More than God

I have seen the camps adopt a truth
The others reject, and still
Bring ruin upon themselves,
Either by way of not embracing it fully,
Or of not letting go of some other thing
They have yet got wrong.

And there are none among them
Who have got it all wrong,
Or got it all right.

But I do not know if I will ever see
One faction among them all who,
At the end of the day,
Do not love camp
More than God,
And approve of themselves
More than he does.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21. NIV.

Very few among the churchers today realize that Jesus’ assembly in the First Century was not the same as the churches today. His was designed to be made up only of people who had intentionally turned themselves in to all of the Way, the Truth, and the Life—to loving God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength—to giving up their own lives to follow him. This concept gets little more than lip service in the churches today.

Those in the First Century who were into lip service only, and dared to call themselves Christians were understood to be committing a terrible sin by doing that, and were famously known to be risking a severe judgment from God on account of it. And I could list many Bible passages in support of this, yet the fact that most churchers do not already know these passages is itself some manner of support for the point I’m making here.

Even so, some will occasionally build a camp around some truth or other that is neglected by the other camps, but they don’t do it from an all-out attitude of pleasing God, for they show by their other beliefs and behaviors that they are not interested in pleasing God in all things.

Why do they do it, then? It’s difficult to answer this with a one-size-fits-all answer. But I have seen many camps use such novelty as a method of marketing themselves to potential recruits. They want to appear to be more authentic or original than the other camps. They may even be the sort to have an authoritarian dispositionwho relish the idea of having some point of doctrine with which to beat people over the heads and have control over them. And they use the one thing (that they have got right and the other camps have got wrong) to pretend that they have God’s wholesale approval on all their doctrines and practices.

And this is what you get when you decide that less than “all” is an acceptable sacrifice to God after all. And we could go on and on with Bible stories, from Adam and Eve to Cain to Saul to Laodicea, tracking this tragic error of judgment throughout the Bible story. And it is still tragic today, when modern convention has made the halfhearted church the norm. And this gives a great deal of territory in which any other camp may pretend to set it straight without setting it straight fully.

Anyone may claim, “All the churches have got it wrong in various ways!”—and they’d be right about this! But it does not logically follow for them to keep on by saying, “…and therefore, our church has it all right.” And even though most have enough common sense not to say such a thing out loud, I have certainly encountered many groups who silently feel that way about themselves.

If a group wants to do better than the other groups, why not set out on an unlimited quest to discover all the truth in the scriptures? Why just pick one or two by which to differentiate themselves from the other camps, and let the rest of the truth go ignored? Yet this is what so many do. I call it the “Gap Trap”, where one camp splits off from another, wanting to distinguish itself, and travels just six feet away (metaphorically speaking) to set up their new camp. And so they get trapped in the gap between where they used to be, and where they could be by now if they had been more interested in continuing to learn and implement the truth than they had been in having a new camp for themselves.

I’ve been in several camps in my life, and I’ve seen a lot that’s wrong with them (as well as some things that are right with them). And surely, I have not perceived it all—all the rights and the wrongs. But what I do not find in any of them is the disposition Paul lauded here:

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Paul. 2 Corinthians 7:11. NIV.

This was what was expected of the assemblies and of the believers themselves in the First Century ekklesia. Paul had rebuked them about a particular matter, and they went all out to correct themselves in that regard. They could have dug in as a camp, and told Paul to get lost―to mind his own business―to respect their “right” to worship God as they see fit. But this was not the spirit they had. Rather, they turned themselves in―they gave themselves over fully to doing what was right in the eyes of God.

Some new church startup today could make quite a name for themselves (and recruit new members) by restoring the “widows’ list” of 1 Timothy 5:9―a practice all but ignored by most camps. Or alternately, they could set themselves apart by refusing to use the word, “Trinity”, since it is not in the scriptures. Or they could differentiate themselves by restoring the ecclesiastical discipline of Matthew 18:15-20. Any such thing, whether perfectly conceived or not, could serve to set themselves apart―and it could also serve to be a source of institutional pride for them. And they could use that one point of differentiation as a twisted argument that they ought to be given special latitude for whatever are their shortcomings, since they have got this one thing right (if they have got it right!).

And this is the spirit I think I see in so many camps today. They’re just looking for a reason to feel good about themselves, and they can find one, stopping far short of that level of devotion necessary to meet with the approval of God himself.

That’s simply not their goal. They don’t care about that nearly like they do about having a camp unto themselves—a thing to call their own―a place where they can fancy themselves better than others.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14. NIV.

I think this is what the camps tend to do—to exalt themselves. And one of the reasons I say this is that I don’t see them continuing to discover the truths in the scriptures. I don’t see them constantly overturning their previous errors—either in doctrine or in practice. No, they’re just not very concerned with that.

And I ask, “Why not?”

And someone, thinking himself clever, will say, “Why don’t you join us, Jack, and help us to change?”

And I’ll ask, “Oh, what changes do you have in mind?”

And they’ll have no answer, because they have none in mind. They are not working on anything.

And this is the spirit that I think God finds repulsive. And they’re not wanting help to change at all, but simply to try to make an issue of the fact that I don’t join a camp―as if God were commanding me to go join in a conspiracy to institutionalize sin and error, rather than to repent from it all. It’s an attempt to make a play on a gnat while leaving the camel standing in the middle of the camp, unnoticed. It’s not “Why do we do and teach so many false things?”, but “Why doesn’t Jack join us?” (As if the answers to both weren’t pretty much the same thing.)

I have plenty of sin and error of my own, and have not the slightest urge to go join in with some institutional tradition, by which it is prohibited to make corrections to such things.

If they are right that Jack is sinning by not belong to a “church”, then let them show me one of the same sort as those in Acts and the epistles that follow. And given the choice between these two issues, is it any wonder they’ll choose to focus on Jack’s independence, rather than on their on disinterest in replicating the all-in spirit of Jesus’ ekklesia?

This is gaslighting. It’s what half-hearted people do to protect the status quo.

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