When I was a small boy growing up, my grandparents had a cabin up in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California. Most weekends would find my parents packing up me and my older brother Gary into our car and heading for ‘the cabin.’

To me, our cabin was a mysterious place. Across the street were these people called, “those dirty hippies” by my grandparents. At the end of a long dirt road you would come to a locked gate preventing you from going further. If you looked up the mountain to your left you could see a deserted two-story building partially covered by the forest. More than once my brother took some sadistic joy in telling me that the building used to keep crazy people in it, that some of their ghosts still haunted the place, that if you came out there in the night you could hear their spirits crying out.

I never came out there in the night.

If you took the same road in the opposite direction you would eventually come to the “parrot lady’s” house. That’s what we called her. I don’t remember ever being told her real name. What I did know was that she had three large Macaw parrots. Like Dr. Doolittle, she could talk to these animals and they could talk to her. It was as if I had stepped into a Disney movie. Amazing!

Did you know that parrots don’t have vocal cords? They make noise by releasing air from their trachea. Parrots love to communicate with people and they love to communicate with other parrots. If you put a mirror in a parrot’s cage they will think that another parrot is in their cage. Parrots will actually interact with their own reflection. Parrots are able to talk without being able to understand words. Parrots tend to mimic a lot of things that they do not fully understand. Hmmm…

The way I see it, we have too many pastors and parishioners who act like parrots.

I am concerned by the number of Christians (and even some pastors) who are more “talking parrots” than they are Bible-informed followers of Jesus. I’m troubled by how many believers don’t think for themselves but merely “parrot” what they’ve been told they’re supposed to believe by their pastors or fellow Christians. I am worried about those poor souls who do not know how to think biblically for themselves.

You see…it is really hard for us to freely and objectively “think.” By this I mean: to be willing to revisit previously accepted ideas, theologies, and convictions, and see if the buckets we hold our opinions in (our ideas about what the Bible says about this or that) really hold water or not?

We all have filters through which we think and reason. Some filters are better than others. Thinking, re-thinking, and thinking for ourselves will never happen if we live in a sheltered environment that protects and defends one view while attacking and ridiculing any views that are different.

The willingness to re-think will not happen if one is intimidated by their church or friends or pastoral colleagues.

The result can be congregations, and sometimes pulpits, filled with talking parrots.

***

People were created by God to think, explore, and be inquisitive. The sad, if not dangerous thing about talking parrots is that they don’t realize they are talking parrots. I believe that many Christians today are talking parrots. We may be right in what we “parrot”, or we may be wrong, but still… we are parrots. In regards to theology and the application of theology to our lives and culture, the church can create parrots instead of Bereans.

You remember the story. Paul was on one of his missionary trips. Some cities were more open to his message than others (kind of like the people who sit in our churches each Sunday). Anyway…right after a not so good experience in one town he comes to Berea and we read in Act. 17:11:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

The word ‘examining’ means: to judge, to investigate, inquire into, scrutinize, sift, question, to interrogate, to examine the accused or witnesses.

When we fail to read and study the Bible for ourselves, whenever we fail to “… search the Scriptures to see whether these things be so…” we run the risk of being parrots and belonging to a parrot farm rather than a church.

I was and am still, an occasional parrot. Very early in my Christianity I parroted certain theological positions that Christians disagree on.

At one point I had to ask myself, am I a Berean or a parrot? I decided to think for myself, examine my position as objectively as I could, listen and read those that thought differently than I did. What was the result? I held to some of my opinions and changed some others. In addition to that, pertaining to those areas that I changed my thinking about, I came to understand and respect those who thought the way I used to think. We all love Jesus. We all believe that the Bible is the word of God. But we all looked at the same scriptures and ended up coming to different conclusions. I can live very comfortably with that.

Not all Christians and not all pastors are belligerent towards those they disagree with but there are enough to have caught my attention and caused me concern.

There are too many Christians today willing to go to war over certain issues and yet they have never sat down and had a constructive conversation with those who think differently than they do. There are too many pastors, yes pastors, who feel so strongly about controversial issues they are willing to sever relationship with fellow Christians and in some cases label them heretics, but they have never read a book from the opposite view in an attempt to at least understand where their sisters and brothers are coming from.

***

One of the greatest fears pastors have is that their people will fall into ‘false-teaching.’ This is a legitimate fear. We have been entrusted with our people and expected to love them and help them grow spiritually. Part of this involves teaching them from the Bible. I can’t think of one epistle in the New Testament where the author did not have to address and attempt to correct false teaching. But every time we teach on a subject that is controversial in the body of Christ and fail to acknowledge in a respectful way that other Christians might think differently, every time we say, “The Bible is clear…” when we know that if the Bible was clear then there would not be so many different opinions on the topic, we do our people and the word of God a disservice. How so?

When we try too hard to shield our people from those churches, those denominations, or those Christians who think differently than we do we inadvertently train them not to think for themselves. We’re creating parrots instead of disciples.

Do we subconsciously think our church members are too dumb to read the scriptures and other opposing views of the scriptures without falling into error? Do we believe that the word of God is powerful enough to speak to people without any help from us?

