My wife and I visited a small storefront church Sunday. We sat in the back, which I guess was the visitor area by the looks of the people around us. I could tell the woman sitting alone next to me wasn’t a Christian: She had a bewildered look during worship; she didn’t really know when to sit and stand during the service; and she embarrassingly whispered to me when the pastor referenced a scripture that she didn’t "have a book." I shared mine so she could follow along.
Back to the story. Toward the end of the hour-long worship time, there was a moment of stillness in the service. That’s when, THUD, the girl sitting behind us fainted. It wasn’t anything spiritual — we later found out she had skipped breakfast and was prone to these things. But as the girl hit the floor and started to convulse, the lady next to me shouted, "Somebody’s fainted! Call 911!" A crowd gathered and gawked, not knowing what to do, so she pleaded again: "Somebody call 911!"
Long story short, a couple minutes later the girl came to and, with a little juice, was fine. But the pastor took what had just occurred as an opportunity to soapbox. "Whoever it was that called for 911 needed to repent for a lack of faith!" "911 is for doubters!" "Real Christians don’t need 911, they only need the Holy Ghost!" "Somebody in this church needs to repent this morning!"
Of course every eye was on the poor woman next to me. You could virtually hear the mm hmmm‘s in the condescending looks she was getting. The woman was noticeably embarrassed, afraid, and upset for being singled out. The pastor subsequently used the rest of the service to talk about how "angry" and "stirred up" he was for someone having that reaction. He told us the way he would handle the situation — prayer, no 911 — and how that was the right way. He said God looks down on those who doubt His power. He singled this woman out virtually by name and turned everyone in the place against her.
Some of what the pastor said might have been true, but honestly I don’t know because I checked out. I was so turned off by the spiritual pride he spewed. Through his condescending tone, his actions, his choice of words, you could practically see him looking down his nose at the woman. How dare she not be as spiritually strong as him and plead for someone to help a woman convulsing on the floor? How dare she.
Spiritual pride is the thing that turns most people off to Christianity. How many times have you heard people say they believe in God but can’t handle the church because it’s full of hypocrites? Hypocrisy is the need to keep up appearances, to make people think you’re one way even though you’re really another. The root of that is spiritual pride.
If you happen to drop by the RELEVANTmagazine.com message boards, especially in the God section, you’ll see there some people who post with the singular mission of trying to prove to everyone how righteous they are, how correct they are on any given topic. They are abrasive; they are condescending. They tick everyone off and completely quench any productive dialogue that might have been happening. Even if they have a good point to make, they make it with such conceit that no one will hear it. They need to be seen as more spiritual than others and, man, that’s spiritual pride at its purest form.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians and was instructing them on how to keep unity in the Body of Christ, he clearly told them to speak "truth in love" to each other (Eph. 4:15). He also said, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" (4:2).
There are countless forms of spiritual pride and, to me, all are representative of spiritual immaturity or insecurity. Those people on the message boards don’t seem as concerned with truly sharing ideas or helping each other grow in the faith as they are trying to prove how right they are, how intelligent they are, how holy they are, or how well they know Scripture. They talk about how popular culture is a wasteland (anyone who actually likes entertainment isn’t intelligent), how they don’t listen to any music but by Christian artists (there’s nothing redemptive outside of CCM), how they don’t drink (real Christians don’t touch alcohol), whatever it is. All of these things may be well and good, and God convicts different people of different things, but when you try to use your own choices as a standard by which to measure others — and therefore look down at them — you’ve ventured into the realm of spiritual pride.
Instead of talking about yourself and what you feel are the right choices to make, in these situations try talking about God. Talk about what Christ said about the topic. Talk about how He instructed us to live our lives. Don’t make it about you; make it about God.
The more people talk about their own righteousness, the more insecure they sound. The most secure people talk the least about themselves. They don’t need to prove anything to anyone. They don’t need to convince people they’re right. They’re secure about who they are in God.
Life is a journey, and maybe you really are farther along the road than someone else. But rather than putting them down for that, try showing them how you learned what you know. If they’re caught in depression, don’t look down at them, flaunting the fact you know the joy of the Lord and don’t deal with that problem. Instead, be compassionate and with love show them in the Bible that God can break that cycle in our lives. Show them scriptures where Christ talks about freedom and happiness. Let them see it for themselves, and give God a chance to do a work in their life. Don’t be condescending to them just because they may be at a different place in their spiritual walk. Your way is not the only way, but if you speak the truth in love, you’ll be able to help them on their quest of knowing God, rather than alienating them because they’re not at the place you think they should be.
The lady at the church obviously didn’t know any better. She didn’t know that if someone collapses at that church you’re not supposed to call 911. Yet instead of showing us scripture about God’s power to heal, or encouraging us to have faith because nothing’s impossible for God, the pastor blasted her for having the wrong response. God forbid the lady have concern for the girl who just collapsed behind her and cry out for help, even though she didn’t know a soul in the building. It infuriated me.
Before the service ended, the lady was gone. And I don’t know if she will ever come to know God. I pray she will. She was at that church because she was looking and, honestly, if I was introduced to Christianity the way she was I probably would have nothing to do with it. It would seem like it’s for a bunch of pompous, arrogant, know-it-alls who look down their noses at anyone who doesn’t have it all figured out.
Spiritual pride in whatever form is disgusting. It’s time we start seeing it for what it is. We can’t tolerate it any longer. For the unity of the Body of Christ, we need to speak the truth in love. Listen to others. Don’t think you have an exclusive pipeline to God and other people are less spiritual because they think or act differently than you. Even if you know you’re right about something, stop for a second and think about the best way to convey your point. Are you saying it in love? If not, you’ll probably alienate the very people you’re trying to win over.
It’s about time we realize that our spiritual journeys aren’t about ourselves; they’re about the people we reach for Christ along the way. It’s time we start humbling ourselves and considering where others are coming from. It’s time to stop kicking them in the gut before bothering to reach out a hand of understanding.
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