Why we must respond biblically rather than simply react
Abuse is bad. On that we should all agree. Leaders who abuse their positions of authority are acting in sin and need to repent. Parents who try to legalistically control their children are sinning and need to repent. Preachers who use God’s law as a means of manipulating others are violating God’s law and need to repent. The list could go on and on. There is no doubt whatsoever that legitimate forms of abuse carried out by Christians have brought much reproach upon the name of Christ, and faithful Christians must expose and condemn these abuses whenever possible. However, what often goes unchecked is the way that many Christians react to these abuses, and sometimes the damage caused by these reactions is much worse than that caused by the abuse to which they are reacting. Let me give a couple of simple examples of this classic pendulum swing.
The strict parent / lenient parent generational schizophrenia
Anyone who’s grown up in the Church should be able to identify the following scenario. One generation was raised with incredibly strict standards, so once they’ve had kids of their own, their primary parenting philosophy is: not to do what my parents did. How many young people today are enslaved to pornography and other sexual perversions, not because of being sexually abused by their youth pastor but, at least in part, because their parents’ primary parenting philosophy was, “let’s not be too strict”? Most of us have seen the inverted version of this as well, eg. a new generation of legalistic parents reacting to their own “laid-back” parents. In both cases, for Christians there is a glaring problem, our primary reference point is being drawn from our own experience rather than from the Word of God. Even when Christians do appeal to Scripture to support their leanings, often they’re simply looking for the support they want to find. The primary driver is not God’s objective Word but their own emotional subjective experience. So when faced with sinful abuses on either side of the spectrum, we are called not to simply react but to respond by prayerfully and humbly seeking answers in God’s Word. Parents who go to God’s Word will find that love and authority, relationship and rules, duty and delight, are not at odds with each other but can live as friends in a home that submits to the gracious lordship of Christ.
Are you allowing your negative experience in a legalist environment to affect your view of God’s authority and the commands of Christ? Are you allowing the abuses you saw growing up to become an excuse for unbiblical views of parenting and family?
The Word and Spirit confusion
Another common reaction can often be observed in those who have experienced a doctrinally heavy church that was sadly lacking in joy and grace. In light of these abuses, it is far too easy to drift into a more vague and “free-flowing” form of Christianity. Soon, verses like “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life,” will be used as a way of excusing an indifference towards the serious study of Scripture and theology. But we may want to consider the fact that the above verse is composed of letters that were written down by Paul in a letter. Yes, the same Paul who wrote about being “joyful always” and who also wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Unfortunately due to unhealthy experiences, some Christians have bought into this false dichotomy. But we must never juxtapose Word and Spirit, or even try to find the “balance” between them. They work in tandem. The Spirit inspired the Word. The Word reveals the nature of the Spirit. Don’t let the abuse or fabrication of spiritual gifts cause you to retreat into a frigid stoicism, and don’t let those who close themselves within the cold brick walls of biblical intellectualism cause you to bounce back into a sappy soup of spiritual subjectivity.
When thinking about our attitude toward (or interaction with) any particular issue, be it family, marriage, politics, masculinity, femininity, leadership, church membership, finances, etc., we need to consider the following question: in what ways am I reacting rather than taking time to slow down and respond biblically? And as I look for biblical answers, am I willing to submit to wherever the texts should lead? Do I trust that God’s ways and God’s thoughts are better and wiser than my own?