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Matthew 19:14 - But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Identity crises, interpersonal problems, mental illness...
I Cor. 13:11 - When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Evangelicals like to say that there is a difference between child-ish and child-like faith and, technically, they're right from the perspective of literal definition. The problem is in how they define “childlike.” The common interpretation among evangelicals blurs the lines between the two significantly.
Childish: of, like, or appropriate to a child; silly and immature
Childlike: Having GOOD qualities associated with a child
And right there is where the problem lies. “Good qualities” reflect childlikeness, poor qualities reflect childishness.
What Childlike faith is supposed to be:
1. Honesty in thought and intention – accepting the idea that they need Jesus
2. Open-minded thinking – acceptance that you don't know everything and not having enough ego involved to be embarrassed about not. You go to church to learn and to become a better person and Christian
3. Trust to the point of vulnerability (giving your life to christ and having faith in your salvation)
4. Necessary trust in parents, or in this case, God
How it actually manifests:
1. Lack of apologetic or real conviction – they will say anything and backpedal on everything in their attempt to be right
2. Extremely closed-minded and impervious to outside opinions
3. Craven fear of things that shouldn't incite fear in Christians – death, opposing views, healthy debate. What about 1 Pt. 3:15?
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear
How many evangelicals do you know who have a well mapped-out unwavering apologetic? I've met plenty myself, but they are still an extreme minority and many follow a specific formula that you know they were TAUGHT. No discovery here, folks...
4. Godly behavior is an afterthought – personal comfort rules and narcissistic tendencies emerge
By definition, this is childish, not childlike.
The Bible teaches us that we should stay children forever: Genesis 3
...them Paul tells us different (1 Cor 13:11)
Christian music is loaded with this messaging
Jars of Clay, Twila Paris
People insisting on getting their way
Letters to the pastor
People who get offended by EVERYTHING
People who leave churches for petty reasons (blame your failures on churches where you've gone)
Prayer whiners (fishing for sympathy – I'm guilty of this) “I haven't felt it yet, Lord...”
Emotional escalations: Young children often cry, get mad, or outwardly appear petulant and pouting. Grownups seldom do.
In evangelical terms, this manifests in a number of situations, many of which have to do with differences of opinions on spiritual issues or when they get called out for their behavior on the basis of biblical teaching. Many of my own anger issues grew out of this. It can also manifest when there are interpersonal issues and pastors and church leaders don't step in like parents. Yes, there are some responsible pastors out there who insist on biblical solutions to these kinds of problems. Many Christians want someone else to deal with their problems and this is NOT their fault. They are TAUGHT this the instant they're told they can leave their poor choices and defects of character at the foot of the cross. People who look to externals to solve or mitigate their problems have a hard time with approaching someone with a personal complaint, accusation, or grievance and dealing with it themselves. They flat out don't know how because of the contradictory messaging they get in other areas of life from their religion.
Blaming: When things go wrong, young children look to blame someone. Grownups look to fix the problem.
Evangelicals often dismiss their own bad behavior by crying demonic oppression, defending their personal character while playing the victim, or insist that the “real problem” has to do with things that other people do or say. Pastors are often the targets for this kind of behavior. “Well if you would just do something about ______ we wouldn't be having this conversation.”
Lies: “When there's a situation that's uncomfortable, young children might lie to stay out of trouble. Grownups deal with reality, reliably speaking the truth.”
While hardly isolated to evangelicals, this kind of behavior manifests in a number of ways in evangelical adults. It usually has less to do with staying out of trouble as it does with saving face. They lie to protect their reputations or their spiritual personae. They lie about things that are easy to trace back to them. They provide wildly different accounts of interpersonal interactions than other involved parties or onlookers. They claim “I never said that!” even if the accuser has emails or texts where they did. They lie unabashedly and actually BELIEVE themselves while wondering why others don't like or trust them.
Name-calling: Children call each other names. Adults seek to understand issues. Adults do not make ad hominen attacks, that is, attacks on people's personal traits. Instead, they attack the problem. They do not disrespect others with mean labels.
For evangelicals, this manifests in ways like accusing people of being under demonic influence and calling out individual sins or “sinful” attitudes. Calling a 14 year old girl a hussy for going to multiple proms is a prime example. Calling someone a backslider, a whore, or just classifying them as a “bad christian” also apply here.
Impulsivity—or as therapists say, "poor impulse control": Children strike out impulsively when they feel hurt or mad.
This manifests with angry words and accusations that have no basis in reality or interpersonal misunderstandings. They take issue with things people say or do and can sometimes act out publicly – even in the middle of a church service, wreaking all kinds of havoc while failing to maintain a level of self-control that allows them to think before speaking or acting. They try to say their behavior is a matter of righteous anger and they will pull out bible verses they think justify their behavior.
