The Gospel According to Narcissus
Narcissus, as we are told from Greek mythology, was a youth who was enamored with himself. After inciting the wrath of a nymph, he was condemned to stare at his reflection in a pool until he pined away. From this old fable we have a picture of the epitome of vanity; one who is so self-absorbed that they are oblivious to the world around them. From this myth psychologists utilize the label "Narcissistic" to describe one who does not feel empathy for others, but instead is fully involved in their own feelings, perceptions and interests. Narcissism is a way of seeing the world where Self reigns supreme and an individualís own feelings or experiences are the final arbiter of what is right or wrong.
With that introduction out of the way, I would like to contrast this with the Christian world-view, based upon the Gospel revealed to the apostles. The reason why I am taking the pains to walk through this seemingly simplistic comparison is so we can evaluate whether we have a narcissistic faith or a truly Christian faith.
In the historic Christian faith, God is the end of all things. He is Sovereign, Holy, Righteous, and His way is above our ways. In Narcissism, God is merely the means to the end. There are things that we expect from life, and we include God because He can help us achieve or acquire what we want.
In the historic Christian faith, our "self" (old nature) impedes us from living wholly devoted to Christ. Our life consists of reckoning our old nature as being crucified, and continually being sanctified by the Holy Spirit as we strive towards more holiness and a greater intimacy with God. In a Narcissistic faith, our walk is dictated by our self, which seeks self-esteem, fulfillment, and personal enrichment.
In the historic Christian faith, we are asked to lay everything down, including our most cherished ambitions and ideals, and utilize our resources and energies to follow Christ. It may mean enduring many difficult situations or even involve significant suffering. In a Narcissistic faith, we go with God because He has a great benefits package, and you can get whatever you want in Jesusí name. We are entitled to live like a "Kingís kid". Godís Word is primarily viewed as a list of promises to claim.
In Christianity, we gather on Sunday mornings and other days, because it is the assembling of our covenantal family. We are there to publicly glorify God, and we seek means to selflessly serve the others of our church family. In a Narcissistic faith, "Whatís in it for me?" is the mantra. Narcissists will leave a church because they didnít "get anything from it" or didnít get a highest enough emotional lift from the music or preacher.
In Christianity, ministry means service, and that is expending yourself to edify, comfort or otherwise help others in even the smallest fashion. Christian ministry does not seek recognition or accolades for that which is done in Christís Name. In Narcissism, ministry is implementing "your" vision and fulfilling "your " ministry, which means that eventually, people better recognize you for the spiritual hotshot that you imagine you are. Narcissistic ministers talk incessantly about what they have experienced or believe they have heard from the Lord. They preach themselves rather than Christ.
In Christianity, matters of doctrine or practice are derived from the clear enunciation of Scripture. The Gospel was delivered once, for all, to the saints. Narcissism makes personal experience the determinant for truth, and is always in pursuit of a "new" thing from God, whether that is a manifestation or revelation. With the spiritual narcissists, the phrase "God told me" wins out over chapter and verse any day of the week. Narcissists love novelty.
Well, how do you score? Are you a Christian or a Narcissist, or perhaps a little of both? For most of us, we donít even realize how such self-centered, narcissistic thinking has crept into to our faith. It is a sad but true observation that much of American Christianity has been hijacked by such Narcissism. Many of us rate churches on how they make us feel. (If we feel good, then it must be a good church). Some of the biggest movements in the church today have nothing to do with historic Christianity, but are merely expressions of our own narcissism, as we chase new and even bizarre experiences, and we call it the "Holy Ghost". There are a tremendous number of "Big Name" ministers whose only offering to the Body of Christ differs very little from a carnival show. This is not to say that God is absent from such expressions, but when the focus of such meetings or ministries is merely to titillate the senses, rather than preach Christ crucified, then we have seriously deviated from Godís pattern of ministry.
What has been the fruit of the Gospel of Narcissus? For many of the millions who have been lingering on the peripheral edges of Christianity, they have come to the conclusion that they donít get enough out of church and have joined the swelling ranks of the unchurched in this country. This is the biggest religious classification in the United States. Most of them say they believe that the Bible is Godís Word, and that Jesus is Godís Son, but they donít see the relevance or get enough of a rise from church, so Sunday morning is spent following other pursuits.
On the other end of the spectrum, (those who have an intense spirituality) the Gospel of Narcissus has resulted in huge rifts in Christianity which has split churches and pitted believer against believer over issues of what constitutes a legitimate spiritual experience. I see an intensifying in hostility from those who insist that Christians must accept an ever-increasing litany of manifestations, visions, and revelations against those who are content with the Bible as the sole and complete source of revelation. I would suggest that we are obligated to follow the Bible and that alone, since that is the only sure and steadfast measure of truth. Every cult and aberration in Christianity begins with the premise that there is a revelation in either addition to or distinct from the 66 Books of the Bible. For this reason, the successors of the apostles in the first 300 years of Christianity (The time of the fastest growth of Christianity) always examined every teaching to see if it was "novel" (new), as compared with the apostleís teaching. If it was found to be novel, then it was immediately rejected. That is how God protected the fledgling church and made it to prosper and grow, even unto the ends of the known world.
In any case, the cure to Narcissism is the same. The answer is found at Calvary. That is where the one who had everything (existing as God) emptied himself of all for the sake of others. According to Philippians 2, those of us who are mature are to have this same mind. Christ did not come to earth to see what he could get out of it, or to carry out his own agenda. Rather, he set the pattern of selflessness by submitting his will to that of the Father, and enduring all things for our sake. From our perspective, we are to model this same behavior. It is the self-centeredness and self-will that causes divisions, factions and other problems in church (as well as elsewhere). Take a pass on the Gospel of Narcissus. It has only weakened the church and set the true Gospel back in the Western World. When the church, as a whole begins to let go of itís own self-absorption, we can in simplicity and purity address the mission before all of us.
Eric Francke eman77@ juno.com