Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Absolution (with a Pointed Stick)

I was talking to an acquaintance of mine here in Winnipeg a few weeks ago, and he mentioned that whenever he speaks in certain settings, he always "beats up" the people on issues that he thinks are being neglected.

His amazement is that they keep asking him back to speak again, and everytime he "beats them up" for not ___________ (fill in pressing issue of the moment).

I mentioned off-hand that I've often noticed that evangelical Christians seem to enjoy the occasional "tongue-lashing" in a sermon/teaching, although it doesn't seem to do much good beyond allowing people to feel vicariously guilty for a short time -- not that they will change anything as a result of it.

He seemed puzzled by my comment, and I was also aware that I needed to give it some more thought as well. Why DO Christians, who believe in salvation by grace as a gift of God that cannot be earned or merited, seem to enjoy the masochistic guilt that some speakers bring with their "you're not doing enough for God" sermons?

People who otherwise would be repulsed by "legalism", seem to really enjoy the occassional guilt trip.

I heard one speaker say "Ask God every 30 minutes to show you all the ways that you're offended Him -- it will revolutionize your Christian life". I walked out, appalled at how little this speaker understood of salvation by grace, or God's Father-heart, but the majority of the people present thought this was a word from God! Leadership even encouraged people to buy the tapes of the message -- "it will change your life".

Yeah, it probably would, but not for the better. It will just make you convinced that your Heavenly Father is primarily sick and tired of how pathetic you are, and also encourage you to work in your own efforts to improve yourself so that God will not be so disappointed in your performance.

All this gets me wondering why Christians seem to enjoy the "beatings" that some speakers seem more than willing to hand out.

I read something in "Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster (can't quote it directly because I accidentally left the book in Hamilton) where he was basically saying that evangelicals are good at teaching on salvation by grace and not of works, but that we tend to have a poor handle on the Catholic understanding of "absolution" -- we don't hear the words "you're forgiven" from someone we trust has the authority to tell us this. Oh, we protest that we understand that we're forgiven, and in faith we receive it, but I think Foster is onto something.

Is it possible that the reason some Christians (and I've experienced this, too) are almost grateful to have some speaker tongue-lash them about how compromised and worldly they are, is because -- deep down -- we feel we deserve some punishment for our sins, and that we're getting off too easy by just claiming the blood of Jesus?

When Jesus tells His disciples that THEY have authority to forgive sins of others (or retain them), does that make us uncomfortable, since WE'RE also disciples? I think we may need to take a second, more thoughtful look at the concept of "absolution" if we're going to see people, including ourselves, truly free of a performance-based Christian walk.

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