serpent

Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part Three

Snakebites are common to humanity. Jesus said, “Offences come” (Matthew 18:7 KJV). Offenses do come! The tragic thing is that they often come through the people with whom we are closest.

Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter 6: Snakebites
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing (Kindle Edition)

Continued from Part Two of this review as well as a brief commentary on Hebrews 10:23-25.

Pastor Jackson leverages Paul’s misadventure with a viper (see Acts 28:1-10) metaphorically to describe the injuries some people receive from others within Christian community. He also renders an interesting interpretation of the serpent in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden).

Of course those closest to us have the greatest capacity to create the deepest wounds (although Adam and Eve’s serpent and Paul’s viper weren’t all that close to them relationally). In this, I suppose my unfortunate set of final transactions with the Pastor at the church I used to attend applies since we had become friends over our two-year association. We haven’t spoken or exchanged so much as an email since that time and I doubt we ever will.

Interestingly enough, Pastor Jackson unwittingly gives a hint to one of the reasons:

In it, Peter quoted the Lord, saying “I lay in Zion a choice stone…a stone of stumbling and offense…” That doesn’t sound right does it? God lays a rock of offense in the middle of His Church?

-ibid

Jackson clearly equates Zion with the Church, but Zion isn’t the Christian Church, it’s Israel, the Jewish people. Even for Christians who say they are opposed to supersessionism or what is also called replacement or fulfillment theology, once you say “the Church” was born in Acts 2 and that it’s the Church that, from that point forward, has all of God’s attention and not Israel, at the very least, you have diminished the power of God’s promises to Israel and elevated the (Gentile) Christian Church, to which God made no promises at all.

No, it’s not to say that God does not have a redemptive plan for the Gentile members of the ekklesia of Messiah, He just doesn’t have plans for this thing we’ve come to know as “the Church”.

That’s my stumbling block.

I’m convinced that the number-one cause of spiritual death among Christians is not outright demonic attacks, but snakebites.

-ibid

I’m convinced that a lot of Christians attribute way too much trouble in their lives to evil supernatural forces and not enough to their own human natures. I think Jackson agrees with me here, but the whole concept of “demonic attacks” bothers me as even a potential causal element in our lives. People are all too well equipped to hurt each other. We don’t need outside help.

Do you know anyone who was bitten and then walked away from the faith?

walkingSure. We probably all do if we’re willing to admit it. I recall a conversation I once had with my former Pastor. As a younger man, he knew a Pastor in another country, a truly Godly man, or so he thought. Later in life, this man left his wife and took up with a younger woman. Pastor is a Calvinist and believes God pre-selected certain people for salvation. Since one discovers these people by their “fruits,” Pastor was convinced, based on this fellow’s lifetime history for the most part, that he was “chosen”. Pastor was baffled at the sudden and complete turn around and didn’t really know how to explain it.

My opinions on Calvinism aside, I’m a firm believer in free will. God is open and available to all human beings but He won’t hold a gun to our heads (so to speak). Although He empowers us to accept the offer to come to Him, we still have the power to refuse it or even once accepting, later refusing it.

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

2 Peter 2:20 (NASB)

I suppose all this answers Jackson’s question above. Coming to God is our choice, but ultimately, so is leaving Him.

Satan’s snakebites usually come from other people.

-Jackson, ibid

See my comment above about Christian attribution habits.

Shifting to Chapter 7: Tattooed: A Tale of Two Piercings:

There’s another form of tattooing in effect, though, that we can’t see with the naked eye. Oh, we can certainly see it–we can discern it–but it’s more of an internal tattoo. It’s a tattoo of the soul.

This is another metaphor of Jackson’s for our wounds or “the state of our soul.”

Next, Jackson spends a lot of time comparing “brokenness” and “woundedness”:

This is such an important question because Christlike brokenness can be used by God to powerfully catapult us along the path of our destinies, while woundedness will derail us before we ever begin.

Broken AngelHe explains that there is no brokenness without wounding but you can be wounded without allowing yourself to experience “Christlike brokenness.” Brokenness allows a person to submit himself to God, while being wounded but unbroken is all about focusing on the pain and not the healer.

A broken man embraces correction. A wounded man fears correction.

How many of the Proverbs wisely advises accepting correction and discipline?

I’m actually intimidated by the question because I don’t like the answer I find in myself. One way to interpret all this is to submit to God by submitting to the Church. I know the Pastor at the church I used to attend probably believes that I need correction in the sense that I need to accept his doctrine over my current viewpoints.

But could I have handled all this any differently and would the outcome have resulted in something more positive coming out of my church experience?

