In the classic book by CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon (Screwtape) is writing letters to his nephew explaining how to break down Christians and the church. It’s obviously fiction, but the letters Screwtape writes point to so many of the subtle attacks the enemy uses to chip away at our faith. The battles discussed are eternal, the book is old (written during World War 2), but the idea of a slow wearing down of the faithful is very real today. We are in the midst of this battle.
Society today, and sadly, the church, seems to be embracing practices and attitudes in some areas that go directly against the teachings of Jesus. A slow and subtle shift from Biblical principles to a world view might be taking place. The enemy is doing a good job; he has a lot of experience with this. The following examples are going to piss some people off as these are hot-button issues. I could be wrong on some of this, but hey, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong. Comment or e-mail if you want to fight with and/or correct me. I enjoy a good discussion on this stuff.
“Don’t help the poor as it creates dependency.” This can be read and heard in many circles today, and although at some levels it makes sense, this goes counter to some key teachings of Jesus. The wisdom of this world almost always goes counter to the things of God, but the things of God work. When the rich young ruler asked what he needed to do, he was told, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor.” It was not taught with a footnote, “Only give to them if they are deserving, be careful or they might ask for more help, and ask the poor why they got in that position.” When the Good Samaritan helped the man by the side of the road, there was no warning about unintended consequences; it was just a pure servant’s heart in action. Help the poor to move out of their situation in a healthy way, give them what they need in their situation. Biblically, we are commanded to help. When someone asks for our jacket, we’re told to offer our shirt also. It’s better to be taken advantage of one hundred times than turn away someone honestly in need.
“Don’t go on mission trips, it’s a waste of money, and it’s toxic.” There are a couple of popular books out that really seem to push this, and they tend to get a lot of attention. The problem is, although mission trips CAN cause harm, they don’t HAVE to. Most of what we do can cause damage when done in the wrong way. Weight gain, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., are all caused by poor eating habits, but I don’t think anyone would advocate the idea of giving up eating. When done in the right way, not only is eating healthy for us, it’s essential for us to survive. People get injured every day working out or participating in sports; this does not mean we should never leave the couch. Almost anything we do, when done in the wrong way or to an extreme, is harmful. Obedience, even if it’s risky, is always the best way to go.
Is missions a waste of money? It can be, but there are worse ways that we waste money every day. The funds spent on service projects and backing local ministries, when done correctly, are world changing. Also, the money spent locally by visiting groups on short-term trips, aside from service projects, changes lives. In our small town the mission teams that come through keep the restaurants, minimarts, hardware stores, and other small businesses open. Short-term missions are the economic engine that keeps our town alive. No one in this area considers this a waste of money. Has a dependence on groups been established in our town? Absolutely, just like a restaurant is dependent on customers, a church is dependent on its members, or any situation where people depend on each other. Dependency depends on the situation. We are all dependant on someone or something. We all need to depend on God more.
“Be afraid.” At some point in the last few years, the church shifted from trusting in God to being afraid of doing anything that might be risky or offend someone. The phrase “fear not” is a common theme throughout the Bible, yet the church today frequently uses fear to influence people, not unlike most politicians. Paul gives us a great example of living fearlessly for the Gospel. At no point are we taught only to preach the Gospel if it’s prudent, to only serve if our safety can be guaranteed. We are not told to be afraid of foreigners, unbelievers, or the future. If we actually believe we serve an all-powerful God, and we are only visiting here anyway, what are we so afraid of?
The common thread in all of this is the call to inaction. “Don’t help.” “Don’t go.” “Don’t take a risk.” “Don’t do anything.” The problem is, ours is a faith of action, “Go into all the world.” “Give what you have to the poor.” “Visit widows and orphans.” The inaction of the bulk of the church is not working. In the US, churches are shrinking at a rapid pace. Young adults are leaving the church in record numbers. The church is doing something wrong. Maybe the problem is, as a whole, the church doesn’t do as much as it used to. The call to in-action has been heeded. Screwtape would be pleased.
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