Day Eighteen - Experiencing Life Together

Mr. Warren elaborates upon the difference he sees between “real” fellowship and “fake” fellowship. He declares four factors that mark “real” fellowship. These are Authenticity, Mutuality, Sympathy, and Mercy. By Authenticity he means, “…when people get honest about who they are and what is happening in their lives. They share their hurts, reveal their feelings, confess their failures, disclose their doubts, admit their fears, acknowledge their weaknesses, and ask for help and prayer.” (p. 139) He describes Mutuality as, “…the act of giving and receiving. It’s depending on each other.” (p. 140) He says that Sympathy is “…not giving advice or offering quick, cosmetic help; sympathy is entering in and sharing the pain of others.” (p. 141) And, regarding Mercy he says, “Fellowship is a place of grace, where mistakes aren’t rubbed in but rubbed out. Fellowship happens when mercy wins over justice.” (p. 142)

Let us consider a collection of the key words of Mr. Warren’s descriptions: hurts, feelings, failures, doubts, fears, weaknesses, depending, pain, and mistakes. These are to be addressed with: help, prayer, giving, sharing, and grace. Here he speaks of the flaws and failures that constitute evidence of sin in human life, but he does not account for sin as the violation of God’s Law. For Mr. Warren, the hurts, feelings, failures, doubts, fears, weaknesses, pain, and mistakes represent not what we have become through sin, but “who we really are.” (p.140) For him, it is the “gut-level sharing” (p. 139) of our flaws and failures that make for “real” fellowship. His exhortation is that each individual needs to open up and share his inner life with others, and that apart from doing so fellowship can only be “fake.” Surely, if flaws, failures and hurts comprise “who we really are,” then true fellowship cannot occur without mutual discovery of such things. However, if flaws, failures and hurts represent the corruption of our nature in sin, then fellowship is enhanced only as the root problem of sin has effective remedy. True fellowship consists not in the sharing of our disease, for this we have in common with all men. True fellowship consists in the sharing of our healing. As sin is discounted, and consequently the remedy for sin is overlooked, so the true fellowship that depends on the healing of sin cannot come into fruition. The biblical way of fellowship is markedly different from Mr. Warren’s program.

First, the individual sharing of flaws, failures and hurts that Mr. Warren envisions is inappropriate in most cases. Biblical counsel is that, “A fool’s vexation is known at once, but the prudent man conceals dishonor.” (Pr. 12:16) There is no essential virtue in volunteering to others information concerning your hurts, feelings, failures, doubts, fears, weaknesses, pain, and mistakes. Indeed, in the general case it is outright foolish to do so. Mr. Warren suggests that it is to one’s benefit for him to reveal his vexations to a “small group,” for then he may receive sympathy and mercy. He acknowledges that such a course is risky, but argues that it is biblical by citing James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another…” (p.140) However, the most that can be based upon this text with the certainty needed to establish a policy of fellowship is that one ought to confess to another against whom he is guilty of offense. Anyone whom you have offended deserves your confession. This hardly will carry the weight of providing a basis for the open sharing of personal fault and failure that Mr. Warren recommends. Clearly, in James one confesses his sin to another whom he has offended so that he may receive forgiveness. In contrast to this, Mr. Warren would have you to confess your flaws and failures and hurts to a group so that you may “have your feelings validated.” (p. 141) Forgiveness builds fellowship by healing the wounds between persons that result from sin. “Validating feelings” does not build fellowship, because such a concept assumes that the inner psychology of the individual is normative and so does not address the factors arising from sin that harm the community of persons.

In contrast to Mr. Warren’s idea that “real” fellowship consists of hashing over everyone’s hurts, feelings, failures, doubts, fears, weaknesses, pain, and mistakes, Paul urged the Philippians: “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8) It is individuals of the Church speaking together of one another’s accomplishments and successes that fulfills Paul’s instruction to the Philippians. There are very public sorrows, such as death or illness, in which we are to be a comfort and help to one another. As well there are very public sins in which one person’s offense against another is witnessed and therefore known to all. But, the sort of “gut-level sharing” of hurts, feelings, doubts, failures, fears, and weaknesses that Mr. Warren advocates amounts to gossip. It clearly is gossip when two people speak together about such things as they pertain to a third party. How is it any less gossip if the only difference is that a person takes initiative to share such things concerning himself? It is not healthy for a local Church body to have within it the free flow of sordid information such as Mr. Warren prescribes. Any local Church that actually attempts to implement Mr. Warren’s regimen of gut-spilling for a sufficiently sustained interval likely will experience some serious problems as a direct result. At the very least this sort of thing will serve to concentrate an undue power into the hands of the few who are in a position to collect the most amount of information about the most people.

