Monday, December 11, 2017

QOTM - December 11, 2017

Always remember, your focus determines your reality.
-George Lucas, filmmaker/creator of Star Wars

Saturday, December 9, 2017

What "The Church" Produced: Bully For Us

These are the days in which I lament how much times are and are not changing.

Times in the Lord's church change for various reasons. But unfortunately what has not changed in the past century or thereabouts is the way in which preachers and leaders often end up in camps or tribes...somewhat like the Hatfields and McCoys, but with a lot less blood. Or maybe the contention between the Huguenots and French Catholics is a more appropriate comparison. Or maybe the Crips and the Bloods. The bottom line is this: church leaders know how to "set-trip" with the best of them.

And in these contemporary times, this family feud has found a new square circle: the Internet, naturally and unfortunately. Specifically, these bouts take place on the more well-known media avenues of Facebook and YouTube. Whether in word or video, sides get chosen, 'bows get thrown, and saints and the society-at-large watch or get caught up in the madness. Even they are susceptible to participating in the so-called "friendly fire". Well at least it's packaged as friendly.

One specific camp seemingly promotes the concept of sound doctrine. To preface what I'm going to say next, I'm all in favor of sound doctrine. I believe in having a teaching that is sound in quality. Biblical soundness has direct reference primarily to that which is healthy, such as a broken bone being properly set back into place so as to allow the body to heal itself and become one again. The implication is that the doctrine or teaching offered has the ability to provide a holistic quality of life for the child of God: spiritual health which then allows for health in other vital life areas.

The McCoys could not make it to this portrait setting...for obvious reasons.
Here is the problem: certain promoters of "sound" doctrine are typically known or notorious for breaking spiritual bones instead of solidifying them. Tactics such as thinly-veiled threats to "disfellowship", conferences offering regurgitated topics that are neither thought-provoking nor  hermeneutically responsible, and an overall attitude of elitism and smugness that can make an English aristocrat look like he came from the 'hood.

Those not residing in this camp colloquially refer to them with colorful names descriptive of infamous terrorist groups - the "Taliban", "Al-Qaeida", etc. - names that describe the otherwise toxic influence and activity that they demonstrate. It is and always will represent a form of bullying. Comply with what we say (based on our non-public interpretation of the Bible) or else get cut, get cut off, or worse...labeled a heretic. But this is just the tip of the iceberg here...

(I'll just add here that certain brethren not in the professed "sound doctrine" enclave are not exempt, as they participate in their own brand of name-calling, pejorative-slanging, and petty bickering with the "sound" doctrine camp. Referring to their spiritual siblings as the Taliban and Al-Qaeida, privately or publicly, does not do the body good...)

The spot gets hot when this and other camps show up at regional or national gatherings designated for preachers and leaders. This is when the prominent and not-so-prominent ministers come into town armed with their bark and their bite, ready to show fangs whether they get to speak from the dais or bump shoulders in the buffet line. And if there happens to be a "hot seat" portion of the program, the event has every potential to wonder if Jerry Springer has shown up to be the moderator.

Let me explain the "hot seat" phenomenon: a panel of preachers, who have already mounted the bully pulpit (some probably still smarting from being bumped from a "prime time" slot to the daytime one), are seated on the stage to field questions or pointed challenges from the audience based on their presentations. The goal is for each preacher to defend his position scripturally and, if need be, forcefully. 

Those in the audience - especially if they are from the "sound" doctrine camp - show up primed to contend for the faith verbally spar over and advance the causes they feel are worthy and relevant to the church at large: dangers of secularism, the concerns regarding worship movements/influences, ecumenism (promotion of religious and doctrinal unity with other religious groups), and so on.

This is not to say that these may not be worthy and relevant topics. The problem is when there are extreme approaches by camps that draw hard lines in the sand, leading ministers to look for a "reason to go". And the truth of the matter is this: "soundness" usually has very little to do with Scripture and has much to do with the following:
  • church imperialism: the need to invade the personal space of their leadership peers to insist and strong-arm others to be, act, worship, and serve like them;
  • abuse of "power": the air of arrogance that causes certain ministers to carry themselves as the last remaining or ultimate earthly authority of what is or is not sound;
  • ecclesiastical gang-bangin' or set-trippin'; my group of preachers (who think and preach/teach like I do) versus just-about-everyone-else (those who are "in error" and are on deck to be "ministry-shamed").
Recognize any of these people? I doubt you bumped into any of them at the last church workshop...
So with all this bullying going on, what can we do to discontinue this activity and discourage ecclesiastical cannibalism (Galatians 5.15)?

Call a spade a spade.
In other words, make the effort to be clear about what constitutes true sound doctrine. Some issues have been labeled doctrinal when they really are in the realm of expediency and matters of personal or congregational judgment (e.g., hand-clapping...yes, I said it). Yet some issues have been labeled non-doctrinal when they should in fact be classified as non-negotiable in doctrinal terms (women elders and preachers).

I may be opening up a can of worms here, and I also know that this issue cannot be resolved with one blog post. But the point I'm making here is that an issue can be discussed and debated with no end in sight. So being resolved to live and support what YOU personally believe and have studied based on proper hermeneutics is necessary. And don't be surprised if some don't or won't agree with you. It's par for the course.

Stop acting like rogue police officers.
The problem with some in the so-called "sound" doctrine camp is that they operate what they see as being under the law in their methodology, but in reality they present as above the law in behavior. Functionally, they are all letter and little to no spirit (or better said, little to no Spirit). It is as though 2 Timothy 2.25 ceases to exist. And what's worse is that in holding themselves to a standard they are not willing to live by, the inference becomes that we are facing a neo-Pharisaical spirit in our Kingdom ranks.

It's like the contemporary church version of the "blue line". If a church leader ends up on the wrong side of it, he should be prepared to be the target of ecclesiastical profiling. Or some verbal "sound" doctrine camp brutality. Or a line of "sound" brothers in riot gear and leather-bound billy clubs. Or even worse: be the subject of rogue "police" activity that is neither Scriptural nor Spirit-led...such as the "letter of withdrawal".

The fact is that these brothers have no God-given authoritative mandate to regulate others in this way. So if you find that you are a badge-toting member of this "police" union, the time to turn in your shield is way overdue. 

Redirect all that anger, sarcasm, pot-shot taking, name-calling, and emotional vomiting under the guise of preaching towards (y)our real enemy.
As Jermaine Jackson once sang, "Don't take it personal/Take the bitter with the sweet..." Most preaching done by this camp does not fall under the category of expository or exegetical. In fact, it is barely topical insomuch that the topic has the bare modicum of a Biblical focus. In other words, the Bible may be the starting point but not necessarily the end goal. And when one in this camp preaches to his base (read: his home congregation), dishing up red meat to the "sound" doctrine supporters usually amounts to very little, if any, progress outside the base. All the while, the devil himself checks off a box and moves on to his next conquest.

There is a healthy portion of scriptural passages that encourages a Christian to diagnose a conflict or situation with a brother or sister properly.  Sadly, most conflicts open up opportunities for the devil to damage Christian relationships and skew the way we view our spiritual siblings. By treating fellow workers of the Body as if they are our enemy, they actually turn themselves into a tool being used by the real enemy. These things ought not to be.

