(Christian Accountability-Part I was first posted on 8/22/2011)
I read a blog recently on the Internet in which the writer made his case against the concept of Christian accountability. He made several good points. Biblical accountability can erode into hurtful judgmentalism. It can become more about law than grace, more about rules than love and mercy. Many years ago while in seminary I wrote a paper for my church history class using primary sources from a local church association. A hundred years ago people were commonly kicked out of these churches for some transgression. I, for one, would not like to see us return to this kind of condemnatory environment.
As I read the blog writer’s arguments against accountability in the church I was preparing my response in my head. But when I finished the article I saw the huge number of responses already posted. Almost all of them questioned the writer’s experience with accountability and suggested that the problem was not with the idea of accountability but rather with the misuse of accountability. Should we do away altogether with churches because some churches abuse its members?
I was amazed at the number of people who responded to this blog with personal testimony of how their lives had been changed because they had participated in an accountable relationship with another person. Many of these had experienced these through Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery programs.
Mutual accountability is clearly called for in the New Testament. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. James 5:16a tells us, “For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Galatians 6: 1-2 reads, “Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Notice that this correction is not done in a judgmental manner. It is done with “gentleness.” It is done with a keen awareness that we ourselves are not without sin and could easily fall into similar temptation. We are to engage in this kind of restoration with those whom we are willing to help carry any burdens they may have. In fact, our work of restoration is likely to be much more effective when we have already helped the individual carry some burden. In other words, our restorative role grows out of our mutually supportive role. The individual must know they are being corrected because they are deeply loved in Christ.
It was almost forty years ago that I wrote that church history paper. While I still don’t want us to revert to an environment of judgmentalism I am more convinced than ever that the major reason the church has become so ineffective at making disciples is that we abandoned an unchristian form of accountability but have never replaced it with a biblical style of accountability. George Barna insists his research reveals that less than 3% of all Christians in America are involved in any kind of accountable relationship with one or more other Christians. He suggests that Christians in America seem to be confused about the difference between judmentalism and spiritual discernment.
This country was founded by a group of people who cherished their individual freedom. “Individualism” is a core American value, more so than perhaps anywhere else in the world. We treasure our privacy and take pride in our ability to solve our own problems. We keep our troubles and tribulations to ourselves and are uncomfortable sharing them with others. To a great extent because we are afraid that others will see our problems as a moral weakness.
So, we can see that the scripture clearly calls us be accountable to each other. The church, as we know it in America, is NOT holding each other accountable. So how do we do this without degrading into an unhealthy, unholy form of judgementalism? We will discuss that in “Christian Accountability-Part II.”