Spiritual narcissism: when being right trumps being righteous

Some things are worth fighting for, some are not. This is a lesson many Christians in America rarely learn. In the name of all that is considered holy, people debate over various issues, arguing for their position and views, all the while claiming that the topic is vital to the future of the church, sound theology, or the gospel. However, many of the issues are minor theological issues at best, and instances of pride at worst.

Christians debate issues such as worship styles, ecclesiology (church structure), and lesser theological topics as if they are central to the gospel message or pivotal to the church. However genuine or passionate the person may be, many of these debates are less biblical and more personal. Like feuding spouses, each side is determined to be ‘right’ and to ‘prove’ the other to be wrong.

Minor Debates Symptomatic of Spiritual Narcissism

[pullquote]Christians are too often more interested in winning arguments and promoting their own churches than in winning souls and promoting the risen Christ.[/pullquote]

There are some worthwhile Bible studies and topics well worth examining (e.g., Calvinism vs. Arminianism, end-times issues). Nevertheless, many debated topics do not impact the gospel, yet are elevated to the level of supreme importance. Should we use wine or grape juice at Communion? Is a liturgical service or free service more spiritual? Do congregational or elder-led churches reflect the ‘New Testament church’?

None of these or other similar issues, however, really matter. God will not condemn someone to hell because they drank wine, joined a congregational church, or used a liturgy. Contrary to what many would have us believe, most things we debate today really do not matter, except to make sure we are ‘right’ and others are ‘wrong.’ Yet we continue to argue like toddlers, all the while justifying our trivial disputations as addressing deep, critical, theological issues. Such petty issues only feed our egos, and are often more about power, control, and pandering to self than they are about the gospel, Holy Spirit, Jesus, or God.

Many, especially in the American Church, are in denial over this fact. Furthermore, I would argue that every Christian, including me, has fallen victim to this form of spiritual narcissism at some point in their lives. It’s time we take a hard look in the mirror by opening our eyes to the world beyond our little bubbles.

World Events Help Put Things in Perspective

While believers in America debate relatively unimportant matters, Christians overseas face rising persecution and death. Consider, for example, the believers in the Middle East. While American Christians bicker over committee vs. congregation and organ vs. guitar, Christians in areas controlled by ISIS struggle with life vs. death and faithfulness vs. apostasy. While American believers ascend their ivory soapboxes over the sins of wine and strong pastors, Christians in Israel descend into shelters over survival vs. death from Hamas rockets.

One does not need to look beyond our own borders, though, to see that even the theological issues we fight over are really not as important as we think. Every one of us is surrounded by a world under judgment. While American Christians criticize, judge, and sometimes condemn people over Calvinism and Arminianism, their neighbors stand already condemned to hell. While American Christians divide over when Jesus will return or the age of the earth, non-believers remain divided from the glory and saving grace of God.

We need only see beyond ourselves to see that some questions matter, some don’t. We need only see beyond creation and to the Creator to see how trivial many of our supposed pivotal issues really are compared to the gospel of Jesus.

Gospel-Centered Christianity is the Cure for Spiritual Narcissism

While people die, both physically and spiritually, American Christians are more interested in being ‘right’ and winning an argument over things that have relatively little to no importance. Nobody is going to hell because they drink wine, play guitars in church, or are Calvinists. However, our neighbors, friends, and family members are already on the highway to hell because they have not accepted Christ Jesus. Even worse, many Christians justify their spiritually narcissistic debates as important and vital to the gospel. False reasoning is offered—often a version of the ‘slippery slope’—to make the petty seem paramount. Christians are too often more interested in winning arguments and promoting their own churches than in winning souls and promoting the risen Christ!

The American Church and American Christians have, in many ways, lost focus of what really matters, and have delved into spiritual narcissism. I do not believe there is a single Christian soul, me included, that is immune to this problem. To truly fix this, we must put aside needless debates become gospel-centered in our personal lives and in our local churches (cf. 2 Tim 2:14-16; 4:2). Each of us must repent of that sin, seek God’s forgiveness, and walk in the “newness of life” to which we are called (cf. Acts 8:22; Rom 6:4; Eph 2:10). We must make known the gospel of Jesus and the salvation he purchased for all who believe (Matt 9:35-38). We must seek kingdom growth and spiritual renewal, not church growth and self-fulfillment. We must become gospel-centered believers dedicated to gospel-centered growth (Rom 1:16-17; 2 Tim 2:2).

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