Divisive “discerners”

I used to be one.

But I repented. It finally dawned on me that God had never appointed me to be a member of the doctrine police.

Just this morning I ran across a comment I posted on some blog two years ago. I’ve forgotten the particular blog or the discussion, but I’d saved my comment. Here it is, with slight edits:

In what has come to be called Jesus’ high priestly prayer, offered in the hours leading up to His crucifixion, He prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

We cannot claim to love Jesus Christ if we do not share His heart for unity. Are we truly one with others in the Body of Christ or do we cause the world to sneer at our disunity, disagreements, bickering, and sniping at one another?

God forgive me for the times I have been divisive under the guise of “discernment”!

But, wait — doesn’t God require us to disassociate from brethren who teach what I am convinced are wrong things?

“But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

Notice what’s missing on the list: teaching or believing theological error or false doctrine.

“But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:9-11)

We are also to avoid those who stir up division with controversies and quarreling over the Word of God, especially the law — because it is warped and sinful to do such a thing! Again, may God forgive me for the times when I was guilty of such terrible behavior, and so far from the mind of Christ that I actually thought I was protecting His Body, rather than attacking it.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26)

Lest you think this applies only to local churches, please be aware that Christ has one Body — one Bride — and not multiple ones.

Although I disagree with a number of things I read on blogs or hear in sermons, it is not for me to judge the salvation of the authors and thus I cannot say, “I have no need of them.” Instead, I must honor them as Christ would have me do — even in the face of disagreements that are probably irreconcilable this side of Heaven.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)

False narratives

There are people who believe we create our own reality, or that we somehow attract into our lives the events — even the worst of trauma — that happen to us. Some of that sounds new-agey and off-putting to many Christians, yet a similar ideology has crept into many churches as well. Recently I posted the following to a discussion of some of the impact Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking message has to this day:

Many people have no idea how much Peale’s positive thinking ideas have infiltrated so much of Christianity, and have impacted people who have never even heard of the man. I have a friend who would not even tell me what she had been diagnosed with and — when I insisted on knowing — she whispered the name of her condition as if she was forced to pronounce some horrible obscenity and hoped no one would actually hear it. Her reason? She didn’t want to “come into agreement” or “speak out” anything negative.

…then there are those who refuse to “hear a bad report”. I’m all for not listening to gossip, but I think it’s silly to avoid negative news about someone, and I think it’s dangerous and immoral to silence those who are victimized by someone else. There is nothing righteous about burying one’s head in the sand and refusing to hear anything that might make us uncomfortable, challenge our worldview, or even cause us distress.

I wonder if these people, who claim to be Christians, actually read their Bibles. Thing is, the Bible is full of “bad reports”. The prophetic books of the Old Testament seem to be focused on getting people to wake up and face some hard truths about themselves and about their society. The Psalms are not “happy clappy songs”, but are all too often laments. (I didn’t understand this as a kid: why did God not punish King David for all his complaints, and why on earth were they included in the Bible?)

That’s not to say that those of us who claim to be Christians should be all doom and gloom, and focused on negativity. But I would think that those of us who claim to have an eternal hope, those of us who claim to be in relationship with the God of the Universe, would be able to be capable of facing reality without playing all sorts of mind games, pretending away what we don’t like, and claiming that perception matters more than truth.

Today I was reminded of a flip side of this: negative thinking versus positive thinking. Actually those are not the only two alternatives, contrary to what some people have insisted. “Negative thinking” — focusing on the negative to the exclusion of the positive — is just as much in error as its opposite extreme.

Perception never matters more than truth, even when it is our own perception.

For most of my adult life, I believed a false narrative about God and about myself. That doesn’t mean that everything I believed about God was a lie, or that I was delusional about myself. While most of what I thought and believed was based on truth, the way I lived my life, the way I interacted with people, the way I prayed, the way I interpreted situations — all that was woven together in such a way that was not completely true. I am still unraveling the general narrative I created about life, and holding it up to what I now know and believe to be true.

A big part of therapy for me was what I eventually called “replacing lies with truth”. A wonderful couple that ministered deeply to me preferred to call it “replacing ungodly beliefs with godly beliefs”. Much healing has come to me as a result of pondering the question: Will I allow myself to be defined by my past experiences, traumas, and sins, and by what people tell me about myself, or by the God Who created me, loves me, and knows me best?

