Announcing TWW's Official Blog Verse- (Luke 12:1b-3 NIV)
"Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."
As we conclude Dylan’s story, I think it is important to attempt to understand the pain that he has experienced and how that pain affects his viewpoint on certain doctrines that we Christians believe are part of the orthodox confession of faith. In order to build empathy for Dylan’s position, I thought of another man who struggled with essential Christian beliefs, namely, the great Martin Luther.
In 2000, when NPR did a countdown of the most influential people and inventions of the last millennium, some friends asked me to predict who or what would be Number 1. Without hesitation I answered. “Martin Luther.“ Well, Martin Luther came in Number 2 and the Gutenberg Press was Number 1. The vast majority of what was printed on the Gutenberg Press in those early years was Luther’s writings. So, they kind of go together. ( I can't admit I was wrong.)
Luther was a blunt spoken man who passionately defended salvation by faith. "Sola Fide" and "Sola Gratia" were two of the rallying cries of the Reformation that he helped to spawn. Today we rarely mention his controversial struggles. Here is an interesting link.
“He was open with his frustrations and emotions, as well. Once, when asked if he truly loved God, Luther replied “Love God? Sometimes I hate Him!” Luther was also frustrated by the works-emphasis of the book of James, calling it “the Epistle of Straw, and questioning its canonicity. Also irritated with the complex symbolism of the Book of Revelation, he once said that it too, was not canon, and that it should be thrown into the river! He later retracted these statements, of course.”
Imagine if we knew Luther when he did not want to include James in the Bible. I am sure some of our more hard-line friends would question his salvation and commitment to God. Yet, we know the end of the story, so it is easy to overlook the struggle in the middle.
Luther utterly rejected the works oriented belief of the Catholic church of the day. This was born out of pain in his own life. He knew the burden of sin as a young monk. He did everything possible to repent, including self-flagellation, in order to relieve himself of this terrible weight. Once he experienced that freedom of faith in Christ, he was loathe to return to any system that might even hint of salvation by effort. To him, the book of James represented a works oriented faith and he rejected it for a time. However, he came to an uneasy acceptance of James by the end of his life. Yet, today, Luther stands as a giant among men. I believe it is important to allow Christians to work through their pain with the understanding that apprehension of certain doctrines and understanding may take time to be fully embraced.
Dylan Morrison, the prodigal prophet, went through a time of separation from the faith.He developed a severe anxiety which has resulted in a long term disability. However, in spite of this pain, he always had a sense of the divine and was constantly drawn towards finding fellowship in various churches in spite of his disenchantment with many of its practices. He has some valid and painful insights into the state of the church.
He said his experiences have caused him to think about the free grace that has been given to us at our conversion. At first, we are happy and elated in our new freedom. Then, if we go to a church, we are often given a set of religious laws or rules obey. This drives the Jesus follower toward a performance-based piety. The believer then becomes addicted to these new rules and is afraid to let them go.
“Most people want to hold on to their sacred security blankets. Earning religious brownie points through sheer ego effort proves to be too appealing. Freedom is perceived as too dangerous to handle. Fearful of being condemned as having cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, the leaders and followers add a little bit of religious endurance to “help God out. “ Dylan says that he now feels free from performance-based faith and instead has a childlike, carefree faith.
He goes on to state that “like some great parasite, institutional Christianity feeds on the insecurity and lack of trust in its followers in order to maintain the sacred status quo.” “Mother Church became God’s earthly substitute. Gods busy little helpers are fooling themselves.” "We have already received His Divine Love and passing it on is the way to go. Like water out of a broken dam, Jesus automatically flows out of us to a parched land."
He contends that personal initiative is sucked out of the dedicated pew fillers through their unconscious conformity to their particular church leader. The more charismatic the leader, the greater the subliminal transfer of his desire. The unconscious desire of the paid clergy is to conserve the paying body of believers at all costs; the painful alternative paradoxically leads to clerical unemployment and ultimate personal freedom.
He disagrees with a top down hierarchy in the church. As he sees it, there is a closed leadership, which fully controls the directions of the church. He likens cell or small group leaders to middle managers whose job it is to impart the senior pastors’ vision or product brand to the sales staff who are the followers.
He does not believe that the faith groups of Ireland and England (it applies to America as well) care about one another. He says they preach Christian unity but do not practice it. He believes they act more like supermarket chains competing for the same group of people with the ultimate goal being “bums on the seat.” Corporate recruitment has become the new church game. Success is measured by the numbers; not by true faith in Jesus Christ.
However, he now rejects some of what many of us confess as essentials of the Christian faith. After reading the book, I believe Dylan would be considered a Universalist in regards to his belief in salvation. He believes that Jesus has reconciled all mankind to himself. He contends that Jesus wants Christians to demonstrate this good news, not force it on people using spiritual gymnastics. We are to be role models. He states that he no longer believes in a crusading, militaristic Lord. He also does not believe in hell or eternal punishment. He has trouble accepting that God is one who demands our obedience while threatening eternal banishment.
Previously, I mentioned that Martin Luther had trouble with the book of James due to his struggles with understanding grace. Dylan, having been abused by the shepherding movement, now has trouble with believing in a God that condemns. Even if the reader does not agree with his assertion, surely he has empathy for Dylan's struggle with this issue.
Instead, he sees Jesus (he calls him Yeshua) as a compassionate Presence who manifests Himself in the darkest hours to ”heal my broken humanity.” (I found this particularly moving.) Throughout his book, Dylan always claims to see God in the midst of his terrible ordeal. I wonder how many of us could do the same?
Here is a warning to Christians. Legalism has consequences. When we impose heavy-handed, hyper-authoritarian rules in an attempt to control others, we risk causing people to eventually reject what they perceive to be a condemning and never satisfied Jesus. That is not the gracious Jesus of the Bible yet many have never fully met Him due to our presentation.
Dylan’s story is not yet done and we pray that he will continue to seek after the Lover of his soul. TWW wishes to thank Dylan for the honesty that he has shown in sharing his journey. There is much for all of us to learn. We send Dylan our love, respect and prayers. He has made some new friends across the Pond. Dylan, you have a place to stay in North Carolina!!
Unfortunately, the story of shepherding and spiritual abuse has not yet ended as well. It is insidious and has had broad impact on the doctrines and practices of the church throughout the world. Tomorrow, we begin looking at spiritual abuse through the recently published book by Barbara Orlowski entitled Spiritual Abuse Recovery.
One final note: Last week, we titled one of our posts The Prophet Is Trampled by the Vineyard. This was a play on words from that wonderful hymn, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” There is a line that goes “ He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes are wrath are stored.”
Lydia’s Corner: Numbers 4:1-5:31 Mark 12:18-37 Psalm 48:1-14 Proverbs 10:26