About two weeks ago, I heard the phrase “Holy Huddle” for the first time in my life. It was described in a blog article as a group of Christians who band together in order to isolate themselves from the day-to-day world.
This would be accomplished by maintaining very active, but highly selective, relationships with fellow faith believers while avoiding contact with anyone holding a different view point.
The article in question (and others that are similar that I’ve found and read since that first one) hold that this behavior is not merely anti-social, but also anti-Christian based on four frequently quoted selections of scripture:
- Matthew 28:16-20 “The Great Commission” or an instruction to go out into the world to make disciples.
- Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:14-17, and Luke 5:27-32 each recount the same episode: Jesus, as an act of mercy and compassion, eating with people held in low esteem by their current societal standards (and judged to be sinners by the then current culture) in order to “call them to repent”
- Matthew 5:13-16 – “you are salt and light”
- Matthew 5:43-48 — ”love your enemies”
These are interesting and powerful references which are sometimes used like baseball bats among Christians to beat each other senseless over their apparent sin and erroneous behaviors.
On one hand, if a Christian (or Christian family or Christian organization) is perceived to be doing too little to reach out towards “the world of unregenerate hearts” then they’re:
- Failing their call to make disciples of all the nations,
- Pridefully refusing to eat with sinners who need the gospel presentation,
- Hiding their light,
- Failing to love.
On the other hand, if a Christian (or Christian family or Christian organization) is perceived to be building close and intimate ties with the world then they’re:
- Compromising their own beliefs (Psalm 1:1, Psalm 119:115, Matthew 5:13-16 and 43-48 – “Salt and Light is meaningless if impure”/”Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect”
- Turning their back on God (James 4:4, 7-8 – friendship with the world is hating God, we are to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil and purify our hearts)
- Failing to observe warnings from scripture to guard our families from evil influence that would lead them to destruction (Ps 10:9-10, Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2, Col 2:6-8, 1 Pet 5:8).
Could it be that both camps are correct? Is it possible to take the gift of salvation by grace and become a miserable Christian who becomes ineffective byeither:
- continuing to love the world and “tolerate” impurity with impunity (while claiming to meet the least, last, lost “where they really live” and “on their terms/level” like an undercover policeman who actually becomes addicted to drugs in the process of identifying with his target audience?), or
- failing to make connections with people who are being drawn towards God (John 12:32)? Like the country-club elite who don’t want “just anybody” strolling the grounds of our exclusive retreat center?
Isn’t it possible to prepare, to be pure, to treat sin as sin and still demonstrate love by engaging the world where we encounter those who would benefit from the good news of the gospel?
Jesus huddled with his disciples, and spent time alone, too. His huddling (and occasional solitude) was not to shun the society at large, but rather to prepare himself and his disciples for engaging society with a pure heart, proper intent, and God-focused mindset.
Where this argument over huddling breaks my heart is its application towards the raising of our children, their education and socialization in youth organizations.
One extreme viewpoint would have our children be missionaries as early as pre-school or Kindergarten, and another extreme might have our children so introverted as to shun contact with anyone who has a different mindset. Both extremes are clearly inappropriate based on a studied search of scriptures, but the continued bickering among Christians drives people to examine extremes instead of a healthier perspective based on what scriptures actually state.
Confusing Design and Purposes
Example #1 – Fire
Fire has a specific design. It is the result of a specific combination of fuel, air, heat and a chemical reaction. Too much or too little of each component in the mix and fire won’t occur; however, the correct combination of these components will yield a predictable result.
Fire is neither inherently good or evil. It is merely a process that consumes fuel and delivers by products. This is fire’s design.
Fire may be used by man for a purpose:
- Create heat and light on a cold night
- Maliciously burn down buildings for profitable, but illicit, gain
- Cook food or boil water to kill harmful bacteria (a purifying process)
- Efficiently clear land for developing new roads, homes and hospitals
Fire is a tool used for good or bad depending on the purpose of men who use its design to accomplish their own goals.
Example #2 – Football
Huddles in the game of football are designed to privately instruct teammates on the plan for the next play. Its purpose is to prepare the offensive line to execute the quarterback’s plan. It’s purpose is not to ignore the other team – in fact, if this happened during a game, there’d be a “delay of game” penalty assessed against the offense repeatedly until possession of the ball shifted to the other team.
In football, huddles are important to the strategy of the game (design). However, they can be useful to prepare the line for the play or detrimental if abused as a delay of the game because the line is afraid to engage the next play.
Application – Thoughtfully using “huddles” to prepare for our vocational calling to minister to others instead of using “huddles” to avoid walking worthy of our calling.
