Thursday, October 11, 2007

When Christians attack or how to mess up something free.

When Christians attack or how to mess up something free.

Yesterday, a close friend told me I was violating the third commandment. That’s the one about not taking the Lord’s name in vain. He used me as an example of someone that is not living right by the Lord in an “email lesson” he was writing for the group of men in his Bible Study.


My initial reaction was not surprise, because we’ve talked about the issue about a dozen times. I know his feelings. He knows mine and we usually do a pretty job moving passed this relational distraction. But for some reason he felt the issue was worth using as an example for the guys in his group.

Here is what he wrote:Consider the words of a close friend of mine: “I’m not going to tell my parents or my wife’s parents about my testimony unless God lays it on my heart to do so.” I have been pressing my friend, a friend who I love and who loves me, on this issue for almost two years now. I believe it had been about a year since I last prompted the discussion. Both a year ago, and just recently, I got this same line about no confession to parents unless God tells him he should.

Here’s the thing: to me, that is a direct violation of the third Commandment. The Bible ALREADY TELLS US to confess our sins one to another (James 5:16). Plus, I could rattle off other verses to support the position that he should tell his family. Yet, he says God hasn’t told him to. This, to me, is not good and violates this commandment.

Now before I say anything else, please let me say that this person (who I will call Alphonso) loves me. There is compassion mixed into his message and at the end of the day he is passionately trying to express something he passionately believes in. We’re friends. We’re rooming together this weekend at a men’s retreat. That email did not change our relationship.

The background to those paragraphs is that a few years ago my wife and I went through some substantial marital issues, created by my actions. In the last two years we’ve worked through them and have spoken with our parents about the progress and the renewed joy we’ve found.

Alphonso’s issue is that I have not told my parents the details or specifics of the marital issues. He believes that I should tell them exactly what happened. And here are a few reasons I have a problem with that.

1. Alphonso is putting conditions on forgiveness and healing.
In his mind, I will not completely receive either until I tell my parents and my in-laws exactly what I did. But what are the real conditions? How much do I have to tell my parents? What about relatives? What about Christians I work with? Where does Alphonso draw the line? How do I meet his conditions? Any time someone tells you, after you’ve received God’s grace, that there is something additional you must do before God forgives you, be careful. God’s gift of grace is just that, a gift. It is freely given.

2. Alphonso disregards the concept of safe people.
One of the things that most counselors will tell you is that there are safe people and unsafe people in this world. That is, there are people you should open up to and receive counsel from and people you should be guarded around. By Alphonso’s interpretation that theory doesn’t apply to my family. They’re all considered safe automatically. The personality, faith, maturity of my parents and in-laws is not considered against the hard black and white logic of “you must tell your parents.”

3. The Bible doesn’t support Alphonso’s logic.
The verse in James 5 that Alphonso references says this: “16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” What’s interesting about that verse is that there is no description of detail. It doesn’t, as Alphonso would have me believe, say “Confess your sins in graphic detail.” Nor does it say, “Prayer is only powerful and effective when it is detailed and specific.” Why, if I have told my parents that my actions led to marital problems, does that not satisfy the verse? Why do I need to add detail?

4. Where’s the second half of John 3:16?
I can only assume that Alphonso’s concern is that because I have not fulfilled his requirements I will not receive healing. But if that is the case, is the ever popular John 3:16 an incomplete thought? Here is what it says: 16″For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Shouldn’t that say, “Whoever believes in him and confesses his sins to his parents shall not perish?”

5. I’ve followed God’s plan.
In Matthew 18, we’re given a pretty clear path on how to deal with sins against each other. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…” According to Alphonso, even if the offender listens, that person should then go to their parents and confess. I don’t think that’s true. I confessed to my wife. I listened to her hurt and as the verse says, “I was won over.”

6. Would the Pharisees do this?
It’s always good to ask yourself if the religious cartel known as the Pharisees would be for or against your idea. In this case, would the Pharisees support the idea of adding conditions and “if/then” clauses to God’s free gift of healing? Without a doubt.
The biggest issue I have with all of this is that it perfectly captures the problem so many people have with grace. Look at this situation through the lens of the prodigal son story.
When the son returns home in Luke 15, he tells his father, 21″I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The father then responds, “That’s a good start, but I’m going to need more detail. And we have to tell your mother and your brother too or my forgiveness will not be given.”

That’s not what he says at all.

He throws a party, no questions asked. The mother isn’t gathered or even mentioned. The brother isn’t told of the return.

But Alphonso is denying me the party even though I’ve confessed to my parents that I sinned in my marriage. Worse than that, he is denying the men he counsels in his Bible Study that very same party. I think God hates that. I think God mourns when we add conditions to something he is trying to give us because essentially we’re invalidating his son’s death on the cross. We’re saying, “the cross was good but to really get forgiveness we must confess our sins in great detail to our parents.”

This is such a painful misinterpretation of God’s gift that I can’t even come up with a good analogy for it. It’s like if someone was giving away free Ferrari’s and you refused to accept it unless you were promised roadside assistance and oil changes. It’s a free Ferrari, accept it without conditions. Or if you needed a liver transplant and after years of waiting one became available and you had a list of questions you needed answered before accepting it. You’re dying. You need a liver. Accept it.

I am reminded of the women who in desperation reached out and touched Jesus robe. She was healed and Christ said it was her faith that did it. He didn’t tell her to go confess her sins. He didn’t give her a list of conditions like Alphonso is giving me. He healed her.

I will not get forgiveness and healing “right.” I will fail again and again and again. But that’s OK, because I only need to open my hands and believe that the gift is freely given to receive it.

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