From Character to Personality

I am continuing to benefit and be convicted by David Wells’ book The Courage to Be Protestant. Here Wells is commenting on the shift from a man’s character being most important to his personality being most important. I have seen this become a key issue with ministers as pastors are hired more for their personality than for their character. Earlier Wells noted that, “character is either good or bad; personality is attractive, forceful, or magnetic.” Here is a longer quote on the consequences of this shift.

With this shift have come many consequences, probably few of which were foreseen as these great changes began to unroll. The older vision in which character was paramount produced an understanding of the self that was quite different from what we have now. Then the thought was that personal growth comes through cultivating virtues and restraining vices. Moral limitation through self-control and self-sacrifice was the key to satisfaction and happiness.

By contrast, the vision that grows with the new preoccupation with personality is one of unlimited self-expression, self-gratification, and self-fulfillment. The pursuit of pleasure has taken the place of moral nurture, the expression of emotion that of moral reticence [reserve/restraint]. What is remarkable about this is that people now think happiness has nothing to do with the moral texture of someone’s life and can be pursued as an end in itself. Indeed, many think it can simply be bought. That is what living in our consumer paradise has done to us now that we have vacated the older moral world.

This shift from character to personality has also changed our ideas about success. An earlier generation thought about success in terms of hard work. But not hard work by itself. It was work that was also done well, work that reflected moral virtues like diligence, integrity, conscientiousness, and standards of fairness. People who worked well tended to live more circumspectly. They were more likely to restrain self-indulgence, refuse to make their consumption conspicuous, and express civic virtues in their town and neighborhood. Success in these ways was something that all could attain regardless of what kind of work they did…

When our focus changed from character to personality, so, too did our understanding of what success is. Success was not about living the good life, but about living well, high on the hog, as Americans say. Once others approved of us because of our character and the quality of our work…now it is far more important to stand out simply for what we have and how we can impress others.

Today we may well prefer to be envied than admired. Whereas the older kind of success was durable, this is not. This is fleeting. It is dependent not on its own quality but on the perceptions of others. Perceptions, however, are fickle, changing, quickly superseded, quickly forgotten. Success today, therefore, has to be constantly renewed, burnished, updated, recast, reinvigorated, made even more current, made freshly appealing, dressed up afresh, and reasserted. This is an ongoing project, and if it does not go on, our success begins to evaporate…

When the self began to be experienced through personality rather than within the framework of character, moral obligations that were common broke down. There was no longer a moral world outside each individual that restrained and directed that individual. Now, we have become self-directing, each in his or her own way.

Tyrants and Kicking Posts

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Correct doctrine does not inoculate against sin. Just because the right things are taught sin does not magically disappear. It is easy to believe that if we just teach a biblically grounded view of courtship then all we have to do is set those two young ones lose, following our courtship rules, and all will be well. Or if we have the right liturgy then the parishioners automatically become more righteous. Or if we teach our daughters modesty then all will be well and so on. The trouble with this perspective is that the problem with sin is rarely knowledge. Sin lives within us. Whatever system we have (and some are better than others) we bring our sin into it. Many pastors and parents function as if teaching the right doctrine automatically sanctifies. But it doesn’t. And this why a pastor must preach to his people, not just the right doctrine, but also that right doctrine must translate to right living.

In our church we teach headship and submission. It is a biblical concept. It is one of the key issues of our day, along with numerous other male/female, husband/wife issues. But teaching headship and submission is not a vaccine against headship submission sins. In fact, someone can believe in headship and submission and have a terrible, unbiblical marriage. Here are two specific sins that crop up when a church teaches headship.

Tyrants
There will be men who are drawn to this teaching because they are tyrants. They use headship as a shield for accountability. They love headship because they think it means they get to do whatever they want. My wife is my servant and I am the master. These men are often over-controlling, easily offended, lack real accountability, think their children are too good for anyone else, etc. They keep their wife really close because who knows what will happen if she drifts. They speak in terms of protection, but what they really want is control. They speak of their sins in generic terms instead of specifics. They are good at cultural critique, but not good at self-critique. Continue reading

Pursuing Hospitality: What About Non-Christians?

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One of the great difficulties for many of us is that we have friends or family members that are non-Christians. How do we practice hospitality towards those who are not believers? Each situation is different and will require wisdom, but here are some basic guidelines. If you have questions about a specific situation then talk to your elders.

