Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Pursuit of Happyness-The Believer's Bill of Rights

I ran across a website that listed what I thought was a very comprehensive list of ‘rights’ we have as believers. In a dysfunctional religious group, it is very easy to surrender the inalienable rights we always possess. This is usually the case where certain points are made by those who may impinge on these rights in the name of oversight, their authority or perhaps even by ourselves in the guise we are submitting to one in authority for the purpose pursuing a deeper spiritual walk. Well here they are,
• the right to question
• the right to doubt
• the right to move about freely
• the right to define for yourself if you are inherently good or bad
• the right to formulate your own life’s goals
• the right to decide with whom to spend time
• the right to assert your own power in every situation
• the right to add ‘none of the above’ to any options offered to you.

I would like to elaborate on these as both a mental checkpoint for you and for the establishment of boundaries that should never be consciously surrendered by ourselves or crossed by others. When these are being impinged, it is time to make your way to the exit door.

The Right to Question.

Ironically, this is a quality that is very much a part of the New Testament. In most of the epistles of Paul, Peter and even Jude, there is a freedom expressed for us to question all teachings that we are exposed to during our lives. Paul even commended those that took what he said and examined the scriptures to confirm they were true (the Bereans in the book of Acts). What this does imply is that one has the ability to do so. This means one must be a student of the Bible. If reference to the scriptures is always in the forefront of ones mindset, then whatever would dislodge the right to question or challenge any position would be stripped of its power. In other words, one must always take what is said and by the Holy Spirit assess what has been offered as truth. This is the Christian’s right and responsibility. In the first epistle of John, the church faced persons who came to the church with a ‘new’ revelation. John’s response was ‘you need no one else to teach you, because you have the Spirit of God.’ Now granted, this can be taken out of context and so bent to allow one to be answerable to no church and scripture based authority – which is not according to the scriptures. This is where the work of the Holy Spirit must come to the forefront. The reality is that one is not answerable to any teaching that would countermand the authority of the Holy Spirit – that is make one look to another for the source of truth other than the Holy Spirit. This is a subtle but essential difference yet this is a main tactic. A dysfunctional leader will not accept any other way than theirs, any other interpretation than theirs, or any other person than themselves or one in their sphere as knowing the true path. In essence, by positioning themselves in such a way, they have eclipsed the role of the Holy Spirit in the guise that they reflect His will and working. After all, one cannot question the Holy Spirit. Yet any true authority will not count itself in such a way. Paul was not at all uncomfortable with any legitimate question whose motivation was to ferret out the truth. In this is the principle, all God-given authority is delegated not imparted – this is clearly recorded throughout Biblical history. Simply put, authority is delegated for the performance of a particular task, it is only in the performance of that task that it holds any power. It is never a part and parcel of the one who operates in it. A good example of this is when Peter rebuffed Simon the Sorcerer for trying to purchase the power from the apostle. The Apostle saw it as a gift and that as such it never was intrinsic to the person. There are limits to anyone’s authority. The limit is located where there is a blurring of the lines between the person and God, it is there the limit is defined. To go any further is to go into heresy. In the scriptures, the impinging on this boundary has held very dire consequences. There are three examples I will recount here: 1> Moses when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it – he violated the direct instructions of God and so disqualified himself; 2> Saul when he offered up the sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel- he placed himself in the role of king and priest which is only reserved for the Messiah; 3> Korah when he and his followers (mostly sons of Levi) declared themselves to be on equal footing with Moses and the Aaronic priesthood. In each case the punishment was severe and lasting. What is the common element here? They presumed an authority they did not possess. Moreover they saw themselves as an extension of God to the people. This is a main trait of a dysfunctional religious group. It positions the leader as one so mandated by God that what originates from them is the codex upon which one must attain truth and so any other source cannot be fully legitimate. How does this play out? The believer’s right to question is trampled.

The Right to Doubt

This is directly related to the ‘right to question’. In essence, it is a boundary where one gives himself or herself the permission to assess all forms of input. It does require one has the motivation for the footwork involved in reconciling any doubt. For most, this is where the right is surrendered. Let’s face it, it is easier to just believe what one is given as truth. However, there may be a ‘behind the scene’ reason for surrendering this boundary. Perhaps a reason is that one does not see the importance of living as a disciple of Jesus as much as one should. Being a disciple is that the One followed is the standard to which all else is measured. How does one do this? Fortunately it is not as difficult as it seems at first blush. The fundamental element of any disciple’s relationship is with the Lord Himself. It is God through the Holy Spirit that draws the disciple into a relationship with Christ. Every true believer knows this to be true because of their first-hand experience with the Savior. The simple application of the right to doubt is this: One must take any teaching or doctrine to the Lord first and foremost. The person has the right to take anything at anytime to the Lord no matter what another might say or do. It is deference to the Lord first before all others. Any true spiritual leader will be fine with that. As long as it is in the spirit of service to the Lord, there is no one that can reproach the believer for taking this action. It is not a question of doubt really, it is a strong conviction about the Lordship of Christ and the protection of His place in the believer’s life that is manifested.

