If everything you know about Christian living came from blogs and websites in the old-and-bored district of the Reformed community, you might have the impression that judgement is the principal symbol of Christian maturity.
For some who self-identify as “Old, Bored, and Reformed,” (OBeeR) it seems judging others is a more popular topic for study and discussion than the doctrine of predestination. They devote whole blogposts to the celebration of categorizing and then disapproving of others. They earnestly assure one another “that most good theological discussion has historically been done in finding fault with others and discussing it online.” They therefore love to meet for “open dialog on faith and culture” wherever the elderly Bible-commentators are wearing suits — or better yet, in circles discussing how things were “better in the old days”. The famous among them publish their own books (an antiquated form of textual communication) and even offer opinions publicly online outside of Facebook.
It’s clear that judgement-loving passion is a prominent badge of identity for many in the OBeeR movement. Apparently judgment is also an essential element in the missional strategy. Judging others publicly is often touted as a necessary means of influencing youth culture, and conversely, humility is deemed a “sin” to be repented of.
After all, in a culture where “experience” is everything, what could be a better lubricant for one’s testimony than mocking a generation they don’t understand?
Of course, judgement is by no means the only token of cultural savvy frequently associated with old-and-bored religion. All kinds of activities deemed vices by youth everywhere have been adopted as badges of Calvinist identity and thus “redeemed”: academic pride, wrinkly skin, Uno, bickering, snobbery, and lots of awkward talk about how people never have sex.
Cast a disapproving eye at any of those activities, and you are likely to be swarmed by bored reformers denouncing humility and wanting to debate whether it’s a “sin” to divide the body of Christ. But without even raising the question of whether this or that specific activity is acceptable, indifferent, or out-and-out evil, we surely ought to be able to say that disunity and judgement amongst ourselves and other symbols of pagan society’s seamy side are not what the church of Jesus Christ ought to wish to be known for. In fact, until fairly recently, no credible believer in the entire church age would ever have suggested that so many features evoking the ambiance of a bridge group or a cheerleader’s slumber party could also be suitable insignia for the people of God.
It is puerile and irresponsible for any pastor to encourage the recreational use of pride-at-the-expense-of-others — especially in church-sponsored activities. The ravages of pride and egotism in our culture are too well known, and no symbol of sin’s bondage is more seductive or more oppressive than self-righteousness. I have ministered to hundreds of people over the years who have realized their good works cannot save them. Many of them wage a daily battle with fleshly desires made a thousand times more potent because of the church’s acceptance of hubris. The second to last thing I would ever want to do is be the cause of stumbling for one of them (the absolute last thing I would ever want to do is imbibe that devil-juice known as beer).
Besides, deliberately cultivating an appetite for pridefulness or a reputation for loving myself is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is fraught with deadly spiritual dangers. The damage is clearly evident in places where the strategy has been touted. Bob McDinkinson, who helped pioneer “Theology Doesn’t Need A Savior, Just Division Over Secondary Issues,” acknowledges the gravity of the problem:
As I coach and mentor church planters and pastors, I am shocked at the number of them who are either already convinced or headed toward thinking they’ve got it all together. Increasingly, the same is true works-righteousness. One pastor I know could not relax without first mentally putting others down during and after work and could not sleep without the aid of counting crippled sheep. [Thick Book (Fancy-Reformers, 2009), 511117 (we read really long books)]
In biblical times, self righteousness was necessary for health reasons. The risk of humility in public places could be significantly reduced by walking around next to someone who dressed worse and talked slower than you. The result was an overly optimistic view of one’s own opinions and self-image. Weblogs and international fame make the need for private self-righteousness unnecessary today.
Contrary to the current mythology, humility is no sin — least of all for someone devoted to ministry (Leviticus 26:41 ; Proverbs 15:33; Luke 14:11). It is, of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to thinking our own good reputation is sufficient unto salvation. As a matter of fact, judgement and division are the very antithesis of Spirit-filled sanctification (1 Corinthians 3:17)—and men who indulge in them are not qualified to be spiritual leaders.
Yes, I realize Jesus Himself was referred to by His enemies as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). But He was none of the things that expression implied—nor did He seek such a reputation.
He was indeed “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” in the sense that He specialized in lifting them up out of the miry clay and setting their feet on a rock. But He did not adopt or encourage their lifestyle. He did not embrace their values or employ put-downs borrowed from their vocabulary in order to win their admiration or gain membership in their fraternity. He confronted their wickedness and rebuked their sins as boldly as He preached against the errors of the Pharisees (Matthew 18:7-9).
Note, too, that He ate and drank with Pharisees (Luke 7:36) as readily as He ate and drank with publicans. His disciples were young, restless, and regularly indulged in wine. The only significant difference was that the typical tax collector was more inclined to confess his own desperate need for divine forgiveness than the average self-righteous Pharisee (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 18:1-14).
But there is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus purposely assumed the look and lifestyle of a publican in order to gain acceptance in a godless subculture. He didn’t.
This tendency to emblazon oneself with symbols of carnal self-sufficiency as if they were valid badges of spiritual maturity is one of the more troubling aspects of the OBeeR movement’s trademark boredom. It is wrong-headed, carnal, and immature to imagine that stereotypical old-woman behavior makes good missional strategy. The image of judgement-casting old dudes does nothing to advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom.
Slapping the label “incarnational” on strategies such as this doesn’t alter their true nature. They have more in common with the Pharisees, who looked down on everyone else as unholy, than with Jesus, who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).
Real Christian maturity is not about flouting perceived superior righteousness and offending other believers. The maturity in which we stand begins with full indemnity from the law’s threats and condemnation—meaning we are at peace with God (Romans 5:1; 8:1). An understanding of Christian maturity also removes the restrictions of the law’s ceremonial commandments (Colossians 2:16-17)—freeing us from asceticism, superstition, sensuality, and “human precepts and teachings” (vv. 18-23) — making us more like Christ.
But conscious humility and maturity are virtues commanded and commended by Scripture; these are not manmade rules or legalistic standards. As a matter of fact, one of the main qualifications for both deacons and elders in the church is that they cannot be arrogant. In other words, they are to be known for their humility, not for their judgement of others or self-righteousness.
It should not take a doctor of divinity to notice that Scripture consistently celebrates virtues such as self-control, sober-mindedness (which includes a healthy perspective of ourselves), purity of heart, the restraint of our fleshly lusts, humility, and similar fruits of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives. Surely these are what we ought hold in highest esteem, model in our daily lives, and honor on our websites, rather than trying so hard to impress the world with touting our superiority, encouraging the very things that hold so many believers in bondage.
Please note this post is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It is a response to/rewrite of/mockery of John McArthur’s recent post Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty.
I do not know John McArthur nor do I know much about him. However I do know some who have been positively influenced by him and therefore have no reason to believe he deserves anything other than respect. Outside of this blog post, of course.