22 April 2021

Spiritual morons: Christians who won’t grow up.

MORON 'mɔr.ɑn noun. A stupid person.
[Moronic mə'rɑn.ɪk adjective.]

The word moron comes from an ancient Greek word we actually have in our bibles, μωρόν/morón, which means the same thing. Scientists began to use it to describe “an adult with the mental age of about 8 to 12 years old”—someone of limited intelligence. Problem is, people love to use such words to insult one another, and now many people consider “moron” a bad word. So they’re gonna take offense at my using the word “moron.” Doesn’t matter that Jesus used it. Mt 5.22, 7.26, 23.17, 25.2, 25.8 And the apostles. 1Co 1.25, 1.27, 3.18, 4.10, 2Ti 2.23, Tt 3.9

Thing is, whenever the authors of scripture write of morons, they don’t mean people who can’t help it; who are of limited intelligence or are incapable of wisdom. They always mean people who are wholly capable of growth—and choose not to grow.

(I mean, if they did mean people who can’t help their condition, it’d be mighty cruel of them to condemn foolishness so often. And kinda psycho to suggest caning them for it. Pr 26.3 But cruel and thoughtless people regularly take such verses out of their grammatical context.)

So whenever I write about spiritual morons, I don’t mean people who can’t grow in spiritual maturity. Because maturity is tied to the Spirit’s fruit, and everybody can grow the Spirit’s fruit. Absolutely everybody. No exceptions; the Spirit can work on anyone. Even humans with profound mental limitations can grow in love, peace, joy, and grace; in fact many such people clearly exhibit more such fruit than “smart people.” Whether it’s because these smarty-pants folks are overthinking things (or, more likely, looking for loopholes), I leave it to you to determine. There are plenty of reasons why Christians don’t grow as fast as we should.

But again: When I write about spiritual morons, I never mean people who can’t grow. For that matter I don’t even mean people who are growing slowly. I only mean people who won’t grow. Who refuse to grow. ’Cause they figure they’re good as-is. Or they presume they have grown… and have all sorts of excuses why all the “fruit” they supposedly have, can’t be seen, never affects anyone in positive ways, doesn’t grow God’s kingdom any, and continues to make ’em indistinguishable from nice pagans.

Who specialize in fake fruit.

The most common practice I see in spiritual morons is rebranding. That’s where they take all the pre-existing conditions and behaviors they had as pagans, and slap Christian labels on ’em. Apparently what they were doing all along, was loving and being joyful and exhibiting peace, patience, kindness, goodness, et cetera, ad nauseam. Or if they grew up Christian, they take all the usual human impulses, claim they’re Spirit-filled, and explain away why they surely don’t look Spirit-filled.

Any kind of happiness, including cruel jokes, becomes “joy.” Shutting people up, or canceling anything and anyone we hate, becomes “peace.” Legalism becomes “goodness” and “self-control.” Grace is considered something only God does, and since Paul didn’t list it in Galatians they don’t count it as an actual fruit of the Spirit; they needn’t practice it. They much prefer reciprocity anyway.

You see how it works. They don’t grow at all. And figure they don’t need to; doesn’t the Spirit just spontaneously produce all his fruit in us? Once they became Christian, they instantly became fruity. So they’re good! They’re fixed. They’re Christian; ergo they’re fruitful, because Christians just are. Everything we do, after a little intellectual jiggery-pokery, can be described as “fruit.”

Yeah, obviously this is rubbish. But it’s popular rubbish. Because the Christians who believe it, don’t have to do anything. Don’t have to grow. Don’t have to love, forgive, be patient, and otherwise get hold of themselves. They don’t have to improve; they’re fixed. Jesus fixed ’em!

And if they’re not the problem, you are. Others are. Illegal aliens are. Muslims are. Whatever their favorite prejudices, they’ll become their favorite scapegoats. Somehow “Love your neighbor” will never occur to them… and when it does, they’ll claim, “Oh but I am loving my neighbor. I want what’s best for them, and what’s best is they go away. It’s tough love.” More loopholes, y’know.

