During this very odd year I've been surprised at how quickly we in the church speak up about our rights. Just like in our country at large, self-defense and division in the church is extremely common.
Here’s one example among many. Some castigate those wearing masks as slaves and wimps, while others retort that those who won't mask up clearly don't care about the life of their neighbor. The first group defends their right to do what they want while the second defends their right to demand that others conform to their view. In this post I won’t deal with their positions. What’s interesting is that the way these two camps deal with differences is very similar. Both camps reflect disordered hearts.
Protest is the new plea. Rights replace responsibility. Demands mask dependence. Emotions eclipse everything. Meanwhile, division grows deeper while pleading to God for protection from temptation is almost non-existent. Though more could be explored, below are several arenas in which this plays out. Unfortunately, the current philosophical temperature sets the tone and in turn infects the political, theological, and emotional. Tragically, it has also formed the way we worship, rather than the other way around.
Protest is the New Plea
We have a philosophical problem. As a society we have come to accept that how we feel about self is our ultimate truth. Even if you would object to this idea on the face of it, it has slowly crept in into the church and is spreading. We accept that almost every inclination is natural. Further, we demand that others affirm our inclinations and feelings. If they don’t, we protest with our feet, accusations, anger, etc. To repeat, I’m not just talking about the culture at large. This describes how the church has acted as well, especially through 2020.
For a scholarly and insightful look at the water in which we swim, grab Carl Truman's "The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self." It's brilliant and readable.
Rights Replace Responsibility
We also have a political ideal problem. The "doctrine of right," which was originally rooted in the Protestant concept of Natural Law, has been unhinged from the concept of personal obligations and duties. The idea that your rights exist because I have a moral responsibility to behave according to God's law (and vice-versa) is disappearing. Practically speaking, rather than pleading with God to help us live morally responsible lives which in turn secures the rights of others, we have turned the idea of 'rights' on its head in order to defend and protect any personal whim or inclination.
Our new philosophy is that it’s my right to make you either put up with, affirm, or protect my desires.
Demands Mask Dependence
The church has swallowed both the philosophical and political pills. This has either created, or at least exacerbated, an existing theological problem. Again, no longer do we plead for protection against temptation. Instead, we defend our temptations toward sin as God-given, natural traits. Some have even removed temptation from the category of sin altogether based on a faulty understanding of the temptation of Christ and a lack of appreciation of depravity. We seldom plea for strength against our own temptations, because after all, they are not actually sin. We have gone topsy-turvy and adjusted our theological categories based on the philosophical and political air we breathe. We are now content to live with temptations as kind old friends in our hearts because there is no theological reason to curb them.
The result is the same. We demand that others embrace our issues while dependence upon God is shoved to the corners of our spiritual lives.
Emotions Eclipse Everything
The way we feel trumps all other truths. At a gut level, we feel that our temptations just can’t always be laced with sin. We feel that demanding that others affirm for our proclivities, outbursts, and rage is much more palatable than the hard work of pleading, confession, and repentance. We feel that rudeness is justified as long as it’s directed at the people you hate.
Once again, we’ve gone heels-over-head (backward intentionally) and the result is that pleading for God's help has given way to emotional outbursts against our pet issues (bigotry, government overreach, racism, stupidity, science as god, etc.). And we openly defend this attitude because we feel it’s our right. Further, we swoon with appreciation when someone beats up our enemies.
Our Practice is Paltry
Sadly, our worship often reflects all of the above. Pleading to God has become foreign. Instead, we actually agree that we should be ‘authentic’ rather than sincerely sorrowful for sins that come so naturally. We believe Jesus lets us off the hook, and so we just live with our temptations since we 'are who we are.' Or, we avoid pleading in worship because we deem it to be a downer.
We’ve experienced how hard it is to change our feelings and probably don't even think we can or should. If we are so unfortunate as to be part of a church that won’t adjust to our likes and dislikes, we ignore those parts or protest with our feet. But more often than not, our church leaders kindly avoid or gloss over confession of sin. They emphasize that we are redeemed, precious, loved, amazing, and basically good (as long as we like Jesus, defend freedom, and oppose abortion).
The result is that worship is shaped by our desires more than our spiritual need. This unbalanced approach to worship eventually causes us to treat the weekly call to plead for mercy as perfunctory, replacing it with an unspoken call to rail against the culture, stand up for ourselves, and claim our "rights." After all, we are justified, precious, and deserve to live the way we want. Do our modern worship services reinforce the modern view of self?
A Reordered Heart
We might want to blame certain politicians, but it’s our disordered hearts that are dividing the church. And yet this is not to say we should walk around with our heads hung in shame from now on. Instead, we should simply take a true accounting of our attitudes and start pleading for protection from the enemy within. One way to reorder our hearts is to be very careful with what’s influencing what. Worship, both personal and corporate, should be informed by the Scriptures. That in turn should inform our feelings, theology, politics, and philosophy.
Here’s just one suggestion for where to begin. My friend and pastor, Kevin DeYoung, has recently emphasized that the Lord's Prayer is a type of daily prayer. He pointed out that Jesus implies that a near constant request for daily provision would be good for us. The same would follow for protection from temptation and deliverance from evil.
I have no doubt this kind of daily and weekly prayer would reorder our ideals. Whether we call it a daily liturgy or habit or whatever, it would help us have biblically ordered hearts which honor the Lord, pray for the kingdom to come, grow in gratefulness for daily provision, and plead for strength for when we are tempted to sin.
Maybe it would begin to upend our bad philosophical assumptions, mixed up political ideals, theological errors, emotional outbursts, and one-sided worship. Perhaps moral responsibility would become desirable. Maybe we would even stop demanding that others make room for us and begin living to make room for others. Maybe protests would turn to pleading.