Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Charismatic lovebombing and Reformed hospitality(?)

In Charismatic circles, and also large segments of Evangelicalism, there is a sense in which a culture that is seen to be congruous with Christian love is cultivated. It has been my experience that in the typical evangelical small group setting especially the ones I have visited in Singapore, there is a culture of love and acceptance. Within the small groups, people get to know one another and pray for one another. The more intimate setting of course contributes to the cultivation of such a culture of love and relative safety. The hothouse-type social setting is not necessarily bad, just that it is the social setting (analogous to family) that such intimacy can be cultivated.

Now while small groups have a somewhat checkered history within the church, whether one should now have small groups or not is another question altogether. The main issue I want to look at here is the related problem of what I would call "lovebombing."

There is nothing wrong with loving fellow believers. However, we are all still sinners and extremely selfish by nature. We look to our own first, and oftentimes not even others second. Small group settings however create a somewhat artificial setting; artificial in the sense that the default norm is one of care and concern. Thus, it is possible to create a place whereby love for the brethren is something done because of the conducive social setting, not because it is a fruit of the Spirit. One receives love and support from the group, and one reciprocates in kind.

The reason why it is called "lovebombing" is because a love that comes because of its social setting and not out of the Spirit functions almost like the real thing yet its nature is revealed particularly in Charismatic circles. There, the member is loved and accepted, unless and until he or she violates certain unspoken or spoken norms. This comes about especially when one questions the pastor's teaching as found wanting according to the standards of God's Word, which is not unusual in Charismatic circles. Suddenly, the love and acceptance began to disappear. The questioner is slowly but surely shunned. To have that second (or for some almost primary) "family" disappear is rather traumatic for the one shunned, which creates a huge pressure to conform to the group in order to "win back" their acceptance. The "love" that was once offered so "unconditionally" turned out to be conditional. Church members it seems can tolerate lots of moral weaknesses pre-conversion, but post-conversion, professing believers are placed into a covenant of works whereby grace and love is conditioned upon not committing serious sins especially those concerning doctrine and church leadership. Needless to say, "lovebombing" is not true biblical love at all, regardless of its superficial resemblance.

At the (rather) opposite end is what I have generally seen in Reformed setting, generally. In all my time in Reformed circles, I have yet to seen anything resembling the small group intimacy in Evangelical and Charismatic circles. I must say that Reformed people don't have any idea what to do with single males in general, except for real stupid advice like this by Kevin DeYoung (because you know, if you're single, it's your bloody fault that the poor lady over there is single. Man up, loser!). More and more, I am starting not to like family-based churches, not because families are bad, but none of them it seems have absolutely any clue what to do with singles! One of my impressions in a Reformed church (which I shall not name), was a meeting held by an elder for the singles, which includes me as the only guy and about 7 ladies all of whom I vaguely knew their names. Needless to say, I wasn't interested in any further meetings.

I consider myself as someone who focuses on doctrine more than whether I feel welcome in a church. But it has been very disappointing that hospitality in Reformed circles is generally lacking. While I think telling the congregation to welcome people in the beginning or end of a service might seem forced, perhaps it might really help to get people to greet each other. Families are generally welcomed, but the singles, not much so. We are the second-class members of churches that are preoccupied with families and children. Nobody knows what to do with us. And if you think about seeking the ministry, well, I guess we can forget that.

I do not agree with Charismatic and Evangelical lovebombing. But after nearly 8 years in Reformed circles, I don't know if the alternative is any better. Sometimes I wonder what exactly are we to do.

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