The devil already has enough to work with without having us help him out. So those in the "sound" doctrine camp need to check their wayward dispositions, verbal salvos, and emotional content at the door so cooler heads can truly prevail.

Those not in this camp are not safe. So if you engage in unhealthy, unproductive, and negative dialogue with the so-called "sound" doctrine camp, this next point is for you...

Stop enabling bad behavior.
In engaging in this type of dialogue, you are merely fanning the flames of the so-called "sound" doctrine rhetoric and vitriol. As the old saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right. Referring to them in terrorist language or taking part in what amounts to online catfights only emboldens the "sound" camp and riles up their base. The only difference here is that you are supplying names for them to target and use as fuel for their fire. Instead of fighting fire with fire, one would be better served to take a page (or several) from the book of Proverbs.

If one from the "sound" doctrine camp rages against you if you try to scripturally reason with them in a Christ-like spirit, use wise judgment to decide whether to respectfully dismiss him or challenge and reprove him. Note that person as one who rejects counsel and wisdom, which, by Biblical standards, is the classification of a fool. As one person aptly stated, " negligible issues we should just ignore fools, but in issues that matter, they must be dealt with so that credence will not be given to what they say."

In other words, let Proverbs 26.4-5 be your approach. I'll give you that one for free...

Learn how to touch and disagree. 
Quite a noticeable number of church leaders and ministers either have lost or have never developed the art of diplomacy. If the US State Department and all our ambassadors handled disagreements in the manner we often do in the church, we might be on the verge of World War 9 by now. The concept of tact is one that we would be well served to adopt in our spiritual relationships. 

Heck, Abraham had enough sense to do this with his own blood family when there was a disagreement. Paul and Barnabas apparently did not hold any severe grudges after their sharp contention over John Mark....otherwise, someone's name would've still been in the other person's mouth. 

What do we tend to do in similar situations? Turn an argument into a "battle royal" with tussles outside of the ring that move to the next local preachers' the next preachers' the the next edition of a "brotherhood" journal or the next preachers' "field trip", bringing the fight inside the foyer, or worse, inside of the worship service. And it shouldn't be any surprise when those in the world catch wind of how those church folk just can't seem to...well, be Christians.

If you don't know who this person is, you don't know your religious conservative debate history very well.
Once we learn how to agree to disagree under the influence of the Holy Spirit, at the same time avoid putting our business in the street, we will be much better off. And the collateral positive result will be the good pleasure of our Lord Himself. In unpleasantly disagreeing with each other, we get locked into our pleasure and forget about pleasing the Lord. The irony is this: we tell ourselves that what we are doing to please ourselves IS pleasing God. 

Question: Where have you read or heard when the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit EVER disagreed with each other, whether pleasantly or unpleasantly? Exactly.

Make sure to keep the main thing the main thing...but first figure out what the main thing really is.
With all of the lectureships crowding the annual calendar, one would think that much more is actually being accomplished. Quite the contrary. At times what we see is the redrawing of ministerial districts based on doctrinal, relational, and congregational shifts. When people find out about what a certain minister is about, and that minister shows up at a gathering of his peers, the conversations turn into sidebar questions concerning with whom he is affiliated. 

What ensues is what I'd like to refer to as "perceived damage control". In other words, this brother has been "damaged" by some outside influence, and we need to control that influence so the leaven doesn't leaven the whole lump. So in the end, it's not about the purpose for the assembly but the undercurrent that threatens the fabric of our brotherhood.

That seems to be a major problem for the Kingdom these days: we excel in majoring in the minors, except they are minors of our own making...manufactured for our own motives and desires, not God's.

What also complicates things is a concept that has become in a utilitarian sense a necessary "evil": autonomy. The only difference between this and, say, television, is that we really NEED autonomy. Yet at times we use autonomy to circumvent the issues of disunity and disharmony. We can stay holed up in our corner of the world and tip-toe around those with whom we have not sought healthy dialogue and civil debate. 

All this does is create a veneer of Kingdom fellowship, one as esoteric and paper thin as having the same naming convention on the outside of the church building...because we can't play fair long enough in our disagreements to deal with a more pressing issue. The issue clearly is our collective shortcomings in "maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace". Not surprisingly, we can easily quote this scripture without practicing it.

If we took the time to see how critically important the big picture (unity in the Spirit) really is for us, maybe then we will see ourselves in a manner that reflects 1 Corinthians 12.12-27.  We won't always agree - and by "agree", I refer to matters on a non-doctrinal basis - but we can at least put ourselves in position to affirmatively answer the Rodney King credo-like query, "Can we all just get along?"

Then those in the so-called "sound" doctrine camp will be more agreeable and less dogmatic, those not in their camp will be more conciliatory and less retaliatory, and the lion and the lamb will get to lay down together.

I mean, "we be brethren"...aren't we?

"Do Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 contradict? How can both verses be true?" Retrieved October 30, 2017, from

Thursday, September 28, 2017

QQTM - September 28, 2017

Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others.
-John C. Maxwell, The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization 

Friday, September 22, 2017

QQTM - September 22, 2017

The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude. So have a great day if you want to. (emphasis added)
-Willie Taggart, University of Oregon head football coach

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

QQTM - September 20, 2017

The unexamined life is not worth living.
The undisciplined life is an insane life.


The uncommitted life isn't worth living.
-Marshall Fishwick

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Crispus Attucks 7.0: The Colin Kaepernick Saga Continues

It is becoming increasingly clear in 2017 America that there is a thin line between hero and villain.

In the sports world this is very true. People argue about who between Lebron James and the Golden State Warriors is the bigger hero or villain. But this is chump change when it comes to Colin Kaepernick.

Yes, the issue with Colin still rages on, so much that Wolf Blitzer should probably create another "Situation Room" to editorialize on this unfortunate circumstance.

I call it unfortunate because it didn't need to come to this: Colin being unemployed in his career of choice - American professional football.

There are a lot of moving pieces to this, of which I will address a few.  But the fact of the matter is Colin is fast becoming a living version of a martyr, using Donald Trump's popular refrain, the likes of which the world has seen before countless times...starting with a specific incident that occurred in the infancy of our country. Enter Crispus Attucks, the first African-American martyr..."the first to die, the first to defy". Or as Stevie Wonder famously sung, "First man to die for the flag we now hold high was a black man." 

Here is a Black man who was the first American killed in the American Revolution. America had been revolting against the commonwealth of England, who made sure that King George III's presence was felt in every one of the thirteen colonies. The colonists chafed under this oppressive political, social, and economic weight from the king, especially the idea of "taxation without representation". This led to several attempts to stand up for themselves and "fight the power(s) that be". The hostility between the colonists and England eventually led to a March 5, 1770 showdown forever known as the Boston Massacre. British soldiers fired at colonists without reasonable cause or order, and the first to be shot and killed was 47-or-so-year-old Attucks. Ironically, Attucks was buried along with the other 4 men who died...who happened to be White.

