Thursday, December 3, 2009

Imperfect Love Drives In All Fear

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."
-- Romans 8:15

I hadn't realized this, really, until a couple of years ago, but the church traditions I grew up in dealt heavily in dispensing spirits of fear. I felt an aversion to a lot of what I experienced -- although not to the core doctrine I was taught, which was all solid -- all through my adolescence, but it took me into my thirties to put a label on it: the spirit of fear.

The revivalistic invitationalism reduced the gospel to a bet-hedging spin on Pascal's Wager, hinging on the weekly intonation of "If you were to die on your way home tonight, would you go to heaven?"

It's a great question. It's a valid question. But in the context of the spirit of fear, it didn't just create a tremble at the thought of hell, but a tenuousness in our thinking of salvation. (Was I ever really sure? Maybe I should say the prayer again or rededicate.)

The list of things to be afraid of began when I was young and did not relent.

- The inherent witchcraft in the practice of trick-or-treating or any other recognition of Halloween.

- The New Age infiltration of everything from He-Man action figures to rainbow stickers.

- Nuclear war, which Gog (or Magog -- I can't remember which) was going to wage on us, according to prophecy.

- Catholics.

- Calvinists.

- Basically any non-Baptists.

- People who drink beer.

- Demon stories told by youth leaders at camp.

- Skits about car crashes.

- Youth camp games like Underground Church, which involved "pretend torture," and Sheep and Goats, which involved simulating a mass disaster and sending certain church youth groups to "hell."

- Satanism.

- Backmasking in rock and roll music.

- People and places and works to boycott and/or protest.

- The rapture.

That last one really did me in. The original "left behind" movies (A Thief in the Night and those other classics of 70's Christian cinema) had me so in fear of being left behind, I had ongoing nightmares. I was twelve years old and had to sleep on the floor of my parents' bedroom. I ended up getting saved and baptized again.

I'm a neurotic guy anyway and was plagued with a natural lack of self-confidence. This stuff really messed me up.

Yet I'm not mad about it. I get angry sometimes about the stuff itself, and the spirit that gives rise to it. But I know when pastors and churches deal in this kind of stuff, they basically mean well. There are subtle issues of control and power going on in there, but I know a lot of this stuff was meant to move people to Jesus. And yet the damage it does along the way can leave scars that remain long past salvation. This is not the sort of confidence gospel wakefulness is meant to create in the born again.

I know all my pastors and Sunday School teachers and church leaders loved me. They cared about my soul. But they made me a very frightened, timid, powerless believer. And I was ill equipped for real life, because I had been given the spirit of fear.

Thankfully evangelicalism seems pretty much "over" a lot of this stuff. But we peddle in new fears, and it grieves me. What are we afraid of now?

- That liberals will take God out of America. (As if that was possible.)

- That Democrats will pass bad laws.

- That stores will say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

There's a lot more, and most of them are of the culture war variety. Politics and social concerns. You may think these are all valid issues, and some of them are, but the way they grip the evangelical's attention and the way they drive him and her into anxiety, preoccupation, anger, obsession are all evidences of the spirit of fear.

The difference maker is this: Is God sovereign or not? Is Jesus risen and now sitting on the throne or not? If so: Relax.

I know all the fear-spirit peddlers usually mean well. But an imperfect love, even though love, is not the perfect love of Christ which drives out fear. If God is for me in Christ, who can be against me? What shall I fear?

Nobody. Nothing.

(And by the way, it really confuses (and sometimes concerns) people if you don't give a crud if the Ten Commandments get taken out of the courthouse or if "In God We Trust" gets taken off the money. They can't take Christ out of my heart or God out of his heaven, can they? No? Well, I'm all set then.)

The love of Christ is perfect, securing salvation eternally, fostering assurance and confidence in him.

Let the world toil and tumble. My Redeemer lives.

In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
-- 1 John 4:17-18

15 comments:

Jeff Patterson said...

Love the aside: ...They can't take Christ out of my heart or God out of his heaven, can they? No? Well, I'm all set then.

Want to shout back something like that I every time I get one of God-and-country email forwards dispensing fear and/or proud-self nonsense.

May the love of Christ that controls and compels us lead us far beyond the culture war, to be peacemakers and prophets in His unlimited power.

Thanks for the reminder.

Our Love Story said...

Great reminder to all of us! I had a similar church up bringing. It wouldn't have been a good service without a call to come running to the alter. It messed me up for a really long time. It wasn't until about a year or so ago when I started podcasting pastors like Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper that I got to see the Bible and doctrine from an entirely new perspective. I'm now 33, and I finally feel free and secure in my faith!
Thanks Jared for sharing this!

nhe said...

This guy

http://www.subversive1.blogspot.com/

...recently suggested in his blog that a better question than "if you died tonight, would you go to heaven?" is "if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you live today?" - which I liked.....first of all, it takes away the opportunity to give the pat "yes/no/I don't know" answer and makes them examine themselves about things that matter right now........and it lets them fill in their own blanks about what that question means about eternity.

.....I've always thought that if people really aren't thinking about eternity, why do we ask them about it? - most of them are thinking about today - so lets ask them about today. If we ask the right questions - they'll start thinking about eternity.

Mike Taylor said...

Wait, what? He-Man action figures? Seriously? I missed that one.

Dan said...

