"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints . . ." - Colossians 1:3-4
"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." - Romans 12:10
Hanging around the Christian blogosphere, as I've been doing, lo, these past five years - as a sometime writer for this here semi-known, partially famous, somewhat linked, gatorade-drinking, monkey-posting blog - can sometimes depress me. Two comments I saw recently on other blogs have helped solidify in my mind the reason why.
The first one started like this:Just try telling someone your real problems when they ask and watch the glazed look of freeze-panic take over their face. The problem is most Christians don't want to know . . .The second went like this:Wow. Isn't it funny how "Christians" are always the first to pass judgement on people?If I've seen this once I've seen it a thousand times. It's what I call "I've Identified the Problem and it's You" syndrome, or IITPAIY. Some blogs and comment threads are positively flooded with it.
Now, please hear me. What I'm not saying is that other Christians, or the church herself, are above criticism and correction. Some of the sites on the Christian blogosphere that I most read and most respect are sites that are calling, Biblically and with grace, for needed reformation in the church. There are prophetic voices out there that we would do well to heed.
But they aren't engaging in "I've Identified the Problem and it's You" talk. IITPAIY has certain key characteristics:
1. The person engaging in it is almost always a Christian him or herself. The overwhelming sense you get when reading their comments comes in two general flavors. The first is "Yes, I'm a Christian and it's embarrassing. Have you seen who I'm forced to associate with?". The second is "I'm an authentic Christian. Them . . . well, I'm not so sure about them."
2. Lots of generalizations: You will see accusations starting with "most Christians . . .", or "Christians always . . ." followed by something terrible Christians do or something important they don't do.. Of course, statistics aren't cited - the opinions are almost always based on anecdotal evidence.
3. The complaints are often petty and unfair: One of the examples above was in response to some (I thought) very gentle questioning of a blogger regarding her use of some mild, very mild actually, profanity/slang. The comments were also mild, and more in the form of questions: "Does 'effin' stand for what I think it stands for?" and "I'm older - what's 'pimp' mean?". A commenter jumped on the thread (and subsequently ended all conversation), engaged in some smack-down IITPAIY, and noted the famous judgmentalism and hypocrisy of Christians.
In the other instance sited, a person noted that most Christians don't want to hear your problems. Now, granted, pouring your life's burdens onto random people in the church hallway who asked how your day's going might, in fact, result in a less than satisfactory response. But if you can't find anyone at your church who will take time to listen to you, you may need to find another church. Churches are constantly trying to facilitate community, get you into small groups, invite you to speak with an encourager (I see people doing this every single week at my church), hook you up with accountability partners, set you up in the counseling center, etc. And, despite the famous, perceived stinginess of churches, many of them have active benevolence committees that will help you out materially. But they probably won't write you a check in the church hall; you'll need to make an appointment, go see them, and you will probably need to answer some questions as well. They have to make sure benevolence dollars are going to the most needy, and scam-artists swarm to benevolence committees. I've heard both complaints, you see. The first that "Christians don't care what's going on in my life" and - in response to some poor benevolence committee member trying to figure out how best to dole out the finite benevolence budget - "Boy, those Christians ask a lot of questions! How rude!" It's hard to get a win here . . .
4. Scare quotes: Don't get me started on the pervasive use of scare quotes around the word "Christian" by people with IITPAIY syndrome. You see, you might be bought with the blood of Christ, and making your way, in fits and starts but with definite progress, down the path of sanctification, but, frankly speaking, they just aren't that sure about you . . .
And that gets me to the real problem -- no, heartbreak -- that I have with this kind of talk. People with IITPAIY aren't rooting out the tares among the wheat. They are calling the wheat tares. What's forgotten is that we can choose our friends but we can't choose our family, and Christians are a family, whether we like it or not.
To live above with saints we love
O! That will be glory!
But to live below with saints we know.
Well, that's another story . . .
It breaks my heart because Christ died for the church, His Bride. And if someone is truly saved, they are part of the Bride and part of our family, even if they don't measure up to your definition of cool, even if they don't line up with your cultural tastes or ecclesiology,
Even if they say things sometimes that embarass you.
Even if they disappoint you.
There is a way to go, in grace, to specific people in your family and work out your problems.
But what Christ never gave us the option of doing was drawing our own lines in the sand to determine which of his children we'll call "brother" and which we won't.
. . . since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints . . .
Good stuff, no?