Charity, Christ, and the Benefit of the Doubt
Or Else: Judge, Jury, and (Ministry/Character) Executioner
Hard Lessons Learned; Hard Lessons Still Learning
Months back, I left Facebook mainly because of a growing, and powerful, sense of contention, arguing doctrine for doctrine’s sake, a spirit of judgmentalism and condemnation, and due to an increasing sense of a loss of experimental union with the Lord. Concerning the aforementioned evils, I was by no means innocent and my conscience convicted me; I knew the path I was going down was a wrong one and wanted to distance myself from it altogether. Sadly, the effects of it were too strong, this mindset of contention already took its toll, and it caused me to spiral downward, and spiral downward I did. During the time I was off of Facebook for a few/several months (have no idea how long I was gone), I was not in good spiritual shape. I had become spiritually cold, slothful, carnal, not in grievous outward sin, but not fervent and zealous for the Lord and definitely not their, present, for the brethren. I was in a cold, dark mess; murmuring and discontent, reviling, and as many can attest (when in such a state), it is hard to be outwardly-focused in any positive way, i.e. focused on the needs of others… all you can see, and feel, is your own sin, your own inability, and your own problems and needs (this is the heart of selfishness really); yet, God is in control.
I am and thankful for this period, despite regretting it so utterly (because of how I was of no use to others in their time of need); I am thankful because it taught me something *huge.* It taught me that if I can go through this powerfully-felt struggle, this period of sinful indifference (and the inner turmoil it simultaneously causes), how do I know that others aren’t going through the same thing; or something similar; or maybe something quite different, but equally arduous and odious, stressful and disheartening, if not far more so. In comparison to others, regenerate and unregenerate alike, my temptations and struggles were nothing; nothing, nothing, compared to what many others face in this world; though they seemed like everything to me at the time (and indwelling sin, even my natural mindset when left to myself for a season, moved me to treat it as such).
So what was the lesson? One of several was that, seeing how mercifully, and patiently, God dealt with me… how can I fault others for their (non-essential) doctrinal errors; carnality; slothfulness; “pride and arrogance;” mean-spiritedness, etc, when I am no better, and when (in and of myself) I would behave no differently. If I could be as I was, and still am to a very real degree, how can I judge anyone else for their non-vital ills, errors, and sin?
Yet, even knowing this, even meditating upon this, and striving to be rid of such an unnecessarily judgmental mindset… certain things really get under my skin and cause me to lose sight of the goal; such things make it easier for me, though it is no excuse, to esteem myself over others… I find myself becoming disdainful, frustrated, and… quite frankly, furious (yet, though acknowledging that it is me feeling this way, I also acknowledge that it is not me after the inward man, but rather sin that dwelleth in me, in my flesh). Nonetheless, the temptation that causes my anger to rise, and my sin to follow forth thereafter, is this apparent need, amongst true brethren and false brethren alike, to deem as hereticks those who do not promote anything close to a false Gospel (their preaching of the cross is sound); they do not compromise with unbelievers (calling Arians and Free-willers brethren); they do not walk in open, egregious sin and debauchery; and they do not add to, or detract from (any portion of) the word of God. They are generally sound in the vitals, but may have very real doctrinal problems here and there, and yet we go so far as to actually deem them unsaved, lost, deceivers of the brethren… Why? Why do some feel the need to assign the label of heretic, apostate, false teacher to those who have error, even substantive (but not vital) error, or sin, sometimes even serious sin, when we, ourselves, are no different, in and of ourselves (unless we think higher of ourselves that we ought).