James Neyland in his book, Crispus Attucks: Patriot, wrote about his lasting historical significance: 
He is one of the most important figures in African-American history, not for what he did for his own race but for what he did for all oppressed people everywhere. He is a reminder that the African-American heritage is not only African but American and it is a heritage that begins with the beginning of America. (emphasis added)
But Neyland also added this note:
...Popular legend portrays him as a hero - indeed, the first real American hero - yet scholarly historians frequently attempt to portray him as a villain, minimizing his contribution to history in favor of the leaders of the American Revolution...
After his murder (because that's what it was), there was still the running debate on whether Attucks was a hero and patriot, or a "rabble-rousing villain". Even John Adams (the future 2nd U.S. President), while acting as public defender for the British solders, "reviled the 'mad behavior' of Attucks, 'whose very looks was enough to terrify any person.'" (Sounds like I-feared-for-my-life language, but I digress...)

Nevertheless, the poet John Boyle O'Reilly memorialized Attucks in verse when a monument was erected for him in Boston Common: 
And to honor Crispus Attucks who was the leader and voice that day: The first to defy, and the first to die...Call it riot or revolution, or mob or crowd as you may, such deaths have been seeds of nations, such lives shall be honored for aye...(emphasis added)
Even the notorious Rush Limbaugh couldn't argue this one down.

The Crispus Attucks Monument in Boston Common, Boston, MA.
Why bring all of this up? This is almost like living in a parallel universe in which Kap is the first to fall down (on one knee) in order that some or many will be free. The NFL, team owners, and any other complicit entity play the role of John Adams or Massachusetts Historical Society. And everyone else is left to figure out who is responsible for shaping the narrative of who Colin Kaepernick really is: contemporary civil rights hero or just another in a long lineage of "uppity" Black rabble-rousers playing the race card in a game of Texas hold 'em.

Because that's what's happening. Many took and still take issue with Colin's refusal to "shut up and play" as though his last name was Bojangles instead of Kaepernick. I mean he really has some nerve. NFL football is supposed to be a respite and escape from "de troubles of dis world". But the fact is the sports world was heavily politicized WAY before the color barrier was broken in ANY sport. This is not a "chicken or egg" debate, nor is it an unwelcome seeping of race into the pristine vacuum of professional athletics. Whenever you have the likes of a Kennesaw "Mountain" Landis or an Avery Brundage at the helm of a sports conglomerate or megalopoly, be it national or global, you're going to find race sitting as a charter member of their board of directors.

The inescapable result is the absence of moral courage that exposes the historical sports record as well as transcends it. It also results in the violation of "moral" labor laws. Allow me to break it down...

In any other sector of labor or employment generally protected by the U.S. government (because the government can't safeguard it all), what is happening to Colin would be illegal. Someone who is more than qualified to be hired for a position is getting passed over by other less than qualified or accomplished individuals by several entities organized under a collective umbrella. Balanced, rationally-thinking individuals call that collusion, even if there wasn't an NFL owners' meeting about it. (Which makes me wonder where the NFL Players' Association is in all of this.) 

You know what else balanced, rationally-thinking individuals call that? The "D" word. Discrimination.

I guess the Indianapolis Colts felt Kap couldn't do any better than 0 TD, 4 sacks, and a QB rating of 6.3...which was the best that Scott Tolzien could do.
But Colin isn't being discriminated against, you might say. That's where you're wrong. Sure it's discrimination. Just like what Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party experienced at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Just like what John Carlos and Tommie Smith experienced when they were frozen out economically after their Olympic stand (even by Black businessmen who were trying to protect themselves from second-hand "smoke"). Just like what Black actors and their Tinseltown experiences brought to light with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. I'll go there: just like "affirmative action", allegedly. (I'm speaking of "reverse discrimination"...and we have Alan Bakke to thank for that. Excuse my sarcasm...) 

The point is this: when one group wielding power and absolute control freezes out another group who is perennially being disenfranchised for an unjust or illogical reason, that's discrimination. When that happens, be sure that Crispus is about to undergo a resurrection...or rather resurfacing. Over 40 years ago, he reappeared in the form of Curt Flood. This time, he comes in the person of Colin Kaepernick.

Well, the NFL owners have a right to "hire" whomever they choose to be on their team, one might say. That's not an arguable point. Of COURSE they have that right. But even that right should have a moral line to be respected and upheld. Like when a quarterback who led his team seconds away from a Super Bowl win and one play away from another second Super Bowl appearance gets continuously passed over by every NFL team for journeymen football spinners who will likely never start a regular preseason NFL game of any significance. Not to mention names, but a good number of them were never even drafted and wish they had some of what Kap has in his skill set.

Anyone who argues that he may not fit a particular offensive system should have their qualifications checked too. Because coaches always advocate that they want the best players on the field. When drafting players, if they can't get the best player at their position they default to the best available player remaining on the board regardless of position. And with the failure of a team's front office and coaching staff to "coach 'em up" - put a talented player in the best position to succeed, surround that player with the best talent, and make sure their philosophic strategy emphasizes that player's strengths and minimizes his weaknesses - you have to wonder if the issue is with the coach and not the player. Jim Harbaugh did it successfully...the other coaches could not. And Kap remains the fall pun intended.

So it's rather hypocritical for NFL owners to suggest, imply, or tell their coaching staff (hello, Baltimore Ravens) not to bother asking to explore having Kaep in for a tryout because he may be a distraction that will be a detriment to their bottom line: dollar bills y'all. But their bottom line is compromised if they are trying to win games with a less-talented roster. So it presents a dilemma that we are seeing now. Other players are choosing not to cross the moral line but rather honor it in their own protests during the national anthem...and in effect, give credibility to Colin Kaepernick's stance and talent credibility in the league.

Yet players who should probably keep quiet for fear of having their dirty laundry re-aired (see McCoy, Lesean) are clamoring about Kap being a distraction if he did sign with a team. It's surprising how some players feel that standing up for delayed justice for their own ethnicity is a distraction. That's why Black players like Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett - and now even White players like Chris Long - are necessary on the sidelines and the field to make sure the scales don't tip over in the wrong direction. 

In other words, the players are needed now to put things back into perspective for a certain fan segment, who seemingly want to pretend that what happens outside of the stadium should stay outside of the stadium. And what happens inside of the stadium needs to remain as Kaepernick-free as possible. The only race they are concerned about is how many times their beloved team races to break the plane of the goal line. Everything else in the real lives of the players must wait...which sadly is just another form of "justice delayed" becoming "justice denied".

Here's a word to this fan: You can't press the pause button on the race issue. It will eventually find its way into everything American. And the only way to escape it is to meet it head-on with the goal of "killing it dead". Otherwise, another modern-day Crispus Attucks is going to rise up and display a form of authentic American patriotism you can't shout down from the bleachers.

So if you're looking for a break from it, you are a lot too late.

Neyland, James. Crispus Attucks: Patriot (Black American Series). Los Angeles: Holloway House Publishing Company, 1995.
Ford, James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year: A Poetical Epitome of the World’s HistoryNew York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1902. New York:, 2011.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

QOTM - Sept 1, 2017

Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

QOTM - August 17, 2017

Many people confuse leadership with initiative. Initiative just shows you can get something started. Authentic leadership reveals what kind of navigation skills you have when you start and whether you can use them effectively to move your group from Point A to Point B. And your group will let you know whether they have the captain of the Mayflower or the Titanic at the wheel.

-Greg Brinkley

Friday, August 4, 2017

What "The Church" Produced: The Contemporary "Scarlet 'Letter'"

One would think that "hit lists" are only reserved for Mafioso circles, political strongholds, and the seedy underworld. Unfortunately, the fact is some church leaders and their followers conduct themselves in ways at which even Newt Gingrich and Michael Corleone would marvel.

I remember many years ago a young preacher who was ostracized as a result of a seemingly innocuous decision to speak at a celebratory event held to honor a denominational minister. Of course, the reaction from the ministers in the surrounding area was sharp, prompting them to convince him (read: threaten him) to repent (read: comply with their demands to fall in line). When the preacher didn't, the group of ministers (read: unofficial council) proceeded to prepare a "letter of withdrawal" ("LOW") that circulated nationwide. The young preacher left the church but eventually returned years later. To this day, I have not seen or heard of a letter welcoming him back into the "fellowship of the saints".

This is an example of the disturbing fallout from the dreaded "LOWs": dispensed, publicized, bandied about, debated, and fancied as a tool of subjective control in the name and under the guise of church discipline. This manipulative machination has been a favorite go-to for many dogmatic, uber-aggressive, legalistic-leaning, power-hungry, self-justified, Type A church leaders - mindsets that embody very little Holy Spirit yet just enough self-centered arrogance.

I must stress the disturbing nature of the fallout that occurs from this document, one that I will call a convenient piece of legislative church propaganda. Convenient because the recourse one can fall back on is, "I got Bible for it!" Legislative because it has the flavor of procedure and protocol...and what slightly tyrannical boss doesn't love those things. Propaganda because the letter has the potential ability to sway a mass number of saints in one fell swoop because it must have been necessary to put that erring Christian on blast...regardless of whether the Christian is actually in sin or not.

And what you ask is the ultimate fallout? Lost sheep. Ostracized, possibly misunderstood, branded as outcasts, disenfranchised, occasionally victimized, at times falsely accused, disrespected, or (wait for it)...hated. Wait a minute...the hate sometimes takes place before the rough draft of the letter. But I thought that Jesus' sheep was never supposed to be able to get snatched out of His hand?? Or maybe the letter-wielding leaders make the restoration-eligible sheep feel so small or not worthy enough of mercy that they merely slip through His fingers.

And just like Hester Prynne in the novel, The Scarlet Letter, they end up being stigmatized to no end.  As a result, they wander almost aimlessly, looking for other shepherds because they were left hanging by their previous ones who decided that the stains in their wool are too much for them to scrub clean.

I'm waxing poetic a little bit, but this is the picture.

Do not misinterpret the line that I'm drawing here. Church discipline, two words you will not find together within the pages of Holy Writ, is a necessity. It is set in place by the Lord Himself to protect the people of God from sin and doctrinal error, among other purposes. Yet godly discipline must have the end goal of restoring those who are in said sin or error.

God chastens whom He loves; He doesn't love first, then put conditions on His love while He chastens.

I wonder what the "A"  would stand for in our contemporary church context.

However, it is sad that there are brethren in our midst who fit the mold of what Wayne Jackson, long-time editor of the Christian Courier, described in one of his articles:
(They are) bloodthirsty radicals (who) go for the jugular on every imaginable issue. Cocky brethren strut about with letters of withdrawal in their pockets—looking for names to fill the blanks. Thankfully, they are a rather microscopic few, and are growing significantly smaller as they fight and devour one another.
So how do we deal with this issue, seeing that there appears to be a standing concern with the influence of "LOWs" and those who either draft, stand by, or are subject to them? Here are my recommendations:

No more "LOWs" - it is NOT the Biblical model. One can try to make the case that the Apostle Paul's mention of church discipline instances in his divinely inspired discourses shows that "LOWs" are Scripturally justifiable. But that dog won't hunt. If that were the case, using that reasoning, the entire first epistle to the saints in Corinth would possibly have been 14 chapters shorter. To put it bluntly, Paul (or any other apostle) did not make it a point to go out of his way to show that documentation in the form of a letter was needed to discipline, much less restore, those in error concerning doctrine or practice.

But leaders take great pains to document efforts, retrace steps, do due diligence, and prepare these letters...sometimes in an effort to silence or, in some cases, "excommunicate" those who obviously need to be corrected. Scripturally, the concept of a letter does not have evidentiary support. In fact, if relationships in the Body were healthy on their face to begin with, typing a letter to someone we know personally and intimately would look rather foolish and suspect.

Biblically speaking, the explicit or implicit existence of a letter points to the absence of authentic koinonia (communion, mutual partnership, intimate connection). Paul's anecdotal references to Demas and Alexander in his letters to Timothy in no way reaches the level of attention to detail and recounting of infractions that "LOWs" typically contain. However, what Paul does say hints at broken fellowship between him and the brethren who either renounced their faith in Christ or were making it look like the SS Minnow.

So save the keyboard pecking for more worthwhile and Biblically supported efforts. In the final analysis, if there were any mention of an actual "LOW" in any 1st or 2nd century writings, or one written on a parchment in Koine Greek that is still in existence, it likely would've surfaced by now.

Just withdraw - that IS the Biblical model. I am friends acquainted with another young preacher who has, in the last few years, made some very controversial and Biblically illogical moves. Upon trying to meet with him on several attempts to reason with him, including once in person, he shared with me his decision - via email, mind you - that he had nothing more to say on the matter after having discussed his emerging ecclesiology with many others. So I made my decision to withdraw myself from him. Point blank.

Peep my logic: Sending a "LOW" addressed to him, sent to the congregation where he preaches, and circulated to the church at large would serve no productive purpose. It would, however, do the following: potentially turn him into either a pariah, sympathetic figure, or symbolic martyr to those in his current cohort; incite more division and muddy larger fellowship waters; force him to look upon me with bias and not spiritual integrity; strip others of the power to independently deal with the matter based on their own conscience and understanding of Scripture; and subjectively distract from the real issue (a Kingdom relationship gone sour - at least from my viewpoint - due to unplucked or unaddressed "weeds").

What I choose not to do in a "LOW" I choose rather to do in person should our paths cross in the future. I don't need a letter to withdraw (and note that I did NOT attach the word "fellowship" to "withdraw"), nor do I need to alert him to the fact that I'm withdrawing from him. That is the principal force of Romans 16.17-18 and 2 Thessalonians 3 (without elaborating further on those passages just yet...keep reading).

But how do we warn others about his behavior? Paul in these two passages does not drop names. He merely says to "mark" and "avoid" anyone who desires to espouse a doctrine or practice foreign to proper Biblical interpretation. The judgment shoud rest on the individual or congregation to ascertain if this brother or sister should be entertained.

