Jesus Told the Bride of Christ to Remove a Plank from Its Eye

The top defense of the abusive and authoritative in the church in recent years has become a kind of projection that reframes legitimate allegations into an attack on the church. The leaders who abuse power, harm people, and cross boundaries can assure themselves of safety by turning attention away from their misdeeds, claiming their accusers are attacking the bride of Christ (the church), and then presenting themselves as its defenders.

It’s a slick play that has become far too commonplace. In addition, they can bolster their positions by pointing fingers at individuals who may have been unfair with the scope of their criticism or who have failed to adopt a more constructive direction for their criticism. It shouldn’t surprise us that those who are wounded by the church will struggle to find the “perfect” way to critique it!

However, regular examination and critique are exactly what Jesus called his listeners to do in Matthew 7. It would be naïve for us to assume that such examination is only personal. There surely are systems, positions, and institutions that are worthy of the same scrutiny.

When addressing hypocrisy, Jesus said to first remove the plank from your own eye before attempting to scrutinize others. In other words, if we don’t want folks to criticize us, then we need to criticize ourselves first. Some have used the word “interrogate” today to describe this process. That captures the seriousness of our examination.

Of course, savvy church leaders committed to their own preservation can twist this verse against those who expose their misdeeds. This is the danger of religious professionals. They can always find a loophole for themselves if they want it.

The words of Jesus remind me that we should expect to find “planks in our eyes.” We will have serious oversights and problems to find and to address.

What makes the Bride of Christ beautiful isn’t the ability to overlook these ugly planks or to deny that they exist. The beauty of the bride of Christ is a redemptive trust in the restoration of God when we expose these ugly planks.

When we have experienced the grace and mercy of God to heal our flaws and errors, then we have grace and mercy to share with others. Whether others have a speck or a plank in their eyes, we will have more to offer than clarity. We will remember what it felt like to live with the pain and confusion of a plank obscuring so much of life.

As we work with others for their healing, we’ll transform our previous pain and confusion into a fellowship forged in the love and acceptance of God.

The stakes of exposing our planks are quite high, but on the other side of God’s healing and mercy, we will find clarity, freedom, and a capacity to minister that we could never touch while denying our deepest flaws. When Jesus points us to a time of examination and healing, he is giving us one of the greatest gifts we can share with others.

Monday Merton: Is the Church Redemptive or Self-Serving?

The mission of the church can lead us to our true identities in Christ or it can become grossly distorted. Thomas Merton writes about both the high calling of the church and tragic distortion of this mission into a self-centered mechanism for proving who is in and who is out:

“The basic Christian faith is that he who renounces his delusive, individual autonomy in order to receive his true being and freedom in and by Christ is ‘justified’ by the mercy of God in the Cross of Christ. His ‘sins are forgiven’ in so far as the root of guilt is torn up in the surrender which faith makes to Christ. Instead of my own delusive autonomy I surrender to Christ all rights over me in the hope that by His Spirit, which is the Spirit and life of His Church, He will live and act in me, and, having become one with Him, having found my true identity in Him, I will act only as a member of His Body and a faithful citizen of His Kingdom…

 

But now, supposing that, instead of confessing the sins of the world which she has taken upon herself, the Church–or a group of Christians who arrogate to themselves the name of ‘Church’–becomes a social mechanism for self-justification? Supposing this ‘Church,’ which is in reality no church at all, takes to herself the function of declaring that everyone else is guilty and rationalizing the sins of her members as acts of virtue? Suppose that she becomes a perfect and faultless machine for declaring herself not guilty? Suppose that she provides men with a convenient method of deciding when they do or do not need to accuse themselves of anything before God? Supposing that, instead of conscience, she provides men with the support of unanimous group approval or disapproval?”

 

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 111-112

 

Confess Your Dreams to Each Other

call-accountability-confess-prayer

There’s a Christian tradition of confessing your sins to someone else as a step toward freedom. We may quote James saying, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5:16, NIV.

