Sunday, November 07, 2004

Over-realised Eschatology

I've spent the last 2 weeks talking to people and their struggles with living life as a single Christian. Their common struggles are:
  • loneliness and lack of companionship- manifested in not having any one to share a meal with, spend the weekend with, holiday with, sit with during service or share their life and struggles with, and feeling excluded from their DG (discipleship group) and not fitting in
  • sexual urges and temptations-many are at the prime of their lives: their biological clocks are ticking away and some days, they are almost overwhelmed with sexual feelings and feel they have no way of controlling them.
They all feel a sense of guilt in having these struggles. Brought up in the fine evangelical tradition, they think that right-thinking, godly Christians shouldn't have these struggles. Sometimes, this guilt results in them defensively blaming others in church for not being godly enough to love them and include them in their groups or viewing these others as hypocrites who love them only to fulfil their obligations as Christians and not for who they are.

My heart aches for them. I agree that it is a pity that a bible-believing church where God's word is faithfully preached and taught may lack in love for one's neighbour in a concrete sense. Conviction of the truth should necessarily result in love for God and love for neighbour. Yet I know that many of our own leaders are quick to scorn the unsound teaching of other churches, to laugh at the practices of charismatics or Catholics and to rubbish the feelings of their own sheep. Sheep who have wandered off should be led back as gently as possible to the flock. We should be sad that they do not know the truth. The aim should be to save these lost souls and not to scorn at them and trumpet our own achievements as a faithful church. The devil is indeed cunning-he works in heresy and even in truth. What is lacking is grace; showing the same grace to people who do not know the true gospel (while still condemning what they believe as heresy and blasphemy) that God has shown to us. It is a difficult thing to both love and condemn, but this is what we are to do, as God does.

It is often said that the problem with charismatics is over-realised eschatology. Methodists and others who preach the social gospel have the same problem. What charismatics commonly preach: health, wealth, prosperity... are indeed things promised and to be longed for... but not in this age. They have got their timing wrong. These things are promised not for this age (although some might have them in the here and now) but for the age to come, after the second coming of Christ. The same goes for those who preach the social gospel: they want peace, equality and eradication of poverty NOW. Again, these are things promised and to be longed for, but we should not devote all our lives or resources to achieving those things now. They are promised for the age to come, after Christ comes again and wipes every tear from every eye.

The problem many evangelical leaders have is also over-realised eschatology. They expect their flock to be perfect NOW. To be godly NOW. To have the mind of God and only love the things of God and not struggle with the temptations of this world nor their own sinfulness. So the person who struggles with feelings for a non-Christian is quickly dismissed as ungodly, as is the person who has fallen into a deep, spiralling depression. The person who neglects to pour tea for other people is condemned as not being servant-hearted. The result of this is that people keep their struggles with godliness to themselves, afraid to admit to any of them even in a DG prayer group. The result of this is that people learn to do the outwardly loving acts, to please man and not God. It is modern-day evangelical phariseism where the leaders are again putting a yoke on the flock which is more than they can bear. It is indeed a sad state of affairs.

On the other hand, those who criticise these modern-day pharisees must check for the log in their own eye. Everyone is a sinner, albeit a saved one. Critics must also show them love while condemning their actions and allow them grace as well. They should not blame these misguided Pharisees for the state of the church but themselves actively start showing love to their neighbours and gently correct them. On the last day, when we see God face to face, he will hold us accountable for OUR own actions, not the actions of others.

May God help us all.

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