So yeah, a lot of the prejudice and hatred in this world is the product of spiritual morons. If they did love their neighbors as Jesus expects us to, we’d see far, far less xenophobia. And way more diversity in our churches.

Who specialize in non-fruit.

When I was a young hypocrite, I didn’t work on growing the Spirit’s fruit. I worked on knowing my bible. I already have a really good memory, so I put it to use: I read that book cover to cover. Backward and forward. Read other books on bible trivia so I’d know which facts were the best to know. ’Cause I wanted to know bible trivia like no one’s business. So I did. Kicked everybody’s butt in Bible Trivial Pursuit. (Kicked a youth pastor’s butt once. Man was he annoyed.)

This behavior really impressed the people of my church. “Leslie’s such a good Christian,” they concluded; “he knows his bible.”

Did I know Jesus? Yeah, kinda. Did I follow Jesus? Not so much… but I could quote Jesus, so that kinda looks like I was following Jesus, and that’s the vibe I was going for: Someone who looks like he’s following Jesus. At least, looks like it to church people. I didn’t care so much about non-church people.

How about love, joy, peace, gentleness, grace? Nah. I was a jerk.

Because if you have these kinds of smarts, it’s way easier to grow in bible knowledge than in spiritual maturity. And for people with other kinds of smarts, it’s way easier to become popular and win friends. Or become a captivating public speaker. Or a talented musician. Or a great athlete. Or to make money. Or do any other thing which gets people to say, “Wow, God’s really blessed that person with talent,” and get ’em to pay far more attention to the talent than our character.

And of course you could have very little such talent… but great connections. Like the children of billionaires. Or the children of pastors: In a previous article I mentioned a pastor’s kid who was put in charge of a charity I worked at. In no biblical way was he qualified for the job: He was most definitely a spiritual moron. But his dad was a pastor, and the board either wanted to appease his dad, or foolishly thought he’d be more like his dad. He was not. Rehoboam ben Solomon was certainly not as wise as Solomon, 1Ki 12.1-16 because talent can be genetically passed down, but wisdom doesn’t work that way. Wisdom always has to be learned. Character always has to be developed.

Churches don’t always recognize this, and don’t always teach their members to grow fruit. Hence newbies—new believers, recent converts, “baby Christians”—don’t always know it’s something to work on. Instead they work on developing the other talents they see prized in their churches. Like bible trivia, musicianship, winsomeness, or Mammon. They get better at other things, but they still have the character of selfish pagans—tamped down so they can get along with fellow Christians, and look good in polite company, but wait till you read their YouTube comments.

These Christians can go years without character growth, and if you didn’t know them you’d assume they were still newbies. They’ve little self-control, little patience, no grace. They might know a ton of bible trivia, but their fruitless misbehavior disqualifies them from any responsibility. Problem is, they’ve been Christian so long, they think they’re elders. They think they’re “mature” because they’ve put in the time. They want leadership position, and throw little tantrums when we correctly don’t recognize them as elders.

God help any church which foolishly gives in to their pressure, and puts spiritual morons in charge of anything. Because it will end in disaster. Always does.

Spiritual morons in charge.

Many a Christian has no clue what a spiritual moron is, and despite their obvious lack of fruit, let ’em take charge of things. After all, they’ve been members for 20 years, or grew up in that church, and they’re such nice people. Or they have an obvious talent. Or nepotism. Whatever. There are three usual ways an immature Christian gets put into authority:

ASSUMPTION. Probably the most common is the person just assumes it. An immature Christian sees a power vacuum, steps into it, and is in charge from now on.

I know of an immature Christian who started three different churches. Sounds impressive… till you find out the reason he didn’t stay in his first two churches was scandal. He embezzled money and had sexual affairs. The churches swept the scandals under the rug, so he moved to another city and started another church anew. He’s a friendly guy and a good speaker, so of course he attracts followers. But it’s only a matter of time before he steals their money and bangs their women.

