CLERGY CORNER: Braking OCD Christianity

Posted on 14 January 2016 by LeslieM

Ray Romano once said, “As a comedian, you don’t want to upset someone with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). They’ll write you a letter … and another one … and another one … and another one.”

We may laugh, but the reality is that OCD is crippling. People suffering from this condition develop compulsive behaviors in which they become obsessed with performing certain rituals repeatedly to only temporarily find relief from the plaguing anxiety. Simply put: Someone obsessing over their safety may lock and re-lock a door again and again. For many, this is a neurotic condition; they know the repetition is for naught. They understand that they are no safer whether they lock the same lock once or four times over.

If you’ve read this far, you’re either my mom or you’re curious to see what this has to do with Christianity. Allow me to explain.

While not true OCD, I believe many of us have what I like to call OCD Christianity. We’ve latched on to certain obsessions within our faith and have created rituals that help us feel more Christian. And, as with OCD, we recognize these behaviors and still perform them even though we know they do not draw us closer to God. If anything, they weigh us down and distract us from strengthening our personal relationship with Him.

To grasp my abstract thought, track with me through three things we obsess about. One, we obsess about condemnation. We see the world living in sin and think, “Turn or burn.” We use guilt and shame to bring people into the faith. Unfortunately, this approach makes God’s plan small and boring — uninviting and unexciting.

And, naturally, if we begin to obsess over condemnation for others, it’s not long before, two, we obsess about self-preservation — Are we saved? Are we good, God? Check out Luke 3:7, when John the Baptist addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees: “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath?” He pointed out that, just as snakes flee a brush fire to save themselves, these guys were only concerned about self-preservation, believing their rituals would save them. As much as it may pain us to admit, in this case, we probably relate more to the Pharisees and Sadducees than to the recent converts.

Three, we obsess over comfort — doing everything in our power to avoid being uncomfortable. Yet, nowhere in Scripture do we find a call to safe and comfortable living. Quite the opposite, right? This obsession blinds us from the realization that Heavenly comfort is facilitated by earthly discomfort.

So, there they are. I had to put them out there to say this: From these obsessions, we’ve created rituals that ransack our understanding of Matthew 7:22-23: “On judgment day many will say to me ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’” To put it in modern context: “Without leaving our comfort zone, we started a small group in your name and read our Bibles, and attended Sunday school, in your name, and even had a really cool event that grew our attendance … in your name, of course.” Yet comprehend carefully Christ’s response in Matthew 7:23: “But I will reply, ‘I never KNEW you. Get away from me…’” [emphasis added].

Wait, what? So there are people who do Christian-ey things and they won’t enter Heaven?

Yes.

God isn’t asking us to do things because they make us feel like Christians. He’s inviting us into an authentic relationship with Him. But, if we obsess about condemnation, self-preservation and discomfort, we’ll read our Bibles, pray, give of our time and resources, etc., because doing so will make us feel like “we’re good” instead of an effort to actually deepen our relationship with Him. We’ll miss the point completely — be His disciple; go and make disciples. It’ll all be, as with OCD, for naught.

But, be filled with hope! John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ, who would, once and for all, atone for our sins. Find joy in that we are free from having to lock and re-lock the door, metaphorically speaking. We can brake — put a stop to our obsessions — by fully surrendering to His will, by trusting Him at His Word, by accepting that He is our assurance of salvation. And then, out of our overflow, we will freely live the two most important commands: Love God and love your neighbor — without the crippling fruitless rituals which bring us no closer to being known by Him.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at First Baptist Church of Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments, he can be reached at cj@deerfieldfirst.com.

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