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What's the Difference?


I've been thinking about writing an article which sums up what are the main differences between followers of Jesus and systemites.  Certainly over the years we must have made dozens of references to this, in particular, with regard to what causes some followers of Jesus to backslide, while others do not.

Maybe it's just my feeble old brain, but at the moment, the only thing I can think of is that systemites resist criticism with regard to their morality, whereas followers of Jesus try to stay open to criticism with regard to their morality.

The reason I've worded it that way is because I think that systemites do accept criticism (and practice self-discipline) within certain limits.  They may try to meet certain standards in their occupation.  They try to improve skills such as cooking, sports, and craftsmanship.  And they may even tolerate the occasional hint that their ethics need some adjustments.  However, it doesn't take very much at all for friends to be jettisoned if they probe too deeply into the morality of their associates.

Amongst Christians, on the other hand, we are given clear instructions about dealing with a brother or sister who has been caught in a fault.  As Jesus Christians, we used to call these instructions "grievance meetings".  Ideally, you just spoke personally to the person whom you thought was doing something wrong, and they took the criticism to heart and at least tried to change.

But imagine if you were to do that with your friends in the world.  As I said above, you might be able to hint, for example, that an associate at work should stop beating his wife; but if you push it too far, you will neither change the associate, nor keep the friendship.  After one or two hints, most of us just pull our neck in and "butt out".

Some systemites see this as part of being "adults".  Only children (and criminals... if they're caught) have to answer for their behaviour.  But the rest of us get to make our own rules, and do whatever we like, as long as it does not get in the way of others.  One can be proud, greedy, lazy, arrogant, even violent, and the only people who can say anything are the ones who are actually inconvenienced or hurt by those traits.  (Well, even bosses are not allowed to say much about lazy employees these days!)

For a moment, let's switch back to the Christian model.  If a personal expression of concern does not work, rather than just leaving it and walking away, instructions from Jesus call for us to actually bring other people into it.  Boy, if the initial criticism in itself was not offensive, dragging others into it certainly is sure to raise one's hackles.

Can you see how radically different the Christian approach is to the non-confrontational approach of the average systemite?  And certainly if you examine the history of those who have given the teachings of Jesus a try and then left them, you will see a virtually universal hatred for the accountability that goes with the Christian approach.  Some of them may be quite religious, may follow a lot of rules which they have imposed on themselves, and may accept criticisms in many other areas.  But when it comes to their spiritual welfare, God help anyone who tries to bring others into correcting them!

Of course there is good reason to worry about the people doing the criticising being wrong.  Otherwise, you could create a group with any number of bizarre rules, which uses the "grievance system" as their way to enforce those rules, and you could come up with anything from terrorist cells to sex cults.

So I guess that this does lead to at least a second distinction between followers of Jesus and systemites.  It's just that it is so obvious I never thought to mention it at the start of this article.  The difference is that followers of Jesus are followers of Jesus.  In other words, if your organisation is using grievance meetings to pressure you to finance special benefits for the leader, to have sex with someone you are not married to, to teach that talking in tongues or being baptised in water or going to church meetings on a Saturday or killing people in a war is God's will for your life, you should have the right as a follower of Jesus to ask, "But is that what Jesus taught?"

I think that if we take these two principles, i.e. the teachings of Jesus, enforced through submission to criticisms based on them, we have a pretty simple definition of a follower of Jesus as opposed to virtually all the rest of the world.  It also gives us something to use in judging ourselves, since it would never be necessary to use the grievance system at all if we all just naturally remembered to keep ourselves in submission to the teachings of Jesus.


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