Click on the quote below to read the article...

The trouble with trouble is that it doesn't start out looking that way. And people who try to warn us appear to be just exaggerating the dangers. It takes a lot of honesty and humility to recognise big problems before they become big problems.

For example, in an attempt to maintain our commitment to celibacy, someone suggested that we should caution people if any of the single guys in our community try to "approach single women in our community on the subject of marriage, or a romantic relationship." But actually, by the time someone proposes marriage or makes a formal request to start a romantic relationship, an awful lot would have already happened that seriously threatens the Virgin Army relationship that we are trying to maintain.

Again I must stress that I am not talking about forcing anyone to stay single who really wants to get married. But I am saying, with St. Paul, that our community is not the place to be looking for a wife. If we take in single women on the grounds that they can feel safe from pressures to get married, then we need to cultivate an atmosphere of brother-sister relationships, and this is not an easy thing to police.

Each person must be willing to police themselves, for that is the only real way to nip any problems in the bud. But you cannot police yourselves if you cannot recognise romantic signs in yourselves very early in the piece.

I have always been a bit bothered by the fact that singles in our community have not been able to know themselves better with regard to sexual interests. In particular this was noticeable in the pre-144K days when we were openly encouraging romantic relationships that would lead to marriage. Even in those days, singles found it difficult to admit that they were romantically interested in anyone... until they had strong evidence that the other person was romantically interested in them.

I finally came to see this as a part of the "mating game", where both parties play around with all kinds of subtle cues to "test the waters" before they move closer. Basically this is done to protect each party's pride. People do not want to be seen as showing interest in someone who is going to strongly rebuff them. But I felt bad that such people were not even sufficiently able to see this process at work in themselves that they could be honest with themselves and/or God about it. While we hide these kind of feelings from ourselves we are powerless to change them.

I must admit that I have had similar problems. I spent half a lifetime confused by the simple term "flirting" and what it represented.

Systemites do not have problems with such terms because guys are out to get girls into bed, and they recognise that even the most innocent actions on their part are still part of an overall strategy for locating who might be available for sex. But because we are, unlike the average systemite, genuinely committed to not practising sex outside of marriage, it is easy for us to feel that all of the other aspects of the mating game are, for us, no longer part of a "mating game". We can easily feel that they are, in fact, totally "innocent", and that any suggestion that we are "flirting" is unjust.

A little... no, a lot of confusion and double-talk is tolerated in this area amongst professing Christians who are understood to be basically looking for a wife and not for an affair. But we cannot afford to tolerate such confusion in the Virgin Army. We need to recognise (and deal with) the slightest tendency to seek attention from someone based on their gender.

I, for example, have noticed that I am much more inclined to be silly or to show off for females than for males. Once again, in my case, I am confident that it is not aimed at a sexual conquest, especially since I am happily married and not looking for a wife as singles might be. So for years I got offended by anyone suggesting that I was "flirting". Flirting, for me, suggested evil sexual intentions. But showing off or being silly for people of the opposite sex is still flirting, and it needs to be curbed if we are to avoid all appearance of evil, and to really make female members of the virgin army feel part of our vision.

But, having said all that, I have also been concerned that our hard line on the virgin army teaching could lead to hypocrisy. Technically, I keep saying that we are not forbidding marriage. However, we are more or less forbidding "courting" and I could see that approach resulting in the same kind of hypocrisy that forbidding marriage has done in Catholic orders.

So, in order to overcome the hypocrisy which comes from pressuring people to voice commitment to something they are not necessarily committed to, I think we need to accept that some of you might be less committed to celibacy than others. We must be consistent in stating that celibacy is the preferred option, but it still is just an "option".

I don't think singles can necessarily be classified into people 100% committed to celibacy and those 100% committed to marriage. We are all going to be somewhere in between the two extremes.

The most sincere celibate could find himself or herself with a change of mind one day; and as long as we are not outlawing marriage or pushing people into taking vows of celibacy, then the person committed to celibacy could still change his or her mind. That's just the facts of life, and we need to develop ways of recognising shifts in either direction.

