Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The American Heresy - Continued

In part 1 I discussed Individualism as the American Heresy. While it is not unique to the United States, it is particularly rampant here. In this part, I will further explore what the heresy of Individualism causes to happen in the Church - particularly in our relationships with our fellow Christians.

If we accept that we are all individuals, then it follows that we all have different takes on the Truth because our lives are all different. It also means that we don't really know whose "truth" is better - mine or yours. This leads to the idea that we should have the freedom to explore the truth as we see it. So, if a person sees the truth that they married the wrong person, then he should be free to explore what live would be like with a different person or without that person in his life.

The logical conclusion of "You're not the boss of me!" is "I'm not the boss of you!" We don't want to hear criticism and so we are not willing to give criticism. We are obsessed, as a culture, with "do not judge." It used to be that the most common scripture quoted in society was John 3:16 (For God so love the world...."). Today, the most common scripture quoted is "Do not judge, lest you be judged." We are afraid to tell each other when we are doing wrong or going the wrong way.

This fear leads to a denial of the Church as the Body of Christ. I think it is a true statement that if you don't harm anyone, do what you want. The problem is that every sin harms someone - especially yourself. If we take the metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, then when one part of the body is harmed, the whole body is harmed.

So, what is the solution? First, we have to be willing to receive crticism and be honest enough to understand that those who criticize us are doing so because they love us. One of the best things that my first Spiritual Director said to me was: "Phil, I love you. But when you do this you are hurting yourself and the church. Please stop." I learned from him to receive correction to my behavior and attitudes. Second, we have to examine ourselves when we begin to offer criticism. Are we reacting out of anger or love? Are we coming across as judgmental or caring?

When should we approach others? Well, I think that the best way to do this is in a small accountability group or in some other intimate setting such as Spiritual Direction or a mentor/mentee relationship. I believe that each Christian should have a group of friends that are not afraid to say what they are doing is wrong. Each Christian should have a Spiritual Director or Spiritual Mentor.

Too many of us see the Christian Faith as an individual faith where we go to Church to receive what we need to get through our week. Christianity is not an individual faith, it is a personal and interpersonal faith. It is a trinitarian faith where our communities reflect the self-giving life and love of the Holy Trinity. That is how God designed us to work, but we prefer to look after ourselves first and thus we miss the glory and joy and peace of the Holy Trinity.

Phil Snyder


Robert said...

Unfortunately, individualism is the default state not only in this country but the whole world, just as sin is the default state. In fact the two are closely related, sin is the condition where we say "I don't need God, I can do things my way."

As Milton quoted Lucifer, "It is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven."

The problem is, the criticizer can be as full of selfish motives as the criticizee. The mentor can be as short-sighted as the mentored. This is one reason why I have never been too fond of the idea of human shepherds and sheep, because the shepherds have feet of clay too and we ultimately have one shepherd.

I went to a Church of Christ at one time, and my chief complaint against that church is that the Pastor was always trying to convict us of HIS sin. :) He was a rich lawyer and he constantly preached from his own guilt about having so many cars and houses and so on. I was like, well you need to confess that to somebody, but we come here to hear the GOSPEL not your sins. :)

What is important is that we come together in groups, confess to each other, and receive guidance from each other, not as priest and parishioner but as Christian and Christian. The clergy is important for many other things, but for something that personal, we all have to get off our holy horses and meet on the grounds of our common humanity.

plsdeacon said...

You make some good points, Robert.

However, there is a reason that pastors are called pastors. They are the shepherd of the sheep. Actually they are actually sheepdogs working for the Good Shepherd, Jesus. The problem is that, all too often, the sheepdogs are indistinuishable from the wolves and they begin to feed on the sheep, not shepherd them.

I am not saying that priests are the only ones who should be Spiritual Directors or Spiritual Mentors. There are far too few of them for that. But a priest (or a deacon) has training in the spiritual classics and, hopefully, knowledge of what works and doesn't work for spiritual exercise.

I agree that corrective criticism should not be delivered as priest to parishoner (unless necessary, such as in the disciplinary rubrics), but as one brother to another. Ideally the corrective would come through the person's accountability group rather than from the leader of the community.

Phil Snyder