For years, the people I was most comfortable with were those who agreed the most with the narrative I’d woven together to make sense of my life. I was filled with self-blame and shame, so it felt familiar to hang out with people who blamed me and shamed me. There were a lot of things about me that I viewed in a negative way, and I thought people were a bit daft if they didn’t agree with me. Now I wasn’t all negative — in fact, I would get quite annoyed at people who didn’t affirm what I thought to be my good points. While I don’t believe in what some call the “Law of Attraction”, I do believe that we tend to choose to associate with people who feel familiar, who agree with us for the most part, and who don’t try to shake up our entire worldview. So, whether it’s intentional or not, we often tend to befriend and even marry people who will reinforce our beliefs about ourselves, about God, and about the way the world works.

I’m reminded of a woman I know who married a man who — even before marriage — described her in rather negative terms, and let her know by word and deed that she wasn’t very important to him. And you married him? several people asked her. Even after the things he said and did to you, the way he insisted that his friends, family, and career would always come before you? She would answer, “I couldn’t blame him. He was right. I’m not that important, and I should be thankful that someone like him would even want to marry me, with my past and all my faults.” She and her husband may have been in agreement, but it was with a lie.

For years, I believed that certain things I had done left me somewhat tainted. Yes, God forgave me, but… Because of that, I surrounded myself with people and with churches and with teachers who agreed with me, who reinforced my narrative about a God who forgives but somehow isn’t quite able to wash every last stain of my sins away. I even allowed someone close to me to repeatedly remind me that I was not “pure”.

And then…well, I realized the lie of that. What upset me most — once the lie was exposed — is not that it was a false accusation against me, but that it was a false accusation against my Savior, as if His blood shed on the cross was not fully capable of cleansing sins as grievous as mind. (I’ve written posts about that, and about the whole “purity culture” thing on this blog, as I’ve worked through much of the false teaching I once eagerly embraced because it made understandable the pervasive sense of shame I carried throughout my teens and most of my adult life.)

Today I’ve been pondering some of that. I feel as if I’m still basking in the wonderful aftermath of receiving the Sacrament of Confession. I am more at peace, and less defensive, about the fact that I am prone to wander and sin — and yet I am more grieved by that propensity than ever. It seems contradictory, but it isn’t. I realize how desperately I rely on my beautiful Savior…and more and more I realize that this doesn’t make me a uniquely flawed and terrible person, but just a human.

Besides, even if I once was all that terribly flawed and horrendously awfully sinful as I once believed, not even the faintest stain of that now remains. Yes, I still sin. Yes, I still have flaws and failings. But the new narrative — the truthful narrative — of my life is that God did not create some cosmic mistake when He formed me together in my mother’s womb. In fact, some of the very things that I thought were flaws and defects, or that others think are flaws and defects, might actually be the way He intended to make me all along. Thank God that He is still working on me and that, as He promised, He will bring that good work to completion.

That’s the narrative worth embracing.


“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

– James 5:16


“There is no form of therapy, no technique, no method, that even comes close to being as healing as the simple and courageous act of becoming truly and honestly open with another human being, and then being fully accepted by them in return.”

– Matt Atkinson

During my years of therapy, I eventually spilled everything, all my deepest darkest secrets, all my worst thoughts and deeds. There was much healing in that, far more healing than I had dared hope for. But something was missing…and, as a Baptist Preacher’s kid, what I longed for seemed crazy at times, the result of watching too many old movies, of having an overwrought imagination, of longing for the impossible…

My spiritual journey has been taking me into the Anglican Church. So on two different afternoons I found myself at a coffee shop with the priest, pouring out my story to him. The telling took two installments. It was a confession of sorts — he was even wearing his collar.

But something was missing, and by then I knew what it was.

Our particular flavor of Anglicanism believes in and practices the Sacrament of Confession. So I went last Saturday for my first ever real confession. I’d prepared prayerfully, and I felt an overwhelming grief over the enormity of my sins, even though I’d confessed most of them to God and fully believed myself to be forgiven.

It was not exactly how I’d always imagined from childhood on…I didn’t slip into some beautiful cathedral and find myself in one of those mysteriously beautiful wooden confessional booths, separated from a priest who seemed to always be there, hidden in the shadows, just waiting to hear my confession.

It was more simple…two chairs back to back. I faced the altar in our little church, where I could see the Crucifix.

That broke my heart. My beautiful Savior…

I confessed.

The priest said the perfect words. He stood in the place of Christ for me, because that is what the Church and its ministers are supposed to do and be — we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, His representatives here on earth.

He gave me penance…not punishment, not a “work” to “earn” forgiveness, but ways in which I can better care for my soul.

