because there are hundreds of issues one can have an opinion on and we have elevated them all to as big of an issue as the divinity of Christ and so you can go to hell for having the wrong opinion on a long list of things.
All of these things are wrapped up in one other item that I won’t go into right now and that is how we read the Bible (hermeneutics) and CENI – Command, Example and Necessary Inference.
There are more factors that could be listed but I think these are the four big ones. What other issues might be included? I will talk about some paradigm shifts that help address this in the next post.