Put another way, the church needs to be wiser readers and interpreters of spirits. So instead of excusing bad behavior with affectionate arm extensions or dismissing a clear lack of Spirit-saturated attitude, membrs would be better served to "call a spade a spade" and not hold on to the shovel when it should have been used a long time ago.

But what about Matthew 18.15-18? Well there is context and principle here. The context is specific to one offending or sinning against the other...not the teaching that is at odds with the Spirit or will of God. There is principle in the attempts to restore what is broken (i.e., "due process" similar to Titus 3.10-11). But when there are wayward doctrinal applications that fail to uphold the "whole counsel of God", the admonition is to simply withdraw. And the full force of that withdrawal is felt upon personal interaction; a "LOW" misses that personal touch, regardless of what Hallmark says. (And I mean no disrespect to Hallmark.)

How much more attention-getting and sobering would it be to the erroneous one when his long-time brother decides not to shake his hand or stay in touch anymore? If there was ever an authentic relationship, the impact of brokenness would and should hit like a ton of bricks. If the relationship was superficial or simply because "we go way back", one has to wonder if it would be worth the effort to hit "Send" or "Print". (And if he happens to be reading this blog post, I

Have a heart. What "LOWs" have traditionally done is create an "us-versus-them" dynamic where the erring now are the enemy. This is in direct opposition to Paul's instruction in 2 Thessalonians 3 to not count the erring saint as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Yet we see cut-throat approaches that do not yield the possibility of winning back the brother or sister.

I read of a situation where a "disfellowshipped" brother with a faithful wife would occasionally show up with her at church potlucks. The church leadership carefully weighed the matter and decided in a united fashion that the congregation should have no strictly social fellowship (e.g., fishing, going to a sports event) with him, but he should be treated kindly when he showed up for worship or a church function...AND encouraged to come again. The brother was eventually restored.

This is a wonderful example of how we can display the Spirit of Christ to those who are clearly in some form of Biblically legitimate error, be it doctrinal or behavioral. Sadly, this is the exception and not the rule. And the rule is as painful as teacher discipline in a 1970s elementary school.

No one should be happy or relieved when Brother So-and-So is not around anymore. Because the Spirit is not happy or relieved. In fact, He is grieved when any sheep is lost, potentially finding him/herself outside of the sheepfold on the other side of the Good Shepherd when night comes. And if we were in that brother's shoes, we would likely want someone to care enough, or at least try to be concerned enough, to go the length to search out for us and be willing to bind up our sin-sick infirmities and wounds. Just like the Good Shepherd.

The reality is when a good amount of sin is born out of personal pain and "church hurt", we will likely end up with a smaller flock. And those with that hurt are not in position to hear or read some insensitive and insincere church jargon on official church letterhead. At the end of the day, they don't and won't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Courageously confront those who attempt to discipline without the Spirit of Christ. Church leaders with sermons and Bible classes founded on a faulty platform of church discipline have ruled the ears of church members for eons. This has gone on despite very little happening to correct and check this teaching. But critical times call for courageous measures. And it must be those who know the Spirit and will of God well enough to say that something smells and it isn't the cleaning solution on the carpet.

Well-meaning, concerned, righteous Christians must speak up and speak out against a jack-legged, hand-me-down theology of church discipline. And these saints must not be content to sit idly by and wait for someone else to do the checking. By calling this teaching "on the carpet", it will prayerfully cause the teachers to dial down and double back on their faulty teaching. Of course, this activity would neither last or even begin if this next point was stressed to every child of God:

Study church discipline from a purely Biblical viewpoint - not from second-hand sources only. Far too often, we have had lessons on church discipline...not directly from the Bible, but from contemporary examples. Leaders who have modeled an un-Biblical approach that haphazardly slaps related Scriptures to it unfortunately capture honest hearts and shape them in warped ways. This has caused many in our churches to ask questions when disciplinary action is not taken: Why is there no letter, and what is the holdup? Why is the congregation not being warned about this individual or this congregation that is clearly in error? You mean I can't talk to this brother or sister anymore?

We should seek to maintain our relationships in the Lord, but the true test of a relationship is when both parties disagree on a major issue. The sharp contention Paul and Barnabas had over John Mark serves as a model. Through our eyes, one of them should have been running to get on Microsoft Word and do some typing. But they respected the Spirit enough to split up, because the sake of the Kingdom is generally much larger than our issues (emphasis on the word "generally").

This is not glossing over the overwhelming absence and serious need for discipline in our contemporary church atmosphere. But let it be known and stressed that the undeniable purpose of discipline was and always will be to restore, not to punish or be more right than the one in error. Or even this: to cover the multitude of sins committed by the one(s) dishing out the letter. I call this "changing the necessary narrative". All sin needs to be dealt with, not the ones that are the most salacious in the opinions of the leadership in a congregation, the local "fellowship" of leaders, or the national collective.

Sad to say, but some church leaders are about as "gangsta" as this guy here...

This begs for a holistic understanding of Biblical church discipline. Conclusions that can be inferred from responsible Bible study and hermeneutcial analysis include but are not limited to the following:

  • Every situation requiring godly discipline and restoration is not the same. So treat each situation on a case-by-case basis. Church leaders would do well to avoid ham-handed, one-size-fits-all procedures. Responsible and seasoned leadership will seek wisdom and discernment directly from God, because some situations are intricately nuanced and, like the board game Operation, require "a steady hand".
  • If a person decides to leave the church and not return, that person has consciously decided to withdraw. Pray for that person to return yet avoid the urge to get those last licks in with a "LOW". That person, in breaking all ties, has essentially relieved the church of the need to send a "LOW", which would be pointless. He/She is already gone. How can you withdraw from someone who has already withdrawn from you? If the person never returns, that would be the time to remember 1 Cor 5, 1Tim 1.18-20, and Hebrews 6.6-7. (By the way, this also applies to congregations that withdraw.) Speaking of which...
  • Any individual or congregation can Biblically withdraw from another individual or congregation for legitimate error or sin. Each Christian has the scriptural right and responsibility to inoculate him/herself from heresy or iniquity, no matter if there is one or more people involved in the sin. Additionally, autonomy cannot be used as a shield for sin and error. The slice of bread containing a little yeast and still considering itself a part of the whole loaf can't claim that the yeast is self-contained. And oftentimes, that is how error spreads: when individuals in the Kingdom unwisely hand out unauthorized hall passes to their "friends". The Kingdom takes less of a hit when members and congregations learn to prioritize righteousness over relationships.
  • Church leaders must set the example by informing their churches when they have decided as individual Christians to withdraw from an individual or congregation. Wise leaders will be transparent with their church families about those from whom they have withdrawn, and communicate this without legislating in a top-down manner to their members who have the free moral agency to decide for themselves. Wise leaders must also empower their members with a healthy Word to make their own Scripture-based, Spirit-guided decisions instead of dictating to or pressuring their members to withdraw - to the point that they will withdraw from their own if they conclude that their members chose incorrectly who they should or should not withdraw from.
  • There has to be a blend of "tough love" and compassion in discipline. God chastens whom He loves, yet His chastening has an embedded element of mercy. By contrast, hard lines create hard feelings. As was mentioned earlier, "LOWs" and the theology that backs them produce an "us-versus-them" dynamic that goes against Paul's apostolic instruction to not count the sinful/erroneous as enemies but to admonish them as you would a brother (2 Thessalonians 3.15). They are still family, but we deal with them in a way that protects the rest of the family and teaches the importance of family values that must be maintained or else suffer the consequences of broken ties.