There are four end of chapter questions and I think only the last one is relevant.

Are you committed to moving from woundedness to brokenness so that the beauty of the Lord can shine through you?

Jackson continues this theme in Chapter 8: It’s Hard To Be Beautiful:

Likewise, it takes time and focused effort for us to move from a wounded state to a broken one.

Assuming this speaks to me at any level, I guess there’s hope if I find that I’m currently wounded but unbroken.

And then he said:

As I meditated on those words, I felt the Lord speak to my heart.

I won’t quote what Jackson said the Lord said, but not being a mystic, I have a hard time believing that this Pastor heard, word for word, exactly what he wrote in his book. It’s another one of those things about certain Christian circles that don’t make a connection. On the other hand, some of the tales of the Chasidim are truly fantastic.

Quoting Psalm 23:3, Jackson says the Lord restores the soul, but practically in the same breath, he states:

…some people carry the sting of divorce, bereavement, betrayal and rejection for a lifetime without ever experiencing lasting freedom.

True. Also…

…the more we love the offender, the deeper the hurt we experience.

life under repairWhich is why some divorced couples can still have awful encounters with each other, even years after parting.

Which leads to…

…some wounds will go away over time, but others require outside assistance to be healed.

Also, true. Some wounds will heal with the simple application of a band-aid while others need stitches to stop the bleeding. Sometimes a computer just needs to be reboot, and on other occasions, it’s time to bring out the repair tools and open the machine’s cover.

We must repent. We must choose to forgive. We must process the hurt.

Very true. Especially the last part since I do an awful lot of processing here.

“I’ve seen enough in the church to make me an infidel,” the man said, “but I still have a made-up mind and determination to see what lies at the end of a successful Christian race!”

Which goes back to what I said before about free will. We can have a bad time in church and we can experience circumstances, something like the readers of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, that prevent us from having fellowship as they were prevented from the prayers and offering korban at the Temple.

While my circumstances can’t be presupposed in Jackson’s narrative, he mentions another chronic situation encapsulated in the title of a sermon: “The Crisis of Spiritual Fatigue.”

I read a blog post just the other day about fatigue, being worn out, and needing a break.

Jackson says “one of the first things to go in our spiritual lives is the awe and wonder of simply knowing Jesus and being who He’s called us to be.”

I remember when I first became a believer, I was thrilled just to be able to read the Bible and go to church. It was all bright and shiny and new, like I had found an amazing treasure. I couldn’t wait to read more of the Bible, go to Sunday school, and learn more about Jesus and the “new man” I was in him.

I suppose it was the same way when I transitioned into the Hebrew Roots movement. All the “Jewish stuff” was bright and shiny and new, and I loved putting on a tallit and kippah and (very, very badly) saying the prayers from the little beginner’s siddur we used to use.

But like that new car smell eventually fades, so does the newness of faith. We have to put away all of the “stuff” and come to an understanding of God (or with God) on our own terms.

There is a difference between a life of faith and a life of community. Sure, they’re supposed to overlap significantly, but if you were stranded on the proverbial desert island, all alone with just a Bible, would you eventually lose faith because you had lost community, or would you gain faith by continually being alone with God without pesky humans there to get in the way?

keyboardInterestingly enough, on his blog, Pastor Jackson recently wrote about “holding patterns.” While he was addressing a person’s relationship with God being put on hold, I could equally apply his words to the relationship between an individual and religious community. Of these “holding patterns,” Jackson says in part:

They break us…or they make us. And just as our favorite Bible heroes taught us, how a person handles their holding patterns determines whether or not they’ll land in safety.

I’m like that man on the proverbial desert island except I have Internet access and a refrigerator. I’m not really alone, but if God does intend for me to be in community, then I guess I’ll have to wait for it, or make it myself through virtual means.

I’ll continue my review soon.

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21 thoughts on “Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part Three”

  1. Did you choose the pictures for this post. I’m wondering about the picture of the naked woman? Not your usual selection.

  2. Hi Joy. If you mean the “robot woman,” yes I chose that image as I do all the graphics that appear on this blog. I’ve used it once or twice before and I realize that it is controversial, but I was looking for a sort of android or cyborg image of a human being literally under repair, like a machine, and this one, though not ideal, came closest to what I was looking for.

  3. Of course, when the author asks if the reader knows anyone who has been bitten and walked away from faith, I think he means walked away from what the church/Church teaches or expects (that is, even if the author isn’t fully aware that’s what’s going on and even if the one doing the walking away perceives it as leaving the faith).

