Have you ever known someone who is a zealous reforming advocate for some cause that they were once part of themselves, like alcoholism or drug addiction? In their newly found zeal they are often overbearing. I was that person in the early days of my Christian experience. I had a hard case of Christian idiocy. It is a relationally toxic and unsafe mix of sincerity, ignorance, zeal, and self-righteousness.
Rita, my wife, and I spent the first thirteen years of our Christian experience in a hyper-separatist group for whom everything but breathing was a sin, and that could only be done between ten and noon on Sundays. Okay, some hyperbole there, but not by much! Out of a sincere, but misguided understanding of the nature of holiness, we were trained (with proof texts in hand) to avoid contamination that would assuredly come by associating with non-believers. That included family members.
It went so far as to include purposefully not doing evangelism. We were taught to leave contact with nonbelievers to the Baptists. When folks they had reached got bored with their “nominal gospel,” God would send them to us to take them into the “deeper things of God.” After all, “the Bible says,” (Sigh–the bane of proof texting and rabid typology!) the Gentiles will come to the light of our rising. So, if we just shine brightly enough, we don’t have to worry mixing with the unwashed masses of humanity, God will bring them to us. Our wanna-be clever one-liner was: “The Baptists will catch the fish, but we will clean them up.” My brain cramps even recounting this, but it is the truth. Not only is this horrifyingly bad theology, it is also a formula for unhealthy human relationships.
As toxic as this was, I cannot blame my Christian idiocy solely on what others did to me or what others taught me. In that message, my own personal brokenness found a sense of wellness and elitism. In many ways, I did not know any better. However, I was afraid to confront authority figures. I also needed the fellowship for my self-perceived needs of socialization. As the saying goes: It takes two to tango. If my soul had not been so needy, I would not have swallowed the bait. It was spiritual Velcro: a toxic message hooking to an un-well soul.
This meant, if at all possible: no family celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries), no holiday celebrations. If not avoidable, they were reluctantly endured as tossing a sop to the dregs of humanity who were beneath our spiritual brilliance. As you might guess, my Christian idiocy caused great harm in our extended family, especially to my wife’s siblings.
Rita was one of eleven children. Her father abandoned the family when the youngest was an infant. He also had POA for his elderly parents. He literally sold his parents home out from under them, kicked them to the curb, took everything they had and hooked up with another woman out of state and propagated a half dozen or so more children: not a nice guy.
The family went from prosperous restaurateurs to welfare overnight. On the heels of this, when she was eighteen, Rita’s s mother passed away from cancer on Christmas day. Her mother’s dying request was for Rita to promise to take care of the siblings. Rita went from sister to mother overnight—to a family only a few years younger than herself. That is not a formula for success. Needless to say, there were lots of opportunities for deeply hurting one another. Combine this much later with our own marital issues and the toxic holiness of our first church affiliation, and it should come as no surprise that thirty years of relational alienation resulted. Fast forward through forty-three years of the grace of God and His transforming love working in our lives—
Seven or eight years ago we visited someone in the Dallas, Texas area. One of Rita’s younger sisters lived in the area. Rita took a long-shot chance and reached out to her for a visit. Her sister took a long-shot chance and said yes. That began a difficult and honest adult process of mutual repentance, forgiveness, and understanding. At that time, little did we know that seven or eight years later we would be moving to Texas, literally twenty minutes from where her sister lived! Thirty years of alienation, erased! A sister and a friend recovered, plus geographic proximity!
Rita’s older sister also happened to move to the area. She heard of the renewal of relationship of her younger sisters. So with trepidation she takes a chance and agrees to meet with Rita. In the middle of a series of pleasant, but tentative, rebuilding connections, this sister and her husband had a life-changing encounter with Christ.
Perhaps those reading this are ready to shout hallelujah. But here’s the caveat. It happened through the preaching of Pope Francis and in a Catholic context! In forty-three years of Protestant Evangelicalism I have never seen such a bona-fide, repentance bearing fruit, transformative conversion—new creation human beings. Different family members said: “Who are those people?” We don’t know them.”
Well now, for some this may not compute. In my days of Christian idiocy, it would not have computed for me.
In her joy of conversion, Rita’s sister asked if Rita would attend a mass with her! Now wait, just a minute! That is too much, but not really. Rita accepted. Rita participated fully in the service (other than communion), and observed her sister weeping with joy that she and Rita were being restored and could share a common experience of Christ.
Rita took it a step further. She decided to buy her sister a very expensive and engraved rosary to celebrate her sister’s new birth! That would never have happened in our days of Christian idiocy. I mean after all, how could I encourage someone in a “false religion?” How could we endorse “unbiblical practices?” I will tell you how: when love compels you, and when care for another human being outranks your own need for perceived doctrinal purity. When love is the highest virtue, at the apex of your inner truth hierarchy, it is not only an easy thing to do, but it is the obvious thing to do. Love never fails.
Well, the gift of the rosary pushed things over the top. It is something Rita’s sister will treasure forever. Her sister said it was the kindest thing any human being had ever done for her! Imagine that—the transformative and liberating power of human kindness—agape—charity—given extravagantly with no agenda or “Protestant hook” in love. Love extended for love’s sake, needing no reciprocation or agreement in doctrine. It is becoming all things to all people, to win them. Jesus was willing to go to a manger, a cross, and a grave to win us. How far are we willing to go?
Well, to wrap up the story, it’s a “two for one deal:” thirty years of relational alienation for two sisters overturned, relationship reclaimed, and sisterly happiness for all. When considering this marvelous family story (This is the short version for reasons of space.), Rita encapsulated the dynamic in one pithy sentence:
“It took God thirty years to make me safe and to make them ready.”
Oh, dear readers. There is a universe of insight in that simple sentence. Christian idiocy is dangerous—unsafe—poisonous. Christian idiocy alienates us from others and betrays the Lord and the gospel that we profess. John said it this way:
He that does not love, does not know God. Period. No shifty theologizing to get around this is allowed! It causes Christian idiocy!
If you or a loved one suffers (or has suffered) from a bad case of Christian idiocy, take heart. Don’t lose hope. Don’t burn your relational bridges. You can never know when God’s powerful, transforming, grace and love will reach you and/or another person. I am not going to say that we were expecting this, or that it was thirty years of cheery and fluffy happiness. It surely was not. If you had asked me, I would have said: “Never going to happen.” But isn’t that the nature of God’s wild goosegrace? It breaks in with power in entirely unpredictable ways.
Without going into a long teaching, Paul said that the gospel is joy unspeakable and full of glory. “Glory” in a Jewish covenantal sense is the idea of relational reconciliation. He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.
Well, our family is living in the glory, and to Him be the glory of the glory. Amen.
Copyright 2019, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.stevecrosby.org. This blog article is a modified reprint from Christianity Without the Religion Magazine. This ministry is sustained by the freewill offerings of those believe in the message of a radical grace in a new covenant understanding. If this article has been a blessing to you, would you prayerfully consider making a contribution through our Paypal button to help? Stephanos Ministries is NOT a 501-c-3 corporation Click here to understand why. Thank you and God bless you
The ancient Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit was a wild goose. The idea behind it was: neither controllable nor predictable.
I never knew all the hardships that Rita suffered. Now, she is able to comfort others as she has been comforted (healed).
Excellent post and very inspiring, thanks!
thank you for the encouragement.
Sigh. I’m a recovering Christian idiot (of mammoth proportions) and spend much of my time wishing I could turn the clock back to the early days of my Christian walk, and do the whole thing like I would have done it now. But I guess that’s a bit like saying I wish I had my PhD the day that I started school…