First, showing hospitality to non-believers can be a good way to evangelize. There is no better picture of the gospel than eating and drinking with sinners, showing them kindness, and being friends with them. But do not use the meal as a way to spring the gospel on them. If you invite them over for a meal, invite them over for a meal. Don’t tell them it is a meal and the try to slide the gospel in the backdoor. That way they know what they are getting into and don’t feel duped. Of course, if the opportunity arises to talk about Christ take it. Just don’t force it.

One of the best ways to show people Christ is by inviting them into your home and letting them see your daily living. This would include prayer before meals, family worship, discipline of the children, love for your wife, etc. In other words, if someone comes in to your home for an evening they should see Christ preached through the way you live. You should pray that this would eventually open a door for you to preach Christ with your words.

Second, normally you should not invite someone into your home who claims to be a Christian, but is living in open unrepentant sin. Do not sit down at a table, pretending the person is a brother or sister in Christ, while they are engaged in high handed rebellion against God. I Corinthians 5:9-11 makes this clear. It can be difficult to determine how to apply these verses in specific situations. If you have questions talk to your elders or church leaders.

Third, you should not invite over non-Christians who are promoting their non-Christian views and lifestyles, especially if you have young children. I would invite over a sexually immoral non-Christian. However, I would not invite over a sexually immoral non-Christian who wanted me to join them in their sexual immorality or was interested in getting my children to see things their way. If they are pushing their sin or their false views I would avoid inviting them, unless it is for a debate. Usually, this is not the case. Most non-Christians you invite into your home will know you are a Christian and will respect that. However, as our society becomes more anti-Christian do not be surprised if non-Christians try to persuade your children or you on your own turf. If the person is recruiting for the world, you should be cautious in inviting them in.

Fourth, you should be cautious about going and eating dinner with non-Christians in their home. When you go into someone’s house you are subject to their rules. There are occasions where this is okay. But I would exercise caution, especially if you have young children.

Finally, the priority in your hospitality should be Christians (John 13:35 and Galatians 6:10). These verses are not excuses to ignore the unbelieving world. If you can minister to non-believers you should. But if you have to make a choice, and some of us do, then invite over Christians. As John 13:35 points out, this is evangelism.

Pursuing Hospitality: What If I Am Single?

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What about those young men or women who are not married? Can they still practice hospitality? The answer to this is , yes and they must. The command in Romans 12:13 is to all Christians, not just the married. However, there are can be some difficulties practicing hospitality when you are not married. Let me give a few bits of advice for those who are single. Much of this could also apply to couples who are limited in their space.

First, for young women and men still living at home. Make sure you are actively engaged in helping your parents with their hospitality. Do not stand by and let your parents do all the work. Do not assume that since you are now eighteen and work a full time job you have no part in your parent’s hospitality. If you cannot serve your parents while at home it will be difficult to serve others when you have your own home.

Second, if you live on your own you will have to think outside the box when it comes to hospitality. Most singles (and young couples) do not have room at their home/apartment to entertain a family.  To fulfill this command they are going to have to do things differently. You could offer to bring a meal to a family’s house and eat it with them. Most families would love this. Don’t be afraid to get a bucket of chicken or pizzas either. Remember hospitality is not about impressing people, but serving them. If you are single, you could take a couple or family out to a restaurant for a meal. During the summer you could meet a family at a park and grill for them. When you are invited over to a home bring food and/or drink. If you have the space, you could invite over all the members of a family that are your sex. For example, a young man could invite a father and his sons for dinner and games. As a single person your hospitality will look different from that of families. And normally you will be the recipient of a lot of hospitality. But do not be afraid to take initiative. It might feel awkward initially, but you will learn and families will appreciate it.

Third, watch hospitality in action. When you are invited to a home, observe and take mental notes about how things are done. Learn from the families around you so that you are ready to fill their shoes when the time comes.

Fourth, do not forget singles of the same sex. If you are a young man, invite young men to your home or apartment. If you are a lady, living on your own or with a roommate, invite other ladies in. You can cook them a meal or order pizza. Of course, singles love to go out and eat. That is a great way to get to know one another, especially in mixed company.  But having people in your home or apartment is better preparation for hospitality. Just because you are single does not mean you cannot do hospitality.

Finally, for those of us who have families we need to make sure were include single men and women, as well as young couples, in our hospitality. We will learn from them. They will learn from us as well.

Pursuing Hospitality: Next Five Principles

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Here are the next five principles for hospitality. For the first five you can see this post.

