Holiness over form - a plea to Christian Leaders.
“If your eye causes you to sin, the pluck it out, if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”
Now, if you have even the slightest inkling of the nature of God, then you know at least one thing, and that is Jesus doesn’t have ‘bad hair days’ or ‘hissy fits’ incongruent with His Divine nature - an uncharacteristic instruction uttered in a moment of unreasonableness? So what do we make of this unambiguous dictate? Could it be one of Jesus more ruthless moments? Even the most ardent legalist has their eyes darting around looking for ‘an out’ when they read and hear this!
Alternatively, is Jesus actually attempting to get us to focus on an eternal ‘spiritual health’ imperative and in doing so, move us away from our ephemeral and comfort driven egocentric space? As the Biblically literate understand this declaration was no mere recommendation about what to do after sin, but a call to ruthlessness in dealing with elements within you that lead you to error.
This is in no way self-preserving, but is, and only as Christ’s love could teach, proactive about the protection of others. He calls us to address the motivators, predispositions and assumptions that justify, condone, permit or passively allow us to enter into sin. It is not about us performing for righteousness, but in this new Grace construct being able to see more clearly that which is error and then utilizing that resource of Grace to ‘put away’ that error from you. This demonstrates an understanding of not only Christ’s incredible forgiveness, but His desire to see the life unfurled, the Zoe life that only consecration can usher in.
In our high profile, market driven culture, preoccupied with ‘form’ over substance, we don’t take readily to images or postures that mar our public façade - Words, ideas, questions, attitudes, or positions that damage our well contrived image and profile. As a result we expend a great deal of energy both known and unknown on ‘keeping up appearances!’
Let me change tact a little - have you ever been in a room with a prosthetic free amputee? The sleeve or trouser leg are folded up and pinned behind, or simply cut off. As much as we pretend it makes no difference, you do notice. In fact, if opportunity presents itself you want to sensitively ask what happened. Regardless of comfort, discomfort or even compassion – we notice!
Now, go with me and imagine your spirituality as a ‘body’ and now, with a stretch, imagine the sight of ‘spiritual amputees’ – limbless and eyeless. One more step; imagine you are that spiritual amputee in the midst of whole healthy spiritual bodies and they are all shuffling uncomfortably or staring at you. Now in the midst of well clad and perceivably intact images, it not only does not fit, it can be distracting and in some minds, detracting. It makes us uncomfortable, conspicuous and even annoyed; it is the ‘fly in the spiritually aesthetic ointment’.
However, we serve in an ‘upside down’ Kingdom. What the world values as aesthetically pleasing, heaven has less time for, “…for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7b). In God’s Kingdom, who knows the hearts of all men are, ‘deceitful and desperately wicked’ (Jeremiah 17:9) this very imagery for the practitioner of true Messianic Holiness is could very well be the evidence of those who have followed this seemingly frightening command of Jesus. However, to our ‘form’ focused mindset, the results don’t leave us with a form that we believe displays ‘victory’, rather it leaves a sense of vulnerability and purported weakness. For those preoccupied with market palatability–the appealing to look at ‘shop front’ or status, these amputated forms do not do the ‘display’ of victorious Christianity any favours at all, do they?
The difficulty of the metaphorically eyeless or armless saint is a definite, no it does not! The appearance of such to the one preoccupied with what appears to be is a manifestation of error or worse, a failure that clearly takes away from the ‘pristine’ veneer we, in the culture of ‘brand management’, seek to maintain.
The spiritual amputees make plain that they have had an issue, and such an ‘issue’ that amputation was required. Now this becomes a real problem, especially when you are trying to look like you have it ‘all together’ – that you have the answers – amputation is seemingly not a good ‘promotional tool’ for OUR ministry.
So what does this metaphorical amputation or ‘plucking’ process look like? Maybe it is the walking away from a ministry, the putting down of a goal, vision or mission rather than let pride, selfishness, vanity or worse, ruthlessness, grow? Maybe the same was carried out to correct a habit or error that was hidden to most, however if left untreated, according to God’s prescriptions, will see only concealment take place. Concealment that will lead to denial, deceit, self-justification, manipulation, control and even manifesting in prevarication, anger or abuse – all of which we are able to justify because we are managing the brand or nurturing the ‘form’, the form that parades specious success and wholeness.
So, what of the amputees, what of them? In this image conscious spiritual culture do we give them accolade, honour or positive report? In my experience, the answer is no we do not! What I have seen instead, is we give accolade to those who rather than ‘amputate or pluck’, bandage instead.
It seems, to our carnal and self-preserving mind, that those who bandage are somehow not as ‘bad’ as those who had to amputate. These souls to us must not have been in that bad a state and are, at least to all appearances, ‘addressing the problem’. They too, present us with a much easier and less painful alternative to ‘plucking out’ or ‘cutting off’.
However, I must ask, as must you; are they following God’s prescription for dealing with the potential corruption/error/sin or are they merely negotiating a lesser alternative? If the Author and Perfector of our faith makes clear our ‘condition’ when sin besets us, and prescribes amputation as the remedy, understand it is this measure and this measure alone that will remedy the ailment.
Having understood that, we must then ask the question of those of us who ‘bandage’ - is the bandaging medicinal or merely an attempt at cover up? If we are not honest with ourselves and with others and stop fearing the pride generated need to keep the mask of reputation, whilst ignoring or even trying lesser solutions to our sin sickness, then our Gracious and loving Heavenly physician will judge in the end and He will amputate.
But when this takes place, it is not just an individual who is scared – those around him or her are more often than not deeply wounded too!
Please ministers, pastors and leaders, we must all take stock of the reality that we are fractured, frail persons in a fallen world, but we must do more than merely acknowledge this already obvious fact. We can sound oh so magnanimous in our confession, but this is not the end of the path Jesus prescribed – the end is to amputate.
Will I? Will you?
For the sake of the love of HIS flock, (not our empire building enterprise of performance) we must put down our ‘saint mask’ and put on the garment of righteousness that can only come from a humble submission to the King of kings – a submission that is transparent, authentic and accountable - a submission that seeks only the honour that belongs to Jesus and takes none for itself.
Selah! S.W. Varcoe copyright 2006 Disciplesplanet