Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cain's Heresy

I previously mentioned my intention to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I am pleased to report that, though it took me three months to finally pick up the book, I finally did, I read it in the span of a few days, and I quite enjoyed it. It really should be required reading in high school literature courses, and it's not a lengthy read - so read it! This post really isn't about the theme of the book (or is it?), but my musings over a quote from the book.

One of the characters in the book, Mr. Utterson, is a lawyer and friend of Dr. Jekyll. I found the following description of him at the beginning of the book to be quite interesting:

But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. "I incline to Cain's heresy," he used to say quaintly: "I let my brother go to the devil in his own way."

An eery portrait of modern evangelicalism? How often do we spend so much time loving both unbelievers and believers, that we neglect speaking the truth? It is our responsibility as Christians to speak the truth, in love. Either, without the other, is wrong! The modern church has become so pluralistic in many ways: you keep to your personal convictions, and I'll keep to mine. I wouldn't want to judge your choices, and please do the same for me. That's not a Biblical notion! As Christians in the body of Christ, we are to be invading each other's lives! We are to be concerned and involved in each other's pursuits, not in a Nazi-fashion, but in a loving way.

That doesn't mean we need to keep track of every movie our fellow believers see, and "confront them" about their choices at next meeting. It doesn't mean measuring the hems of dresses or judging another Christian if they don't hold to the exact educational method that you do. It's not a matter of keeping score and measuring people on a "holiness scale." It does mean showing concern, though, especially on major life choices. Letting one's brother slip down the slope to sin, while just watching and "loving him," isn't loving! Error requires correction, and as Christians we are not saved into autonomy; we are saved into a family.

The New Testament stresses principles over procedure. Haven't you ever wished that the New Testament would go into a little more detail? I'd sure like to know exactly how we are to worship God, exactly what clothing is acceptable, and exactly how we are to keep the Lord's Day. It sure would be easier, so it seems at times. We don't get the details, though, because Christianity is about the heart attitude, not about following 5000 (or 50,000) laws.

But one of the few things we do get an exact procedure for is confronting our brothers in Christ. Do you realize that? We get procedure for practically nothing in the NT - except discipline. How do we ignore it so easily then, and why do we apoligize when we question another believer about his lifestyle choices? Shouldn't we be apologizing if we don't care enough to discuss our concerns with him? Christians are a family, nor a group of individuals. We care about one another; we love one another; and we confront one another. Contrary to popular evangelical culture, it's not wrong to confront a brother in Christ if his views are anti-Biblical or his lifestyle choices are against clear teachings in scripture. In fact, it is our duty to do so.

We are majoring on "love" and ignoring "truth." We are letting our brother go to the devil in his own way.

Isn't it sad, though, how easy it is to finally get the "speak the truth" portion of the command, and then forget the "in love" part! Who hasn't been a victim of a tyrannical self-righteous Christian who feels the need to confront you on something that is extra-Biblical? Who hasn't played the part of the tyrannical self-righteous Christian at some point (admittedly guilty!)? Balance is the key. I am a very linear thinker, and it bothers me when others are not consistent. But do you know that I find that the things that usually bother me the most about others are also the problems with which I still struggle? I'm visualizing a plank here.

Then there are times when I'd just rather not discuss a touchy topic with a friend, even if I see he is in error, so I just find comfort in the "in love" part of the verse. But if something is defined as a sin, an abomination to God, or a blasphemy, then am I concerning myself more with my brother's feelings than my Saviour's feelings, if I let it roll off my back? Where does one draw the line between legalism and license, especially when relating to others? If anyone finds out, let me know, because it sure would be helpful!

John Newton had a few words of wisdom to say on the subject:

As to your opponent, I wish, that, before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write. . . . [If he is a believer,] in a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts. . . . [If he is an unconverted person,] he is a more proper object of your compassion than your anger. Alas! 'He knows not what he does.' But you know who has made you to differ [1 Cor. 4:7]."

Thoughts, anyone? Are we letting our brother go to the devil in his own way?


Adrian C. Keister said...


Hey, I get to be the first commenter! That is, if I manage to publish before anyone else. :-)]

My only two bits are these. First, you're right. Second, I think that certain personalities are more prone to certain errors. Probably the majority of people these days are too hesitant to correct, fearing the anger and hostility that often (unfortunately) results. But there are people, like me, who jump to correct far too readily. I have gotten into an enormous amount of trouble for doing that.

This is a matter of wisdom, and the wisdom literature has much to say about the appropriateness of speech.

Keep it up!

In Christ.

zan said...

I don't feel we should be just letting them go, but, I am ashamed to say, I chicken out...

My husband has just been reunited with an old friend who used to be a Christian but is showing zero fruit right now, ie living in open fornication.

What to do?

Susan said...

I think personality definitely plays a role, Adrian. Hannah and I were actually discussing different temperaments yesterday on a walk, and how evangelism plays out differently for different people, based on temperaments. I would have to admit to being in the same boat with you most of the time - too ready to correct. But then I go through phases on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The wisdom literature does have a lot to say on the matter. Paul has excellent advice as well. And then there is his infamous direct condemnation of Euodia and Synteche at the end of Philippians. How would you like to be those women, listening to the letter being read to the church, and then hearing I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Wow. But then look at the love in which he does it! He calls them fellow workers, not subservient bickering females :).


By "used to be a Christian" do you mean your huband's friend no longer professes Christ, or no longer shows fruit? Then, of course, that phrase seems to indicate a belief in being able to lose salvation, which I assume is not your intent ;). Dealing with such situations is not easy, and takes great wisdom.

