Updated: Jun 17
Unoffendable: How Teachings on Offense Perpetuate Church Hurt and Church Abuse
#churchhurt #churchabuse #spiritofoffense #unoffendable #sbcscandal #blackchurch #churchtradition #toxicreligion #toxictheology #healing #deconstructingchristianity #exvangelical #decolonizeyourtheology
This is the second installment of a series we are discussing on the subject of church hurt. As such, I believe it is important to examine a popular teaching topic that saturates modern day western christianity (particularly in evangelical/pentecostal/charismatic regions). This teaching is the idea that christians must learn how to overcome offense, or be “unoffendable”, in order to demonstrate spiritual maturity, and therefore produce a life that is pleasing to God. I have heard whisperings and loud heraldings of various kinds on this teaching since I was a little girl going to my local pentecostal church. You can probably google or go to youtube and do a search on “the spirit of offense” and find dozens, if not hundreds, of teachings on this matter; and there are plenty of books as well. Forgive me if I seem offended by declining to ingest any of this material in preparation for this post. I have heard it for years, and it is unbalanced at best, and repugnantly harmful at worst.
In other words, most teachings on offense are offensive.
The reason why it is super relevant for me to talk about the notion of offense in a church hurt series is likely more than obvious to most people (especially if you have ever been offended or subjected to church hurt). The fact of the matter is, teachings on offense are used to keep people from addressing legitimate pain and seeking righteous justice and judgment in matters of church hurt. While the bible mentions offense in various contexts, most teachings ignore these contexts and superimpose a pseudo-biblical hermeneutic, a toxic theology if you will, on how to handle offense. As a result many people are left wounded and unrestored from church hurt and abuse, while others continue to hurt and abuse while maintaining positions of power, authority and influence in the spiritual environment. The community remains dysfunctional and unfruitful.
Teachings on offense in the modern church are usually presented with several goals in mind..
*To reinforce the authoritarian power structure and hierarchy of the religious environment.
*To ensure that the believers in the environment are submissive to the powers, authority and control of the leadership in the spiritual environment, and that they don’t challenge or disagree with them.
*To encourage a path, however unbiblical, toward piety, progress, and spiritual maturity
Identifying the Teaching on Offense…
The teaching on offense (sometimes called "The spirit of offense") generally states that believers are not to become angry or bitter when acts of injustice are committed against them. They are to become unoffendable and accepting of these events, in faith that God will either deliver them from the situation, reward them with elevation because of the situation, or grace them to suffer through the situation for His glory. It asserts that Jesus was never offended, that he taught others never to be offended, and that being offended is a sign of spiritual immaturity. You are worldly, of the flesh, or not being formed in the image of Christ if you feel or display any kind of offense in any manner, in any situation. A true christian lives above it all- the hurt, the abuse, the mistreatment, all manner of earthly offenses, in the realm of the Spirit (there are seasonings of gnosticism undergirding this teaching). There are many illustrations from the bible and various passages that are used to support this theology. I am not going to rehash them because, again, a simple google search will put them squarely within your reach.
While I will not lay out a complete theology of offense, forgiveness and reconciliation (that is for a whole ENTIRE other blog series), I will mention briefly some of the things Jesus taught about offense. You won’t see me doing a terrible amount of chapter and verse quoting in most of my posts. I challenge you to read the entire New Testament and weigh my words against a holistic understanding, rather than “proof-texted” scripture quoting. (*She then goes on to proof-text*, LOL! Pardon my silliness, it's one of my spiritual gifts.)
That Time when John the Baptist Got Offended at Jesus...
Jesus told His cousin John, “Blessed is he who is not offended in me.” John was disillusioned with Jesus and discouraged because his ministry led him to prison where he would soon be beheaded. John was not certain if Jesus was the real Messiah because God had allowed him to be delivered into the hands of Herod. Jesus assured John, “John, I know that serving Me has led to you losing your life, but rest assured, I am the Messiah. Trust that the will of God is being done, that things are working out exactly as they are supposed to. Don’t be upset with me, John” (My paraphrase of verse 5-6). Jesus was not telling John to never be offended about anything ever in his life. He was telling John not to be offended in HIM (The way that He carried out His ministry on the earth). Jesus was encouraging John to stay the course and be brave; He was not rebuking him for being offended.
Jesus had explicit teaching on offenses and how to deal with them . Have you ever read Matthew 18 (and its corresponding cross reference Luke 17)? One of the things Jesus taught about offense (or stumbling blocks) is that “Offenses MUST come”. Now if offenses were inevitable, why would he tell people not to be offended? Jesus gives a balanced view on how offenders will be handled for causing the vulnerable to sin (notice He is not telling the offended to not be offended. He is saying that the offenders will be harshly dealt with on the day of judgment. He then teaches on how brothers and sisters in the Lord should interact with each other when someone sins against them. In none of these passages does He mention that the offended party be “unoffendable”. He is actually giving them practical tools for how to process offense and bring justice and reconciliation. He mentions that there is no reconciliation for the person who does not acknowledge their offensiveness.
Friends, we have to pay more attention to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament pattern of interpersonal relationships within the spiritual community. The last thing Jesus does in this passage is answer Peter’s question about forgiveness. Jesus never speaks of forgiveness apart from accountability in the spiritual community. Only in the context of justice and righteousness does Jesus affirm the need for perpetual forgiveness. In no way is Jesus saying skip the steps of justice and accountability, but within the context of justice and accountability, rightly administered, mercy must always be available. Without justice there is no mercy!
Please understand me- I am not saying that mercy is ever revoked (God’s mercy endures forever). What I am saying is that where the mercy of God is, righteousness and justice are equally present.
When I say righteousness and justice- don’t think condemnation. Righteousness and Justice are the means by which God sets everything straight (“every valley will be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low”). Righteousness and justice are both for the individual and for the collective community- to be experienced in tandem with one another. Justice and righteousness are FUNCTIONS of God’s mercy, because they administer correction to offenders, healing to the offended, and restoration to both and all.
Unbiblical teachings on offense perpetuate church hurt and abuse, because they provide no real time outlet through which the justice of God can bring correction and healing to broken situations.
This is the basis for my own personal theology of offense, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. There are more passages of scripture I can examine, but this post is already too long. I will have to dig deeper by writing on this matter in a different post. But it is necessary to have a balanced and clear understanding of offense in order to analyze the nature of church hurt. I encourage you to pray and weigh the things that I say. Comment on this blog post with any corrections, insights or additions you may have.
Moving forward from here... the next post will speak on categories of church hurt. We will get a better handle on what qualifies as church hurt (real offenses that cause others to sin, or fall away, or cause them enduring damage and pain), and what qualifies as just pettiness and immaturity (offenses over unimportant or non-harmful matters- and even in this case compassion and wisdom must be applied, not condemnation). So let’s keep talking about it.
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