Christian Living,  Life Stories/Lessons

Pursuing and Being Pursued: How a Spirit of Cynicism Hurts the Church

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

Walking with my daughter through the dark parking garage, I could sense someone bounding up the stairs multiple steps at a time. Thinking someone was in a hurry for their movie, I nudged my daughter to the inner rail while I remained in the center, leaving room for the passerby. But, hearing the steps slowing as we reached the landing, my inner voice beckoned me to turn to face the pursuer.

As I turned, nearly eye to eye, to look at the man standing on the stair below, he began to plead for money. He seemed oblivious to the fear he had inflicted with his late-night pursuit for help. My eyes told him a story of unnecessary words – I do not appreciate men approaching me in the dark, and you will not scare my daughter any further. His intentions, although poorly executed, were not to harm. They were borne from scarcity and lacked awareness of how his actions would be perceived.

A similar feeling of unease arises in me as a writer upon sending something out into the world for public consideration. Upon pressing send, I sense someone bounding up the stairs to ascertain its beauty and truth. Being a Christian who writes about the intersection of life and faith opens a new frontier of theological inquiries about what and to whom I am loyal.

I am that nervous girl on the platform looking down, cautiously waiting for someone to question my genuine claims of faith in Christ.

Photo by Florencia Potter on Unsplash

I remember a summer afternoon nearly thirty years ago when I first wrestled with the notion of Christian “camps” and division over friendship due to denominational distinctions. I had asked a mentor how I was to make sense of all these divides when the same Spirit of God resided in all those in Christ by faith.

No easy answers came that day. Everyone tends to think they have mastered the correct views of every facet of Christendom and the character of God – which is too vast for the human mind to imagine – and anyone outside of that must be misguided or uneducated in Scripture. A flaw of the human condition occurs when we cease to question things ingrained by tradition alone. To get comfortable with pat answers and hasty judgments.

” A flaw of the human condition occurs when we cease to question things ingrained by tradition alone.”

A recent invite into a Facebook group quickly became a disheartening look at what seemed like light shrouded in darkness. Someone leading the group claimed God had given them the call to scrutinize the faith of others and check their doctrine, sounding the alarms for the worldwide Church –as they defined it.

Many well-intentioned and zealous believers have put themselves into the same role they warn others to avoid. Though we are to test the claims of others against Scripture as the Bereans did in Acts 17, the cynics fall into a pit of their own making with characteristics of false teachers that lead people away from the gospel.

False teachers are full of pride. They have an elevated sense of self and attack anyone not holding to their standard. These are a real danger to the health of the body of Christ.

I have always been curious about the conversation between Jesus and John, one of the twelve disciples mentioned in Mark 9:38-41. John had witnessed other people casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and the disciples tried to get them to stop. Their reason? They were not part of the twelve. The overzealous and protective disciples didn’t understand how God used others to accomplish His mission. Christ admonished the twelve for interfering with the other followers who brought glory to Him through good works. Only by faith in Christ could they have healed the sick. The disciples had a misplaced desire to protect Christ’s reputation. However, their passion surpassed their knowledge of God.

I have come to admire many people who hold to the truth of Christ as Messiah and salvation by faith without agreeing on every point of faith and practice. I believe this honors Christ and all those He calls His own. Ostracizing those with whom we disagree on non-salvation issues seems proud, not humble; rigid, not free.

“Ostracizing those with whom we disagree on non-salvation issues seems proud, not humble; rigid, not free.”

There are sincere, passionate people trying to protect the Church who live in the mindset that God’s reputation hinges on their ability to hunt and destroy. They stretch the biblical warnings about false teachers to include anyone who doesn’t toe a Pharisaical line on practicing faith. But how far does one go to know the intents and motives of another? God doesn’t need help preserving the Church. Nothing will destroy it (Matthew 16:18).

While we are encouraged to study for ourselves, testing everything against Scripture to the best of our ability, believers are never to tear apart those proclaiming the Gospel. The Spirit guides us into all truth; we each arrive at a grace-filled pace.

Screaming “heretics” without assurance they fit the mold, we become like clanging gongs, conflict instigators, and prideful detractors of what is necessary. God says He hates these things. Nowhere does He ask us to roam about as loveless, self-righteous, arrogant agitators. We have a powerful enemy already at work in that.

From sharing books by contemporary Christian authors to using less-preferred Bible translations, there is never a lack of space for dissenters to attack. This atmosphere has caused me to second-guess my ability to study adequately to share the truth because there is always room for misunderstanding. Being pursued makes one edgy. It plants seeds of mistrust. Will the Spirit lead me to the truth? Is anyone worthy of teaching another?

“Being pursued makes one edgy. It plants seeds of mistrust.”

