Generational Pride – How has it affected the church?

The sin of pride is generational. This, of course, is true on several levels. First, generational sin has effected every generation from the first, Adam. The pride of Adam, which could be encapsulated in the statement, “I want to be like God,” is something that has been passed upon us all. (See Romans 5:12)

Then, there’s the pride that can be passed on through more recent generations; a culture of pride. We see a great example of this in the book of Daniel. Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon before the Medes took over the kingdom during a night of hard partying by the Babylonian royalty. This was predicted by Daniel. As Daniel explains Belshazzar’s dream and the judgment that is coming, he makes it known that Belshazzar has not learned from the past kings, specifically Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel sites the problem of pride and its result in the life of Nebuchadnezzar:

But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him.” (Daniel 5:20, ESV)

Daniel goes on to reveal that this has passed upon Belshazzar generationally:

And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this,” (Daniel 5:22, ESV)

We could all easily find some examples of this type of generational pride as we see it played out in some of our own families, or the families to whom we minister. We all have stories of people stuck in the generational sins of abuse or addiction and many of us have helped people, sometimes even in our own families, through struggles with these.

As I look at the story of the kings in Daniel, and the truth that there can be generational sins in leadership, I wonder how much this type of generational sin has affected the church.

I’ve noticed in the culture in which I pastor some strong residue from the sins of the church in the not so distant past. It seems that many pulpits, here in the Bible belt, have been filled with the declaration that those of us in the church have it all together, and what the world really needs is to be like us. There is no more dangerous sermon than this.

The result of such preaching of pride are several generations of Christians who are so caught up with the idolatry of exteriors that they can’t fathom that someone can come to Christ who doesn’t first look like them. This has been distilled down to Bible versions, clothing standards, music standards and other externals and opinions which should never cause disruption within a church. The observation of this generational sin of pride is the opposite of the message of humility that comes from preaching the cross.

It’s imperative that the message of the church be a message of humility. That is, we are not proud because of who we are in Christ but incredibly humbled. That way the church is never trying to exalt itself in the eyes of the world, but Jesus alone is exalted.

I think I can safely say there is a healthy trend in churches, especially those who want to see people outside of the faith impacted by the Gospel, to remember the humility that a relationship with Jesus brings. No one walks away from an encounter with Jesus the same. That’s a fact. When we live and serve out of a humility and passion that comes from an encounter with Jesus, instead of the pride of being better than someone else, we can then reach with compassion those who so desperately need to see the love and grace of Christ as we have.

But, are we at risk for other generational sins fueled by pride? I wonder if there are sins of pride committed in the church today that will be past down to future generations? Here’s a couple that may be looming on the horizon:

  1. There seems to be a trend, largely brought on by social media that the name of the game in ministry now is to become famous. (Admittedly, I say this using the platform of social media.) It seems so many now are just trying to build their platform to gain the notice of publishers. I’m guessing that’s the desired outcome. Now, I certainly don’t think it’s a sin to have an impact on a lot of people. It’s a noble thing to try and gain as big an audience as possible to hear and be affected by the Gospel. But, it’s imperative that the churches goal, as well as all of us who are in vocational ministry, is to make Jesus and Jesus alone famous.
  1. Secondly, is a continued drive to define ministries, or people personally, by their possessions. I will say that it’s a good thing that we seem to be trending away from prosperity doctrine but a poverty doctrine can become just as destructive. Either way, people still end up with the pride of possessions, either by defining their spirituality by what they have, or what they don’t have. (Of course, in our nation we are much more predisposed to a search for prosperity.) Either way, if we become defined at all by possession it’s a sure way to become entangled with pride.

The lesson for us as we look at the past, and the future, is that we need to make sure and realize that the sin of pride is extremely destructive. Even as the kingdom was torn from the hands of Belshazzar, pride will cause great destruction within the church; and it has. So, it’s imperative that we learn a lesson from the book of Daniel. God will share His glory with no one. There is no one in all creation who should know that better than those of us who serve in the context of the local church.

May our words be like those recorded of Nebuchadnezzar:

It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:2–3, ESV)

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