IN THE MEDICAL FIELD, there exists a distinct subclass of disease known principally by its means of infection. The Latin labels these iatrogenic diseases, and they refer to a particularly frightening concept: illnesses that arise as the direct result of treatment from another illness.
This is an unfortunate reality in medicine. Prescriptions treat pain and infection, but also have side effects which may make you more susceptible to other disease. Surgeries remove or repair dangerous tissue, but the resulting wound may make you prone to infection. Rest and relaxation are critical for repair following a substantial injury, but the prolonged immobility can result in muscle decay and bodily sores. Physicians are trained specifically to help prevent against these complications, but their prevention requires a devout attentiveness. It is the uniqueness of these locales of healing which give these diseases their strength.
It is no different within the church today. Our communities are called to gather as congregations of healing, bastions of restoration in the midst of a broken world. Yet, it is precisely here that we find unique opportunities for spiritual infection to arise within the Body of Christ. The very nature of the healing hand of the Christian community gives space for these, and I contend that we find them arising from three noble pursuits: the pursuit of holiness, the quest for fellowship, and the hope for accountability.
- The Holiness Infection: Holiness, or the pursuit thereof, is central to the Christian life. Yet it is precisely within a community that values righteousness that we provide self-righteousness the fuel to grow. At some point the shift occurs, and we begin the subtle slide from sinners in need of grace, to the holy ones enthroned upon a pillar of spiritual elitism. Let us not forget why we gather in a place of healing… it is because we (still) need healing ourselves.
- The Fellowship Infection: John Wesley once said that “…the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” To be a Christian trekking out on an exclusively personal spiritual journey is to cut yourself off from the work of God who has, since the inception of Israel, always worked in the midst of a community. Yet, it is also in the midst of a people who value communication and prayer that we find gossip. We tend to cultivate a unique form of gossip, often clothing it in the veil of concern with a request for prayer. The call for fellowship, however, recognizes the appropriateness of timing and audience, and calls us first to speak with the person of our concern, rather than about them. Even when the need for wisdom arises, we know ourselves well enough to distinguish between seeking advice from the wise among us, and seeking conversation from among the talkative. Let us not forget why it is that we gather, and that healing flows out of love combined with wisdom and self control.
- The Accountability Infection: At the heart of deep discipleship is the willingness to become vulnerable to a trusted group of confidantes, and to expose ourselves to the accountability they bring. It is also incumbent upon us to be a people who hold our brothers and sisters accountable, urging one another towards faithful and repentant living. This urging, however, is easily mistaken for judgment, whereby we take it upon ourselves to patrol the “holy halls”, calling people out for their misdeeds, and sounding the gavel against them. Paul admonishes us to “speak the truth in love”, which means temperance and gentleness in all things. Let us never forget that we do not sit in the judge’s chair holding the gavel, but in the defendant’s seat signing our confession.
It is these three infections – elitism, gossip, and judgment – that so many of those outside the faith use to describe the believers whom they have encountered. It is these which debilitate the church’s witness, and destroy the church’s credibility. Just as with iatrogenesis, the best cure is attentive prevention, and the best medicine love.
How have you experienced Christians slipping into these infections? How can we, as the Body of Christ, best prevent against it?
Image Credit: Alex Proimos