By Nathan Watts - Guest Writer
However, before I get to the heart of the matter I need to establish a point of reference where my opinions come from and why:
First off, I go to Church. However, I do not hesitate to say that I’m a “sinner.” I am far from being what someone could consider being a “good Christian example.”
However… I’m starting to wonder if being a “backslider” isn’t so bad of a trait after all. It tends to give me a ‘different’ perspective on many things stated at Church that blows my mind on how some people can actually be so naive to “The World” around them and how it actually works, thinks, lives, and breathes.
I often think of the “Rich Man,” born with a silver spoon in his mouth and wealthy his entire life. Do you think he actually has a gauge, a benchmark of his value of what he is successful at? He already has everything… It’s not possible. He’ll never know his true measure of worth because he will never have had to work for anything. And much more often than not, we see these individuals grow up and live their lives in a completely distorted and fantastical fairy land version of what reality actually is.
I was raised in a fundamental Pentecostal – dancing in the aisles – speaking in tongues – fire and brimstone – makeup, rock and roll, and TV were sins to be avoided or suffer eternal damnation – Church. (Some of you who are not believers of the faith may think this as being ridiculous, but do me a favor and put that on a shelf for a moment and just follow along. You may be surprised at the ending.) I followed this lifestyle until around 16 when things in my life started changing. My point to this though, and the “Rich Man” analogy is this: I was born with a “spiritual silver spoon” in my mouth.
I did not have a measure, gauge, or benchmark to understand the true value of what following Christ was. I was “born into it.” I have often told my wife, “If I am completely honest with myself; because of my youth, the peer pressure of wanting acceptance, and that Church literally being my only influence at that time, I cannot state with absolute assurance which times my worship was because I knew someone was watching or when it was actually faith based… if ever at all.”
This is how children are. At its core: If you put them in an environment and tell them “You have to do ‘this’ in order to get ‘that.’” they will do “this” repeatedly. Especially if they are as impressionable as 1, 2, 3….. 12…. and on. It’s called “psychological conditioning.” You can’t argue that. It’s fact. What part was real? What part was in my mind? What part was so strong in my mind that it ‘became’ real for me? God only knows… I sure don’t. So when I “backslid” and I began to experience the ‘real world’ around me I started realizing that I was living in a fantasy land and things weren’t “quite” the way they preached it to be. I woke up to a LOT of things…
It is from this experience, my subsequent 25 year “backslide,” my recent renewal of Church fellowship and listening to “some” around me that I have come to a very unorthodox conclusion: I feel that in some ways I am actually better off and have a deeper appreciation for the faith BECAUSE of my backsliding instead of staying in the Church my whole life. My 25 years of “fun in the sun” has given me a reference to base my opinions and comparisons on – which, although the Bible is the end all be all “Word,” it is often times esoteric to our base nature to desire something tangible to hold onto. My past IS my reference point, and it is solid.
So… my recent convictions that have been keeping me up at night for the last several months based on MANY conversations in and out of Church and with MANY different people, from Clergy to Pauper:
In its most basic form the Bible says sinners shall reap what they sow… we all know this. But what we as Christians seem to get confused on is where our jobs “start” and where it “STOPS.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that ANYONE in the Christian Church are to take it upon themselves to be the “tools” and “arbiters” of his disfavor – whatever he chooses his disfavor to be. But we sure like to pretend it does…
A vast amount of us Christians seem to forget that… and so we flush politician’s pockets with money to pass laws so that others “have” to live by “our” standards.
That whole “Freedom of Religion and the Pursuit of happiness…” yeah… that’s taken out of context. What we REALLY meant was “Freedom to obey MY religious beliefs and MY religious beliefs only.” At least, that’s how we act many, many times.
This is a glass house philosophy, and “dangerous” to utter in some Churches. But I honestly, honestly believe the greatest challenge to the Christian Church today is NOT fear of persecution for our beliefs, but it is to know when OUR statements stop being “witness testimonies” and start becoming “judgmental religious vilification.” There is a REASON many people look at us in derision… because our OWN statements are hypocritical by default when we do things like this and yet we simultaneously and ignorantly act oblivious to it. We are literally FEEDING our OWN condemnation from the masses – and we only have ourselves to blame.
Let me put this in about the most basic nutshell possible as how I see it, and I’ll use myself as the guinea pig: The sole purpose as a Christian follower when I am communing with those in the world around me is to portray myself as a living road-sign of God’s grace by how I live my life and through witness testimony.