By keeping our struggles, flaws, and imperfections secret, we leave ourselves vulnerable to their attacks, the shame they generate, and the feeling that we’re inevitable failures in spirituality. I know all of this from repeated experience.

It’s hard to confess to someone else. The times I’ve stepped forward to receive prayer from someone have been agonizing. Perhaps we fear judgment or being exposed as frauds. Perhaps we fear that the prayers of the person we approach won’t help. If there’s a chance that the prayers offered won’t help, then why risk exposing ourselves?

Vulnerability feels like we’re going to trap ourselves, but more often than not, it’s quite liberating. I find that hard to believe most weeks.

I’m a begrudging believer in confessing sins to a trusted friend or mentor, but I also believe in confessing our dreams.

Aside from our flaws, I believe our hopes, callings, and dreams may be the most fragile parts of ourselves. We don’t want to appear foolish, stupid, or ridiculous. We don’t want to set out for a valiant goal only to fall on our faces. Who wants to set out in pursuit of something that carries significant personal meaning and then fail publicly and dramatically?

Mind you, a dream or goal or hope isn’t necessarily virtuous in and of itself. However, before we can even discern this, many of us will suppress these notions before they get out of hand and people find out about them.

I have gone back and forth on this stuff plenty of times. I remember sharing an idea for a book one time in a group of friends and a stone cold silence followed. Someone may have said, “Hmmmm.”

Needless to say, I never touched that idea again.

I’m learning how to manage “confessing” these ideas and dreams and callings a bit. For instance, I’ve learned that the place to start with confessing my dreams is a few trusted people. I’ll tell my wife and then follow up with an email to a few trusted friends and experts to sound things out.

Last year I bought domain name and built an entire website. I felt like I just needed to do it in order to have the experience of building a more static website from the ground up regardless of whether or not I used it. I ran the idea past some trusted people. Many gave it a thumbs up, but a few shared some reservations. Perhaps there were already websites that covered this topic. Perhaps it wouldn’t catch on as I hoped. I asked for prayer. I prayed a lot.

I followed up the feedback and discernment process with some tests on social media. I shared posts and updated related to my new website’s topic.

Silence. Zip. Nada.

I decided to scrap the idea. I’m not sure if it wasn’t my thing to do or if my approach wasn’t the most effective way forward, but I’m pretty sure it was a combination of both.

I’ve been sitting and waiting on what’s next. I wrapped up my book Write without Crushing Your Soul this past fall and have been mentally divided between three book ideas that I can’t quite choose between.

Just as the domain name for last year’s website experiment expired, a new idea popped into my mind. Once again I tested it with my wife and then, before I could talk myself out of it, I zipped off some texts and emails to friends.

I confessed that I needed them to be in the loop right from the start. I told them that I needed them to know about this idea before I bailed. Sure enough, they were encouraging, while I spent the following day picking apart all of the reasons why this website is a terrible idea.

However, once I got over the fear of launching a new website and received some helpful feedback, I started to take tentative steps forward.

This project feels big and intimidating enough that I have to trust in God’s help to make it happen. It’s true to my experiences and, dare I say, “journey” in spirituality. It’s about something that I keep asking God, “Are you sure I should do this?” And I keep getting affirmations in return.

Today I’m plugging along with this new project, and I can’t believe that I ever doubted it or needed to tell someone before I preemptively gave up on it. But the truth is that I needed my friends’ accountability. I needed them to know that at one point in time I had thought this was a good idea, and I needed their honest feedback right then and there before I blew the whole thing up.

Accountability is good for uncovering our faults and struggles, but it’s also good for keeping us pointed to our true north. Accountability helps us put both hands on a crazy idea that just may come from God and to hold onto it through the storms of doubt, exhaustion, and fear.

Confess your hopes and dreams to one another so that you may discern God’s direction. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective