Some weeks ago, I left the office at the end of the day. On the street corner, I glanced down and saw some papers I had thrown in the trash the previous day. Papers with personal information on them.
Here in Brazil it’s common for street people or scroungers to go through the trash after it’s been set out on the street.
So this last trip to the U.S., I bought a paper shredder, so my personal data won’t wind up in strange hands.
The danger? Identify theft.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information such as name, Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other identifying information to commit fraud or other crimes./1
In the U.S. alone, over 635,000 people registered complaints in 2004, totalling losses of more than $547 million./2 Not a small problem.
A far greater problem, however, is the growing, insidious crime of spiritual identity theft.
One well-known preacher still in churches of Christ recently wrote in his blog, “I love this denomination in which I live.” Nothing new, since decades ago another brotherhood speaker called us a big, sick denomination.
But now we’ve moved from mean scowls and pointed fingers to a kinder, gentler tone. Yeah, we’re a denomination, say the new-wave guys, but don’t you just love it?! And so they gush with enthusiasm about how we’re the best denomination they know of, while making fun of everything from the signs we post on the outskirts of town to our being “five-steppers.”
It’s identity theft, no doubt about it. The church’s true, biblical identity is being stolen right from under our noses.
We’re no longer the church of Jesus Christ, but happy-go-merry sectarians, and since everybody else is, too, let’s just enjoy the ride and acknowledge that we’re all in the same boat.
We’re no longer just Christians, but sociological heirs of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement of the American frontier. And not the only ones either, so let’s get together and discuss our differences, or yet, let those slide while we celebrate what we have in common.
No longer are we a plain-spoken people who speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent, but a more nuanced, theologically savy, historically informed body who knows its place in the ecclesiological scheme of things.
We’re no longer the people of the book, but work hard at throwing out religious proposals from the pulpit where Scripture is scare and human ideas take center stage.
No longer do we demand a thus-saith-the-Lord, but anything goes as long as it will bring in the crowds and has an ecumenical sticker on it.
We’re no longer a church which does its own work, but a slew of para-church ministries handling the tough assignments and coordinating efforts like recruiting and ministering to missionaries, sending disaster relief funds, collecting monies and materials for benevolence.
Identity theft works best when the victim remains unaware of his loss. The thief can rip him off for more and more.
And churches of Christ are being taken to the cleaners.
The stakes are not measured in dollars and cents, but souls and destinies.
The solution? One dare not say to suspect everyone, nor that we have descended to the depths of Jeremiah’s time: “Let everyone beware of his neighbor, and put no trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer” (Jeremiah 9:4 ESV). But it is safe to say we can no longer assume that a preacher, publication, congregation, or ministry holds to the truths of Scripture regarding the nature of the church, salvation, worship, or evangelism.
It is, more than ever, a time to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Behind men who purport to speak for God are inspirations and influences that, often as not, do not come from God.
And those that don’t are not only stealing our best possession, eternal life, but our very identities as well.