DON’T DRINK THE POISON
(OF FEELING SUPERIOR)
When I was chairman of YWAM (back in the days when we had international titles) I was drawn into an uncomfortable conversation. An influential leader was trying to get more recognition for the work he was doing. At that point, we had a process for recognising International Networks; that recognition carried some kudos and might enable the group to spread more. Several of us in leadership were uneasy about this request, so I was asked to meet with the leader in question.
He already had a dozen or more YWAM locations who were prepared, according to him, to be part of the network, so I asked him what they had in common. His answer suggested that they were more professional than other YWAM locations, more strategic in their thinking, and more able to relate to “megachurches”.
His answer was troubling. As the conversation continued, I learned that he was travelling widely, speaking to YWAM ministry locations, explaining how much more strategic he was than the rest of YWAM. After a couple of days of his teaching, he would extend an invitation for them to join him. In other words, he “created an itch, so he could then scratch it!”
After more than an hour together I attempted to summarise what I was hearing from him. I said something like, “So you are aiming to create a new network by identifying those who are good at doing what YWAM is called to do, and then inviting them to join your network. Right?”
As you would guess, we did not extend the recognition he sought.
That was a long time ago but some of the questions that conversation raised still come up from time to time. Why are we human beings drawn to what makes us feel superior? Racism can do that; nationalism can do that; religions can do that; exclusive clubs can do that; an expensive house or car can do that; cults can do that. What is it?
Some of us are old enough to remember the Jonestown tragedy. A man named Jim Jones, developed a cult that was based on an exclusive understanding of Christianity, and thousands joined. He fed them a vision of utopia and many of his core followers moved with him to Guyana where they set about building a perfect community. But it didn’t go well. After several setbacks, Jones could see that they would not succeed. Tragically and astonishingly, he convinced more than 900 people to embrace “revolutionary suicide” and they drank Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. They all died.
Movements that convey a feeling of belonging and superiority have thrived as long as there have been people. If we don’t find our secure identity in Christ, as sons and daughters of God, we are vulnerable to false identities. And there are countless false identities. None are more dangerous than feelings of superiority based on religion, ethnicity, tribal identity, or nationality. As I write there are two major, bloody wars raging and both are a mix of religious and national/ethnic superiority. Once they are seeded, the thoughts and feelings of superiority can continue to develop until people who are not of “our group” are of less value. If the process continues, it becomes the root whose fruit is genocide.
Cults arise within the Christian faith by offering a sense of belonging, and usually superiority. Time Magazine ran its famous cover story on the Jesus People in 1971. One of the enduring images was of new group, The Children of God, picketing a large church in Southern California. They held placards saying that the church and its members were apostates. It’s common for cult members to think that the entire Church is apostate, except for them. As you probably know, The Children of God went on to become a notorious international cult, damaging countless young people.
Marti and I were visiting her family in the early 1980s where there was a YWAM base in her hometown. One of the young staff members kindly picked us up at the nearest airport and drove us to her parents’ house. On the way he talked excitedly about how the staff at the base had met some people with the key to revival. They were all away at a training week in a neighbouring state, but he had stayed back for a day to drive us. We were grateful but became more and more concerned as he talked. When he expressed his doubt that other Christians were really “saved”, we were deeply concerned.
Over the next couple of years, that group of YWAMers isolated themselves from YWAM and the local Christians. They left YWAM and then took legal, but unethical steps to keep the property that had been donated to YWAM.
The revival never happened, and, after some years, it all come to nothing.
Many cult-like groups begin with genuine moves of God. The excitement of experiencing God’s Presence usually leads to a new depth of commitment that provokes them to question whether they had a real faith before that. Even the great Charles Grandison Finney had such a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit that he wondered if he had really known the Lord previously. And that was years into his powerful revival ministry! Deep spiritual experience can also easily lead us to doubt the faith of other Christians.
Not long after I returned to my hometown after attending a YWAM School of Evangelism, Loren Cunningham asked me to accompany him to some meetings in the Mid-West of the USA. As it turned out, I was with him for about a week and then he asked me to take a meeting for him in a small farming town while he went to a church in Chicago. That Sunday meeting in a little Pentecostal church led to three weeks of revival. Around 300 young people were wonderfully and very joyfully born again. When I returned to my large home church, I though they would share my excitement when I told the story. Our church had a tradition of people “sharing testimonies” at the start of the weekly prayer meeting and I told my exciting story to about 150 people who showed not the slightest interest.
I was very tempted to conclude that they were not saved at all. In fact, I think I did for a while.
Surly one of the most difficult of all the commandments Jesus made is:
Any time we are comparing our group with other groups, or our experience with others’ experience, we are probably judging.
Just one more story:
There was a time when the charismatic movement was growing dramatically and new, independent churches were springing up all over the world, but mostly in the more developed nations. A group of very influential leaders made commitments to one another. They announced that they had made life-long covenants. They were all superb public speakers and had been preaching and teaching in churches for years. They were in great demand and very busy.
After making their covenant, they clarified that they were changing the focus of their ministry, and they invited church leaders and their churches to come under the authority of this group of men. Some of those who joined them over the next several years were my friends. Through them, I met other leaders my age or younger who were amazingly gifted and anointed by the Holy Spirit. They invited me to join them in this new, large, and fast-growing global movement. I liked these people a lot and it was a great honour!
They could see that I was struggling to work out what to do. Marti and I were praying and thinking it over every day. Some of our other very talented YWAM leaders in England had already joined that movement. These were our friends! Some of the more senior leaders flew to England and met with me. They said, “We understand how you feel, Lynn. Your trusted relationships are in the ‘old wineskin’ but you see the need for the ‘new wineskin’.”
We eventually decided to stay with YWAM, where our longest and deepest relationships were. It was a tough decision, but we felt that was what God was saying to us.
A couple of months later, I was allowed to listen to a set of confidential recordings from a gathering of just over one hundred of the most senior leaders of this movement. It was obvious that the meetings were very exciting for all who were there. The top leaders were talking about how they were the “great, end-times, move of God”, as prophesied in the Bible.
I was very disturbed as I listened to the recordings, and a Biblical principle came immediately to mind, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I do not want God to be my opponent!
The entire movement crumbled within a couple of years. It was astonishing! How could a movement with such talent and vitality die so fast? It illustrated the great danger of thinking I am superior to others, or my group is better than that group.
It seems to me that a superiority complex might as well be opening the door to our hearts, then putting out the welcome mat for a spirit of deception. On the other hand, humility is the lock on the door to deception.
OH GOD, HELP ME TO WALK IN HUMILITY, NEVER JUDGING OTHER PARTS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST AND NEVER USING THE POISONOUS LANGUAGE OF SUPERIORITY!