The de iure–de facto Split

Posted by on Sep 26, 2011

Thoughtful Christians often find themselves confused by mixed signals. A church or organization or any structure that involves a group of people may say they believe one thing but, in practice, they reveal something rather different. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially if you value mission or doctrinal statements. The problem occurs when you fail to evaluate your actions through the grid of your stated beliefs or priorities.

For example, many (if not most) churches and Christian organizations say they believe the Bible is their highest authority for faith and practice. But, in actual experience, the sermons appeal to other sources of truth (experience, “common sense,” human wisdom, secular psychology, business practices, political theory, etc.) far more than they investigate the Bible.

The conflict is between the de iure and the de facto. This is an important framework to understand and employ for evaluation on a regular basis. De iure, Latin for “sanctioned by law,” is frequently used as a contrast to de facto, Latin for “in reality.” You can say that, theoretically, or de iure, you believe something but if your actions, de facto, reveal otherwise, you fall into the de iure-de facto split. And you wouldn’t be alone.

The challenge is to pause long enough to consider what your actions are really saying. Obviously, this has profound effect on our own personal lives. What do you say you believe? And do your actions back that up?

But it also has manifold ramifications for organizations – churches, businesses, universities, etc.

My main concern, for this blog, is between the de iure statements of trust in the Bible and the power of the gospel vs. the de facto reliance on human wisdom and appeal to self-effort instead of the gospel.

I have a long history of living with a de iure-de facto split (I believe Jesus called it hypocrisy).

It can take a variety of forms:

–       a Christian organization claims to have the Bible as its highest authority but at conferences, speakers spend very little time looking at the Biblical text. Instead they speak of “God told me” or other such authoritative claims.

–       I confess sin and then determine to try harder next time instead of asking God to empower me, through the filling of the Holy Spirit.

–       To overcome temptation, I look to human resources (accountability from others, my own mental toughness, distractions, etc.) instead of tapping into the strength I have through the atoning work of the cross.

–       I say I believe in the power of prayer but my first appeals are to my power of persuasion, coercion, personal authority, or displays of anger.

I’ll stop. It’s painful, isn’t it? But once you recognize the de iure-de facto split, it can lead to liberation. In fact, a way of thinking of the gospel message could be that, while we were de facto sinners, because of the cross, God has declared us to be, de iure, righteous.

1 Comment

  1. DJ Jenkins
    September 26, 2011

    So good. This is a lot of (potentially painful) work to look at what we say verses what we actually do. Thanks for the encouragement to reflect on that Randy.


Leave a Reply