I have come the closest to killing myself and others through failing to check my blind-spot before changing lanes. The older I get, the more convinced I am that checking our biblical blind-spots is crucial. I still like to spend time doing a careful exegesis and word study to mine the meaning of a couple of verses, but I am much more focused on discovering the truths I haven’t seen because of culture, tradition, habit, or personal taste. As I look back on my spiritual progress, I realize that most breakthroughs have come from looking steadily at the things I once failed to see in Scripture.
I will give examples that are instructive for congregations as well as individuals, but my intention is not to point out the blind spots of others, but rather just the ones I have discovered in myself. If possible, I would tell of the ones I haven’t recognized; I am certain there are many. Regrettably, I must also refrain from giving a full-blown study on each of these blind-spots. Let it be enough to assert they should be studied.
The Poor: I have been amazed at how much the Bible says about God loving the poor—the widow, the orphan, and stranger in the land. The Old Testament is full of exhortations to give to the poor. One proverb says that the person who gives to the poor lends to the Lord (19:17). Others promise a blessing to those who give to the poor. Jesus goes overboard and tells the rich, young ruler the one thing he lacks: “If you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” Matthew 19:21. I have usually flown right past the mention of the poor and launched into an explanation that God doesn’t really mean for us to give everything away and that this just means total consecration of our hearts to God. Anyway, the poor was once a blind-spot for me even though the Bible is full of God’s call to love, defend, and give to them.
I grew up in an evangelical denomination where everything was about getting people saved. We believed, often rightly, that sinning or being sinned against leads to poverty. Calling people out of sin and into the love of God seemed the best answer to poverty. Indeed, we had seen people who stopped drinking, smoking, and gambling suddenly have money to buy food and clothes for their families. But it was too easy to blame the poor for their poverty and to regard them only as souls needing to be saved. This denomination has now learned, I believe, to hold onto a clear gospel message of salvation and transformation while faithfully ministering to the physical needs of their communities.
Teckla and I have been challenged to move our care for the poor beyond mere acts of charity to genuinely sacrificial service. Often this has meant stepping into the mess and burden of personal relationships with the poor—sometimes inviting them to live with us. Over all our love for the poor, we sense the joy God takes in us opening our hearts and lives to them.
Obedience and submission: I am a child of the Sixties so these two words provoke a visceral reaction in me. By instinct, I challenge authority and question rules. I am also analytical to a fault and can be a fount of destructive criticism. While a student, I went head to head with principals and college presidents. Where I teach now, I have also been the grievance officer for the union. I am not wired for submission. Yet, this too is in the Scripture.
The last chapter of Hebrews contains this exhortation: “Obey your leaders, and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” I have often acted as if giving leaders grief was my calling. I have enough experience with pastoral ministry that I can easily launch into dissertations about what pastors should or should not be doing. But I have stopped.
I now pursue a heart of obedience and submission to leadership, both in the church and in the world. Not only does this honor God, I have found it “profitable.” Ironically, a heart of obedience to leaders often gives us more influence with leaders, not less. When our words aren’t a knee-jerk challenge to authority, leaders listen more carefully. I have found I possess more personal peace when not at war with every authority in my life. I think we sometimes we fail to grow spiritually because we are trying to submit to God while in a posture of rebellion to the authorities in our lives.
Anyone who knows me could testify that I still fearlessly speak truth to power. And if obedience to man ever conflicts with obedience to God, I will be quick to choose God. I am also sensitive to the toxic abuses of authority and demands for obedience. There are false shepherds and apostles that must be tested and rejected. However, American individualism and the spirit of rebellion in our culture has often blinded us to the peace and profit of obedience.
Unity: Myrtle Point, my hometown and where I live now, has about 2,700 people in the city limits but had about dozen churches when I was a kid. All the congregations were, and still are, small. Congregations struggle to keep the doors open and pay a pastor. Youth groups limp along and have little witness in the schools or community. At least four churches have disappeared. The enemy of our souls has used the divide and conquer strategy with devastatingly effect.
Although I grew up assuming the necessity of myriad denominations, in graduate school I experienced the glory of unity in diversity. My former roommate and I started an Inter-varsity Bible study for graduate students. We sometimes had 30—40 graduate students show up, all from different denominational backgrounds: Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Nazarene, Quaker. Our fellowship was wonderful and strengthened my faith.
I have been hooked on unity ever since. I have also discovered that Jesus prayed earnestly for the unity of His followers. He asked “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father art in Me, and I in Thee, that they may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to Them; that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:21). It is clear in this chapter that he is not just praying for the twelve, but for anyone who believes in Him (v.20). That means God wants us to be as one with each other as He and Jesus are.
