Somebody smart once compared a church to a hospital for souls. I like the analogy. Jesus Christ Himself is sometimes called the Great Physician. Luke 5:31-32 tells us, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
CS Lewis wrote the Screwtape Letters, a rather fabulous bit of satire, a debate between Demon Screwtape and Wormwood as they attempt to secure the damnation of “the patient.” It makes me laugh to this day because the nature of people has not changed much and it is a revealing peek into Christian theological issues versus relationship.
Theology and relationship should not be in conflict at all, but they often are. Theology and doctrine are important, I don’t mean to imply they are not, or that they should be compromised in any way, but Jesus says to Peter in John 21:17, “……Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
Feed my sheep! Not, stab my sheep in the back of the head with your vast supply of theological truth and wisdom. God comes first of course, but then comes the needs of patient. Or so one would hope…
I’ve actually been chatting with not one, but four very reformed, very Calvanistic people trying desperately to plead my case. My case boils down to this one simple idea, “patients versus criminals.” I perceive these we are ministering to, as patients, while they perceive people more as criminals. All in good humor here, I know this because they keep reading me my rights and condemning me of heresy.
To perceive people as criminals is somewhat theologically correct, we are all criminals of a sort, dead men walking, in desperate need of redemption, salvation, an Advocate. However, theological truth does not trump relationship. Poor human behavior towards one another cannot excuse itself, justify itself because it’s hiding behind it’s vastly superior theology, serving only “the truth.” For goodness sakes people, the Truth is a person. Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Right?
Am I the only one who has read about Jesus addressing this very same issue with the pharisees? Something, something…. broods of vipers? It is the pharisees who insist on putting theology before relationship.
Why is that problematic? Because it kills people’s faith. Faith is critically important. Read Jesus Christ’s words, over and over again he says, your faith has healed you. Not your theology, your faith.
Here is an example of how theology versus relationship can go all wrong in real life. I have a ton of unsaved family members. So you pray, you speak to them for some 30-40 years and then you take a day off to just lean into faith. You go to Acts 16:31, close your eyes, feel the music, and just place your faith in the promise there, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”
And than along comes the Theological Ones to shriek, wrong, wrong, all wrong! They’re condemned all of them, your children, your parents, everyone you care about. Your faith is misplaced! The bible says, “no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Your faith won’t save them! Technically true perhaps, but is that really the right theology for the moment? Who is the patient here? Why are you running around stabbing the sheep?
It’s really a dreadful thing and I don’t mean to make light of it, but in my case it is somewhat comical. Any expression of faith becomes almost like crab bait, with the crabs coming from miles away to tell me I’m doing it all wrong. I am not alone, I watch this happen to other people all the time.
We Christians can be like a pack of hyenas sometimes, ready to pounce on the criminal and catch him in an act of…. faith. We’ve got that a bit backwards. Our brothers and sisters are patients, not criminals. As patients our job is to nurture and encourage faith and healing, not to point fingers and condemn criminals.