    There are different mixes of enough good or worthwhile or nourishing (or true) versus too much on balance not good. Not every person has the input to be a well-informed or mature believer. So, add to that a bunch of junk — they leave something, whatever it is. That’s different from the guy who just throws in the towel for that young babe.

    [By the way, going for the new “partner” over the other can be about something aside from the physical babe factor. And with someone, like a pastor or other person with a huge ego, the fact that his wife actually knows him can be rather unattractive to him. He wants to hide from himself; the new gal hasn’t gone through the learning curve (and she may have other motives anyway that he is willing to take in the trade-off, especially when there is this shiny cliche of a reason to cover other embarrassing character flaws… and he can probably come up with some complaint or accusation if it seems expedient against the woman who wasted her life on him). He doesn’t have to think about what he needs to do better or differently now.]

  4. [He never had to or has to, even if he doesn’t leave her. There are all kinds of manoeuvres to discount the person a man marries.]

  5. @Marleen — Considering the title of his book, I think the author can be relied upon to distinguish between walking away from a church or church teachings or perspectives, and walking away from any faith in G-d at all. I believe one of his essential points is that the latter is an unnecessary over-reaction to hurts (illustrated as snakebite) received in connection with the former.

    I didn’t quite understand your point or your comparison, however, in citing possible motivations whereby a man might wish to leave his spouse, except perhaps to note a proposed unwillingness to grow or change or confront personal flaws. To me that seems rather different from the issue of feeling “bitten” (which, I suppose, also could be a motivation for wishing to leave a spouse).

    In general, I think it a mistake to compare a relationship with a particular local religious community to a marital relationship. A marriage represents commitment to an organic joining of identities, whereas the other is merely an organizational relationship of convenience. One does not take it along if one changes locations, nor, perhaps, if one changes one’s position on relevant matters. Such distinctions in commitment level may also be considered in connection with other relationships, such as between HaShem and Israel, or between G-d and an individual, or between G-d and one or another particular religious organization, and one may also ponder differences in the degree of commitment likely to be enacted by each of these partners. Indeed, it seems that a number of common problems arise from failure to recognize such differences, or from expecting the commitment of one sort of relationship to apply equally to all others, or from failure to apply the commitment that is appropriate to a given relationship.

  6. All human relationships/ institutions are bound to disappoint to one degree or another. This is just the way life is. I’ve learned not to expect the “ideal” because the “ideal” anything just doesn’t exist, at least not this side of heaven. The grass may seem greener on the other side of the hill, but really, it’s just an illusion. My personal faith support mainly consists of my immediate family, close friendships, good reading material, and most of all the Presence of God’s Spirit in my life. The local ecclesia doesn’t provide the complete package. I’ve accepted this.
    A year or so ago I read Ann Graham Lotz’s book ” Wounded by God’s People”. I could relate to her deep disappointment. We are all fragile, fallible individuals. Cautious, realistic expectations are very necessary safety valves against disappointment and disillusionment.

  7. Well, now, Merrill — Let’s not be *too* pessimistic. Just because humans are fallible and sometimes worse, and their behavior is often disappointing, should not prevent us from continuing to strive toward ideal goals. If one doesn’t aim for a target, one is almost certain *not* to hit it. Therefore aim high, as realistically as possible, and maintain a sense of patient endurance as repeated attempts yield less-than-ideal results. Such platitudes express both hope and realism, to encourage continuing efforts forward and upward. And sometimes, something positive does get achieved. I’ve had to experience both abasement and abundance, thus I can report that hope may be justified. Nonetheless, I agree that wisdom and caution are at all times advisable.

  8. @PL It probably is a serious “mistake to compare a particular local religious community to a marriage.” I like the way you went on to explain that, because there are times people have made such a comparison.

    However, I don’t think anyone made the comparison. The comparison, which I was responding to from the main post, was the man who goes for a younger woman and leaves his wife (as if he was bitten or might claim to be bitten — by the young woman or the devil). James did well in saying people often like to blame such a thing in various ways rather than take personal responsibility for making a decision or choice.

    James also talked about his (prior) pastor being troubled that someone he had respected had left his wife like that after years (probably decades) of being respectable. My view of what the author means about leaving [leaving church/expectaions of going to church/expectations of believing what the church says] after being bitten, from the reviews I’ve been reading here, is more along the lines of the observing pastor or the dropped wife or their children leaving church over things like this. In other venues, people (and not only those directly affected) would leave over molestation or rape (including statutory or spiritual-sexual/physical abuse) [staying in the same wheelhouse just to be able to respond to your post although that’s surely not all the author means] and cover ups. It wouldn’t be the abusing priest who is bitten and leaves in the sense of what the author is getting at. [It could even be a young woman who eventually leaves the church over this if she figures out what she got into was spiritual abuse (not all cases). But that’s another potentially confusing monkey wrench I hope won’t distract from the main points.]