Keep this in mind: withdrawal takes place without "LOWs" ALL the time, and it has been happening for nearly a bicentennial. We just don't call it withdrawal. Individual Christians, entire congregations, or subjectively- (or selectively-)drawn "fellowships" do not associate or even have a "common meal" with others Christians based on:
  • obvious racism;
  • unwillingness to assimilate or dismissive tendencies on racial, cultural, geographic, or socioeconomic grounds;
  • differences in expediency (e.g., one cup, group singing);
  • purely fabricated sins (e.g., having a meal with a Baptist minister);
  • congregation/church building size;
  • who's in the pulpit/who doesn't have concerts/whose youth group is cetera, et cetera...
We don't CALL these situations withdrawal, but that's what it is. No matter how you slice it, there are two types of camps/teams: the "True Puritans" (no matter if they are justified or not) and the "Prynnes" (no matter if they are faulty or not). THIS is what "the church" continues to produce. And the recommendations above represent a potential path forward out of this hot mess.

Because when we fail to accurately study and teach the Word of God, and we neither own or learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly of our historical church context, we are unfortunately doomed to repeat it.
NOTE: For an excellent study on the issue of withdrawal, please click on this link:
"Withdrawing Fellowship" by David Padfield

Jackson, Wayne. "Singin' the Blues." Access date: June 5, 2017.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Town Business and the Beast

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, there was a boy who grew up to be a beast. When he left home for another country, he never forgot where he came from. Once his journey was over, he decided to come back home to become an even bigger beast. And it's no where close to being "The End"...

Much has been made about Marshawn Lynch, AKA Beast Mode, signing a contract to play for the Oakland Raiders this coming NFL season. After famously "hanging up his cleats", retiring after a mostly-stellar-but-sometimes-rocky career, he was personally moved to leverage a transition to play football for his hometown team. But it's not as simple as that.

If you look at his resume - born and raised in The Town, Oakland Tech HS legend, star running back at Cal, Super Bowl champion, and potential future Hall of Famer - one would argue that he has accomplished enough. But the Raiders' controversial decision to move to Las Vegas within the next 3 seasons was inspiration enough for Marshawn to make sure that the exit would not be as painful for many kids in Oakland and the Bay, especially children of color.

And like an unofficial "people's mayor" of Oakland (no offense to Libby Schaaf), he has the street cred, social capital, and entrepreneurial vision to leave a lasting legacy. Juxtaposed against that is his current team, one that seems to miss all of these things and will likely leave nothing to the city of its birth...not even a team museum.

So here is how Marshawn is doing this:
  • He started a charity, Fam 1st Family Foundation, that is involved in the empowerment and academic excellence of underprivileged children;
  • He held his 11th annual Youth Football Camp this year - free of charge to all kids who attend - complete with a movie night, a trip to the Raging Waters water park, a talent show, and a bowling outing;
  • He opened Beast Mode Apparel mere yards away from the official heart of downtown Oakland, 14th and Broadway;
  • He has shown up for events in the area - most recently playing at JaVale McGee's celebrity charity softball game at the Oakland Coliseum and throwing out the first pitch at an A’s game;
  • He has offered free haircuts to kids achieving better than a GPA of 3.0;
  • He has even influenced people to make transformative life changes...
And the list goes on. To borrow from LL Cool J, I imagine that Marshawn is "just gettin' warm"...

All of this coming from the same dude who reluctantly answered questions at the Super Bowl Media Day in 2015 with his “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” quip. BUT...this is the same dude who said these words to Deion Sanders in an interview at that same Media Day:

"I'm just 'bout that action, boss..."

For anyone who grew up or spent a significant part of time living in Oakland, you will likely agree with me that this statement is about as Oakland as it gets. And he is a living representation of this...a walking definition of Town Business.

Now, if you have ever heard or seen Marshawn in real life or on camera, you can probably tell that he is not necessarily the most polished or professionally diplomatic person in the public eye. One might look at his appearance and wonder why he doesn't look, sound, or act like, well, Russell Wilson. There is at least one good reason why: he is from The Town. That's not an insult. In fact, to many Oakland natives it's a badge of honor and credibility. This is what I mean.

Here is a recent interview about his opportunity with the Raiders this season:
I got the whole town, you feel me, though, riding with me. I’ve got all Oakland behind me, though. … So every home game that I get to come to this mother (expletive), I’m probably going to be riding with the whole town...Beside the billboards and all that, I really just get out with the people. The billboards are for the commercial people. But when you get outside and you walk in the cracks, you get to find out what’s real. (emphasis added)
And Oakland is real...arguably the nation's capital of realness. Marshawn is about as Oakland-real as ghost ridin' the whip, Flint's BBQ, and the Festival at the Lake. (I won't need to explain all of these things if you're from Oakland.) Which makes him a tailor-made ambassador for The Town. Which also makes him a necessity for the Raiders at this point. The organization known as the Silver and Black lost major realness points with their Las Vegas decision in the eyes of many authentic Raider Nationals, despite what Derek Carr sheepishly tried to walk back.

The reality is that Beast Mode represents the best of what the Raiders should be in totality and covers up the worst of what the Raiders are becoming off the field...looking less like Oakland and more like Las Vegas. In other words, the organization - not the team - is no longer a proprietor of Town Business, even though they will have one of the main principals of Town Business starting in the backfield come September. So without even trying, Marshawn has created a paradox within a paradox: raiding the Raiders who are attempting to raid Las Vegas. And, honestly, the Raiders need him more than he needs them.

In all he endeavors to do from the gridiron to Ghost Town, he will do this and much more his way...dreads, grill, and all. Yet note that for every person not understanding Oakland who may criticize Marshawn, there are probably five who understand Oakland and will appreciate in a general sense how authentic he is...expletives notwithstanding. Not to get into a larger discussion of role models, but implicit bias will prevent people from seeing what is in the cracks of a person. And inside every crack of Beast Mode you will find Oakland bubbling, about to ooze out like a pyroclastic flow. And everyone who makes contact with the emerging lava possibly stands to benefit in some small way from his contributions that seek to put Oakland residents first. On the surface, his example of making Oakland better is worthy of imitation, without the necessity of imitating him.

Marshawn during his Cal days: being his usual Beast self close to home.
And regardless of what you may think or perceive of him, you can't argue the fact that he is doing what many people - especially athletes - fail or forget to do. He remembered (and never forgot) where he came from, came back to that place, and put his heart as well as his money behind his return. Even if he doesn't come ornately wrapped like a Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom gift box.

Besides, what has not come out of Oakland that did not fit the mold of the establishment or society at large? I'll run down some for you...

Fred Korematsu, Bill Russell, The Black Panthers, Curt Flood, Tower of Power and Lenny Williams, Morrie Turner, East Bay Dragons, Pointer Sisters, Mother Wright, Rickey Henderson, MC Hammer, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Denzil Foster/Thomas McElroy, Keyshia Cole...