I still get into a mindset at times where I think that I have to impress God, and that came from all of these childhood images of the Tyrant king who would squash anyone who wasn't absolutely sure of his salvation. I'm sad for people who are still caught up in it, which includes me at times.

I have much to learn, but I'm getting there. I hope more churches will step out of this fog and into the full and true gospel.

lindaruth said...

This is a great reminder for me today. Thanks. I grew up with "The Late Great Planet Earth" and early 70s rapture talk and it made me afraid. One thing that helped a lot was a class on the book of Revelation that I had when I was in Bible college -- the professor really emphasized how Revelation was meant to be an encouragement. (Dr. Robert Lowery, of Lincoln Christian Seminary in Illinois, who I think has taken his years of Revelation notes and written a book.) Anyway, it helped me get past worrying about signs and timelines and focus on confidence in Christ and his saving work.

Like you said -- it's well-meaning but so often these kinds of things (end-times theology, Halloween fears) become complete systems for dealing with the world and take our focus off Jesus.

Paul Walton said...

"Let the world toil and tumble. My Redeemer lives."
Word!

BiF said...

An excellent reminder and encouragement, Jared!

Philip said...

Man,
This is a GOOD post!!!!

Jason Haggard said...

When I was a young teen I was worried that the rapture would happen before I had a chance to get married and do married people things.

I was sure Jesus would return before I graduated High School. Then I couldn't fathom making it all the way through college before He came back. Definitely didn't think I'd make it to 29 before He returned.

Since getting married a few weeks ago, I kind of feel like I stuck it to Tim LaHaye and that Jerry Jenkins. Punks.

6p01156f2ddcab970c said...

All true. Now for the next step: shepherding a "typical" church through the fog and into the light of the Gospel ... out of their past and into a fabulous and successful future ... without coming across as some young "whipper-snapper" who thinks he learned a thing or two in seminary or previous church experience.

Martin Thorley said...

Actually nhe, even what you say could still lead to a fear-based motivation. Better than getting people to think about eternity, we need to lead them to worship Jesus. That will have to involve telling them how bad they really are but when they see that they are ready to see how great God's grace is.

C. Holland said...

Amen to it all! By the way, a form of it extends out to the foreign mission field ("The government is out to oust us missionaries!" "Don't act like the heathens here!"). I called it "Scaremongering" in a recent post, and I think that title applies to what you've addressed here.

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? He-Man action figures? Seriously? I missed that one. -- Mike Taylor

Yes, He-Man was SATANIC. So were Thundercats, D&D, and just about everything except Jack Chick tracts and Late Great Planet Earth (which was the 67th book of the Bible, superseding and replacing the other 66).

In the Fifties it was comic books.

In the Sixties it was long hair and rock music.

In the Seventies and Eighties it was Dungeons & Dragons and Halloween.

I suspect He-Man got caught in the splash of the "DEE AND DEE IS SAY-TANN-IC!" witch hunt. During the late Seventies/early Eighties, I was listening to Christian radio and some Christian Culture War Activist was being interviewed.

Said Christian Culture War Activist started with the usual denunciations of D&D and He-Man, then shifted to denouncing Thundercats and by extension proto-Furry Fandom ("Egyptian Paganism" as opposed to the usual Bestiality denunciation). Then the good stuff began -- Lord of the Rings and Narnia were SAY-TANN-IC, Tolkien and Lewis had to have been Demon-Possessed, and finally PROOF from SCRIPTURE that Aslan was The Antichrist. (At least the interviewer had enough sense to stop taking God's Anointed seriously by that point.)

Ever since then, "Aslan Is The Antichrist!" is my name for this sort of thing. (One of my spies in Kentucky uses the idiom "Bob The Tomato Is A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing!" to describe the same attitude -- in his day, Veggie Tales was being denounced as Satanic Counterfeit etc etc etc.)

Somebody tell me again how the Church spread through the Roman Empire like fire across a lake of gasoline? Including getting nailed for NOT being "Religious" (superstitious) enough?

Anonymous said...

When I was a young teen I was worried that the rapture would happen before I had a chance to get married and do married people things.

I was sure Jesus would return before I graduated High School. Then I couldn't fathom making it all the way through college before He came back. Definitely didn't think I'd make it to 29 before He returned.
-- Jason Haggard

You too, huh? Let me clue everybody in on something:

When The World Ends Tomorrow (at the latest) and It's All Gonna Burn, you are NOT going to dare great things or make long-range plans.

When you have no Future, the Future happens on its own without you and you WILL find yourselves Left Behind -- just not in the way you thought.


And sitting around inside Christian Bizarro World keeping your nose squeeky-clean to pass God's Litmus Test and get beamed up is NOT living a life. Not at all.

Since getting married a few weeks ago, I kind of feel like I stuck it to Tim LaHaye and that Jerry Jenkins. Punks. -- Jason Haggard

I'd like to do a LOT more to stick it to those two hacks. A 22-volume Ultimate Escape Fantasy followed by an Ultimate Revenge Fantasy, the Eragon of Christian Apocalyptic Fiction (I reserve "Eye of Argon" to describe Salem Kirban's 666). And naturally being cheap hackwork fanservice, it's a BESTSELLER, the 67th to 88th Books of the Bible. (Displacing Late Great Planet Earth as the 67th. Can you tell I got burned BAD by Hal Lindsay back in the Seventies? I was having Rapture Scare flashbacks like a Nam Vet clear up to 1988.)