I know, I know, you are probably thinking that if Christians were reading their Bibles as much as you do then you wouldn’t be half as worried. I get that.

But can you imagine visiting a church one day and hearing the pastor say, “This morning we’re going to begin a series on the role of women in the church and in the home. I’m going to do my best to share with you what I understand the Bible says about this subject but I want you to know that there are many Christians out there who think differently than me. In fact, I would like to recommend to you a book that makes a pretty good argument for the other side. Why don’t you get the book, listen to me in the weeks to come, study the scriptures on your own and then you can come to your own conclusion?”

Never gonna happen.

 

 

 

 

If you have been following this series from the beginning you already know that my job puts me in contact with a wide range of Christians and Christian thought. My coaching practice allows me to talk to pastors from every denomination you could imagine. I also moderate a large Facebook group page made up of pastors and church leaders from all the various streams of Christianity. I stay on top of what’s going on in the church/Christian world by subscribing and reading the major, and some minor, Christian and ministry periodicals and newsletters. I think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of something going on in a portion of the church in North America.

Some Christians and some pastors can get really mean, nasty, belligerent and contemptuous when talking theology, more specifically, when talking about how someone’s theology is wrong. In pt. 12 of Belligerent I want to focus on The Contemptuous Pastor.

Sociologists and psychologists are giving more and more focus on the emotion of contempt and it’s effect on those who give it and those who receive it.

Professionals in the field of human behavior tell us that contempt is an emotion felt towards others that puts the other person in an inferior, lower status position. The other person is regarded as being less in some way that the person feeling contempt considers important.

In the latter case, the person is seen as being bad, especially when they have broken specific values held closely by the one who has contempt, in which case the contempt may be associated with disgust and other strong negative emotions such as anger and hate.

It’s not hard to recognize disgust in the words, actions, and expressions of some Christians and some pastors when describing someone who has committed adultery, become addicted to drugs or pornography, or when talking about homosexuality. Many Christians find behavior like this disgusting, it makes them angry, and sometimes, even though they may not recognize it, causes them to hate.

Feeling contempt can also become a way to separate or build a wall between the one feeling contempt and the other person. Because contempt requires a mental position of superiority, the person feeling this may actually experience a certain amount of pleasure in contempt. It feels good to think that you are better than someone else.

Contempt is an emotion that thinks of people, groups or actions as inferior or worthless. People feel contempt when they judge that someone or something else is beneath them. Contempt serves to differentiate acceptable groups from unacceptable groups, and helps individuals to depersonalize others. The depersonalization of others makes it easier for collective violence to occur, as it gives people permission to do unto others what they would normally be restrained from doing. For examples of this one has only to log onto Facebook and read the words some Christians and some pastors use when talking about politicians they don’t like and fellow Christians who hold theological perspectives different than theirs. More than once I have asked myself, “How could a pastor talk like that to another human being not to mention another sister or brother in Christ?” Belligerence and contemptuous go hand in hand. Belligerence is always outward (it can be heard, seen, read) while contemptuous can be outward or inward, it can be hidden. We would never admit that we disagree with someone and also think we are better than they are. We don’t want others to think that we are that way and we don’t want to think that way of ourselves. We will either hide our contempt or fail to recognize it.

In research on married couples, contempt towards one’s spouse has been found to be one of the main factors that lead to divorce.

Contempt between Christians (it can go both ways at once but usually contempt is held by one towards another) is what’s causing a divorce in the Body of Christ.

 

***

 

Have you ever noticed how hard it is for us to describe how we are different from another Christian group without contempt or sounding like we are putting the other group down?

A Charismatic might describe themselves as “Spirit led”, implying that non-Charismatics are not “Spirit-led.” Non-Charismatics might say that they are led only by the Word of God instead of emotional experiences, implying that Charismatics are not led by the Bible or that they place emotional experience before the Bible. Ask a conservative to explain the difference between themselves and progressives and you might hear, “We stand on the clear teaching of scripture rather than watering down the Bible in order to be politically correct.”

All of this is contempt accompanied by feelings of superiority which results in separation and divorce between Christians, pastors, and denominations.

What would it look like for someone to describe the differences between themselves and someone else and it not sound contemptuous or like a put down? Let me make up a conversation between Chip (a new believer) and Dale (an older believer).

Chip: Hey Dale, the other night after Bible study I overhead Cindy and Denise talking about Egalitarians and Complementarians. What’s that?

Dale: Yeah, those are two different thoughts on the role of women in the home and in the church.

Chip: Which are you?

Dale: I’m a Complementarian.

Chip: What’s the difference between the two?

 

Dale: That’s a pretty complex question. Whole books have been written on the subject but let me give it a try. Complementarians and Egalitarians both look at the same scriptures but come to different conclusions pertaining to the role of women in the home and in the church. Egalitarians sincerely believe that the bible teaches that men and women are equal, equal in the home and equal in the church. Egalitarians would be okay with women pastors. Complementarians sincerely believe that the bible teaches that the role of women and men in the home and in the church is different and that these differences complement each other. Complementarians usually believe that women should not be pastors and women are under the spiritual authority of their husbands. Complementarians might say things like, “The husband is the head of the home.”, while Egalitarians would probably not say that.