The Right to Move About Freely

Fully understanding this right is essential. Why? Commitment is a universal element to the church since its inception. Believers are committed in this order of precedence: 1> To the Lord Jesus 2> To their Family and lastly 3> To the local church and so its leadership. In a dysfunctional religious group the issue is that number 1 and 3 are often confused and so paralyze the correct pursuit of both. Why so much confusion? It really has to do with the points (rights) above. Fundamental rights have been surrendered and as such the order of commitment cited is thrown topsy-turvy. What is required is a great deal of discipline to maintain the boundaries of these three so as to maintain their integrity and keep them in proper order. One key trait of a dysfunctional group is all three all ‘balled’ up into one conglomerate mass where there is so much blurring of the lines there are none at all. Thus the commitment to the local church (i.e. leadership) is seen as commitment to the Lord Himself and so those who no longer hold the leader in such a level of esteem give grounds for even familial relationships to be torn asunder; even to the point of marriage vows being disregarded and tossed aside. The ‘Right to Move About Freely’ in essence is a proper and healthy view of commitment concerning these three areas. If one holds the rights to question and doubt properly, then commitment will always be a positive experience because it is brought before the Lord and He makes His desires known to the individual. Having said this, one must always allow the Lord deference in any decision making. The responsibility of the believer is to understand and allow the Lord to move them in the particular direction He wants to take them. At times, this might even be at odds with local church leadership – especially in a dysfunctional religious structure. It is at this time the Lord must speak clearly and His voice be heeded by the believer. Ironically, Jesus might be speaking counter to leadership because they no longer represent Him as He desires them to do so regarding the member. How does one know when this is indeed occurring? There is no presence of peace. This incongruence is continually replayed in the believers mind. Ironically, the member is for the most part trying to reconcile what cannot be reconciled: that is, the Lord’s will for them is no longer in step with that of the religious group’s plans for them. So who is one to listen to at that time? The Lord. If one has approached the conundrum with integrity and because of integrity has come to no reconciliation without forfeiture of their inalienable rights, it is time to move on – find the exit door. One must allow and appreciate the vision of others when it is in ‘Pursuit of the Calling’ God has for them. A primary indication of a dysfunctional religious group is that when differences reach the point of separation, there is a severing of relationships completely and a condemnation of the person who has decided to leave. In a wholesome religious group, there is always peace, support and even continued fellowship for the one who has left for the right reasons – that is to follow the Lord.

The Right to Define for Yourself if You are Inherently Bad or Good

A proper framing of this right is required. Perhaps a better way of stating it is that an individual is ultimately answerable to God alone for their walk as a disciple. Ultimately, He will rule on their lives and no one else. Currently, while living, the believer by the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit assesses their lives. The first two chapters in the first epistle of John are essential for understanding proper pursuit of this right. One thing can be said about the apostles in general, they understood their limitations. They could not be in every place at once, so the emphasis was to ‘work out your own salvation in fear and trembling’. John the Beloved did not interject himself between the Lord and His servants but merely pointed them to Jesus’ active Lordship and the aid the Holy Spirit will provide as the believer pursues their discipleship by implementing the scriptures. These three Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the scriptures are the pillars in one’s own self assessment. There are no grounds for any other input other than to verify and bear witness to the testimony of the believer and to live an exemplary life to inspire them to aspire. Romans the latter part of the eighth chapter is grounds enough to answer any assailing of this right. Now, to be realistic, there are times when the leaders must engage the individual when it comes to life decisions that impact the rest of the church. Usually, these areas are limited to areas of sin. This is where the leadership of the group must tread lightly. They must confirm that there is verified damage being done to the church members by the individual in their midst. This is only right and good. However, this is where the direction must stop. Paul the Apostle was quick to identify sin in the church at Corinth and addressed the entire church with it. Yet when it came to areas of positive direction and growth, Paul did not micro-manage but used himself as an example for them to follow. This left latitude for the person to ‘work out their own salvation’ and to come to know and recognize the Lord’s direction for them. This creates positive growth and maturity. Ironically, when too much control is exercised, there really is no growth at all. All the member learns to do is to comply and their sense of dependence and validation comes from another than the Lord. A true leader will foster personal growth and even applaud those who go further than they ever did. To these principles the believer must look in times where perhaps another party attempts to offer their assessment of the believer in the details of their walk in God that are more nebulous than out-right sin. Different vision or direction does not always constitute sin. In other words, a perception based intervention is never appropriate. Areas of personal judgment are best left to that person by the scriptures (Heb 4:12) – unless the church is actively being damaged by verified and identifiable sin that can be easily enumerated and seen by all. Speculation has no place at the judgment seat. In such a way it is the Holy Spirit that will guide, judge and fine-tune. The scriptures support this premise with scriptures like Matt 7:1-2, Lk 6:37,Jn 7:24, Rom 2:1, especially Rom 14:4,10,13, 1 Cor 11:31, Col 3:16, James 4:11,12.

