Sin, Pride, and the Problem with Fundamentalism (Or, Why We Should Disband the “Jerks for Jesus” Club)

Yesterday, I read something that broke my heart. A Christian public figure wrote a blog post celebrating actions that clearly “missed the mark” (sin). Worse, the tone was smug and self-righteous. Worse yet, there was really no excuse for this person to do what had been done. There's no excuse for sin, period, but if a person acts out of ignorance or distress, well, I view that differently than sinning out of proud defiance. This person was sinning to PROVE A POINT.

I've spent the last week and a half teaching and talking about gender equality in Africa, and it was kind of nice to be embroiled in another culture's issues for a while. It's easy to spot sin from the outside in, to identify another culture's blind spots and address them without having a personal stake in the matter. While there are people in the USA who disagree with my belief in functional equality (meaning we don't just value people the same; we offer them the same opportunities), no one here is going to cruelly tease my husband for cooking, or make me sleep in a cooking hut because I'm female, or invalidate our marriage because we refuse to buy into the dowry system.

But it's different when we engage in social issues in our own culture. Everything feels personal. We have a lot at stake. We are horrified when society fails to live up to our expectations, and defensive when our values are threatened. Our hackles raise, our fists clench, and we assume our fighting stance. Forget humility, unity, and bearing with one another in love. We feel that we are under attack, and we'll be damned (literally?) if we let the “other side” win.

This has everything to do with what we view as fundamental to our vision for society, and nothing whatsoever to do with Christ-like-ness. Christianity, maybe. But not Jesus.

This is fundamentalism.

This is where our rules, values, and mores become more important than Christ's command that we love one another and be one, more important than Paul's advice that insofar as it is possible, we live at peace with all people. This is where ideology becomes more important than people, where winning becomes more important than communicating, where rigidity overtakes common sense. This is where Christians begin “biting and destroying” one another, and even taking pride in their macabre victories, or the downfall of their ideological “enemies.”

“Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.”

Where does 1 Cor. 13 fit into this?

Where does Phil. 1 fit into this?

Where does JESUS fit into this?

Back to my beginning paragraph, about sin and proud defiance. This person would never call themself a fundamentalist–in fact, I would guess that they view themself as opposing fundamentalism–but I would say that a proud, defiant spirit is one of the primary indicators of fundamentalism. It is a spirit that insists that I am right, you are wrong, and I will break you to get my way, if necessary. It's a spiritual “stand your ground” law, permission to sin, to shoot to kill, if your ideological boundaries are breeched. Because, again, ideas are more important than people.

Except that they're not.

So here's my question.

Are you a fundamentalist?

Let me throw out a few words and see how they make you feel.

Gun control?

Gay marriage?

Feminist?

Evolution?

Obamacare?

Calvinism?

Pacifism?

Insert-your-own-ism?

Do these words fill you with compassion and concern (whatever side of the issue you fall on), or do they make you want to take off your earrings and assume your fighting stance?

If it's the latter, you may be at risk for fundamentalism.

Look, friends. We need to address evil and injustice. We do. But we need to do it as followers of Christ, as people who stand ready to absorb blows, instead of doling them out.

We need to keep Jesus at the center of everything, lest the issues we are fighting for become more important than Jesus himself. Lest we become proud and defiant, willing to sin (behave in un-Christ-like ways) to prove points. Lest we start to look more like charter members of the “Jerks for Jesus” club than a passionate Nazarene teacher who overcame the sin of the world by going to the cross on the world's behalf.

Maybe you're willing to fight for your cause. But are you willing to die for your enemy?

If not, it may be time to step away from the heat of battle and do some soul searching.

Because you may have become a fundamentalist.

17 Responses to Sin, Pride, and the Problem with Fundamentalism (Or, Why We Should Disband the “Jerks for Jesus” Club)

  1. Virginia Knowles November 12, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    Well said, Jenny! I shared similar thoughts here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2013/11/vision-forum-and-friends-turn-your-eyes.html

  2. Epimenides part deux November 12, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    False ideas destroy more than a person’s body and it is every Christian’s calling to wage war against them.

    For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2Cor10)

    Christians are commanded in scripture to combat the false teachings that constantly arise in the midst of the church.

    For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (Titus1)

    The church militant is in constant combat against ideas that murder souls. We wield the sword of truth, not the teddy bear of embracing Satanic lies.

    “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. “(Jude)

    The church’s problem is not that too many are contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but too few. We are a church overflowing with wolves and goats and the sheep who hear his voice can barely be found.

    In the words of Jesus: “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”(Jn8)

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

      Hmm. I agree that false ideas are incredibly destructive, and that Christians need to combat them. However, I think it’s important to remember that the people Jesus clashed the most with were the Pharisees, the religious gatekeepers who contended for doctrinal purity and religious observance, tying heavy burdens on people’s backs that essentially slammed the door of heaven in people’s faces. They taught right things–even Jesus admitted that–but Jesus was not a fan. Because as righteous as they looked on the outside, their hearts were hard, and their insides were riddled with self-serving pride. Ultimately, they chose religious ideology over the living Christ, who challenged their sense of superiority and constantly went slumming with sinners. It can happen.