That brings us back to the original problem of singles being distractions to one another. If a single female expresses a strong desire to stay single, no matter how much any male members may desire a wife, they need to realise that she is out of bounds. She has declared herself to be unavailable, and it is the job of the Virgin Army and/or its Auxiliary to put those desires on top priority. If any of you are entertaining thoughts of a wife, your wife must come from some place besides the females who have declared themselves to be unavailable. It may be that a female could declare herself to be available; but then you have the problem that Paul wrote about, where she becomes a distraction to the guys. It's almost like either party needs to look outside the community for marriage partners... at least until we have enough members that we can create a community which only involves people who are not committed to celibacy. (Update: This policy has been slightly relaxed.)

I still think that we should be fairly strong in discouraging marriage, and even at the wedding ceremony itself it doesn't hurt to remind the couple once again that Jezebel is always trying to con us into thinking that marriage (i.e. the cuddlies) will solve all our problems.

Understand that marriage does start off looking and feeling like it is everything that the devil has said it would be and more. It is so terrific finally having someone with whom you can feel totally open and totally secure, that it is easy to do like others have done, and lose your appreciation for anyone else interfering in your private little paradise. It's only over a longer period of time that the utopia starts to fall apart. So when we say that the devil can use marriage to get us derailed spiritually, our warning sounds like an exaggeration just after a couple have gotten married. How could anything so wonderful be wrong? Like we said, the trouble with trouble is that it doesn't start out looking like trouble.

Now I want to apply that principle in a broader sense, to all spiritual warnings that we give in grievances within the community. Grievances in general often become strained because the person against whom the grievance has been taken is offended that he or she is being accused of something that is a gross exaggeration of what really happened.

It helps if both sides can realise how this happens. The "flirting" thing above is just one illustration of it. A person accused of flirting could easily feel that he or she is being accused of trying to seduce someone. Indeed, the fundamental argument against flirting is that it can lead to sexual immorality; and so the one being accused can be very hurt that others do not appreciate his or her "sincerity". But such a picture of "sincerity" is really a system understanding of the word. Systemites argue that just about everyone is "sincere", which more or less means that we are all fundamentally good guys.

The kind of sincerity that we are trying to practice, however, is at least a willingness to consider that we may not be as good as we "sincerely" (i.e. in the old, system sense of the word) think we are. We need to consider that the devil comes as an angel of light, as a wolf in sheep's clothing, trying to make evil look good. So rather than digging our heels in about how good and sincere our intentions are, we need to look further in examining our spirit. Where is it leading? Where is it stemming from? Does it really conform to Christ's teachings?

Some of the most evil spirits in the world start out quite "innocently". Self-pity is a subtle one that has sneaked up on all of us at times. We don't plan to commit suicide, but if you give in to the spirit of self-pity, that is where it eventually leads. We must recognise this truth in order to see just how evil and demonic such thoughts really are. The same is true with things like bitterness, deception, pride, anger, etc.

The people taking grievances against you are going to try to get you to see that what you are doing is shockingly evil. But the people taking the grievance also need to recognise how painfully difficult it is for the offender to accept the truth in what is being said.

Obviously, a true backslider will reject any and all criticisms, and we will never be able to make any criticism soft enough to satisfy them. Backsliders are offended even that we refer to them as backsliders. And most of them demand that we not only take back such statements, but that we not even think they are backsliders before we can have any grounds for fellowship with them. The reason is because they "sincerely" take their own goodness for granted. They are not willing to judge themselves, and the only grounds for fellowship are that they never be criticised (either publicly or privately) and that we not even think that anything they do could be wrong. One backslider said to me, "My reprobate friends never criticise me. So I'd rather be around them than around you."

But what about those of us who do not want to backslide? We continue to accept criticism from each other. But each time there is a grievance taken against us, we are forced into a crossroads where we could easily step off the path, like others have done, by being too defensive about our own innocence.

People taking grievances are not infallible. They do overstate the situation at times. But you cannot really overstate evil, even if it is only in its very early stages.