Second, the “gut-level sharing” that people need to do is to be done within the Family, and not in an arbitrary “small group.” Families are the most natural small groups in a Church. The advantage of the Family not only is that it comprises a natural small group, but also it provides the sort of intimacy that is appropriate for the “gut-level sharing” that Mr. Warren describes. In I Timothy 5:8 Paul exhorts, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” This is a very strong and serious exhortation. It is given in context of directions for the material care of widows, and has the force of emphasizing that widows must not become a burden upon the Church unless they have no family. This illustrates the importance of the family as primarily responsible for the care of its members. The principle holds true no less when the concern is care of an immaterial sort. In several places throughout the Epistles (I Cor. 14:34-36, Eph. 5:22-33; 6:1-4. I Tim. 3:4, 12, Tit. 2:2-8, I Pet. 3:1-7) it is emphasized that wives are to be subject to their own husbands, husbands are to be devoted to their own wives, teaching them and caring for them, children are to respect their parents, and parents are to take care in raising their children and maintaining an orderly household. The level of intimacy Mr. Warren describes is appropriate in marital and parental relations. There is an appropriate place for one-on-one counseling outside the Family, but troubled people far too often flee the Family in search of it. Even if we grant the appropriateness of the scale of counseling and therapy we see today, this still is far from the mass free-for-all gut-spilling that Mr. Warren envisions for the Church.

It is a valid observation that the institution of the Family is in grave disarray in our day. The cause of so much counseling and therapy taking place outside the Family these days is that people so often have serious issues with their own spouses, children, parents, etc. In many cases the Family is not functioning as it ought to do for its members, as prescribed in Scripture. Tragically, this holds true also in the Church. However, the remedy of this problem is not for the Church to form “small groups” to take the place of the Family. The Family is one aspect of God’s created order. It may not be dismissed or replaced on Human whim. The remedy of the problem is for biblically qualified ministers in the Church to exercise great care in treating individual needs outside the Family where deemed necessary, while also working diligently to repair and to strengthen the institution of the Family so that people in the Church may effectively take care of their own. On the previous Day of this book we saw that Mr. Warren takes the erroneous view of elevating the Church over the Family. Thus, the Family already is discounted in his agenda. His proposed regimen of “small group” dynamics is but further indication of his low view of Family.

The problem with individuals that gives rise to hurts, feelings, failures, doubts, fears, weaknesses, pain, and mistakes is Sin. The problem with the Family that makes it ineffective in providing the comfort and help that such individuals need is Sin. The remedy of the problem is not to form “small groups” to replace the Family; to tell individuals that their flaws, failures and hurts constitute “who they really are,” and to urge them to spill their guts to a group so their feelings may be “validated.” The remedy of the problem is to teach people the Christian truth that Human nature is spoiled by Sin; to teach them the difference between sins that must be confessed to another party who has been offended and sins that must not be broadcast publicly; to urge them to cultivate a public atmosphere that focuses upon that which is true and pure and godly and perfect and of good repute; to urge them to confess their private “feelings” and “hurts” with their spouses or parents, within the biblically ordained intimacy of the Family, to receive the forgiveness, comfort and help they need; and to correct and to strengthen the Family that it better may serve its proper function in this way. The root of the problem is Sin; the root of the remedy is Redemption and forgiveness. The more Mr. Warren avoids coming to terms with Sin, the less his teaching is able to speak to the true need or to witness to the true remedy. The most that he has made of Sin up to this point in the book is failing to glorify God (p. 55) or a broken relationship (p. 85). In truth Sin is Man breaking the Covenant and the Laws of God, for which we bear moral guilt before Him. Now Mr. Warren wishes to speak of those things - failure, mistakes, weakness, pain, etc. - that characterize the corruption of our nature in Sin, not as plagues upon our being that we must bring before God, but as aspects of the “real” self that we must bring before the Church. Mr. Warren’s idea of fellowship is the Church collectively hashing over all the sordid affairs of its individual members, and this is termed getting “real.” In this he actually reverses the truth. The reality of Christian fellowship is in the repair of the individual through Redemption from Sin, and the healing this provides our community as we seek forgiveness for public wrongs and deal privately or in our families with secret hurts.


Blogger jerbau™ said...

I like this post, it's very insightful. Thank you.

6:11 AM  
Blogger S. C. Mooney said...

Jerbau, I am glad you found this essay to be of some help.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Gabriël G Smit said...

“Fellowship happens when mercy wins over justice.” (rick warren)
i.e. justice is less than mercy. where can i find a verse in scripture stating that?
regarding God, the above quote is false, which results in the conclusion regarding the nature of fellowship also to be false, ergo rick’s basics of theology also to be false.
galatians 1:8-9 are applicable here, truth has to triumph!
in Christ Jesus

8:50 AM  
Blogger S. C. Mooney said...

Hi Gabriel, thanks for writing with your thoughts and concerns. Warren may have been thinking of James 2:13 "mercy triumphs over judgment." However, "justice" and "judgment" are two different things. James 2:13 certainly does not nullify justice in human affairs. We are exhorted in Scripture to forgive our debtors, and such forgiveness does indeed promote fellowship. However, Warren does not speak of forgiveness of sin, but speaks of "validation of feelings." As you have alluded, his whole idea of sin, forgiveness, mercy and judgment is skewed.

10:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home