On the one side, we have the Christian community, and on the other side, we have the pagan community. The Christian community is made up of those individuals whom God has personally brought into covenant relationship with himself. The pagan community, on the other hand is made up of everyone else. Essentially, this latter community is the world system, representing those human beings who have willingly and deliberately rejected the values and principles of divine law. These are those who knowingly, willingly, and deliberately withhold worship from God, deny God, refuse to acknowledge God, reject the truth of God, and refuse to submit to God. They are, quite frankly, pagans. I know, I know, that is such an offensive term. But so is the term sinner! Eventually, if we continue to allow the God-hater to frame up how we speak truth into their lives, there won’t be any truth left to speak into their lives. So, before we go any further, you should immediately discontinue your attempts to make the Christian message inoffensive. I know, I know, the gospel is good news and good news should not be offensive. In the case of the gospel, the good news is that God’s righteous wrath has been demonstrated in the death of Christ, you know, that wrath that God has assigned to those who have rebelled against his Word. The good news of the gospel is good because it flows from the bad news of divine judgment on those who deserve it, which, of course, is all of us. Now, time to get back on track. The Christian community is always surrounded by the larger community in which it finds itself, the pagan community. And the pagan community is incredibly influential. In fact, in modern American culture, the pagan community has rapidly deteriorated into a mindless, uncritical herd. And that herd engages in certain techniques and tactics to direct itself. That is to say, the herd is self-policing.
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. The pagan culture in which Christians find themselves here in the west has honed its psychological manipulation skills almost to perfection. The first step was to neglect or even undermine critical thinking. The way this works is that you identify a behavior or attitude that is clearly reprehensible to all, say, slavery or rape, or an historical event like the holocaust. Second, you work hard to stigmatize that event. Third, you identify a belief or attitude that you want to destroy, say, opposition to abortion or homosexuality. Fourth, you equate this attitude with an established one that is universally accepted within the culture. Being opposed to homosexuality is equivalent to racism because it is bigotry. Hence, opposing homosexuality is in the same category as approving slavery. The targets are polarized by such a description and the weak-minded quickly get back in line and march in-step with the rest of the platoon like the good soldiers they are. We have witnessed this in American culture over the last couple of decades and it has proven to be extremely effective. The problem is that this pattern of psychological manipulation is, unfortunately, not limited to the pagan community. It exists in the church.
This psychological intimidation shows up around most of the issues that American society deem important. Abortion, the murder of innocent children in their mother’s womb is recast as a woman’s health issue, and therefore, a woman’s rights issue. Anyone who opposes abortion is then characterized as one who belittles women’s rights, and therefore, one who belittles women, and therefore, as misogynist. Homosexual marriage is said to be about love between two consenting adults of the same sex who have not chosen to be gay. Homosexuality is said to be genetic just like race is genetic. Therefore, anyone who opposes gay marriage or the gay lifestyle is characterized as hateful and bigoted just like racists. By identifying certain categories this way and then polarizing those categories, the members of a society become desperate to avoid being viewed by society as fitting one of those categories (misogynist, racist, bigot). This forces weak-minded people to submit to the views of the herd or else be isolated and vilified by the herd.
Regrettably, we have witnessed this same psychological manipulation on display lately in how some Christian leaders are reacting to certain issues. Unless you get on board the apology and reparations train, you are not obeying the commands of Scripture that speak to justice and to loving your neighbor. The apology and reparations train is the view that all white people ought to apologize to all black people (primarily) for past slavery and racism. If you aren’t riding on the apology and reparations train, you are considered unloving, unjust, and part of the problem. In other words, unless you preach against racism and engage in certain activist causes when and where these people demand, then you are a racist. That is the hidden message, even if those words are not stated. The pressure is real. The same is true for those who are attempting to legislate the end of abortion. Unless you get behind their cause and do as they do, then you don’t love your neighbors. And if you don’t love your neighbors, you cannot love God. The real message is: you are a dirty rotten hypocrite unless get in line and oppose racism and abortion and sex trafficking, and “fill in the blank” or else! This is also true for smaller matters such as Christians who drink an adult beverage on occasion. It doesn’t matter that Jesus drank wine.
What people need to understand is that historically, the church has described this as the sin of binding the conscience and the reformers and puritans had something to say about it because God has something to say about it. It is deplorable for anyone to go beyond Scripture and attempt to bind the conscience of another. When this happens, the response ought to be a serious and sober rebuke accompanied by loving and immediate correction and instruction.
