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Believers’ Recognition Dysfunction

 In Columns


By Sam Collins

My wife is a wonderful, kind, brilliant human being. One of her few noticeable shortcomings is that she has never been very good at recognizing people. For example, as a tall, blond wisp of a thing walks past our restaurant table, Sharon may ask, “Is that our waitress?” To which I’m tempted to respond, “Well, no, dear. But except for the fact that our waitress has fluorescent orange hair, the build of a shipyard stevedore, and could walk under the table without bumping her head, I can see the resemblance.”

Sharon’s recognition challenges have never presented any major problems. But there are self-avowed followers of Jesus Christ who seemingly suffer from a similar dysfunction, rendering them almost incapable of identifying and embracing some of those who tread the path of Christian discipleship with them.

The Church of God has traditionally been an advocate of Christian unity. Our practice, however, has at times failed to match our preaching. Of course, we are hardly alone in this. There are church folk of all stripes, polka dots, plaids, and patterns who seem convinced that God reproduces his children by inserting a standardized criteria outline into a photocopier and then hitting the duplicate button. Any believer who does not look, think, speak, smell, or worship to the thrum of drum, organ, or wailing electric guitar as they do is considered unfit for potluck suppers in heaven.

This myopic refusal to recognize, affirm, and join with people of genuine faith whose spiritual jibs are cut a bit differently than our own can put us in the same self-absorbed, incongruously puffed-up category as Elijah when he whined to God that he was the lone individual of genuine commitment left to stand against the apostate King Ahab and the Baal worshipers of Israel. Au contraire, God chided him, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18 NIV). In effect the Lord told his self-pitying, somewhat pretentious prophet to get over himself, open his eyes, and recognize that he was not the only God-focused, spiritually fit creature in the vast, roiling sea.

The Christian walk is a demanding one. Those zealous for the kingdom of this world are more numerous than those attuned to the kingdom of God. As aliens in an often inhospitable culture, we can use all the mutually supportive fellow travelers we can identify. So let us resolve to prayerfully improve our ability to recognize kindred persons of faith and substance where at quick, first glance we are predisposed to see none. Not that we might call holy that which is not, but that we might avoid the serious mistake of rejecting the Spirit of Christ who comes to us via human forms that differ somewhat from our familiar, imperfect own.


The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Church of God Ministries or, at points, even the writer, but are written with tongue firmly planted in cheek to hopefully provoke a leavening bit of laughter and a smidgen of thought.

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