Pentecostal churches where “manifestations of the holy spirit” happen unchecked are also breeding grounds for impulsive behaviors. Speaking out with a “word of knowledge” is often an impulse move and can empower the speaker to become even more impulsive over time, providing their own “interpretations” of their own messages. This gives them a platform for delivering their own opinions on anything and it is all too often accepted as a direct message from god and not challenged, even when the majority of people present (including the pastor) know what's going on. This kind of rampant spiritual expression is warned against by Paul but too many pastors just ignore it in favor of “letting the spirit flow.” Does it matter if the alleged “spirit” is flooding your church with heresy?
“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” 1 Corinthians 14:4 – another avenue to narcissism
Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.” 1 Corinthians 14:26-27
“I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” 1 Corinthians 14:18-19
Need to be the center of attention:
This manifests a lot when people rage quit church because the pastor didn't pay them enough attention or they felt that people in the church didn't like them. This happened several times in youth group and I got to sit and listen to our senior pastor read SEVERAL letters he got all in one summer over people not feeling loved, not feeling like the church was supporting them, or that their pastor isn't fulfilling his responsibility as their spiritual “covering.”
“We don't feel like you love us...”
Manifests in direct insults toward people as described above, but often involve a number of interactions over a period of time. Rebuking, insulting, and bible-bombing the same person over the same issue falls under this category
The exclusivity nature of evangelical faith is a breeding ground for personal and group narcissism. Evangelicals hold the key to eternal life. They have the cookie. This makes them feel more important and more superior to other people, particularly the unsaved and unchurched. It manifests in both inward and outward judgmental thought patterns and behaviors.
“This narcissistic tendency may initially look like strength. But in reality, it reflects a serious weakness: being unable to see beyond the self.”
How ironic that a religion that preaches aspiring to the death of the self life actually goes way further than it intends toward creating people who are so self-centered.
“Psychologically strong people listen to others, hoping to understand others' feelings, concerns and preferences. Narcissists hear only themselves and are emotionally brittle as a result.”
Evangelical religion as a philosophy breeds this kind of thinking. Jesus is the only way. There is no reason to consider other thoughts, theories, or points of view. “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” “No one comes to the father but by me.” Jn 14:6
Immature defenses: “Children tend to regard the best defense as a strong offense. While that defensive strategy may work in football, attacking anyone who expresses a viewpoint different from what they want is, in life, a primitive defense mechanism.”
Evangelicals are GREAT at this. Oh, and developing that strong offense often manifests in being offended by EVERYTHING from an opinion they don't like that comes from the pulpit to feeling scorned because the pastor wouldn't drop everything and talk to them after service because he was busy receiving people in the lobby as they make their way out. For everyone else, a five second handshake is enough, but not being able to capture his full attention results in feeling affronted and undervalued.
Another primitive defense is denial: "I didn't say that!" or "I never did that!" when in fact they did say or do the thing they claim not to have done. Sound childlike to you?
This is pretty self-explanatory. Evangelicals say a lot of things when they're angry and when they get called on it they either insist that they never said it or that they were somehow misunderstood. They also firmly believe that their story is true.
No observing ego—that is, no ability to see, acknowledge, and learn from their mistakes
This is a result of being told you can negate all the bad decisions you've made and negative behaviors you've engaged in by simply saying a prayer and asking to be forgiven. Since evangelicals are taught that they can perpetually wipe their sin slate clean by repenting over and over again, evangelicals often simply dismiss their mistakes, place them at the foot of the cross and never actually deal with them or even try to change. “God loves me as I am and he forgives me when I ask.” 1 Jn. 1:9
Associated mental illnesses:
Dependent Personality Disorder
Adult Child Syndrome
Immature Personality Disorder (shares a lot of traits with BPD)
When I think of the word “childlike” I see everything that this religion isn't. I see the excitement in the newness of everything. I think of curiosities that eventually get satisfied. I think of important life lessons being learned. I think of new discoveries that seem to happen every single day. I think of figuring out who I want to be, who I want to be friends with, and spending long hours thinking of what it'll be like to grow up. Those are the kid-level things.
As an adult, I see it as maintaining that spirit of curiosity. I see it as always being in learn mode. I see it as loving unconditionally and understanding that we need each-other. I see it as being in a perpetual state of discovery, both in things about ourselves and in the world around us. I see it as being dealt hard lessons and actually learning and GROWING as a result. I see it as learning more and more every day about who we are and what we want to be as grownups. I see it in not being afraid to be a little silly at times and enjoying the simple things in life.
Finally, I see it as the part of ourselves that we all too often see through a glass darkly but that we really should strive to see more clearly over time. Remembering how we thought, spoke, and reasoned like children makes us appreciate the things we've learned and the ways we've grown since. Don't let your religion rob you of that last bit. It matters. Even Paul endorsed it. You matter. Your thoughts matter. Your opinions matter. Your sense of self matters.
You know what doesn't matter? The opinion of a deity who lies to you and tells you that you'll only ever be happy if you stay a child and let daddy take care of you. It's time to take a bite of the apple, savor the sweetness of the self-awareness and mature thought that comes with it, open your eyes to the world in which we live, enjoy the one and only life you will ever live with all its ups and downs. Stop believing that you can't grow up and be happy at the same time. You can and you should. It's just one more baby step you can take toward getting and staying unbound.