A Christians, we are designed to fulfill a number of good purposes:
- As Christian adults, we seek to reach those people who live sinfully with unregenerate hearts apart from Christ’s salvation. We acknowledge that all sins must be dealt with before God, and that God, in loving us while we were yet unregenerate sinners, sets an example for us to love all as we proclaim the gospel and individually pursue sanctification walking with the Holy Spirit inside of us (John 1:12, 1 John 1:9, Rom 5:1, Mt 7:21, 2 Cor 5:17, 1 John 1:7, Gal 5:16).
- However, we are also called as adults to protect the children who are put in our care, to raise them in the word (Dt 4:10, Dt 6:1-9, Dt 11:19, Ps 78:4-6, Ps 127:3-5, Pr 22:6, Eph 6:4, Col. 3:21, Heb 12:9-10).
- We also have a responsibility to counsel youth based on scriptures (Isaiah 1:16-17, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, 2 Timothy 3 and Titus 2:6-8, et.al.) whether the issue is lying, cheating, stealing, extra-marital sex exploration, or substance abuse, et.al. The goal is to help them maintain purity, increase wisdom and stature (Ps 1:1-3, Jeremiah 17:5-8) and therefore, to be prepared for their ultimate vocational calling.
- There’s little evidence that our children are called to be missionaries while they’re still learning the commands of God and building discipline to confront people whose worldview is diametrically opposed to our own (Ps 10:9-10, Ps 127:3-5, Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2, Col 2:6-8, 1 Pet 5:8). Further, consider Luke 2:39-52 where we learn that while a child, Jesus “huddled” with his parents and people of same faith to learn and grow. He did not begin his ministry to the “last, least and lost” in earnest until he was an adult.
Still, Matthew 5:13-16 introduces the metaphors of saints being “salt and light” which is a powerful illustration. From a Focus on the Family article, we read:
Salt is a preservative that works only when it penetrates into food, and becomes useless when contaminated by other chemical substances. It must remain pure to do its job. Jesus says that Christians, likewise, must penetrate society while keeping themselves from being influenced by sin in the world.
Similarly, light penetrates darkness. To know the truth and fail to stand for it, Jesus says, is as senseless as lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket.
Our role as parents and adult custodians of youth is to protect them as we instruct them and prepare them for His purposes and plans. We are preparing them to live a life of proclaiming the gospel and serving Him as they serve ALL others. Nevertheless, it’s not the role of our youth to fully wear the mantle of adult in a corrupt world without our protection and oversight. Simply put, mature youth will certainly learn to stretch their wings to fly (some at earlier ages than others) but as Mark 9:42 admonishes, as custodians, we are not to enable/encourage youth towards corruption or sin.
As adults we fail youth (and the Lord’s commands) when we:
- allow them to become impure,
- fail to instruct them in the Word,
- enable/cause them to stumble (Col 2:6-8, Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2)
- fail to inspire them to a calling to not only minister to the world, but to prepare the next generation as well (Deut 6; Psalm 78:4; 2 Tim 2:2; Titus 2:1-8)
Translating to Youth Organizations
Youth groups (whether bible studies or formal curriculum like outdoor adventure programs) and youth educational programs (i.e. Vacation Bible School (VBS), private schools, etc.) should balance those “protection” and “light shining” roles by:
- Recognizing that the ministry to unregenerate hearts is primarily a responsibility reserved for adults involved in the ministry, not the primary responsibility of the youth involved in the program. (Naturally, there will be exceptional youth who demonstrate maturity and have a unique relationship which can be appropriately leveraged in a God honoring way to influence peers; however, the typical response is for adults to take on the mantle of presenting the gospel message through curriculum and related opportunities).
- Welcoming any/all youth who are interested in the program regardless of their personal faith (or even no-faith) practices in order to expose them to our salt and light as adult Christians (much like a traditional VBS program)
- Avoiding inappropriate “holy huddlism” where the group slides into an overly protective shielding from the world that becomes counter productive to the youth member’s ultimate goal of salvation, personal relationship with the Lord, and providing a proactive witness to everyone they meet. Further, a group that becomes “exclusive” and “restrictive” in its youth membership eligibility avoids the opportunity to productively serve the greater community. However, based on Luke 2, we don’t find evidence that believer’s children must be mixed with the greater (non-believing) community but only the believing community.
- Recognizing that it is a challenge to practically balance both roles (protection and light shining) without much prayer and dedication to each adult’s own relationship to the Lord. The leadership team should not underestimate the need to minister to each other and uphold each other with all sobriety and diligence. Any division among the adult leaders will be transparent to the youth and could undermine the ministry’s effectiveness.
In this context, a “holy huddle” whose purpose is to safeguard purity while preparing children for the future ministry work of reaching “the lost” takes the design of a huddle and connects it with an appropriate purpose. However, a “holy huddle” whose purpose is to build a fear of meeting strangers fails to equip for future ministry.
The issue isn’t the huddle of a group, but its purpose, intent and execution.