A member once said of a backslider, that at least he had not "sold out to the devil". He was trying to justify someone who was only in the early stages of selling out to the devil. Few people consciously sell their soul to the devil in a single transaction. Instead, they do it by degrees, each time they reject godly counsel and criticism.

Backsliders love to quote their critics as saying that they are heretics, reprobates, sold out to the devil, damned forever in hell, etc., as though the mere fact that someone used such strong words is proof that the critic was wrong. Somebody is going to be damned in hell, and the Bible tells us the road to hell is a wide one. So who are these people? The world is full of people who are offended that anyone could possibly consider that they might be part of that crowd. And it is precisely because they are offended that they probably will be part of it!

Someone said to me that he could not believe that another backslider had done anything worthy of being kicked out of the community. He was not saying that the person was innocent. In fact, he was aware that the person was bitter toward me, and not at all in a position to accept criticism. But this person was still defending the backslider because he believed that the evil was benign, or harmless. Evil has a way of doing that, especially when it occurs in those of us who have a past record of commitment to Christ. Certainly if the weeds are dealt with, life can quickly return to normal. But left untreated, the poison can spread, and whole communities can be destroyed because of it.

And so with us, there are tiny weeds that sprout up in our lives all the time, and God uses the group as a whole to deal with those weeds while they still look innocent, lest they destroy us spiritually.

As I said earlier, it is possible for the group to make mistakes when criticising a member. But let's take the worst possible scenario, which is that the group goes totally off the rails and the group itself starts promoting evil. We'll try it in reverse first:

Assume that you are in a group that is fighting us and you say that they should be humble enough to consider the truth in our position. In other words, you are campaigning for a just cause, and the group has rejected your arguments. The group says that you have a rebellious spirit and that you are needlessly causing division or that you are part of a conspiracy against the leadership of their group.

The thing that can make your position different from someone who really does have a bad spirit is love. Not a thin veneer of love to cover deeper bitterness, but love that springs from integrity and true sincerity. You could choose to overlook the injustice against yourself and continue working with them for the overall good that it can achieve, or you could choose to leave. But in either case, there should not be bitterness. What you choose to do, you should do based on moral integrity and not on a reaction to your own hurt.

The same approach should be applied if you are in our group, and you feel that you have been treated unfairly. Either you stay working with us, love us and pray for us, that we will eventually see our error (or that God will forgive us because of our ignorance), or you leave without bad feelings.

We must have had instances of injustice within our community, since we are all fallible. People have been falsely accused at times. Motives have been misunderstood. Charges have been exaggerated. But the person who responds in genuine love and integrity tries to get the bigger picture, to act constructively, to hear what God is saying rather than just defending his or her pride.

I was urging someone to do something like that, when I encouraged him to work with a group that was opposed to us (since he obviously wasn't prepared to work with us) at the same time that I urged him not to close his eyes to hypocrisy in their midst. In other words, I was looking for a positive way to help him, rather than just wishing destruction on him or the group that was opposing us.

Each time criticisms are handed out, you have a choice to react in anger and convince yourself that you have been falsely accused, or you can work at recognising the truth in the grievance. Each angry reaction brings you closer to the point of no return... that point at which you will say, as each backslider has said in turn, "I've had enough of this criticism. I can't take any more. I'm never going to submit to it again. From now on, I will be the only one who does the criticising."

When that happens, you are pretty well a lost cause spiritually. Done like a dinner!

To sum up, I have said that sin does not always start out looking like sin. And the devil is clever enough that he will come up with a hundred different ways of justifying sin in our own eyes. If we do not have a deep hunger for truth that pushes us on even when it starts to cut against ourselves, then we will settle for a false, superficial "sincerity" which always assumes that we are right and that others are picking on us. Such assumptions will cause us to build up a secret list of grievances against the people who criticise us, until the list becomes more than we can bear, and we eventually storm off in anger to spiritual annihilation. The road to hell is just that easy. End of sermon.

(See also Backsliding)

Register or log in to take the quiz for this article

Pin It
Don't have an account yet? Register Now!

Sign in to your account