Jessica said...

Excellent post and points...I agree with you! And I think I mentioned it before to you...but I think you would enjoy the book The Grace and Truth Paradox by Randy Alcorn...if I remember correctly, he has some similar things to say in the "truth" section.

Susan said...

Yes, you have mentioned that book before, Jessica. I really would like to read it sometime! Hannah has read a few of his books, I think. Safely Home and The Treasure Principle. Are those both his?

Anonymous said...

It's important to remember that what we say to Christians must be distinguished from what we say to non-Christians, though ultimately the message in both cases is "repent and believe the gospel".

But Dietrich Bonhoeffer says something very interesting on this subject: "If I condemn his [i.e. the unbeliever's] evil actions I thereby confirm him in his apparently good actions which are never yet the good commended by Christ."

If, for example, you have some non-christian friends who are (regularly) having sex outside marriage, do you tell them they shouldn't? Bonhoeffer says No, because they might actually listen to you and stop doing it. Then they'll feel like they're being good, since they've stopped being bad. And thinking you're a good person is just about the biggest stumbling block there is to stop people believing in Jesus.

Susan said...

Absolutely it matters whether the person is a Christian or not. Good clarification. I wouldn't go quite so far as Bonhoeffer, per se, but nonbelievers don't need moral direction, they need Christ. My post was intended to speak of relating to our brothers in Christ. This was everywhere implied, but nowhere explicitly stated :).

Anonymous said...

Yes, I realised that. Though even with believers we need to be careful about descending into moralism.

I really like the allusion to Cain. Of course, the answer to his question reverberates through all eternity - yes, you are your brother's keeper.

Susan said...

Absolutely we need to avoid moralism. Moralism is not the gospel! That was the error of the Pharisees. Ah, balance.

Also, John, I find it interesting that you state that ultimately the message to both Christians and non-Christians is "repent and believe the gospel." This is a rather foreign notion in most of the circles I have frequented. Most see that message as a one-time message that expires at conversion. I say differently, though :), so I quite agree with your statement. One of the ordained ministers who goes to my church (we have many, as we are near the PCA headquarters. . . ) likes to say "preach the gospel to yourself everyday." I rather like that :).

ashley said...

Taylor loves Dietrich Bonhoeffer! We all signed a "covenant" (agreement, if you will) that was based on Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" stuff.

Anyways, we had a term that we used a lot called "carefronting". It was when one Christian confronted another - but in love. I really like that term. It takes away the harsh "confrontation" and adds in the love that we should have.

I think, though, that it does matter how close you are to someone. If you don't know the situation that well, then you might confront something that had a different story than you realized, and the end result might be more harm than good.

Susan said...

Ashley, as soon as I got to your second sentence I started giggling. For some reason the phrase "we covenant" came to mind. Any ideas why? ;-)

Jeana said...

I just wrote on this topic myself, and I love the quote you shared on it. It's a hard, hard balance.

Becky Miller said...

Good stuff. Matthew and I have been talking and learning a lot about accountability lately. 1 Cor. 5 is what we've been meditating on, about not judging nonbelievers - God will judge them - but our responsibility to judge those within the faith. Totally goes against the pervasive mindset in the church today about not judging each other!

The other side of this is learning how to ACCEPT confrontation when it's brought to us! Our Sunday school lesson was really applicable to this last Sunday...the teacher reminded us that when someone brings a correction to us, we need to be humble, not defensive. Even if the correction is not well presented, we need to ask ourselves, "Is this Biblical? Is there any truth in it?" Even if a person is off in part of their analysis of us or their correction of us, there may be some truth we can learn from them about ourselves. A good reminder.

zan said...

I don't know what is going on with my husband's friend (spiritually). He was a college friend of my husband's. His dad was the pastor of the church my husband attented. My husband was the best man at his wedding. He moved doen south and my husband lost contact with him. I encouraged him to get back in contact after Katrina. He located him (not hard to do, he is a surgeon at a big hospital down there and doing very well, cha-ching!)

Anyway, he has left his wife and two children, moved up to our area and is living with some bimbo. It makes mw sick to my stomach because she is nothing but his mistress (doesn't work, just lives off him and rendors him "services").

I would just tell him that he is a disgusting,insecure,wimpy, sorry excuse for a human being, but my husband was his best friend (I guess still is) and he doesn't know what to say to him.

It is very upsetting. I haven't met him because, frankly, I probably wouldn't be able to be civil to his mistress. I see a serious cat fight occuring. If they do remain good friends, I have told my husband that I don't want him around my kids and give the appearance that his behavior is acceptible.

Like I said before, it is so upsetting.

Susan said...

Totally goes against the pervasive mindset in the church today about not judging each other!

That is so interesting that you say that, Becky. Maybe it's because of the heavy influence of the seeker-friendly movement in my area (and my church formerly described itself as seeker-friendly), but I feel like the opposite is true. I am primarily struck with a very "love, not judgment" attitude, to the point of no accountability. Unless I visit really orthopraxisly (is that a word?) conservative churches. Hmm. Of course, strictly speaking, seeker-friendly refers to dealings with non-believers, but I think the idea spills over usually into brotherly interaction. And ah, yes, accepting criticism. Still working on that one. . . I thought this sermon had some good things to say on that score.

That is so sad about your husband's friend, Zan. I will be praying for him, and wisdom for your husband. That's hard.