Monday, November 30, 2015

How Much Can We Trust Our Emotions?

It is axiomatic that a man should be careful how much he trusts his emotions or he is likely to be led astray by them. This came to my mind reading the first chapter of “Inside the Churches of Christ.” The cornerstone of the argument the author, Charles Simpson makes, is that in 50 years of membership in the church of Christ, he never experienced much emotion at all, either from himself or other members of the church. It was not until he abandoned the CofC and joined a Baptist church that he began to experience what he termed the right kind of emotion. As an example, he tells us that he had “never wept when praying in the CofC, but the first time I prayed in the Baptist church I wept openly.” The implication is that the CofC lacks the right measure of emotion, as defined by the author, but the Baptist church has just the right amount.

What are we to make of this? Is the CofC a cold, emotionless and, consequently, spiritless denomination? And if so, is this what makes them so wrong and worthy of condemnation? No one can doubt that emotions form a very strong and intricate part of our beings. We are not one dimensional beings. Contrary to what the atheist will tell you, we are not just bodies that came about by pure chance and once we’re dead, as the proverbial Rover, we’re dead all over. Thus, our emotions are given to us by God for specific purposes and, if he saw the need to do so, it is because they are necessary and proper. But we stray into dangerous territory when we allow our emotions to dictate what we are to do or not to do in every instance.

And that is the crux of the matter in Mr. Simpson’s discussion as he begins his book. His thesis is that, since the CofC lacks the proper amount of emotion, it cannot possibly be following the whole truth. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that although that seems to be the implication of what the author is telling us, he then inconsistently makes it clear in many places in the book that he believes you can be saved within the CofC. He simply believes that the CofC needs to change and become, in the context of this first chapter, a more emotion-friendly denomination. I agree that we in the CofC are very often rigid and emotionless. It is unfortunate that often we go to the other extreme in trying to fight an overage of emotions which seems to permeate our society and it’s lurking around every corner. In doing so, however, we often not only leave emotions aside, but look upon others with suspicion who are more emotional than we are. The answer is not to become overly emotional, but rather to understand that our emotions, properly used, can be a tremendous asset to our lives. Just think of your spouse and children and imagine what their lives, and yours, would be like if you didn’t show your emotions for them on a continual basis.

On the other hand, emotions can truly become our worst enemy. Take for example a very telling sentence coming from the pen of our author. He discusses the tendency that the CofC has to believe that it is the only true church and that no one, outside its hallowed walls, will be saved. (Let me here say that I have run into this issue many, many times. I myself was of this view at one time. I have come to realize, however, that the church is much broader that my puny little mind can envision. Rather than feeling peeved over that idea, we should be glad that it is so. There is room in the body even for me!). And what is the problem that Mr. Simpson has with such a belief? Simply this: he cannot believe that God would condemn any sincere person in other denominations to hell because, well, they are sincere. Obviously this presents us with a conundrum. What are we to make of such a statement? Is sincerity all that’s needed to be accepted by God? Why then can’t sincere Muslims, Pantheists, or any other sincere religious person for that matter, be saved?

The lesson here is that when we let our emotions run with us we’re likely to end in the wrong place. You don’t even have to think of this in religious terms. Think of how allowing your emotions to control you at times has resulted in serious and terrible consequences. All of our attributes have been given to us by God for our benefit. But it is undeniable that He expects us to control those attributes and channel them in the right direction. (Read Galatians 5:19-26 and see that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. It is there for a reason). The above shows that, when we function on the basis of emotion and nothing more, we will become of little use to the Master. If we can’t differentiate between the truth and a lie (or worse yet, we refuse to differentiate between them), how then can we be useful in the Kingdom? Jesus needs workers who will proclaim the truth in love. If we’re missing the truth—or the love—we will be ineffective in the work of the body.

In closing, let me say that we in the CofC spend way too much time worrying about “converting” people in other denominations. We’ve become so fixated in doing so, that we often waste an inordinate amount of time that would be much better spent seeking those who are lost and who are outside the body without hope and without God. To be sure, we should always seek to study and help others learn the truth more fully. But we should do so in the knowledge that we ourselves have many areas that will need to be addressed as well. We don’t have all the answers and we do ourselves, and the Kingdom of God, a disservice when we act like we do. At the same time, we should not use this as an excuse to avoid teaching others. If we’re going to wait until we “have it all together” we’re never going to do much of anything. And so, we should not let emotionalism dictate what is true, but neither should we avoid our emotions, which can provide the right balance as we seek to serve the Master.



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