Monday, September 9, 2013

Professionally Weak (LE2*)

*LE = Lifestyle Evangelism

In his chapter Avoiding Evil instead of its Appearance, Joe Aldrich provides a fascinating quote from the British Anglican theologian John Stott:
"We are to go as He went, to penetrate human society, to mix with unbelievers and fraternize with sinners. Does not one of the Church's greatest failures lie here? We have disengaged too much. We have become a withdrawn community. We have become aloof instead of alongside." (Our Guilty Silence: the Church, the Gospel, and the World, page 62)

Wow. As I mentioned in the previous post, there appears to be nothing new under the sun -- Christians have always and continue to struggle with relating their faith to their circle of relationships. As I continue to read Aldrich's Lifestyle Evangelism, I actually find myself thinking back to an old blog post of mine, Wormwood's Apprentices, which also dealt with the diabolical resistance to sharing our faith.

In Stott's quote, and as developed in Aldrich's chapter, I sense another layer of "nothing changes, if nothing changes". There have been many "reasons" given by Christians for abdicating their role in being salt and light in the world. Explanations. Excuses. Justifications.

Aldrich spends a chunk of this chapter exploring one of these reasons obstacles from within the church; what he called the professional weaker brother.

St. Paul talks in Romans 14 about the "weaker brother", which is where the term comes from. We are called to be patient with them, to encourage them as they grow, and to not do/say/participate in anything that would cause them to "fall". In other words, to cause them to give up on their faith. They will not be weak forever, of course, because they will mature in their faith.

The professional weaker brother, writes Aldrich, is something completely different. There is actually nothing "weak" about them at all. They are quite strong in their convictions and in their faith. And in their opinions of what "good Christians" look like, talk like, and definitely who they are allowed to associate with. And they will use the "weaker brother" approach to guilt trip enforce other Christians to abide by their legalistic rules. And avoid meaningful contact with non-Christians. Aldrich writes:

"Paul cautions the believer to be sensitive to the weaker brother and guard against offense... It is my observation that it is not the genuine weaker brother who distorts the gospel by insisting on conformity to the culturally prescribed legalisms of an unbalanced Christian lifestyle. It is the professional weaker brother, the self-appointed... self-righteous individual who blows the whistle on Christians penetrating the non-Christian community with the Gospel." (page 49)

It is amazing that a passage like Romans 14, which was written to provide pastoral care for genuinely weak-in-faith people, could be twisted into a bully club to beat Christians into slavery to man-made cultural no-no's.

In Aldrich's chapter, it is clear that these professional weaker brothers wreak havoc on evangelism. I can vividly recall the (swift and merciless) reaction of my local church to my first fumbling attempts at being a musical missionary (ironically, the same year that Lifestyle Evangelism was originally published).

Fast forward to 2013, and I also have to wonder if the jarring disconnect between following Jesus' example of hanging out with needy (if socially undesirable) people, and the rigid and judgmental attitude of the professional weaker brother may account for so many Christians walking away from the faith entirely.

They can read about Jesus' life, and the criticisms He faced from the Pharisees (ie. Luke 5:29-32, 7:36-50). And they have read or heard or have been 'confronted' by legalistic people with a creepily similar attitude and approach to the Pharisees. And they know, instinctively, that something isn't right.

The worst thing is, not only is evangelism affected, but even the faith of Christians is a casualty of the professional weaker brother.

If we have to choose, I'd suggest choosing Jesus as our example and mentor.

And let the chips fall as they will.
(Cautionary note: it's almost too easy to point out the problem of legalism. The next post, as I work through Lifestyle Evangelism, will put all of us on the hot seat, to some degree. And that's a good thing sometimes.)

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