      • Epimenides part deux November 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

        Jesus did not call the Pharisees to abandon sound doctrine, but to abandon false doctrine and self-righteousness. In scripture we are commanded to wage war against false teaching, against the ideas that murder the souls of the deceived, against teaching that is contrary to God’s word.
        The Pharisees were filthy on the inside, but they pretended they were clean. They imagined that they could stand before God on their own righteousness. They had no use for God’s mercy. This is because they were of their father, Satan. They did not cling to every word that proceeded from the mouth of Christ. Instead, they preached and believed false doctrine. They prayed “Thank God I am not like other men.” not “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

        There is no war between sound doctrine and the living Christ. Christ preached sound doctrine and warned us to oppose those who would do otherwise. It is false doctrine that is against Christ. Christians are called to sound doctrine, correct dogma, and true religion, and fiercely contend against hirelings and false teachers that do not preach sound doctrine.

        “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus1)

        If we want to know what sound doctrine is, then we can look to scripture:
        But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus2)

        I do not know what the article you criticized was, or what sort of hateful things were said. I’m not questioning that the article was filled with sin. But your own response goes into dangerous territory, pitting Christ against sound doctrine as if the two are in conflict, and they are not. Christians are called to rebuke false teaching “sharply”. Christians are called to wage war against false ideas.To suggest otherwise does not accord with God’s word.

        • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 12, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

          I’m not pitting Christ against sound doctrine, but I am saying that discipleship > dogmatism, and that Christians often fall prey to the same sort of self-righteousness that you rightly pointed out was the inner filthiness of the Pharisees. Think 1 Corinthians 13. There are lots of clanging gongs out there, and I want to avoid that tendency in myself.

          • Epimenides part deux November 12, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

            Discipleship IS dogmatism. The dogma is the words that come from the Christ’s mouth. Discipleship is learning, guarding, and sitting under the authority of this dogma.

            “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn10)

            “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (Jn14)

            ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.’(1Jn2)

            “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”(Heb1)

            ‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’(Mt28)

            If you would be a Christian disciple, then cling fast to the dogma once for all delivered to the saints, and wage war against the lies of the devil. Pick up your sword of truth, Christian soldier, and hack the “lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of Christ” to pieces.

            Just as sound doctrine rings void without love(because sound doctrine commands it), love cannot exist apart from dogma. Without dogmatic adherence to truth , love is nullified, it becomes affection for lies and kindness to the deception that devours souls in hell.

            Christian dogma IS the words of our Lord, which certainly call Christians to love, humility, gentleness, and respect, but also pit us against false teaching. You have promoted a false antipathy between love and dogma.

            “Christians” fall prey to self-righteousness chiefly because they are taught false teaching. They are deceived by the ministers of iniquity into believing Satanic lies that will send them to hell. Lying lips teach them that their hopes rest in their personal righteousness and that they must stand before the throne of judgement on their own merits. They will be weighed in the scales and found wanting. Even one failure to perfectly love will merit them the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels. “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”(Mt25)

            They knew God was not “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”(Jon4), but “a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed”(Mt25), so that worthless servant will be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

            As disciples of the Truth, we respond to this evil with dogma. Our sinful lips speak words too wonderful for us to know. We proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, hope to a world that is perishing, purchased 2000 years ago on a bloody Roman cross.

            “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”(Is53)

  3. Tim November 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    Jen, I really appreciate your call to engage in ways that show people Christ. Too often I hear things from people that challenge my thinking no something and immediately wonder how I can set that person straight. Perhaps if I thought more about that person and not about how to set her or him straight I’d be able to serve them as Christ taught us to.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  4. Diana Trautwein November 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Thanks for this good reminder to allow grace to temper ALL our opinions and choices. Learning to tell the truth in love is one of the hardest things we’re ever asked to do and most of us fail miserably. Even blog commenters.

    • Epimenides part deux November 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      It is impossible to speak the truth in love, unless one is willing to speak the truth. Real truth is theopneustos, but itching ears can’t bear to hear it:

      “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”(2Tim3-4)

  5. Bronwyn Lea November 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    On the nose, jenny! What a huge challenge to apply that pesky verse “in humility, consider others better than yourselves” in practice.

  6. Suzanne Burden November 13, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Yes, this! I’m thankful for your charitable words in calling us to act like Jesus and to put down the boxing gloves.

    Last night at a fellowship event, a wise woman in her 70s commented that we go around doing, doing, doing, doing, but whatever we’re doing, it’s really all about the people involved. Let us slow down enough to be emptied, to experience humility, so that we might embody Jesus to those in our path—no matter their views.

    • Epimenides part deux November 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

      …because Jesus used a whip, not boxing gloves. Boxing gloves are for sport. A whip is more Christlike:

      “In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”(Jn2)

  7. Mike November 20, 2013 at 1:43 am #

    Is “themself” a word?

  8. Anne December 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    I fear that with this attitude you become guilty of the very thing that you yourself are accusing others of. And since when is Calvinism lumped in with the likes of gun control and feminism and obamacare? This scares me! Greater minds have strong beliefs concerning Calvinism versus Armeninism, both great people, differing opinions. Are those hills toa die on?

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

      Anne, I think you may have missed my point. I was trying to show that people can become “fundamentalist” about anything, from theology to what sort of shampoo they use. But is that a hill they are going to die on (or more aptly, kill others on), as you say, or are they able to extend grace to people who disagree with them?

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