CHALLENGE. Too many pastors wrongly believe, “If I just give this person a challenge, she’ll rise to the occasion.” It’s a common tactic in parenting. It does actually work when the kid is of good character. But not everybody realizes that’s the necessary factor… so they give people of bad character a similar challenge, and are horrified to watch ’em implode. Or worse, explode.

Y’know, it’d be wiser of pastors to put their kids in charge of something which doesn’t affect other people’s lives, or doesn’t run the risk of shaking people’s faith and driving ’em away from Jesus. Fr’instance put your probationary kids in charge of cleaning the bathrooms, not leading the youth group. But some parents get pretty blind when it comes to their family members’ deficiencies.

MORONS IN CHARGE. If your church is led by morons, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t intervene in spite of this, they’re just gonna appoint morons over them. Congregational churches are an obvious example of this: They let everyone vote, regardless of spiritual maturity. Spiritual morons can vote. Full-on hypocrites can vote. What are the chances a majority of the members will be fruitless Christians?—and as a result you’ll of course get fruitless leaders.

So they elect board members who hire the pastor, or they elect the pastor directly. The pastors lead by popular vote: The people of the church love the guy and expect he’ll lead them well. And he might!… but he might not. Usually they’re looking for the wrong qualifications, like talent or education or charisma. Those things are important, but character is paramount.

Most of the fruitless leaders I’ve met, either started their own churches or lead congregational churches. It’s the easiest way to bypass any real accountability structure. And like I said, when your church or organization puts spiritual morons in charge, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve seen the disasters. ’Tain’t pretty.

Dealing with spiritual morons.

Spiritual morons aren’t unteachable. (They always wanna learn more trivia!) But lacking fruit, they’re gonna fall back on their trivia—and don’t you dare contradict them. You can teach ’em plenty of new stuff, but when you threaten to correct their old stuff, you’ll get pushback. They know what they know. They believe it; it’s settled. They can’t handle controversies, nor criticism, nor paradoxes. They’re like robots in bad science fiction: Give ’em a paradox, and their heads explode. They simply can’t deal with ideas which contradict their firmly-held beliefs. And they lack the love, patience, kindness, and peace to accept correction.

In fact spiritual morons believe, and teach, anything which threatens their beliefs is devilish and sinful. Challenge them, and you’re devilish and sinful. You’re trying to get ’em to doubt their faith, and shipwreck it. You’re trying to undermine Christianity, morality, the whole of reality. You’re evil. If you’re a pastor, they’ll get you fired if they can.

Y’see, a lot of the reason Christians struggle with theological questions is because they lack the spiritual fruit of faith: They don’t really trust God. They do a bit, but only as far as they think they can control or manipulate him. Which they can’t actually do at all, but they think they can… ’cause they know doctrine.

They don’t trust God has the universe well in hand. So they want explanations: “Why does God do it that way” Not so much because they want to know his heart and share his compassion and contribute to his kingdom. More because they want to know his will, and reduce him to a predictable formula. If we can forecast what God’s gonna do next, it means we know him. Right?

Wrong. We know God because we have his Spirit, and he’s growing his fruit in us. Not because we can stay a step ahead of him, then turn back and tell others, “Toldja so.”

We’ve got to realize this fragile mindset whenever we deal with spiritual morons. We’ve gotta work with them in much the same way public school teachers work with the learning-disabled: Carefully. Patiently. Slowly. Watch for triggers. Don’t push them too far, too fast. And as much as we can, concentrate on growing spiritual fruit in them. Not knowledge; they have knowledge already, for all the good it’s done them. Focus on fruit. Doctrine’s important, but put it second. Fruit will put their knowledge to good use—and prepare them for all the corrections the Holy Spirit wants to make in their knowledge.

We all gotta fully participate in the Spirit growing his fruit in us. Love more. Have more joy. Embrace more peace. Be more generous. Forgive everyone. Submit to fellow Christians. Control your emotions, habits, and desires. Be kinder. Take leaps of faith. Grow in maturity.