Captured by the Spirit You Oppose

Photo: The (b)log in my eye.

I’m going to be very judgmental here.

I’m going to be judgmental of the one person I am qualified to judge –me.

When the same verse of scripture and the same concept arises in diverse places several times in a few days it’s time to pay attention.

Something irks me, really irks me. Stepping on this trip wire brings down a cascade of feelings I would rather avoid. Like most trip wires this one is anchored to an old hurt. How do I describe it?

I was enjoying a YouTube musical smorgasbord concert last night, listening to favourite songs and rabbit trailing to new discoveries, when I foolishly read some of the comments.

(On some of the world’s greatest singers) “His voice is very tense and somewhat forced at 1:02 and again at 1:49. I hope he fixes this soon… She hesitated at 2:01. Listen for it… F____ has such a flat affect in this performance.  Where’s the passion? Good try, but I like A_____’s performance in 2009 at Covent better…”

I liked the commenter who said, “I’m glad I’m not a music major. I can just enjoy  the music.”

One of the reasons I dislike music competitions (including popular TV talent shows with judges and elimination-type formats) is because the audience comes away with a critical, judgmental, elimination-type spirit. Everyone is a judge. Alas, it is the nasty, witty judge who builds his own ego at the expense of the performer who people love to emulate. The joy of music chokes in the dust up.

A good music festival or competition adjudicator will always say more supportive encouraging words than critical. They will gently choose one or two areas that can be improved with very practical steps demonstrated on the spot. They will close their remarks with more acknowledgment of that which was done well. They will not compete with advanced students by becoming extremely, ridiculously picky. They will retain the love of music for music’s sake.

There are very few good adjudicators. Most either suggest nothing practically helpful or undermine the participant’s confidence by pointing out far too many imperfections or worse, try to one-up the outstanding ones by flaunting their knowledge.

When I read comments online that publicly criticize anyone, whatever their field, I want to lash back with my own nasty comments. The issue I struggle with is knowing where to perch myself on the worship/helpful critique/criticism/judgment/condemnation spectrum. I want to publicly criticize people for being publicly critical of other people. How crazy is that? It’s like being intolerant of the intolerant.

This week I read a book by Frank Viola called, Revise Us Again. (The title appealed to me.)

In one chapter he identified a trend I have long noticed myself. It’s the tendency for people who vociferously oppose the teachings or acts of others to start to eventually exhibit the same type of problem. Sometimes they recoil to the opposite extreme of the expressed idea, but their actions begin to look similar after a while. Viola calls this being “captured by the spirit you oppose.”

Church history is full of examples of those who broke away from established groups over an issue only to go off the rails in the same area within a generation or two. The persecuted became the persecutors.

A harassed medieval band of believers who were opposed to the lavish lifestyle of the clergy took vows of poverty, yet years later the order agreed to hawk indulgences and supervise inquisitions –as fund-raising projects, because the living by faith thing was too hard.

Over a century ago, a group left an old mainline denomination stuck in apathy and tradition to start an interdenominational parachurch organization intending to pool efforts to reach the poor and seek the deeper life. Within three generations many of the descendants of earlier converts of the movement, now  just like the first shallow, well-to-do pew-warmers with insider status, could be found hunkering down in yet another denomination with its own traditions and frustrating unwritten rules.

Another group was so concerned about unity that it ditched the serious, but sometimes uncomfortable discussion of Biblical theology. Now they are so tolerant they no longer even have the unifying belief in Jesus Christ in common.

It happens over and over, and even now the hundreds of new denominations forming every year continue to suffer from recoil, captured by the spirit they opposed.

Viola’s premise is that when something about another believer’s choices upsets us so much that we want to go on the warpath, we are often projecting our own unacknowledged weaknesses on them –and it’s easier to fix them than fix ourselves. We have blind spots. Our self-righteous rejection of them leaves an open door for this spirit.

We’ve all met people who are constantly afraid of being cheated only to discover they’ve got a little fraud thing going themselves, or those who preach vehemently against certain sins who later appear in tabloid photos in remarkably familiar compromises.

Jesus said, “How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Luke 6:42)

In all probability the speck is just a chip off our own log.

This week I am very aware of the Lord bringing my attention to the need for purity of the church –the Bride of Christ.

I want to pray, “Yes, Lord! It’s about time. Fix them!”

When my prayers are met with silence on the other end I am instead humbled by my own tendency to write people off for not studying scripture more, (or on the other hand, letting unloving, blatantly bad teaching slip through unchallenged for fear of rocking the boat), for lacking a compassionate heart and instead avoiding feelings by intellectualizing, for being so pedantic about proper technique I miss beauty, for depending on my own resources and not seeking the Lord enough.

When I look at what irks me about other people’s specks I can follow the trail back to my own logs.

Holy Spirit is capable of purifying his church. He doesn’t need my meddling.

He can employ servants who have dealt with their own stuff first though. Apollos needed Priscilla and Aquilla to quietly take him aside and correct his theology –but first they had to get straight with God themselves or pride would have led them to discount his ministry, discourage him, or compete with him rather than raise him up to become greater than his teachers. They honoured him. Godly leadership enters as a platform to raise up, not a ceiling to clamp down.

Help, Lord.

7 thoughts on “Captured by the Spirit You Oppose

      1. Planting Potatoes

        I know it is not easy for me to be transparent….but I have been learning that it is what God wants and I pray being so will bless others…keep writing and I will keep reading!


  1. Deborah Avila

    Im not sure I’ve ever been able to be any less than transparent because of my physical illness which opened doors for my spirit to be completely obvious~ magnificent post!


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