Paul says to the church in Corinth, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10). In light of these verses and many others, we can’t believe that the slicing and dicing of the Church by denominations is God’s will. Attempts to justify divisions as something similar to the tribes of Israel aren’t supported by Scripture.
Although I do not know how to dissolve all the denominational barriers, I am committed to praying and working with Christians from all the congregations in my community. I attend a non-denominational flavored Bible study at a Presbyterian church. Teckla has led and attended non-denominational women’s Bible studies in our area for many years. Teckla and I support and attend inter-denominational events whenever we can.
Too often churches pray for revival and growth within their own congregations and never realize that God might not give revival until the voices in the community become one. In Acts 4:23, Luke says that the church in Jerusalem “lifted their voices to God with one accord.” After their prayer we are told: “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Too often we pray for revival on our terms, for our group.
Doing the Works of Jesus: I grew up hearing a lot about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19. My family and my denomination loved missionaries. At church there were even altar calls for those called by God to be a missionary. However, we heard very little about the First Commission in Matthew 10:1,8: “And having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness . . .. And as you go, preach saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give.” I was not told this was something believers could sign up for. Colleges and seminaries had no courses in doing the works of Jesus.
Although both commissions are given to the disciples, my denomination only applied the Great Commission to all believers. In Luke 10:1, however, we see Jesus sending out seventy others to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. In Acts Stephen and Philip who were deacons–not apostles also did the works of Jesus. Despite this evidence that the First Commission is for all believers, we had no altar calls for those God was calling to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. We ignored or tried to explain away, John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.”
Until I was around 30, I happily ignored this First Commission. Once I heard an evangelist preach a message on Matthew 10:1. He used as his text, “He gave them authority” but said nothing about the rest of the verse. His message was good—us having authority to say no to sin and live holy lives—but completely ignored the rest of the verse. I had recently encountered a person who was clearly and undeniably demonized, so I was hoping for some good news about our authority to cast out demons. When I got none from a verse clearly about doing the works of Jesus, I realized how big a blind-spot this was for me and many others.
Tradition: Many years ago, I ventured to teach a class on Christian contemplative literature. In preparation for the class, I read Catholic, Orthodox, and Quaker writers—even some Baptists. I grew up in a denomination that is only about 100 years old, so my Christian education and experience had been cut-off from traditional expressions of Christianity. The witness and wisdom of saints and church fathers have nourished my soul. I have often been blessed by liturgy even though I am still wary of liturgical worship divorced from real change in our hearts and lives.
The other path to tradition is more practical and experiential. I once took some college students on a silent retreat to a monastery. I was amazed by the number of students had spiritual breakthroughs when they simply got quiet and alone. In counseling, I have found that people who confess their sins often need a flesh and blood person to proclaim God’s forgiveness to them. This experience made me look again at John 20:23 and James 5:16 regarding confession. It made me wonder if we shouldn’t regard confession as an important sacrament. Bringing sin into the light through confession to another person often helps break the power of sin.
I know that many wise and holy things have been so encrusted by human traditions that we have lost their beauty and value. However, I think, we can engage in a kind of holy archeology that recovers and restores the essence and purpose of traditions. As an evangelical I have placed so much of my hope in an instantaneous transformation through an experience with God, that I have been blind to how traditional spiritual disciplines can help us follow Jesus.
I have a newfound appreciation for the physicality of worshiping and serving God. I have often spiritualized Paul’s exhortation to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God” (Romans 12:1). Interestingly, I have been schooled in presenting my body to God by the most liturgical and least liturgical believers. I love charismatic/Pentecostal hand-raising, foot-stomping, dancing-in-the-aisles worship because it calls my whole body into worship. But liturgical worship with all its standing, sitting, and kneeling and belief that the sacrament is indeed the blood and body of Christ also calls for my whole body to serve God. An important truth of traditional disciplines is that we need God working both from inside-out and outside-in. I humbly admit I need all the help I can get to follow Christ—even the wisdom of saints.
Conclusion: These have been my blind-spots. I have not discussed all the ones I have found, and I am certain I will discover new ones. My point is not about the importance of any one of these blind-spots, but rather the importance of asking God to help us see what we are missing. We, no doubt, will discover we are blind in different areas.
Recognition of our blind-spots opens doors for growth and greater fruitfulness, but there is always the danger of becoming comfortable with our blindspots. Seeing means changing, and we often hate change. I have often wondered why Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted. He was blind, so what he needed was obvious. But it was probably important that Bartimaeus ask to see. It was not only an expression of his faith in Jesus, but of his willingness to embrace the change that seeing would bring. He would, after all, now need to work for a living. Like Bartimaeus, we must humbly cry out for Jesus to restore our sight, and then get to work obeying.