Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Fear Factor, part 2.

The Apostle John tells us that:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18

However, I find myself almost daily running into reminders of the prevalent mindset that I have called "The Fear Factor", the emphasis that is so thoroughly insinuated into the teaching and practice of the church here: that is, an abundance of veiled or open threats, reminders of potential punishment and urging to live in fear of God; in fear of His wrath, judgement, and punishment. This is presented as the normal motivation for living in fellowship with God and leading a godly life.

In this view of Christianity, the radical New Testament approach to grace-life is basically turned into an updated version of the Old Testament life of condemnation under the Mosaic Law. Everything is conditional, and the demands upon a Christian are even greater than in the Old Testament. Since the New Testament spells out the importance of thoughts and motives, not just actions - there are exponentially more chances to be condemned by God.

That is the essence of the problem with the idea that “Jesus helps me keep all the commandments” that is so prevalent here. Law-keeping of any sort, shade or definition as a way of life must and does bring condemnation. It can do nothing else. After all, that was the intended purpose of the Old Testament Law - to show man that he does not and cannot measure up to the standard of God’s absolute holiness.

“Living under a law mentality is like being a slave to the world's most demanding taskmaster. There's always more to do. And you'll never do enough to please him. As the apostle James teaches us, 'Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.'” (Andrew Farley)

Personally I find it quite depressing that the following is conveyed as the essence of Christianity:

1. I reject my sins and I promise to faithfully serve God all of my life.

2. I try very hard not to ‘break any commandments.’

3. I do everything possible to avoid incurring the wrath of God. (His Judgement/Punishment/Condemnation of me, His child.)

4. I hope that some day, if I manage to hang on ‘til the end of my life, I might be found worthy to be with God in heaven. (“With Jesus’ help,” of course.)

What hope of heaven is there truly when there are so many conditions I must fulfill, albeit ‘with Jesus’ help?’ As a system of manipulation and behavioral conditioning, I guess it’s not bad - but if that’s really all New Testament Christianity is, then how does it actually differ from any other world religion out there?

I try repeatedly to bring this out in conversations, Bible studies and sermons. However, the most commonly repeated and clearest message from the pulpit here is still the following: “God gave us salvation by His grace and now the rest is up to us, if we want to make it to heaven.”

I have brought up the Apostle Paul’s question and reproof in his letter to the church in Galatia: “I would like to learn just one thing from you - Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?” That only brings the response of “Well, we know we don’t have to be circumcised to be saved!”


The ‘good’ thing about legalism is that it often brings us to absolute misery and disillusionment with “what I can do” ...and this state can lead us to a true dependence upon God.

Of course, the opposite of that is when entrenched in a legalistic system, many or most of us do not conclude that the problem is with the system, but usually presume that we ourselves are the problem. (Especially since that is most often what the system teaches us.)

When or if disillusionment with ‘the system’ finally comes, be it church, denomination, etc. often leads to a rejection of Christianity as a whole.

I can only pray that those who have already turned away from the church here may find true freedom and peace in a true understanding of the astounding and all-sufficient Grace of God provided for us in Christ- both for eternal salvation and for daily sanctification.

I pray especially for the young Christians I am working with here, who strive to become ‘better and better’ Christians by doing more and more. May God reveal His grace to them as they study his Word and reflect on the life of our Savior... and my prayer is that He may in part reveal His abundant and all-sufficient Grace through me and my family.

As for those who are convinced of such things as “we provoke God to pour out His wrath on us by allowing our daughters wearing pants to prayer meetings....” I can only pray that God will prove them wrong and in His amazing and preposterous Grace reveal to them how he longs for their hearts to be filled with Love for Him - not Fear of Him.

We are worthy of the fires of Gehenna, if for no other reason, than this - that we fear Gehenna more, are occupied more with Gehenna than with Christ.

...If we loved Christ as we ought to love Him then we would understand that to wound the One whom we love is more horrific than Gehenna itself.

But we do not love - and therefore we do not have the slightest conception of the weight of such a punishment.” St. John Chrystosom

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18

(to be continued...)


Baba Julie said...

Faith Alone in Christ Alone, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else....Amen and "Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT"!! Love you, Son.

Naomi said...

Is it something common in all the Christian churches of the area Phyllis or only with your particular church? There is all the difference in our souls between serving Him out of guilt and condemnation vs. serving Him out of joy and gratitude for the grace He has bestowed upon us. It is good your children will hear you speak of grace to them. I will pray with you.

Will said...

Naomi, I would say that this particular church is a bit extreme in this regard. This emphasis is definitely more pronounced here than in other (Russian) churches we've been a part of.

However, in my understanding of the situation, labeling the doctrine of eternal security as a heresy is a problem that affects many/most traditional Russian/Ukrainian Baptist churches to at least some degree.
This varies wildly from church to church, though... in our church in Russia, fear of hell was NOT emphasized as the motivation for growth and sanctification - but when someone left the church and a Christian lifestyle, they were still reminded 'you'll lose your salvation, y'know - better think about this seriously!'