Sixth, practice makes perfect. Our first attempts at hospitality can be awkward. The food may not turn out. The conversation may fall flat. We might forget obvious things. But like anything, we get better with practice. As we have more people over and different types of people, we learn what works and what doesn’t, what we can handle and what cannot handle. We will find ways to start conversations and direct them and how to make our guests feel comfortable. Hospitality, like most things, becomes easier the more you do it.

Seventh, if you have children, include them in the preparation. Let them cook. Let them get out special toys for their guest. Help them to see the sacrifices and joys that come with having guests over. Make sure they help clean up when the guests are gone. This will give your children a vision for hospitality and serving. One word of warning though. Do not make your children work the entire time the guests are there. You enjoy time with the guests. Let them enjoy that time as well.

Eighth, there are no excuses for refusing to practicing hospitality. Hospitality is hard work. It is a lot easier to find “reasons” not to practice hospitality than it is to do it. However, hospitality is essential to our Christian life and witness. It is not a “get to it if we can.” It is something we have to do and get to do as followers of Christ. As I said my earlier post, we are all at different phases in our lives and this can limit what we can do. However, there is rarely a reason to never practice hospitality.

Ninth, we shouldn’t grumble as we practice hospitality. I Peter 4:9 tells us to practice hospitality without grumbling. Of course, we don’t grumble when guests are around. But there is always a temptation to grumble before they arrive or after they leave. We complain about the hard work as we get ready for our guests. We complain when our guests leave without saying thank you. We grumble about the problems our guests bring into our home or their children not being as well-behaved as they should be. All of that is sin. Grumbling mars the good work of hospitality.

Finally, don’t judge other people’s hospitality.  In  a hospitable church, it is easy to give sideways glances. We begin to wonder why one family rarely invites anyone over. Or maybe we wonder why another family seems to have everybody over all the time. We wonder why they have three children and we have three children, but they never invite families over and we always do. Jealousy, envy, and pride are constant temptations when we start to obey the commands of Scripture. Tend your own garden. Stop worrying about the garden across town.

Pursuing Hospitality: Introduction

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Hospitality is a lost art in Christian circles. Despite the priority it has in the Scriptures and the wonderful picture we paint of God as we do it, hospitality is largely ignored by the people of God. Yet it is one of the great privileges, obligations, and joys of every Christian. Christ has invited us to be guests at his table. The Lord, who made heaven and earth, is an excellent host who feeds and cares for this world (See Psalm 104). As disciples of Christ and subjects of the Kingdom of God we are to imitate Christ by doing the same. Our tables are to be surrounded by guests. We are to wash the feet of the saints, which is a picture of hospitality. We are to entertain strangers. Paul says we are to be given to hospitality (Romans 12:13). The word “given” means to pursue with all our heart. Hospitality is an essential part of our love for Christ and His church and our witness to the world. I want to take this week after Christmas to encourage you to practice hospitality.  Below are a few verses, which provide the Scriptural foundation for hospitality.  We begin with what God has done for us in Christ and then move on the specific commands of Scripture.  Later in the week I will post some principles of hospitality.  Continue reading

Further Thoughts on Colossians 2:20-23

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 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 2:16-23). ESV

This passage could be referring to Jewish OT law, although the phrase “human precepts” in Colossians 2:22 would seem to contradict this. But even if it is referring to OT law, my point [from this blog post] is not weakened, but strengthened. If OT laws are useless in fighting against the flesh, how much more useless are non-biblical food laws?

Men and women love to believe that doing hard things to their bodies will make them more holy. It is a constant temptation. If I exercise, eat right, take these supplements, don’t do this, and do do that I will not just be healthy, I will be more righteous. The words used in Colossians 2:23 indicate a hard, severe approach to the body. Again arguing from the greater to the lesser, if whipping oneself and starving oneself will not help with the indulgence of the flesh then how will abstaining from soda or cigarettes?

Paul is not saying we cannot abstain from certain foods. He is just saying abstaining will not make you more righteous. Many will agree with this in theory. But in practice food restrictions or the idea that eating a certain way is healthier easily becomes a way of looking down on other people. We make a choice for our family and it quickly becomes the right choice for every family.

The last phrase of Colossians 2:23 is especially strong. These things, despite the appearance of holiness, wisdom, and self-control are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. They are ways of looking holy, but not actually being holy.

We all like to look wise and holy. Food restrictions help us keep up appearances. But they are of no value against sin: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, lying, anger, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language (Colossians 3:5-9).

So make the food choices you think are best, but don’t turn them into signs of holiness. And make sure you spend a lot more time fighting lust, anger, bitterness, pride, and covetousness than you do fighting your waistline.

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