The questions this angst raises exhaust me: In sharing, will critics think I align with everything the author has ever spoken or believed in their life? If I prayerfully come to a place of understanding, will someone question my salvation if my insights differ from theirs?

What if the Spirit grows me up, and I change my mind about some long-held belief that was never rooted in truth in the first place? I whisper to the Lord, “I sure hope I do.” I desire to keep seeking and maturing in His grace and knowledge.

Yet, I feel trapped in my growth cycle – unable to learn and become without fear of offense at reading widely and asking sincere questions. I find myself holding back for fear of perceived heresy, judgment, or misunderstanding.

“The Spirit guides us into all truth; we each arrive at a grace-filled pace.”

It’s challenging to put myself out there after witnessing the lack of grace among Christians over attempts to encourage other believers in the faith. I grow weary of such wide theological and interpretational disparities. Only Christ can untangle the mess. He is my hope and peace.

I live in the tension of two God-given commands: to beware of false teachers and to live at peace with believers. Only God knows my heart, and I must trust Him to guide me even as I study to be approved, rightly handling the written words of God. Scripture heavily leans toward grace and discernment. That’s where I should bend too.

Photo by Jazmin De Guzman on Unsplash

Through this, God is teaching me to answer this question: Who do you say I am? That is not a question I can answer for anyone else. We love to evaluate fruit to judge the faith of others, but only the fruit we deem edible – or palatable to our own sensibilities. The false teachers of the early Church offered a broad way to salvation and a narrow view of Christian freedom. They valued myths, cultural signs, and symbols above Scripture and abused the purpose of the law. They put restrictions on food and marriage that Christ never sanctioned. They denied the deity of Christ and encouraged others to resist God-ordained authority. Any truth they held was to fulfill the desires of their flesh, not to serve others in love. Eventually, they fell away from the faith they claimed.

I have considered giving up, but I would hate to give the enemy a win. So, I wrestle with questions that have no answers – at least for now. Those who choose slander, evil suspicion, and prideful assaults will keep pursuing their idea of justice through nit-picking of ideas. Words shared may become their fodder or heretical candy to steal for “the edifying of the Church”.

Instead of running, I will remain close to God, who discerns the deepest intentions of our hearts. I will ask for wisdom to weed out any teachings in conflict with what is necessary for salvation; that is a warning for us all. And I will rest in God’s ability to finish what He started in me. (As a gift for reading, you can download a free resource on holding tight to hope when you are tempted to lose heart. For more freebies, join the mailing list below.)

I sit to write again after spending time abiding in the presence of God. I pray the Spirit would guide each word. I choose to encourage others to keep pursuing the abundant life through Christ, reminding my reader that while the pathway to God is narrow, His arms are wide.

For all things, His grace is sufficient.

Turning to the accuser, I will let truth emanate from my eyes – though they may act out of fear and sincere intent, they will not scare me any longer. The light of Christ always wins.

And God has given me work to do.

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  • Deborah Rutherford

    Terri, thank you for your article. I appreciate your transparency and vulnerability. I struggle with this too, and lean into God for guidance over what and how He wants me to write. God encourages me so that I can inspire others and point them to Him through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I love all you share and your love and heart for God.

    • terriprahl

      Thank you, Deborah. It’s not always easy to not take the opinion of others to heart, but God gives strength when we ask. It’s good to be introspective but not self-critical. That line is often blurry. Thank you for encouraging me and for the kind words. The feeling is mutual!

  • Lisa Blair

    Thank you for sharing, Terri. I use to struggle with this too, but I’ve come to a place of peace about all of it. Several things helped me: because my heart is submitted to Him, He is able to lead and guide me into Truth; the book, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and Our Minds, really helped me over the hump of “missing it” and just trusing God; Flourish Writers has a course on How to Write a Bible study, and that really helped me get over my fear and trust the Lord; and finally, the Lord brought to my rememberance what an older pastor once shared. He said, “Fishermen use different hooks and bait when fishing – according to what they’re trying to catch.” As an evangelist, he used different illustrations with different groups of people. Rememberting that helped me to realize that what I publish will helps someone. Even if it’s one person, it’s worth the effort as a writer to push through to help them. Anyway, I hope my journey of overcoming these obstacles helps you to press forward in overcoming them too. The Lord bless you, Terri!

    • terriprahl

      Thank you for the encouragement, Lisa. Women of the Word was a great resource for me too. This is great wisdom. Thank you for sharing!

  • Tammy Kennington

    Teri, your words speak powerfully to an area of weakness in many of our hearts–mine included. I pray He gives us unity in love! We and the world need us to function in love and truth more than ever.

    Peace and grace,

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