And yes, Al Davis.

And when it's all said and done, Marshawn's past (and possible future) foibles, in quasi-Biblical style, may likely be swallowed up by his present and future contributions to this city...on and off the field. If he keeps doing what he's doing, he could be a major part of the balm that soothes a city that will be burned twice by the same NFL team. And if the current team ends up parlaying its promise on the field into a Super Bowl victory before leaving its real roots, not only will it be a curtain call on a great career, but it will also be the culminating point of satisfaction for this hometown-boy-turned-beast.

Until that happens, I'm sure Marshawn will be on his grind, getting in the cracks and figuring out what The Town needs on the street level. In his own unique way, with his heart in full gear. And he just might say something in the process.

Now that's action, boss...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

QOTM - August 1, 2017

At some point, you have to realize that you cannot have competing passions.  You must learn to prioritize your passions according to your overall life purpose, seasonal calling, recreational hobby, or fleeting interest.  Then you can focus your time and energy on each one appropriately and strategically.
-Greg Brinkley

Friday, July 28, 2017

QOTM - July 28, 2017

Here is the basic difference between excellence and greatness.  Excellence is about your maturity – achieving completeness in every area of your life.  Greatness is about your influence – modeling completeness to and for every life you touch.
-Greg Brinkley

Friday, July 21, 2017

QOTM - July 21, 2017

Strength doesn't come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn't do.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sip The Juice: The Enmity Between Preachers and Politics

Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, meeting place for the Legislative Branch of the US.

About a couple of decades ago, I purchased and read John MacArthur's book, Vanishing Conscience: Drawing the Line in a No-Fault, Guilt-Free World (which is a  very educational read, by the way). In light of what is happening in the American landscape - politically, socially, morally, ethically, and, above all, theologically - I think it's time for a refresher.

A month ago, President Trump signed an executive order focused on religious liberty that sought unsuccessfully to weaken the effects of the Johnson Amendment on religious groups. If you're not familiar with this amendment, here is a crash course:

In 1954, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson sponsored a bill that amended the tax code in an unprecedented way. Any religious organization involving itself directly or indirectly in a political campaign for or against any candidate could lose their tax-exempt status. Over time, the amendment metamorphosed into a larger issue, looming as a dark cloud over churches who dared speak out against the moral and political failures of Americana.

In short, the Johnson Amendment was and is a tool used to squelch the constitutional free speech of those who mount the pulpit on Sundays. So if a minister had designs on addressing a hot-button sociopolitical issue - racial profiling, mass incarceration, same-sex marriage, and abortion for starters - in the context of sound Biblical homiletics and exegesis, he had better hope that no one drops a dime on him. Never mind what the Constitution says. What the bold print giveth (1st Amendment), the fine print (Johnson Amendment) taketh away.

Meanwhile on the political gridiron, we have many on both sides of the Legislative Branch of our US government who are religiously affiliated.  Those who occupy House and Senate seats have partisan supporters that are ordained and cloistered with such titles as "Pastor". A number of these Congressional leaders claim to be card-carrying Evangelicals. These individuals - mainly conservative Republicans - supposedly profess to make up what has been called at times the Radical Right and the Moral Majority. These groups are led and supported largely by Evangelical church leaders...which seems antithetical to the whole Johnson Amendment issue.

Which brings me to a tangential yet germane question: Just what IS an Evangelical? This article shows just how difficult it is to define this term. But generally speaking, an Evangelical in political circles seems to loosely connote a white conservative Republican who fundamentally believes in the authority of God's Word. But there is an unfortunate paradox here.

John MacArthur, Jr., author of Vanishing Conscience...and, ironically, a pastor.
Despite this pronounced foundational belief system, there does not appear to be any move by right-wing politicians or their church leaders in general to uphold clear Biblical principles that lie at the root of Jesus' teachings, much less speak out or mobilize against atrocities committed in this country - racism being one of them. And both they and their church leaders tend to resort to playing "prevent" defense, protecting their sociopolitical end zone when it comfortably sits 80 yards behind them downfield.

One would think that preachers should be among the first, if not THE first, to speak prophetically about racism, justice, and the failure of the political machinations to look out for the people. When it comes to the people, the issues amount to a shell game. Not to sound crude, but when you're not the one running the shell game and you're already at a disadvantage before you start playing the game, the end result is the same: you end up playing yourself. Even when you want to blow the whistle on the game runner, the huckster is already halfway down the street ready to enjoy the trappings of his hustle. And the onlookers either pity you for being so arrogant (read: uppity) and greedy, or blame you for being so na├»ve and gullible...and neither group will lend you bus money to get home.

Which brings me back to Vanishing Conscience. What the book lays out is that there is a growing void of moral accountability in our world. When people look to preachers to stand for moral fiber, and they abdicate their purported God-ordained responsibility, it leaves some feeling like this is some sort of con game. What we see often is that preachers of this ilk are more complicit than courageous if issues related to the disenfranchised, demonized, or discriminated arise. The hypocritical "war on drugs" in the African-American community launched at the height of the 1980's crack epidemic is a great example. Why is it hypocritical? Because when it's opioids as an issue Caucasians face in 2017, there is no mention of  the word "war", and I doubt that there will be "war" criminals incarcerated for a decade from possessing a small fraction of an illegal substance.

Since our political system and religious society have, to borrow from Ghostbusters, crossed unethical streams against warnings to avoid doing so irresponsibly, we now have an undercurrent of spiritual corruption that will be difficult to separate. The root of the problem is this: since the early days of this country, many politically active religious leaders have chosen not to be boldly vocal regarding unjust laws towards others. In doing so, they have violated the very charge allegedly or actually given to them (2Tim 4.1ff). And when the shepherds do not show the same concern for the speckled sheep as they do for the non-speckled, we get this: ecclesio-political hypocrisy. 

(This also applies to those "pastors" who seem to want to try their hand at the shell game by joining such ranks as political action committees, often becoming talking heads on news networks who are majoring in the art of deflection, distortion, "alternative facts", and illogical rationale. Some of them are Black...but I'm not going down that road right now.)

Look, I get it. Satan seeks to "steal, kill, and destroy" whoever has an ounce of righteousness or holiness within him or her. And when looking through a spiritual lens, it is crystal clear that the eternal tenets of God's Word are being ignored by those who have been charged to keep them. And there are deeper reasons why.

Consider this: when racism as a sociopolitical issue is discussed, many ministers become silent or bunker up behind their more vociferous congregants. I imagine there are some "pastors" who do not agree with what their congregants believe about racism, but because some on their church boards or in the church pews may be racist, they will concede their prophetic position and pass on a milquetoast gospel to those having "itching ears".

The legendary Dr. C.T. Vivian. Selma? March on Washington? Freedom Rides? He did it all...while being a minister. 

There is way too much to protect and so much more to lose: their salaries and retirement packages, the church's tax-exempt status, the influence they possess in their communities, the brand they built up for themselves. And like Achan who violated the cherem by letting his eyes get bigger than his devotion to God, many church leaders are living down to their calling and living up to Achan's reputation and name (which ironically means "troublesome") by siding with the majority and blurring the lines of righteousness.