The 1689 LBCF, XXI.2 says, God alone is (m) Lord of the Conscience, and hath left it free from the Doctrines and Commandments of men, (n) which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or not contained in it. So that to Believe such Doctrines, or obey such Commands out of Conscience, (o) is to betray true liberty of Conscience; and the requiring of an (p) implicit Faith, and absolute and blind Obedience, is to destroy Liberty of Conscience, and Reason also.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans the following stern warning: Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:4) To the church at Corinth the same apostle wrote, “For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29b) To the church at Collasae, Paul wrote the following: Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col. 2:18-23)
Jesus had something to say about those who took the Scriptures and then went beyond them and from there, attempted to bind the behavior and conscience of others with their own traditions: He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3) Mark records it this way, “And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9) What is the application of these passages to my point about the bully pulpit and the practice of manipulation by some Christian leaders in modern culture?
Let’s stick with racism and abortion as good examples of bullying and manipulation in the church. The Scripture commands that a brother in Christ is to correct sinful behavior and thinking in his brother when he sees it. You, as a brother in Christ are to correct me as your brother when you see me sinning. If I see a black Christian brother using language of hate or exhibiting an attitude of unforgiveness regarding racism, I am duty bound to go to him and show him his sin according to Jesus in Matt. 18. That is the commandment of God. I am bound by that commandment. Yet, in the current environment, I was informed by one SBC pastor that because I am white, it would be inappropriate for me to correct my black brother on such issues. I am not qualified because of my race. This is exactly what the Pharisees had done concerning their tradition. Some Christian leaders have decided that it is more important to please society at large, to please a certain race, than it is to please God. Essentially, the tradition or dogma of man has eclipsed the commandment of God. The same is true regarding abortion. The group known as Abolish Human Abortion insists that every adopt their methods in opposing abortion or else, you don’t oppose abortion the way God demands you oppose it. In both of these cases, Christians are made to feel like racists on the one hand and insensitive unloving hypocrites on the other. Why? Because we are not following a particular man’s prescription, or a group’s prescription for how we should behave and think. This same tactic is used for a number of social issues in the world. The idea that the church is supposed to work hard at making the world a better place is most often framed in social and political terms. The gospel ipso facto makes the world a better place. Disciple-making ipso facto makes the world a better place. Beyond that, there is no mandate for the Christian community to work hard politically or socially to improve the conditions in the world. We are not tasked with the goal of protecting human rights around the world. We are not tasked with the goal of ending abortion, racism, hunger, or abusive laws and governments in the world. Christianity is not that!
There is even a theological issue that falls into this category. It’s called Calvinism. There are many Arminians within churches like the SBC for instance who despise Calvinism. They paint it with a brush that is completely and totally inaccurate. They straw man Calvinism at just about every turn. They use the tactic of claiming that Calvinism makes God a moral monster. Who wants a God like that? Not me? So, if you are a Calvinist, your God is not loving, not kind, cold, heartless! This makes it nearly impossible to teach people accurately the truths of reformed theology because it poisons the well upfront. Such a tactic is either employed by those who are ignorant of reformed theology or those who have abandoned the principles and decency and Christian charity where this matter is concerned. So in many cases we can say that the anti-Calvinist movement employs psychological manipulation in order to protect itself against the teachings of Calvinism. It is both sad and shameful.
These tactics are tactics borrowed from the pagan community. This is how the world system behaves. This is how the Pharisees behaved. When we behave this way, we betray the Christian community because we invalidate the Word of God. John MacArthur has an excellent perspective: “During the past twenty-five years, well-meaning Christians have founded a number of evangelical activist organizations and sunk millions of dollars into them in an effort to use the apparatus of politics—lobbying, legislation, demonstration, and boycott—to counteract the moral decline of American culture. They pour their energy and other resources into efforts to drum up a “Christian” political movement that will fight back against the prevailing anti-Christian culture. But is that a proper perspective? I believe not. America’s moral decline is a spiritual problem, not a political one, and its solution is the gospel, not partisan politics.” Concerning the social gospel that has served to eclipse the true gospel even among many conservative evangelicals, MacArthur rightly says, “Serving as salt and light is not about our social agenda—it’s about God’s spiritual agenda. Those vivid metaphors of salt and light apply to the work of the gospel alone—not the social justice issue du jour.”
It is important that we as Christians take care not to adopt the practices of the culture in which we find ourselves. Pagan communities will inevitably tend to employ tactics that are antithetical to godly principles and values more often than not. We should always search our heart motives where our attitudes and behaviors are concerned. What I see taking place within certain groups of the Christian community is in many ways, reprehensible and contrary to the gospel. We must be on guard against using our influence to bully others into submission to our agenda. To bind the conscience of another brother with your own personal convictions about an issue is a behavior that ought to be avoided at all cost.