    Now, the writer can say a person left the faith by leaving church, and some people maybe do both at once. And the author may know people who by appearances to him have not only left a church or “the Church” but left whatever he thinks is faith (which he may equate with faith but we know on many levels is not equal even if there are some good people and some true things there). But we have to recognize that leaving a church or every church doesn’t have to equal leaving faith — indeed it may be a step in or toward real faith and potentially on to truth rather than some silly social club. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear enough before.

  9. OK, Marleen — Now I understand the focus of your reference, though it is quite different from what I thought the author meant. I thought his snakebite analogy was referring to “backbiting” or other insults and hurts due to dissonance over church doctrines or policies. I did not read it as meaning “bitten by temptation”, though I can see how that might impel someone to leave church, family, and faith altogether. However, I don’t see the blame for sins like that being laid at the door of the church. I don’t see in that example a dichotomy between loving the church and loving G-d. I thought this book was addressing issues whereby someone had justifiable reasons for disliking and leaving a church (or other religious institution), while still loving and wishing to obey G-d.

    Incidentally, given the different ways we were reading the notion of “bitten”, perhaps I should clarify that, when I mentioned parenthetically the feeling of being bitten as a possible motivation for leaving a spouse, I meant a feeling of having been “bitten” or mistreated by the spouse, not by the church — which is a very different topic from that of this book, insofar as I understand it.

  10. PS: Just to clarify: I do attend a very healthy congregation where the teaching and shepherding is probably one of the best I’ve known in my 40+ yrs of faith. In fact we’ve been at this congregation for close to 20 yrs now. So, it’s not to say that good or even great congregations don’t exist, it’s just to say that when we look for the “perfect” we’re bound to be disappointed. So keeping a more realistic mind as we try to find our faith community is a necessity. Also, I live in a metropalitan area where there is a lot to choose from. This however is probably not the norm for many.

  11. Yes, I didn’t think your post sounded pessimistic or negative as PL did, Merrill, just balanced and realistic.

  12. PL, I think you still don’t understand what I was trying to say. I agree with you that something like “backbiting” would be an example of what the author is concerned about. So would hanky-panky among the leadership [where there is leadership, that’s a whole other debate]. Do you see that there is a difference between an established pastor divorcing his wife for a younger woman and being the woman who put in decades with this guy only to be left? Or being the children of such a couple and seeing your father, rather than face (as you said) the things about himself that are off, just take up with someone whose either way more naive or way more cynical and opportunistic (and possibly more glittery, but that’s not always what it’s about)? This is only a realm of example for the main point. I was saying being tempted (or abusive, depending) IS NOT what the author is talking about (in terms of the person who is bitten and leaves). The person who does the wrong (whether it is something physical or whether it is talk like backbiting, and I also know of someone who left over thievery or fraud done TO him) is not what we have in view. The person (or people) hurt BY them (thieves, egomaniacs, molesters, rapists, adulterers, manipulators) and then leaving (the church not the wife) is the concern at hand. Obviously, sin is really bad; it’s just not the main topic of the book being reviewed — unless, when all is said and done, the author is going to put all the guilt trip on the hurt person who leaves because he (the author) thinks not being in church is after all the bigger sin. I’m not “all about the book” like this guy is right. I don’t know where he is going. I don’t know him. I’m not reading the book. But, based on the reviews here, I think he has so far been looking at what happens with HURT people or DISILLUSIONED people (disillusioned with the church or its respected leaders, not with themselves). I don’t know why you keep getting it backwards.

  13. @PL If you go back and read the opening post (by James) and consider this (from my first post in this comments section), I think you will see that I am exactly saying that the bitten deal is not temptation:

    There are different mixes of enough good or worthwhile or nourishing (or true) versus too much on balance not good. Not every person has the input to be a well-informed or mature believer. So, add to that a bunch of junk — they leave something, whatever it is. That’s different from the guy who just throws in the towel for that young babe.

    And I never said the church is like a marriage. Maybe you’re confused because the word leave (and conjugations of it) are being used — but in different ways, NOT as metaphor. I don’t know whether James meant it as metaphor, but as you can see, my take is that it’s not. I know James said, maybe yesterday (in one of the other reviews of this book), that God saying it’s not good for man to be alone is not a reason for people to think they have to go to church. The author had used it with that kind of implication. But that’s not what I was addressing in my post. I was saying being the bad guy isn’t being the bitten guy.*

    *It is so, though, that sociopathic jerks can see themselves as the victim and go on a “poor me” campaign — like those ” enough is enough” people whose son was devastated but went on to form a church.