The Right to Formulate Your Own Life’s Goals

This has been called the ‘inner calling’ of a person by some. In essence, it is the right to heed the internal call even though some external forces conflict with this pursuit. This at times can create an immense conflict within the individual. Sometimes there is frustration on both sides due to its presence. From the believer who is listening to their ‘inner call’ that is at odds with the local leadership, sometimes a humble approach is valuable where the direction and desire is expressed to the hierarchy of the group. Here is where roles must be understood by both parties. First, the believer must understand and respect the role of the person to whom the responsibility has fallen to lead that group. Secondly, the leader must understand their role is nothing more than facilitation of the believer as to the will of God. By facilitation, they do not provide or sanction, they simply bear witness to it. Here is where it gets a little tricky. The responsibility of the facilitator is not to say yes or no but to ensure the person that has come to them is hearing rightly and that the motive to move forward had integrity. The Holy Spirit can indeed make this known. The angst of the facilitator is limited to them bearing witness to what the believer is communicating to them. If the facilitator goes further than this, they are crossing a boundary and trespass into the sovereignty of God. It is their place to communicate and help the believer through to the desired will of God, not to define what that is. God is very much able to make Himself known to the believer and has more than likely already done so.

The Right with Whom to Spend Time

Now this might seem innocuous on first look but it is a very serious matter. Given that a classic indicator of a dysfunctional religious group is that it separates its members from people that are not a part of the group, this is perhaps one of the most devastating actions a group can manifest. Families, marriages and deep personal relationships are all at risk for those within and without the group as it concerns relationships. The issue is that the precipice is ever before the person who makes the choice to communicate or more with those in the outside world. Now, to clarify, basic communication is not what is being squelched. Members within in the group work in the outside world for the most part. What is described here are deep personal relationships that goes beyond just a casual friend or co-worker. An indication that one might be in a dysfunctional group is that there are no relationships that are growing and deepening outside of members of the group. This might seem incredulous but it is very real. It must be re-stated that each person has the right to spend time with whom they wish to do so. The fear that manifests itself in the hierarchy of the dysfunctional group is that it is perceived that sequestering of members is actually protecting them from being deceived and so cause them to ‘fall away’. While there are scriptural grounds for such stances, it is ultimately not the right of another to impose their own convictions about this matter on anyone else. The key element that must be asked is “Does the person outside of the group profess faith in the Lord?” If the answer is yes, then the real issue can be delineated: “Does the person outside the group question the methods, doctrine and/or practices espoused by the group?” In these two questions, the person deciding on having contact can crystallize the issue. As stated earlier, there is such a blurring of boundaries that one can think that they are being disobedient to God by having contact when the clear fact is that the person outside the group is serving God most likely although they do not hold to the practices or convictions of the group. It is presumption to believe one particular group holds all truth to the point that it is so pure that any contact will taint the member making the contact. Let’s be real here; the reality is the dysfunctional group more than likely cannot fully support the position they are holding in the particulars that make them distinct. With this in mind it is easier for them to separate themselves from the rest of Christendom then defend their positions publicly and in an open forum where debate on such issues can be discussed. If it is truly solid and fully according to scripture, it will bear any degree of scrutiny and discussion. If it is ethereal, it will be exposed for what it is – speculation.

The Right to Assert Your Own Power in Every Situation

Ironically, it is one of the easiest things to do. It is to simply say ‘no’. In a dysfunctional group there is an artificial reality that is constructed. When one lives in that ‘reality’, the peril of non-conformance is very real. Yet as Jesus has said, ‘Fear the one who cannot only kill the body but send you to hell’ The real question one needs to ask here is “Who holds my future, this group or the Lord?” While dysfunctional religious groups make no distinction here, there is a definite and palpable distinction.

The Right to Add ‘None of the Above’ to the Options You are Offered.

There is a significant amount of manipulation and subterfuge in a dysfunctional group. It is easy for one to get caught up in the inertia in the life of the group. This can truncate one’s perspective – including the hierarchy -- in the choices that they are given or provide. Basically, it is always a dichotomous choice that is delivered. It is to choose the way of the group or not. As can be imagined, this limited choice causes much stress and even terror in the mind of the one given the sparse options. Yet, ‘none of the above’ is always to be added to the choices provided. When the truth that no one sees all ends but God, no one knows the full truth but God and no one ultimately sits in the seat of authority but God is fully kept in mind, the person always has the right to add ‘none of the above’. The artificial façade is easily broken when this truth is kept in the forefront. Each person can hold the book, each can study the book, each can receive the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is the spirit of the Reformation that freed the church from the privileged few to give to the common man – the priesthood of ALL believers.


There are more I am sure, but these rights we all possess. Jesus paid for us to be free, let us live with this in mind and with purpose. Please remember, you have every right to pursue truth. It is the only thing that endures and it does not mind scrutiny because it has nothing to hide.

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