The whole thing was far more emotional than I expected. And it wasn’t as hugely and immediately transformative as I’d always imagined, when I used to tell people — only halfway joking — that I wouldn’t have needed years of therapy if I’d had a priest to confess to.

But as I was processing the whole thing, after I’d done my first act of penance (which seemed more like a wonderful reward and blew my preconceived notions of penance right out the window) it suddenly struck me that I felt cleaner somehow…lighter…a greater sense of freedom.

Forgiveness was no longer a theological concept. It was real. It had a voice, not just any voice, but a voice that spoke authoritatively. (Yes, I still believe in the priesthood of all believers, but I also believe in…well, in the priesthood.) Forgiveness had emerged from the abstract and from words on a page — even from sacred words on sacred pages — and had become immediate, here and now, part of the physicality and reality of my everyday life.

The next day I had the awesome privilege of doing the reading from the Old Testament and the Epistles during Mass. It’s been years since I’ve read Scripture out loud during a church service; there isn’t as much of a call for that in most protestant evangelical churches. But I remember that, each time before, I approached the responsibility with great fear and trembling, not out of nervousness about reading out loud in front of people, but out of a sense of inadequacy. I am a woman of unclean lips…how dare I read God’s Word in church? Yesterday I still had a sense of reverance and responsibility, but I knew my lips were clean. I felt much joy.

Partaking of the Eucharist was even more precious than ever.

Today I sent a text to my priest, wanting to make sure that he knows that I want to be confirmed in the Anglican Church when our bishop visits us in January. As I was sending the text, I joked to myself, Haha, after hearing my confession, Father Chris is going to tell me that I should wait several years until I’m hopefully less of a vile sinner! but then I remembered:

I’m forgiven.

The Bible says so. My priest says so. The Church says so. The saints and angels say so. Most importantly, God says so. He has always said so, but now…now I know.

About the smallness of man’s theology 

Recently I was involved in an online discussion of John Piper and Calvinism. I had especially taken issue with something Piper said to victims of child molestation about the abuse they suffered: “And so you try to say there is no sense in which the sovereign God willed that, you will lose God for the rest of your life.”

My first response to that statement was admittedly made in anger:

God did not will my molestation, my rape, or any other of the evil things I suffered in my life — especially not in the sense John Piper says. Is God sovereign? Yes. Are we puppets on a string? No. Missing from all this is the concept of free will, but the hyper-Calvinists don’t seem to believe in that anyway.

This statement of Piper’s makes me angry. Furious, in fact. Because it is a lie from the pit of hell, and I don’t say that lightly. Thank God that I did not encounter this when I was struggling with the whole question of where God was when horrible things were happening to me or to people I care about.

I have NOT lost God. I am closer to Him now than ever before in my life. That includes during my time spent in the Reformed theological camp. I understand God’s love much better than I ever have. I trust Him much better. It is His love that has brought me a greater degree of healing than I ever thought possible in my wildest hopes and dreams.

My life, especially over the past two years, exposes Piper’s statement as a damnable lie. Don’t believe it. Not for a second.

ACK!! I’m so angry that I better stop before I get to ranting.

The next morning my anger and indignation was gone, and I posted this:

I am alive today because God does intervene in people’s lives, and He graciously and mercifully rescued me out of the dark theological quagmire that people like Piper are trapping people into. The God of the Bible is not as small, mean, petty, and easily defined as they claim. He is, to our puny human minds, simply incomprehensible. There is no answer this side of Heaven to the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

I’m alive today because the real God — the God that Jesus revealed — captured my heart. It turns out He didn’t ordain or will or cause the awful crimes committed against my person, nor did He merely look the other way. He HATED what was done to me, and it was His outrage, His heart for the oppressed, His compassion, His extravagant love, and His wild, scandalous grace that not only saved my life but won my heart.

Calvinism has a ready answer for everything because they believe in a small, easily explained God. I have had to become content with mystery — a lot of mystery — because the God I worship is too immense and great for human comprehension.

He is also a loving Father whose tenderness and intimacy continues to break my heart — in the best of ways. He’s the great, awesome Creator of the universe, full of power and might, powerful beyond all understanding…and He’s my Papa, my Daddy, my Abba.

I can’t wrap my brain around that, but it’s true.

Last night I was furious at Piper. Today I want to weep for Him. If only God would wreck his theology the way He wrecked mine!

Today, my prayer is that you — and each reader of my blog — would encounter the real, living God, in a new and fresh way.