Notice, however, that I said “we.” I find myself playing the hypocrite in this regard and questioning the salvation, sometimes even heavily, of those who judge saved or loss based upon things like how nice other people are (or more accurately, how nice they aren’t); how much sin these others appear to have in their lives (I’m not even talking about open, egregious sin – but just the comparing of the shortcomings of others against their own, perceived, manifest holiness, obedience, and righteousness); what clothes people wear; what shows they watch; whether or not they drink alcohol; whether or not they own a television; or observe / fail to observe a Sabbath day; or have some other (real or perceived) doctrinal error or misunderstanding regarding this point or that. Why can we not give people the benefit of the doubt, discussing our differences, but not calling them hereticks. Yet so many take it upon themselves to judge the state (before God) of others who do not reject or compromise Gospel truth, do not run about as real libertines, nor do they add/detract from biblical canon. How apt I am to wonder “can this person really be saved, can they really be a Christian” when they otherwise profess Gospel truth, abstain from compromising it, but hold to standards of judging saved or lost (particularly, lost) that do not have real biblical support. The main reason I wonder about such things is because I cannot help but ask myself “is judging saved or loss by non-biblical standards, or not fully biblically-accurate standards, a compromise of Gospel truth in itself?” I used to say “yes, absolutely” and deemed those who questioned the salvation of others (or outright deemed them unsaved) based upon such things as clothing, entertainment, how loving (or unloving) they appear to be, etc. as most likely unsaved. I now see it as “we all have a learning curve; God conforms His people at different rates, through differing measures, and in varying degrees — who am I too judge” — and yet the temptation to judge, though knowing better, is always there. When sin gets the upper-hand, primarily through anger over such erroneous judgment (or what I perceive, at this current stage in my sojourn, to be erroneous judgment), my tone and attitude changes. I go into champion mode and feel the need to fight every battle and right every wrong… this is sin and folly; God is in control, not me; He has all wisdom and understanding, not me — my “job” is to be still, wait on Him, set my mind on things above, and to simply do the things that He has called me to do — minding my own business and doing my own work.
So the rule applies to us all; look unto your own selves, as I absolutely have to look unto my own self, and ask “has not God dealt with me infinitely better than I deserve; hasn’t the Lord been exceedingly patient and long-suffering with me; haven’t I been under vile periods of real carnality, coldness, slothfulness, and indifference; haven’t I erred in this doctrine or that, needing to know better, grow more, understand more cohesively; haven’t I said things imperfectly, done things imperfectly, and failed to live up to anywhere close to the standard Christ set for me (or that even many of the brethren have set, or appear to have set, for me); haven’t I failed others, failed to be their for others, failed to look away from self, failed to do most all of what I am called to do to the degree that I ought to do it?” Haven’t we all been an utter, vile, unmitigated mess at some point (or points, perhaps even many points) in our lives as quickened saints? If any of the above is true, how can we disdain others, write-off others; defame others as hereticks; slander and malign their ministries; revile their persons; mock their features; how can we do any such thing and call it godly? It is because we are but flesh; sinners, actual sinners, saved by grace. I know and fear that I will likely do it again, if not watchful, prayerful, vigilant. God be merciful to me in this regard — and in every way.
Some will say, of those who fall short in the various manners that I listed above, “well then they probably aren’t Christian, real Christians do not act like that; if they were saved, they would walk according to God’s law and do what they are supposed to do! They will not sin as you describe, because God is in them, and the true Christian is born of God and cannot act as such…” Would to God that that was always true; maybe I am deceived about myself, seeing what I know I am by nature; seeing how far I miss the mark, come short, and play the fool; but I definitely do not think so, I definitely do not think I am deceived… I think I just see my reality and the reality of others, trusting that God has mercy on wretches precisely like me, real sinners just like me, natural dogs and fools just like me… and yet, I believe that slowly, slowly, slowly, He transforms us, through the Holy Spirit, by the renewing of our minds, causing us to conform more and more to the image of Christ. This is what I earnestly want, what I earnestly need, and what I hunger and thirst after daily — throughout the day.
Nonetheless, for those who simply cannot identify, for those too clean and honourable, too godly and pious, too stable and unmoved to identify with the above.. be careful… Jeremiah 48:11 warns (concerning spiritual Moabites) that “Moab hath been AT EASE from his youth, and he hath SETTLED ON HIS LEES, and hath NOT BEEN EMPTIED FROM VESSEL TO VESSEL, neither hath he GONE INTO [SPIRITUAL] CAPTIVITY: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” I know what I am — an abject failure and dog outside of Christ… but I know what I am in Him, and that is: everything that He is; it blows my mind, so much so that I can hardly believe it most of the time.. though I believe it nonetheless. This is how good Christ is, how lovely, and how merciful He is. This is how patient and long-suffering he is; how nurturing, caring, and uplifting. It is for these reasons, and far to many more to number, that I say — To Him be all the glory! and to the Triune Godhead, of whom, He is the fulness bodily!