The White evangelical church community throughout time has shown a pattern of being unable to admit to, speak out against, and stand up for truth. It's documentable. Oftentimes, individuals in these churches from the pulpit to the pew will not speak against those things because they will find themselves being in the undesirable minority within their group...religiously and politically.

There is a larger theological and moral issue here. In a time when a great number of pulpiteers are bent on building their brand instead of Jesus', it's hypocritical for them to then double back and preach on principles such as social justice within a church milieu - principles they are unwilling, unconcerned, or too calendar-heavy (read: busy) to put into practice. It's not surprising how politics can often take up more space on the daily agenda than imitating the Lord of glory, the Jesus of the New Testament.

For me, there is no other explanation for this behavior than this: like Adam and Eve, secularly or religiously "anointed" individuals who put end-game politics above the Word of God are likely sipping on some strong, partisan juice that is, at the end of the day, unauthorized and regrettable. And due to their inability to resist that prohibited nectar, everyone in their downline and sphere of influence bears the residual effects of that condemnable indulgence. Which makes the familiar refrain of "separation between church and state" that much more unimportant, seeing that the question now exists as to whether there is really any separation at all.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Revisionist Hermeneutics, Pt. 1

This post marks the first of a recurring series entitled "Revisionist Hermeneutics". I'll share with you briefly how I came up with this term.

Over the years, I have witnessed shifts in theology and practice that have led to controversial developments in "progressive" churches nationwide. Often I would hear that these developments were the result of a restudying of certain verses in a new light and with a fresh illumination. To put it in other words, "Churches have been doing it wrong all these years, so we looked at it again and have come away with a different understanding than before that makes us more relevant to society and contemporary." 

Some other issues, which have been long-held tenets in "conservative" churches for years are now being challenged by more balanced Biblical study. Sadly, these issues have calcified in these minds to where they will draw a line in the sand and fight to preserve "sound doctrine", when the question is whether there should be a fight at all...because true sound doctrine may not be the issue.

On either side, I find what I would like to call "revisionist hermeneutics": changing the Biblical narrative to suit past or present understanding in our construct of Christian theology and ecclesiology.

I have decided to critically and logically look at these developments and endeavor to apply a sensible and practical approach that should cause reflection on what Jesus would expect from His kingdom.

Having said this, here is the first installment...
Roughly 18 years ago while attending a young adult conference, sat inside of a session that was being facilitated by a prominent, nationally-known evangelist. During this session, he stated that the following verse has traditionally been taken out of context: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord..." (Ephesians 5.19, KJV)

His premise was that this verse has been used to advocate for the non-usage of musical instruments in the nascent first-century church and the contemporary church. Yet this verse, he asserts, was not written in a worship context, thus cannot be used to support the eschewing of musical instruments in worship services. I sat there first slightly amused in an intellectual way by the discourse, seeing that this evangelist is known for his academic pursuits in Biblical studies and makes no effort to conceal his erudite pedigree. But then I went from amused to puzzled because of his premise, which was a rather new idea to me at the time.

His take on using this verse as a worship text was tantamount to proof-texting, which for some context-driven junkies is a dirty word. He basically said that to run to this text to argue for musical instruments in worship is a huge mistake. Hidden under this layer of discourse was the implication that to advocate against musical instruments is a mistake because the New Testament doesn't categorically speak against it.

Suffice it to say that I am well-versed in all of the arguments for and against musical instruments in worship. I have taught, preached, and played the apologist. But THIS premise was new terrain. Over the years, I have seen this premise morph into a larger argument concerning the "contemporary" forms of worship, most notably the "praise team". For some congregations, the praise team is the farthest they will go in being "contemporary". For others, there is no boundary; put another way, musical instruments are not just in the conversation, they are already in the convocation. This post is not necessarily to advance an argument. This post is to address revisionist hermeneutics. This is what I mean.

Euclidian logic, widely used in the world of mathematics, states that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. If A=C, and B=C, then A must logically be equal to B. If someone mentions Ephesians 5.19 as a proof-text, the implication is that this is not an arguable point for musical instruments in worship. However, in my experiences what I have found is that the person who dismisses Ephesians 5.19 tries to make a case for instruments (and praise teams, by extension) almost invariably cites 2 Chronicles 29:
And he set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets. 
And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. (2 Chron 29.25-29)
Here is the revisionist logic: one cannot use Ephesians 5.19 to deny the usage of musical instruments because the passage was not written in a worship context. That also put any other alleged proof-text for non-instrumental worship music (e.g., Colossians 3.16) in serious question. Consequently, since there is no clear New Testament prohibition against  musical instruments, it paves the way for their introduction. It also will, by extension, grease the skids for other "contemporary" developments.

And...if there isn't any Biblical support for these "progressive" nuances from a New Testament basis, one can invoke the Romans 15.4 Clause and reach back into Jewish antiquity for Biblical examples of musical instruments, as well as other choice contemporary practices, utilized by God's people. And 2 Chronicles 29.25-29 conveniently fits the bill.

This begs a question: is the overwhelming theological application behind the passage in 2 Chronicles that Christians are at liberty to have musical instruments and/or other contemporary worship practices? If it isn't, then why would there be a need to run to it when the argument swings in the balance and there is a rush to secure additional Biblical leverage? To the healthy hermeneutical mind, this has a feel of "the pot calling the kettle black", and that simply is not kosher (pun intended). Oh's also hypocritical.

At this point, I'm sure that someone with ultra-progressive tendencies may be getting a little warm. Don't misunderstand the point of this post. All I am trying to do is expose revisionist hermeneutics, which is the approach that some individuals use to support the practices and methodology they wish to employ. And this brand of hermeneutics is practiced on both sides of the sanctuary.

My point is NOT to advocate for or against anything. It is to simply state that proof-texting as a Biblically interpretive method and doing so in a reckless or irresponsible way is as dangerous as ambulating across a half-frozen Lake Superior. You might get a mile or two out from shore, but at some point the Omnipotent-generated forces of nature and physics that He put in place will take over. Ultra-progressives and ultra-conservatives tend to do the same ice dancing, yet without true Biblical traction the outcomes for both are identical: becoming frozen in their logic, often to their own dismay and wrath.

When anchoring themselves to proof-texts, purveyors of revisionist hermeneutics also tend to portray a brand of arrogant hypocrisy that is packaged and sold as spiritual or scriptural enlightenment. Once they are equipped with a BCV (Book, Chapter, and Verse) grenade, the irresistible desire to lob it across the aisle into a group of unsuspecting (read: uninformed, backwards, or not "studied up") Christians grows. Or maybe they are armed with other ecclesio-military ammo, such as a WLI-21 (We Live In the 21st Century) tank. This delicious temptation almost always has that Gnostic aftertaste to it.

So beware. Just know that revisionist hermeneutics has been around for eons and is not going away anytime soon. And hypocritical attempts to fortify a progressive argument against conservative minds or vice versa using proof-texts only tell us that this movement is sadly, and in a chilling way, picking up momentum.