Diagnosing the Disease

There is no greater danger for a person or a church than to leave a disease undiagnosed. However, until the final and accurate diagnosis is determined and confirmed, the individual or organization will try to function as normal as possible.

Usually, though, long before a diagnosis is made, the person does begin experiencing symptoms. The early symptoms are usually subtle and harder to detect, but as the disease becomes more of a threat, the symptoms are usually much more noticeable.

The individual or the church can respond in a few different ways. There is either a mobilized response to do discovery work and to get to the bottom of the symptoms, or a masking behavior begins. Self-medicating techniques may begin to kick in whether consciously or sub-consciously. If the person or organization tries to take a quick approach to the diagnosing process, it may be that, in the end, the symptoms are the only thing that get treated and no deep healing takes place. The equivalent would be like treating a serious form of cancer with over-the-counter medicines.

In the case of the church, individuals may attend “symptom seminars,” where information and quick fixes are offered; nonetheless, the roots of the issues are never discovered, only the symptoms. All of the solutions, implemented at great cost and expense, actually waste time and cause great damage to the individual or the church. In most cases, it’s not just diminished energy but a failure, like King Saul, to reach God’s intended plan.

And so, there are two main challenges to awakening to the Spirit’s activity in order to help an individual or a church overcome it.

First, the individual goes into a kind of victimization motif where all that he or she says and does points back to his or her pain and past wrongs. Second, diagnosing the disease is the justification paradigm where no matter what anyone says, he or she is justified to think, feel and act a certain way. It’s why churches keep changing pastors—the one they have in front of them is just not good enough. They mistakenly fall into the trap of “we have a right to feel this way” and the disease continues to eat away at the body.

Semantic Adaptiveness is an individual or church can actually become so aware and  connected to various psychological and theological constructs that the intellect is able to anticipate what the outcome would be if a question is answered one way or another way. This level of linguistic sophistication allows the individual to score the assessment in his or her mind while circling the answers on the sheet. The individual or church leader can actually escape a proper diagnosis because of his or her ability to take tests.

The diagnosis testing can only assess the level of the creator’s level of explicit knowledge. Therefore, it is quite likely that the individual or church who is taking the assessment actually outsmarts the creator of the diagnostic process and escapes a true diagnosis of the actual disease.

The challenge to the individual of such prowess is that he or she learns to shape the perception of himself or herself to whatever is going on in the moment. In other words, even though the individual knows it, he or she constructs a reality in that moment for those looking over the scores or whatever the case may be. It’s not that the person doesn’t realize he or she is doing it (even though, I suppose, at some point it starts operating outside the awareness of the person), but the real challenge is that the individual in his or her own awareness actually loses the ability to think critically about himself or herself because he or she is just “smarter” than everyone else.

Therefore the church, in all of her understanding and knowledge and strong theological underpinnings, can actually escape the simple diagnosis of a terminal disease. It may explain, on a practical level, how a Solomon could turn so disobedient. In the end, the very blessing of wis- dom led to such a layered semantic sophistication that there was nothing he did not know. For Adam, it was the one tree that God told him not to eat from, because it would just be too much to handle.

This truth, which I am sure I am only starting to grasp for myself, is actually what makes a Pharisee a Pharisee. The actual constructs of the mind and its thinking prohibit a level of humility and learning because it can’t humble itself anymore. The individual already believes to be humble and able to understand the deeper constructs of humility.

The appearance to everyone around would have been that Solomon could not have fallen because he was too wise.  Or, due to the  disease of semantic adaptiveness, one may appear to be fine because he or she is, in the end, only examined by the words he or she says. Thus, the individual knows that if he or she allows him or herself to say this thing or that thing aloud, it will be assessed by others that the individual “sick,” or rather, in need of some personal growth.

Therefore, individuals and church leaders learn the art of changing their language mid-sentence which creates the illusion that all is well in the soul. The very appearance is of a very stabilized person in his or her life approach or a church that has it all going in the right direction. The only problem is that, just at the moment when he or she needs to be able to be soft and open to learning, his or her own  sophistication  in understanding constructs blocks that ability. In the end, a proper diagnosis is escaped and, until a major crash or organizational failure happens, everyone, including that person or church, believes that all is fine.

The danger, then, is the semantic comfortableness that does a Solomon, a church, or anyone for that matter a great disservice. In a sense, it’s how the educated and wise person can actually misstep and be completely blind-sided. He or she is completely aware of the issues being surveyed or looked at but already has a high level of comfortableness with the construct being discussed and, therefore, loses the ability to hear anything.

This is precisely where the American church finds herself. She can’t really hear the “spiritual truths” being delivered to her. If a board member or pastor actually hears the voice of the Spirit and articulates it, then one or the other is in danger of being voted out. It is possible that the people of God repeat the mistakes made in Jeremiah’s day or develop an elder brother mentality at best. It is like the arrogance of a teenager who won’t take any advice because he or she actually “know’s everything.”

The church knows very well the constructs related to worship and submission to authority. However, to know the ideas through and through and to integrate those realities deep into the soul is another thing altogether. So, even though Solomon was the wisest man on earth, he still finished horribly because knowing the reality and living the reality, one knows, are two very different things.

THE CHAMELEON EFFECT – The other disease so prevalent in churches and individual leaders in the American church is the chameleon effect.  James Houston refers to it as “theological journalism.” It is where an individual comes across new truths and information and begins to be somewhat shaped by the material in speech but not in action or being. The person stands and reports the new-found truths as if he or she has integrated, to a large degree, the truths he or she is teaching. Yet, in effect, he or she is only reporting on what has been learned through research. The individual may be energized by the topic because it is something that needs to be addressed in him or her own self, but that’s as far as it goes. And so, the individual does not get it integrated into his or her bloodstream; the deeper truths have been apprehended intellectually, but nothing changes below the surface. Therefore, the deception has run its course because the information has been skimmed for the cream while the milk was never swallowed and digested.

Only a fall will correct a person like this. He or she appears to be an avid learner but is deceiving himself or herself and others because the truths never made it to the bloodstream. It became an intellectual “sugar high” to get the brain function going, but the crash at the end was worse than the first.

It plays out a little differently in church life. It can be that a church will go along with leadership for a while, believing that it has accepted fully the instruction of the Lord. Yet, the “old guard” which had drifted dramatically and far from the biblical text, is just too strong, and at the first possible sign of weakness in the leadership, it quickly changes color and returns to the ways of old, feeling justified in its own deception.

How dark is that darkness, to be in a place where the disease is so deep it can’t be diagnosed and only complete fall and failure will bring the person to his or her senses? Like the children of Israel who the Lord took into the desert to “test their hearts,” so we can only bow low on our knees for extended amounts of time and pray to escape such a grave deception which plagues churches and some of its leaders. Maybe, on our knees is the only way we will diagnose this disease.