Sometimes I think I need to try harder to make this blog live up to its name. Then there are topics like this one, where I feel maybe this is more like Christianity 301 for some people. Stay with me here…
Tullian Tchividjian, who, not that it matters, is a grandson of Billy Graham; and who, it does matter, is the pastor of Florida’s prestigious Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, has a couple of articles I want you to link to today.
The first one, on the surface of it anyway, looks at “accountability groups;” the kind of small group thing that Tullian says end up more focused on our sin than on our Savior. In so doing, he says, they actually may be making people feel worse.
All the “good stuff” that is ours already in Christ settles at the bottom when we focus on ourselves more than Jesus (after all, Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on his performance). John Owen said, “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls.” And what is the gospel? Not my work for Jesus, but Jesus’ work for me…
He says that we need reminders, not rebukes; and we need to get away from the mentality that says we need to fix people.
What Paul did for the Colossians is what we all need our Christian brothers and sisters to do for us as well: remind me first of what’s been done, not what I must do. So, while rebukes are sometimes necessary, reminders are far more effective in the long run.
Now, I’m sure that someone reading this is going to say, “But I’m a part of an accountability group, and it has been most helpful to us; and I’ve encouraged others to do the same.”
Tullian wasn’t knocking the groups per se, but rather the tendancy of some to move in a specific direction. But it caused quite a stir, and in the comments section he offered this clarification:
…It’s not accountability in general (I mention the friends and family that continue to help me grow) but the kind of accountability groups like the ones I specifically mentioned (believe it or not, these are much more commonplace than you may realize!) that end up being more of a hindrance to our growth, than they are a help. These groups foster the kind of guilt, legalism, narcissism and morbid introspection that are antithetical to growth in the gospel. It’s very telling, for instance, that in Galatians 5:4-5 the Apostle Paul describes falling from grace, not in terms of immorality or godless living, but legalism.
I call for accountability in this post, but a certain kind of accountability–the kind that forces us to reckon with the scandalous nature of God’s unconditional love for us because of Christ’s finished work on our behalf. I believe in the need to repent and to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).
I can personally attest to the tendency of certain groups to get off their original focus and away form their primary design.
Here’s a parallel observation that didn’t form part of his article, but which I believe applies here:
Lots of men (and some women) struggle with online addiction to websites with sexual content. Many groups work very hard to try to help such people wrestle themselves away from such internet locations. It’s not easy. But some take another approach and stress the character of God, in particular his omnipresence. The idea is that if you really, really, really believe that God is with you; that he is right next to you as you sit at your computer; you won’t go to those sites. This approach is effective for many people.
Even here it’s easy to remember the illustration and miss the point: That remembering the character and attributes of God is possibly more effective than simply calling on God’s power to help us break free of a controlling habit. The latter will work in many cases, but remembering the character of God gives us a greater reason to want to make a rapid life change.