Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Aberrations in Belief and Practice

Aberrations. The term comes from a Latin word meaning to "stray." Aberrations can be dangerous, even deadly, if you are driving a car down the road at 65 mph. Going off the road at that speed can be deadly. It's the same with beliefs and practices. I am a Christian minister, a pastor and church consultant who has seen and heard of aberrations in fellow ministers and churches. I received a call the other night about a church I once pastored which went through a number of aberrations resulting in dozens of people leaving. Then a few years ago, two pastors I knew left (the church word is "forsook") the faith and joined another religion altogether. What's going on? Why do aberrations happen in belief and practice? How can we be sure to "finish well" without going astray?

Temptation to be "novel." This is the first reason why people stray from tried and true faith and practices. We have a human, too often sinfully laden, itch to try new things and practice new venues. While this may be looked upon as exciting, stimulating, refreshing and so forth, in faith and practice, aberrations here can be deadly--eternally as well as right now. Humankind's earliest encounters, though novel, were deadly. Adam and Eve stepped out of the tried and true way of God, listened to the master of temptation, and plunged themselves and the human race into sin. This "hankering" may release creativity in us, which can be good and useful, but can also be evil and deadly. Jeremiah 6:16 tells us -- "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."

Faith for "academic" exercise. The second reason for straying has to do with some theologians and other ministers I have known who have a bent for the academic, the heady, the studious way of viewing the Scripture and faith and practice. Don't misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with theological studies and rigorous study of the Bible. But there are groups of people who have no "faith-gates." That is, "anything goes" in the study and practice of the Word of God. So, for instance, the resurrection of Jesus becomes a myth, or a good story, or a religious encounter, but not true, historical fact. If we can find enough people who say that something "weird" is not weird, then it becomes normal and acceptable. Or, if we can find an obscure scholarly article or paper or book that differs greatly from a tried and true way of viewing and interpreting the Bible, the temptation to be novel and the sometimes itch to be "different" trumps what we may deeply know to be true and right.

So, what's the cure for aberrations? Several helps include: (1) know God as He has revealed himself in His Word and world. Not just know about God, or dabble with the knowledge of the divine, but deeply, really, personally and in a transformational sense, know Him who is your Creator and Redeemer. God will lead you into all truth. (2) Test all things. That's what the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Don't accept what may be out of the ordinary, tantalizing and different as true and right and healthy. God has placed "faith-guards" in the Bible to help us discern right from wrong and good from bad. (3) Be careful of headiness. Someone once commented that some Christians are "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good." Added to your study of the Bible and the faith, practice that faith deeply, rigorously and sincerely. Get around others who will help you do this. (4) Get someone you respect and trust off of whom to bounce your new ideas. Accountability partners are good not merely for lay people, but also for ministers and theologians. I have been kept from many bad paths by friends, co-workers and fellow ministers and theologians who have helped me stay on the straight and narrow.

Just some thoughts. Don't stray, but instead finish well!