Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to help new, doubting, or troubled Christians.

Here's an amazing quote from Tullian Tchvidjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church:
Jesus doesn't stand at the top and shout down, "You can make it." He stands at the bottom and whispers, "It is finished."
It's a radical and crazy idea, but it is in my opinion simply a summary of an old idea found in Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross. Some say it is merely Paul's theology in the Epistles. In this view, Christian growth isn't about you climbing up a ladder or out of some sort of spiritual pit. Not about your efforts (even if with Christ's encouragement) to get yourself higher. It's becoming more and more aware of how you are at the bottom and have nothing to rely on but Christ's assurance that, "It is finished." It's a radically different view of Christian growth.

Now consider your friend who's going through a period of doubting, moral stumbling, or is brand new to the faith. How you would respond to such a person depends on whether or not you view Christian maturity by analogy as going up a ladder out of a pit. If you think Christ's "It is finished" is our final answer, and there's nothing we can do to get ourselves out of the pit, then your advice and counseling to your backsliding friend may revolve around helping him or her get a grip with this reality. If instead you have adopted a model where you look on your backsliding pal as a few rungs behind you on the ladder, you may strive to think of ways for that person to pull themselves up. You could point to spiritual practices, like prayer--maybe even special topics or wording of prayer to use, bible reading, books, devotional practices, signs, songs, or good works.

There are several problems with this second, "ladder" view. Among them are that you may end up believing that your own efforts got you higher up the ladder.  You may end up implying to your friend that their lack of practice at these spiritual acts is what caused their "funk". You may imply that all they need to do to earn as much merit with God as you have is to perform the mighty spiritual works that you have. Perhaps even worse is you could end up thinking that other friends are behind you on the ladder depending on how many spiritual good deed "merit badges" they are wearing on their sleeves.

Am I over-reaching?  Here's a quote from Luther's greatest work, the Heidelberg Disputation, composed in 1518 as a series of 28 tweets.
The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.
Luther says it's dangerous-- gives you double guilt-- to believe one obtains merits by "doing what is in him."

On the other hand, what if your backsliding friend became even more fully aware that in truth, "It is finished"? Might they start singing, praying, studying, doing good deeds?

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