    But it sounds like you not only are having a hard time hearing which way I am saying what but also that you were taking everything to be more mild (for the book). I don’t know if the author really only writes about milder things, but James didn’t only write about milder things.

  14. I am exactly saying that the bitten deal is not temptation.

    That is in the context of the type of person who James mentioned, especially someone with more clout and responsibility. It is possible for a person who didn’t “see it coming” at all to then be tempted (but not succumb) when the pastor basically perpetrates on-the-job workplace sexual harrassment (which is not to say anyone approached is tempted — no matter the intent of the would-be tempted and no matter how awesome be thinks he is). And that (hurt or scared and possibly disillusioned person) might leave.

  15. Apparently it was “Bakker” but pronounced baker.

    I was never a fan. But back when we didn’t have a hundred channels, no one could escape knowing something about these people unless you didn’t have a television.

  16. As for the correction from tempted to tempter, that is only a correction as to a “would-be” — that same person is clearly already tempted (within himself), so not a would-be on that count but a would-be on the other (trying to affect someone else).

    I will remind, here, again: Even if there is actual physical contact, that still doesn’t mean the approached person is succumbing (and sinning for having been tempted/doesn’t mean the approached person is wanting to do what is happening).

    That’s why we have sexual harassment laws and statutory laws and laws against officers fraternizing with the enlisted and so on. And the Bible says a rapist of a married woman dies for making her look like she decided to commit adultery.

    I’m trying to be very clear about this tangent, but I could go on and on when all I wanted to say about it in the first place was “That’s different from the guy who just throws in the towel….” It’s very different. People who aren’t in leading roles….

    That pastor is supposed to know better and have a lot of input (and study and maturity) to work with. Or DO you think the book is more about people in leading roles who leave? I didn’t take it that way. I give up.

    I hope my main point was clear to others from the start. The people in general (not pastors) look at the overall situation, whether it’s a lot of good and true stuff or whether it’s more not so worthwhile stuff. Then, if you throw in junk, bye-bye.

  17. I don’t think you were wrong, Marleen, to think it is the victims who leave, rather than the leaders who are victimizers. You are right also in a prior comment that I was envisioning a much milder situation, more akin to the pastor who gives a sermon targeted against someone (or a few someones) in particular. I was also not picturing leaders specifically as the culprits, but rather other congregants as well, causing an uncomfortable or hurtful social situation that was sufficiently discouraging to make some folks leave the congregation — perhaps being so discouraged as to be tempted to cease trusting in G-d altogether. I was picturing more “banal” kinds of “evil” (with a nod to Hannah Arendt’s book). But you are correct that there are greater evils that tempt victims not merely to flee from a congregation but to reject faith itself. Any self-enclosed organization or community or congregation can be the venue that a victim would wish to escape after mistreatment by people with power that they misuse in one way or another. It could be any form of human selfishness that impels it, whether the sin be sexual/marital or financial or political or social or religious. There are numerous ways to create victims who would rightly wish to escape their victimization which they may mistakenly attribute to the congregational entity rather than to the victimizers who misuse their positions within it. Even further, they may flee from G-d or from the notion of faith by similarly associating them too closely with their victimizer(s). This is what I see as the essential topic of the book. If that is also what you were trying to describe, I apologize for misunderstanding you (it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve told me I had done so).

    But I was picturing the congregational situation in which people who believe they are pursuing what is good and right still fail to be compassionate or considerate of other folks who are similarly motivated but who view the definition of “good and right” just a bit differently. Since I haven’t read the book that James is reviewing here, I can’t really evaluate which degree of severity Pastor Jackson was trying to address. Apparently, though, he did try to address the attitude of the victims (however severely or not-so-severely harmed), to encourage them not to succumb to such feelings, nor to remain in a “holding pattern”, but rather to overcome them and to move forward.

  18. Thanks, PL. I think we got that all worked out. I was looking back at the beginning of this opening entry. The “rock of offense.” So, the pastor/author talks like it’s in the midst of the Church (when it’s really in the midst of Zion, not the Church — while the Church probably has something in the midst of it that is offensive, but not the same thing or in the same way). I think it might be more problematic for this key subject matter to be repurposed, as something annoying in everyday life/church. Maybe this can be explained, why it’s fitting. Somehow, it seemed to me like the bitten aspect “worked” better.

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