The Secret War Within the Church
S. Michael CravenMichael Craven's weblog
- 2009 Nov 09
In my last commentary the church and how its common life together is essential to being the church versus simply doing church. At its most practical level, this life together affords greater protection from sin "that so easily entangles," along with remedy and restoration when it does. Unfortunately, this depth of communal life and accountability in the American church has suffered serious loss over the course of the last century.
The fact is, as Americans living in a modern, technologically advanced society, we are simply less dependent on one another. Gone are the days when communities of every type had no choice but to depend on each other for assistance and protection—often for their very survival. For most of human history up until the last century, human survival was by no means a secure proposition. There were myriad risks and realities imminently capable of cutting one's life short (and they frequently did so); historically the human community served an essential role in combating these challenges. As technology and science progressed, age-old risks diminished and people naturally became more self-sufficient. While the lessening of life-threatening risks is indeed a good thing, one unintended consequence was the diminution of real human community—and this reality would ultimately come to affect the modern church.
This newfound independence on the part of human beings would prove essential to the emergence of radicalized individualism; a notion conceived during the Enlightenment and today a trademark of American culture.
Ironically, the rise of individualism owes its existence, in large part, to the Christian worldview in which humanity has both general and particular value in the sight of God. Being made in the image of God, humanity is the pinnacle of God's creation; being imbued with an individual soul and distinct personality, we are individually and wonderfully unique. God values the individual; thus an individualism that recognizes the distinctiveness and value of each person (without severing man's dependence upon God and obligation to others) is healthy. In essence, it is the concept of the one and the many—the individual is to be valued, but not above another.
Unfortunately, Enlightenment thinkers—with their emphasis on the autonomous self—exalted, practically speaking, the individual to a "one against the many" or an "every man for himself" mode of thinking. As to its effect upon our own times, David Wells writes, "The result is a radicalized individualism whose outlook is deeply privatized and whose mood is insistently therapeutic" (Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World, [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmanns, 2005], p 138). These two elements—faith that is privatized and therapeutic—feature prominently in the American church today. Catholic writer Anthony Gittins would describe the privatizing effect on the Christian faith as "a belief that religion is a private affair between individual and God; that each person has all the knowledge (gnosis, hence gnosticsm) needed; and that no one has any business interfering with the way an individual chooses to live" (Anthony J. Gittins, A Presence That Disturbs: A Call to Radical Discipleship, [Ligouri, MO: Ligouri Publications, 2002], p. 5).
Clearly, if we believe that "no one has any business interfering" in the way we live, we are disinclined to pursue (much less achieve) authentic Christian community. True Christian fellowship demands that, at the very least, we balance and, when necessary, surrender our individualism in the interest of others as indicated in Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV):
As to the interests of others, I have previously argued that we, as a community, have both an interest and responsibility to prepare, promote, and preserve every marriage within the body. There are many factors that contribute to the demise of marriages within the church, but there is one in particular whose virulence and force is made worse by our isolation and indifference to community: pοrnography! This sin grows in its influence and effect through secrecy and there is perhaps no greater secret sin in the church than the habitual consumption of pοrnography.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
In March 2005, Christianity Today published the results of a study in which 680 pastors were surveyed. Fifty-seven percent said that addiction to pοrnography is the most sexually damaging issue to their congregations. According to a Focus on the Family poll from October 2003, 47.78 percent of families said pοrnography is a problem in their home. In March 2002, Pastors.com conducted a survey of 1351 pastors: 54 percent had viewed Internet pοrnography within the last year, and 30 percent of these had visited within the last thirty days. In 2007, Shelley Lubben of Shelley Lubben Ministries was speaking at a men's conference before 2,000 men. She challenged those who were struggling with porn addiction to stand. Thirty percent rose to their feet. She immediately challenged them a second time, with the result being, some 70 percent were standing. There are countless examples of similar anecdotal evidence available from numerous ministries, including my own, which indicate that pοrnography is a plaguing and largely unspoken problem within the church.
Having studied the impact and effects of pοrnography for nearly nine years now, I can say that I have never seen a more degenerative nor destructive sin behavior than the habitual consumption of pοrnography. I have seen men (and, increasingly, women) whose lives (families and children) have been utterly destroyed. In almost every instance, they began with material that—relatively speaking—was mild, only to later find themselves viewing material or acting out in ways previously inconceivable. Given the unprecedented access and anonymity afforded by the Internet, pοrnography has become one of Satan's greatest and most malevolent tools in his mission to kill, steal, and destroy.
Those who are in the grip of prnography often suffer silently, hoping against hope that they can manage to overcome its power through their own efforts. They are naturally reluctant to confess and seek help from another due to the overstated stigma of sexual sin. Sin is sin and these brothers (and sisters) need a community of love and support who understand our universal inclination to sin and know themselves enough to say "there but for the grace of God go I." We must turn our attack from the sinner to the sin and overcome this evil within the body with the love of Christ. There is a war raging in the church and we together must take up arms in its defense, being vigilant to guard against sin and vigorous in the rescue of sinners.
© 2009 by S. Michael Craven
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org