Yesterday in leading our weekly "devotions" at work for our team at RBC Ministries, I did something different, sharing two readings from Eugene Peterson's outstanding book, The Jesus Way, each from the chapter entitled, "David: I Did Not Hide My Iniquity." Since Peterson wrote the contents of the study guide we're using, and since we're on Psalm 51, I thought this was appropriate. My first reading was from pages 78-79 on the evils of perfectionism.
I have to give you an idea of what Peterson means by perfectionism. It's something like a high, holy standard set for ourselves and for others, especially for other professing Christians, by which we judge ourselves and others, and which we strive to fulfill ourselves.
Peterson decries the division that has been made between "carnal Christians" and "spiritual Christians" (a misreading of Scripture, I believe, by the way, which I used to believe in for years), as well as the sad reality that many a Christian has been waylayed from the Jesus way because of their own discouragement in not meeting such standards. Along with my reading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together, how we should see ourselves and then live in Jesus, has been stewing some in my thoughts.
I think both Peterson and Bonhoeffer are right on this, though I don't know well how to think of this yet, and therefore how to express it in words. But I post on this today, to see if any of you have some thoughts on this.
I was raised in a pietistic church which emphasized externals such as dress, though we were the moderates among this spectrum of God's people, specifically among the Mennonites. This is not meant at all to disparage them; many good and loving people among them. Nor is it meant to judge any single one of them. But we did struggle somewhat with this evil of perfectionism.
Perfectionists see rightfully that Jesus walked in perfection here on earth, but they may be off in not noting how radically Jesus identified with sinners, like at his baptism with John the Baptizer. Also in the nuancing of his very humanl life, how Jesus depended on the Father, and was a down to earth creature, yes creature (as well as being the creator). And how our following of Jesus has provision for us in him, that was never needed by him, but is ever needed by us.
For example in John 13 on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus washed all of his disciples' feet. No one washed Jesus' feet. In the picture of salvation and its ongoing reality in our lives in Jesus (salvation is past, present and future for God's people, in Scripture) we are forgiven and cleansed of our sins by faith. Jesus told his disciples that they had already had the bath of regeneration. We are thus cleansed, but living in this world we are defiled by sin. Sin is all around us on every side. And we ourselves struggle with it. So we're impacted by this struggle, and we don't always succeed in resisting temptation to sin. Therefore, as Jesus points out, while we don't need to be born again, again, or born from above again, given new birth, we do need our feet washed which in their case with their open foot ware, became dirty in all the dust they walked through.
Perfectionism says we must, or at least should be always squeaky clean. And usually perfectionists have formulas and/or lists to help Christians get there. The formulas may even be taken out of God's word, though invariably when they do this, they are taken out of context. And added to them may be a list of do's and don'ts. Things you should do if you're going to be perfect, and things you must avoid. This varies from group to group among these folks.
I remember one church I visited, males to males and females to females all greeted one another with a kiss on the cheek. They all had their regulated garb on, of course even with my suit and tie I routinely wore in those days (and probably did that day, though I think I had a white short-sleeved shirt since I think it was summer) I was out of place. At that time, at least, guys never wore shirts that did not cover their arms completely, even in the hot summers there. Now while these people would acknowledge that others knew the Lord outside of their group, they were prone to judge them according to this standard of perfection that was set for them as the standard they should live according to, if they were to be holy.
The sad reality is that we're not going to be perfect as in without sin in this life. This must never mean that we ever excuse our sin. Nor is it saying we have to sin. It's simply helping us to be sensitive and remain aware and open to the revelation of sin in our lives. Over and over in Scripture, and one might say, preeminently in the life of David, a man after God's own heart, do we see this displayed.
I plan to post some more on this. But I'm much interested in your take on this subject. Does anyone out there have something you'd like to share on this?