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