The other day, Rachel was talking to a friend of hers about church. The conversation flowed, touching on everything from music to children’s programs to their own personal involvement in the church’s ministry. Soon, the topic led to them discussing a mutual friend who went to still another church, and the following line was said to my wife:
“Yeah, they haven’t really been going to church lately because there’s too much accountability.
When Rachel repeated that to me, I was floored. Too much accountability? Too MUCH accountability? Is that even possible?
Read through the Scriptures and you’ll find verse after verse telling us to keep each other accountable. We’re told to encourage each other (1 Thess. 5:11), rebuke each other (Gal. 6:1), correct each other (Colossians 3:16), teach each other (Rom. 15:14), pray for each other (James 5:16), and on and on. The idea is that our Christian lives aren’t lived in a vacuum; we need the community of believers, the fellowship of the church, in order to grow. As iron sharpens iron and all that.
But when I began thinking about the statement, I understood. Sometimes in church we have a bad habit of calling judgmentalism accountability. Under the guise of holding others accountable, we project our personal preferences and standards onto other people and then measure them accordingly. Didn’t wear a tie this Sunday? Didn’t raise your hands in worship? Read from the wrong translation? Said something too old fashioned? Asked for grace after breaking a rule?
To spoof off a line from The Brady Bunch, “Guilty, guilty, guilty.”
Jesus said that we would know our fellow Christians by the fruit that they bear, but He didn’t give us permission to critique the type. Accountability is something that flows from relationship: our relationship with Christ and our relationship with each other. Sometimes it gets ugly; sometimes, we have to speak frankly to someone who is living in direct defiance of God, and that can get unpleasant. That’s accountability at its hardest and its finest, and it takes a mature, humble, and seasoned believer to speak the truth in love.
But when our accountability is merely thinly disguised bullying, that’s not accountability at its worst, that’s just flat out sin in our own hearts.
When it comes to the proper attitude for holding others accountable, James E. Orr, in a hymn influenced by Psalm 139, said it best:
Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.
I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.
Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.
O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.
May we be guided by God’s Word, prompted by His Holy Spirit, and loving with our hearts this week as we walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we call sin, sin whenever we see it, but may we remember to offer grace as our Savior did – and does – with us.