We could be living through one of the largest displays of Christian immaturity in our lifetime. The unprecedented realities of the Coronavirus have led to a surge of online interactions revealing a deep lack of respect and humility by Christians who claim to follow Jesus and live according to the Bible.
While I don’t claim to understand the complexities of this phenomenon, I want to suggest that perhaps, this crisis, is an opportunity to revisit the nature of Christian maturity in our new digital quagmire.
As a pastor, I want to say sorry for not doing enough. While we all have a role to play, those who are leaders must do better to encourage and model a maturity shaped by faith in Jesus. Only then will the beauty of our Christian witness be understood and embraced as trustworthy.
Here are three areas at the heart of this challenge. As you read, I pray that you revisit the urgent need for Christian maturity in your context.
Christian Maturity & the Authority of the Bible
Since the Bible makes maturity an essential theme of a transformed life let’s begin here. It seems that we have not done enough to accentuate the difference between personal and public uses of Scripture.
We must return to this essential Christian truth : a personal devotional reading of the Bible and public doctrinal affirmations from the Bible are not the same thing.
It is clear that this crisis will continue to reveal the need for a model of Christian maturity that hold these practices in tension. The modern gift of personal Bible reading should lead to a deeper responsibility with how we use the Bible publicly. Is it too much to suggest that Christian maturity, formed in quiet times with God, should be evident in public discussions we have online?
While I hope you are making time for personal Bible study this does not qualify one to make flippant public proclamations in the spirit of individualistic authority. There is a big difference between a biblical word of encouragement and a statement of dogmatic force.
Trusting in the authority of ‘The Bible Alone’, is not the same as building your life on ‘You alone with the Bible’.
Furthermore, anyone who reads the Bible soon discovers the need for careful discernment in getting to a proper interpretation. Like a precious work of art, or a fragile priceless object, mature Christians learn to approach certain aspects of the faith with care and intelligence. This is at the heart of what it means to love the Lord with all our mind. I have learned that when growth in this area takes root we are better protected against immaturity in the area of preaching and leadership.
Christian Maturity & ‘Prophetic’ Leader Types
In chapter 25 of the Book of Jeremiah we read of a time of turmoil for God’s people. Due to Israel’s continuous disobedience, things were about to get bad, really bad. Imagine this poetic scene.
The shepherds will have nowhere to flee, the leaders of the flock no place to escape. Hear the cry of the shepherds, the wailing of the leaders of the flock, for the Lord is destroying their pasture. (Jeremiah 25: 35,36)
The Bible does not candy coat the frailty of human existence.
The imagery of a shepherd is meant to put unique focus on leaders and preachers in times of crisis. I want to propose we do the same. Not only does a crisis force us to redefine strong leadership, it also reminds that immaturity in this area has an incredible ripple effect.
Jeremiah was a prophetic leader. Not to be confused with some of the modern self professed prophet types. He was recognized as a voice of God which had authority for all God’s people.
As you might imagine, in an age of multiple denominations, this understanding of the prophet requires some nuance.
On multiple occasions Jeremiah provided correction and encouragement to awaken the people to God’s presence. A key theme of prophetic wisdom was the impact of our decisions on others. Still relevant today, you don’t have to look far to see how hoarding, greed and selfish decisions devoid of love for ones neighbor require a strict response.
Prophetic leaders, according to the Bible, proclaimed that maturity in the faith is modeled when we understand that we will one day give an account to God for our decisions and their impact on others. God’s correction for ignoring such parameters came with painful consequences.
It feels urgent to remark that prophets in the Bible are not the same as self made prophets we are prone to hear about today. An indicator of Christian maturity is the ability to notice the difference.
Often times biblical prophets were recognized even before they were born. Thrust into a life of service, they modeled a visible life of submission according to God’s commands. Servant lifestyles made them an example of what it meant to depend solely on God. In so doing, they were keenly sensitive to God’s presence which is not to be confused with a ‘daily word from the Lord’ approach. The prophets were summoned for special wisdom at pivotal times which required they share painful updates without fanfare.
Lastly, it was understood that if prophets claimed to speak for God, and they were wrong, they too were to experience judgement which could lead to death. This was no popularity game.
May our present crisis cause a renewed commitment to ‘prophetic’ preaching grounded in Christian maturity. This will likely also give rise to a greater appreciation for human authorities whom the prophets often dealt with.
Christian Maturity and Human Authorities
Maturity, in the Christian sense, requires that we embrace that God gifts us with different types of authorities and laws. For example, the laws of nature help us live within the safe parameters of the created world. Divine authority, as found in the Bible, reveals our deep need for salvation.
It has never been more important to add how the Bible celebrates the gift of human authorities as well. In this present time of struggle it seems more important than ever to reconsider the role of human leadership as part of God’s pattern for Christian maturity.
One of the great theological voices of the past addressed it like this. He writes,
First of all, I shall set forth the best contributions of the philosophers of the Greeks, because whatever there is of good has been given to humans from above by God. John of Damascus
This important Christian thinker knew that philosophers (often synonymous with lead thinkers of his day) played a part of God’s larger plan.
Today, I would consider teachers, doctors and specialized government official as important human authorities. Although not perfect, they fit into God’s plan for how we must learn to live.When we respect and appreciate these important leaders we provide a witness of the kind of Christian maturity the world needs.
If you have watched the news you have seen how everyone, and I mean everyone, has tried to get an interview with medical specialist Dr. Tony Fauci. The reason for this is that we sense, almost immediately, the need to properly assimilate complex information. The title of doctor, rooted in the history of the church, comes from the Latin word doceo meaning to teach. Christians has always looked for ways to celebrate different authorities who modeled maturity and authority in their respective fields.
This crisis has made it more important than ever to reconsider how Christian maturity involves recognizing our need for human authorities as helpful and consistent with God’s plans for us . While this crisis will continue to put a spotlight on human limitations our need to discern the best way to move forward will require we listen to doctors and scientists as leaders trying to navigate the best they can. A commitment to Christian maturity requires we pray, listen and discern with patience what medical specialists are saying. In so doing, we learn to see human authorities as gifts from God who care for people whom He loves.
I keep wondering how long this crisis will last. Can I suggest again that another crisis looms if we do not consider that our Christian witness is on display in times like these. For this reason, we may need to be more careful than ever when presenting ideas online, providing commentary on biblical concepts like healing, authority and interpretation that require nuance and relational credibility. This is a foundational aspect of Christian maturity.
When we model slowing down to reconsider our comments we learn that fanning the flame of personal popularity falls short of those who have said yes to Jesus. It is time for Christians, as the church, to welcome the spot light and reclaim Christian maturity for such a time. May we who have been taught that our lives are not be lived under a shade shine now. In our shining may we commit to have the attitude of Jesus who continues to call each of us to
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3,4