Tuesday, June 14, 2016


When you hear the word ‘deliverance’ in the context of Christianity, what comes to mind is, deliverance from a destructive lifestyle or obsessions or habits that threaten to permanently (in this life and in the hereafter) disable, even annihilate, people—in brief, to send them ‘to hell.’ The irony is that often the form of Christianity that espouses this kind of ‘ministry’ is actually substituting one form of addiction or affliction for another, not really delivering anyone, just changing the symptoms. The following essay is excerpted from the blog If God Is Love, from the author’s notes to ‘How Ignorance Obscures the Sense of Christ’, Discourse XV.2, by St Symeon the New Theologian. Italics in the essay are mine.

Allow me to consider what might be a subcategory of ignorance. There are churches — often groups which separate from mainstream churches for motives of correctness, or outspoken individuals within a mainstream church — which advocate for a narrow interpretation of Bible and Church. In other words, they claim to have the right answers and that everyone else is wrong and condemned. The result seems to be an idiosyncratic and even bizarre religiosity — having just enough truth elements to maintain the appearance of a church but with emphases which also distort Bible, Church, and history.

Ignorance and Correctness

How do people become like this? How can people read the Bible and yet remain ignorant? It seems to me that there are some people who are driven by a need for security and authority. Correctness and isolationism fulfill these deep psychological deficits. I can imagine these people as children — living in fear of abandonment and disapproval from parents and teachers. All children have these fears to some extent (because young children want to please adults and receive affirmation), but most children mature while others become permanently scarred. My speculation is that, in some cases, the experiences of emotional abandonment and behavioral disapproval transmute into an extreme need to be correct. Ironically, these people then disapprove of and disown all others who might pose the uncertainties of relationship, interaction, and human weaknesses.

There was a time when I myself felt the emotional impact of hyper-correct individuals. I had acquaintances among such people. It caused me to feel frightened for my salvation and confused about Jesus Christ. These people can tap into our innermost psychological fears and spiritual doubts. You see, there are indeed correct ways to do things. There is a correct way to sew a dress, to cook a casserole, to play a game of baseball, and to drive down the road. Part of growing up is to be trained in these correct ways. Moreover, there are consequences for incorrectness — everything from a burnt dinner to a speeding ticket.

However, correctness does not extend neatly into religion because of the dynamics of love and mercy, and because of the sovereignty of God the Father. Please do not think that I am undermining the Ten Commandments, for example, or even liturgical rites and prayer books. I am stressing the cultural and nationalistic elements, the picking and choosing of Bible passages for a foundation, the elitist strictness of rites and rubrics which never existed in the earliest centuries of the Church, the obsessive devotional practices, the use of charismatic expressions as proof of holiness, the racist and ethnic preferences, the fear-mongering toward those who are not correct, and the use of doctrine to separate rather than to gather. This all adds up to ignorance or illiteracy of Bible and Church.

Ignorance and Deliverance

Are ignorant people malicious? Or are they just misguided? I do not have the answer, and I will try not to judge. It is possible that, in this subcategory, there are variations of conditions. Some are probably prideful and fraudulent, some are mistaken and unfortunate, and some are victims of overpowering personalities and harsh upbringing. The use of fear, especially panic, can be contagious. It can spread like a virus, afflicting many people. However, we do not really have to figure out other people’s intentions. Perhaps the key is this: if you feel frightened rather than repentant, if you feel dehumanized rather than forgiven, then you might consider evaluating your religion or church leaders. You might visit some other churches, try to read the Bible with a fresh mind, and pray for deliverance from anything nonsensical and unmerciful.

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