Thursday, May 1, 2014

Making Insiders and Outsiders

A second counterfeit form of spiritual maturity is outward appearance.  In his commentary on Romans, James Dunn noted that first-century rabbinic writing focused on dietary law, circumcision, and Sabbath keeping.  Why would the rabbis spend so much time on these ancillary aspects of the faith?

Because all groups want to define who is in the group and who is out.  Groups tend to establish "boundary markers" to make this distinction.  Sociologists define these markers as highly visible, relatively superficial practices- like dietary laws and Sabbath customs.

Conforming to boundary markers too often substitutes for authentic transformation.

The church I grew up in had its boundary markers.  A prideful or resentful pastor could have kept his job, but if ever the pastor was caught smoking a cigarette, he would've been fired.  Not because anyone in the church actually thought smoking a worse sin than pride or resentment, but because smoking defined who was in our subculture and who wasn't- it was a boundary marker.

Boundary markers change from culture to culture, but the dynamic remains the same.  If people do not experience authentic transformation, then their faith will deteriorate into a search for the boundary markers that masquerade as evidence of a changed life.

John Ortberg, "True (and False) Transformation," Leadership Summer 2002, 102.

Amen and Amen.

John Ortberg hits the nail on the head with this article and this quote.  What is amazing is that groups often cannot see that they have created an artificial boundary marker.  It is assumed.  It is part of the culture.  It is the very air they breathe.

Yet, outsiders can feel it immediately.

This is one of the primary reasons that churches do not grow!  Only people who outwardly conform to our boundary markers- before arriving at our church- will feel welcome and loved when with us.

Notice that the cause of our boundary markers is rooted and established in unbelief.  Because of a lack of individual and corporate  transformation, we consciously and unconsciously establish secondary boundary markers to define "true life."  Unfortunately, they have nothing to do with a transformed heart by the grace of Jesus Christ!

How do we escape these tendencies?

I think there are two ways to escape.  First, we can attack the ugliness of our boundary markers directly.  Then, folks will repent of our these idols when confronted with them.  Unfortunately, this rarely works.  Why?  To confront our boundary markers is to attack our "spirituality."  Even if it is false spirituality, it feels like life to those who practice it.

Such confrontation of false spirituality is what got Jesus killed.

The second means of escape is like the first, but it is a bit more subtle.  Instead of directly dealing with the false boundary markers in others, we merely proclaim, model, live out, and believe the real gospel of repentant, dependent faith.  Such faith always leads to transformation and joy.  From this position of life change, we can invite folks to something deeper and better than false boundary marker spirituality.

I wish I could say this always works.  Yet, my experience tells me that it works sometimes but not always.  Why?  People hold on to their false spirituality even when it does not work to produce transformation and joy.

Such gospel living and proclaiming is what got Jesus killed.

Even with these potential pitfalls and possible rejection, gospel-living and gospel-believing is the call of the True Church and all true believers is Jesus.  Authentic spirituality removes the need for defining who is inside and who is outside (also who is right and who is wrong).  It puts us all in the same boat of needing grace to be transformed by faith in Jesus as our source of life.

Are you willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus to promote this true spirituality?  What steps can you take to begin or further this promotion of the gospel over false boundary marker spirituality?

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