“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:12-13
My favorite image for the church in scripture is the Body of Christ. How amazing, that people of so many different giftings, passions, abilities, personalities, and experiences can all work together as closely as the organs of our bodies work! How freeing, that I don’t have to be good at everything that my brothers and sisters are good at, and am free to develop and spend my God-given talents, knowing that God has provided for everything the Body needs to be supplied by the Body itself!
Sadly, however, bodies sometimes suffer from sickness and disease, and it is important to recognize the severe maladies. The same is true in the Body of Christ, and just as all of the organs are involved in maintaining health, they all must learn to recognize the maladies that can afflict the Church. The particular maladies I have in mind today are the forms that autoimmune disease can take in the Body of Christ.
What is an autoimmune disease? In biology, autoimmune diseases are a very serious problem, arising from an overactive immune system mistaking a healthy part of the body for an unhealthy or diseased part and attacking the healthy part accordingly. Spiritual autoimmune disease is pretty much the same thing; one part of the Body of Christ begins attacking another part of the Body of Christ as if it were unhealthy, even though it isn’t. In short, Christians attack other Christians.
This might happen for several reasons, but the simplest reasons are spiritual pride and the misidentification of sin. Regarding the latter, consider the tragic example I encountered recently, of a woman whose husband (a pastor) left her and ran off with the church secretary. In her church over the next few weeks, rather than receiving compassion and support, the woman was condemned by the replacement pastor and by extension the congregation, who were so enamored with the adulterous pastor that they blamed the woman for failing in her wifely duties and thus driving him away. What a blatant misidentification of sin! The woman whose husband left her found it almost impossible to attend church for years afterward. The story has a happy ending however; this woman eventually encountered a grace-filled church that showed her love instead of misplaced condemnation!
There are a few ways that Christians can attack other Christians, and it is important to be able to recognize them when they occur. I would sort these symptoms of an autoimmune disorder into three broad categories: those that use Scripture, those that use traditions, and those that are based on unforgiveness. Today we’ll look at how Christians sometimes use scripture to abuse other Christians.
Perhaps you have encountered someone who likes to “Bible bludgeon” others. Scripture for such people is not a sword but a cudgel to be used indiscriminately. Just like in the fairy tails, however, the cudgel is most often used by trolls. One example of this is the person who uses scriptural put-downs. Have you ever heard a heated conversation between two Christians develop to the point where one or the other quotes the “pearls before swine” scripture (Matt. 7:6) directly to the other in order to justify leaving the conversation? That’s an example of using scripture as a putdown. The principle of not wasting time arguing with someone who won’t be convinced is valid, but calling someone an irrational pig in order to get under their skin, cover up a weak case on your end, or justify leaving a conversation is not what Jesus meant! Similarly, to quote Proverbs 26:4 (“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him”) to an opponent with whom you disagree is to miss the point of the verse, and consequently to become a fool yourself. To make matters worse, not only is the person who does this tearing down the Body of Christ, but they are also erecting barriers to belief for people who hear or read the discussion and are turned off to Christianity because of the ungraciousness of Christians.
Another type of scripture abuse occurs when a passage that condemns a particular sin is used to beat someone up about their sin. This is different from quoting verses to establish the morality of a particular action and different from using these verses in the context of sharing the Gospel (so that people will see the error of their ways and accept the forgiveness available through Jesus). The difference between these two is the difference between guilt and shame or, as 2 Cor. 7:10 puts it, “the sorrow that is according to the will of God [guilt/conviction] produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world [shame] produces death.” While guilt is a matter of how one compares to God’s perfect standard, shame is an emotional reaction to guilt that affects our value as a person. What is important to this type of Bible bully is that someone else sinned, and that makes the person inferior to the Bible bully – just as a regular bully makes others feel bad so that the bully can feel better about himself. This is almost always the case when you hear a person spend several minutes talking forcefully about a sin without ever mentioning that he himself is a sinner, or that Jesus is the solution to the sin problem we each have. The attitude with which sin is discussed (and the purpose for discussing it) makes all the difference!
A third way in which scripture can be used to abuse is by undue focus on a particular translation. I recently encountered a person who made much of putting the initials KJB (King James Bible) after every time he typed “God’s Word” or “the Word of God.” Every time he did this, the implication was that people who read other translations weren’t reading God’s Word, and were consequently not “real” Christians. Friends of mine have had the misfortune to experience this in person, being made to feel like less of a Christian or not a Christian at all, simply because they read the NASB instead of the KJV.
Now, there are people who like the King James Version of the Bible, and that is fine. But the scriptures weren’t originally delivered in King’s English; the words of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and reading it any other language necessarily involves a translation where language barriers can exist. There have been documented problems in the King James translation (see here, here, and here), and translations have progressed since 1611, as older manuscripts (closer to the originals) have been discovered, and as our knowledge of the languages, history, and culture of Bible times have improved. This isn’t to bash the King James Bible; it is still a good translation. Many people love the more formal language, and the New King James Bible corrects some of the translation problems of the original translation.
As it turns out, this emphasis on translations is not unique to KJV readers. Some use the New American Standard Bible (NASB), others the English Standard Version (ESV), others the Revised Standard Version, and still others the New International Version (NIV), and are very dogmatic about the use of their pet translation. In general these are all decent translations and convey enough detail for one to form a respectable theology. At the same time, they all fall short of conveying the detail in the original texts, and they all require some background knowledge of Bible cultures, language, and history. The real question that must be addressed when arguing about Bible translations is, is it worth tearing down a member of the body of Christ just because they don’t read the a particular translation exclusively? Should a person who reads a different translation be demeaned and made to feel less of a Christian, or not a Christian at all?
Acting as if someone is less of a Christian because he or she doesn’t use the particular translation you use is Bible bullying at its finest. It may be the case that various translations are better or worse than others, but no real modern translations deny essential doctrines such as the existence and goodness of God, the fallenness or man, the death, resurrection, and deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, the existence of heaven and hell, the substitutionary atonement, etc. However, All translations definitely do include teachings on loving our neighbors and especially other believers.
Sadly, using scripture to attack others isn’t the only way that Christians can fall prey to an immune disorder. Next time we’ll look at ways the traditions of men can harm the body.