(We all know I don’t fit that description. Don’t get confused; I’m not trying to insinuate that I’m a good enough “witness” of anything yet. This is for purposes of analogy so I don’t have to say “you” and sound… ironically… “judgmental” or antagonistic to whoever reads this.)
However, the moment I start making statements that are spiteful, incendiary, or vilifying which cause the person not to even want to go to church… what have I done? I have FAILED my mission. I have disobeyed the word…. all the while trying to profess it. Oh, my excuses will surely be “I was only telling him the truth.” or “Nonbelievers simply don’t want to hear God’s word.” then nonchalantly shrug my shoulders in a “not my problem / responsibility” fashion, and walk away. But really these would be nothing more than self justifying cop outs to make myself subconsciously feel better about driving people off because of an attitude that is inappropriately obtuse and sanctimonious.
There’s no squirming out of that. If I say something that causes a person to NOT want to go to church because I made a judgmental opinion on something, then no matter my “intent”, I have failed. We wear the mantles of our Churches. What comes out of our mouths is immediately taken as what our Church says. Hence, if my attitude could be considered to be, “hateful” and I belong to a local Baptist Church, then it is an immediate and subconscious assumption by everyone around me that the entire Church would have the same attitude. Here’s what my repentance prayer should sound like if you walked by me:
“Dear God, please forgive me for driving yet ANOTHER soul away from your grace and into the burning pits of Hell because of my own selfish sanctimonious indignant attitude toward my fellow man.”
Anyone want to join me in that prayer?
Anyone?. Here’s the real kicker:
No-one can look at me in the eye with any integrity, state that they believe in our American freedoms and what we are founded on, and then simultaneously fund and force-feed laws down people’s throats that effectively remove individual’s freedoms and rights of choice. This drives directly to the heart of where the line of appropriate and inappropriate Christian behavior ‘should’ be.
I will smile and nod at that person… but silently chuckle at how he or she simply doesn’t understand how oxymoronic their attitude is.
A great fear among many believers is that if we fail to act enough and something that is absolutely diametrically opposed to the Bible becomes “legal” or accepted by society, then we have somehow condoned it. This is a fallacy in its purest form and I’ll use one of the most heated debates between both Christians and Non-Christians in our Nation’s history as a perfect example: Roe vs. Wade.
I can pretty much bet my entire life’s savings on the FACT that not one single Atheist thinks that because this activity is ‘legal’ that Christians as a whole “condone” it. They know exactly where the Church stands on this issue and no-one would have the ignorance to say that the church thinks otherwise. Why? Because the Churches voice was heard. Loudly. But once the decision was made and the law was passed, the Church understood and although not supportive of the outcome, moved on. Of course we still voice our opinions in the matter. But that’s the point: THIS is called WITNESSING. The ones that said “You’ll go to hell!” weren’t witnessing. They were making a determination on where that persons soul would reside for all of eternity.
I don’t know about any of you, but I haven’t ever seen a single human being on Earth recieve an appointment letter to serve for the “Board of Admissions to Heaven.” So since I’m not holding one… I know it’s not my place. (I am not arguing about the Roe vs. Wade decision. My point is solely about how we sometimes take it upon ourselves, very vocally, to profess our “omnipotent knowledge” of whether or not God will allow someone into heaven and whether or not we have the “right” to “decide” what is best for society – with or without their participation “for the good of their own salvation.” I’m willing to say the answer for both is a profound and resolute “NO.”)
What happened in California with a certain specific Christian group paying off the politicians for votes in regards to proposition 8 was “religious tampering,” not “witnessing” and nothing more.
The resulting backlash once the facts were known because of it has damaged each and every single Christian regardless of doctrine or ideology. If someone doesn’t think so, then they simply aren’t paying attention and has a “silver spoon” dangling from their mouth..
It’s Constitutional. It’s Biblical. And none of us are special enough to argue it.
Tough pills to swallow I know. Let me know if anyone needs milk… I have plenty.
(Yes, I AM the “loose cannon.” I always have been, anywhere I go, in any organization I am a member of, and I always will be. I’m proud of it. Loose Cannons keep you on your toes and make you “think” outside of the box.)
But ya know… if someone doesn’t like this, there IS a religion they might be more compatible with that forces specific law into its government to dictate to their people as a country how to live. If they wanted to follow this instead though, they’d have to get a Qu’ran. I have a feeling the transition would be a difficult one…
He hails from California and makes his home in the suburban Atlanta Metro area with his family. He is the founder and co-organizer of a local writers group, and a personal friend. Look for more of his writing here.