Chip: And you say you are a Complementarian?

Dale: Yep.

Chip: Why?

Dale: Well Chip, Egalitarians have some good arguments in their favor. Some of my best friends are Egalitarians and they love Jesus and love the word of God just like I do. It’s just that after listening to both sides and studying the Bible on my own I concluded that the Complementarian position made more sense to me.

Chip: Well if it’s good enough for you it’s good enough for me. I’m gonna be a Complementarian.

Dale: Well I appreciate that Chip but you can’t believe something as important as the role of women in the church and in the home simply based on what I believe. You need to look into the subject for yourself. Buy a couple books from both camps. Study what the Bible has to say and then you’ll be in a position to come to your own conclusion.

Chip: That’s too much work. I’ll just believe what you believe.

 

***

 

Ellen and I have a game we play, it’s called Contempt. Here’s how it goes. Whenever we are driving around or talking at home and one of us is talking negatively about someone else (we like to call it “talking negatively” rather than use the words gossip or slander) and it begins to sound like contempt, one of us will say to the other,

“So what you’re basically saying is that you think you are better than they are?”

“Yes, apparently I do.”

We’ll laugh and then whoever stops the contempt first is the winner.

It’s time for those of us who call ourselves Christians, and or pastors, to stop the contempt. Our position on an important topic could be the right one but if it is held with contempt that makes us the one who is wrong.

In the last installment of this series I shared with you how I recently completed a one year Bible reading plan focused solely on the gospels. I was using what they call “a harmony of the gospels” that conveniently gathers together in chronological order the stories in the life of Christ laying them side by side so it is easy to see how one writer sometimes differs from another. In order to get the whole story one often needs to read all four accounts. It’s not unusual for one gospel writer to leave something out that another writer includes. For an example, come with me now into the garden of Gethsemane to witness the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.

Although Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of Judas leading the mob to arrest Jesus, only John includes Jesus identifying himself as the one the mob was looking for which results in the soldiers falling to the ground. Matthew and Mark tell us how someone with Jesus drew a sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the High Priest. Only Luke tells us that Jesus healed the man and only John identifies the man swinging the sword as Peter and the servant being Malchus. Only Matthew records Jesus’ words, “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

For me, one of the beautiful things about the Gospels is that although there are four different writers recording events from four different perspectives, when you bring them together you get the big picture. Leave one perspective out and you’re going to miss out.

Reading a “harmony of the gospels” reminded me of the different branches of Christianity in the world today. Some studies suggest that the number of denominations might be up to 43,000. One thing we need to remember is that most of these groups agree on the fundamentals of the faith or what we might call “orthodoxy.” Having said that, all of these groups disagree with one another on certain lesser points of doctrine. The number 43,000 is a loud reminder that we don’t agree…and yet, together we make up the body of Christ. As I pointed out in my previous post, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not always agree with one another and yet together they give us the big picture of the life and teachings of Jesus. The relatively few times the gospel writers differ from one another does not bother me. Their differences are not over anything important. Their similarities far outnumber their differences.

We agree that there is orthodoxy but we can’t agree on our definition of orthodoxy. For one group something is regarded as ‘essential’ and for another it is ‘non-essential.’ In one group someone is branded a heretic and in another group they are accepted. One denomination calls another apostate because they interpret the Bible differently than they do. Every denomination believes they have the Bible on their side.

If I am right then you must be wrong.

Once I buy in to this way of thinking an adversarial relationship develops between us. The apostle Paul once called the scriptures “the sword of the Spirit’ and Christians have been stabbing each other with it ever since. Let’s return once more to the garden of Gethsemane.

When we read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John side by side here’s what happened.

Jesus and his disciples are alone in the garden. Judas arrives leading a group of soldiers charged with arresting Jesus. Judas had informed them that he would welcome Jesus with a kiss thus making it clear to the soldiers who it was they were to arrest. Judas kisses Jesus. The soldiers arrest Jesus. Sometime before or after the arrest, Jesus asks them who it is they have come for. They answer, “Jesus.” Jesus says, “I am he.” The soldiers fall back to the ground under some unknown power. They get up and start to take Jesus away. Peter gets a sword and intends to defend Jesus but in the confusion manages to cut off the right ear of the High Priest’s servant who is named Malchus. Jesus then touches Malchus and either heals the wound or puts the ear back on. Jesus says, “Stop it!” It is then that Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

Peter meant well. He was just trying to defend Jesus but in so doing he cut off Malchus’ ear.

There are too many who are rushing in with swords drawn to defend God’s word. There’s too much of this. Does Jesus need me to defend him? Does God’s word need me to defend it? Does truth need me to defend it? If there is a need for Christian Apologists, do they need to be carrying a sword? Apologists always seem to morph into doctrine-police or orthodoxy-officers who patrol the streets looking for criminal activity. But they are rogue officers taking upon themselves the combined role of judge, jury, and executioner. They and they alone decide what is a violation of the law. They have no place or patience for an interpretation of the law other than theirs. When they find someone in violation they draw their sword and let it swing. Someone always loses an ear, or worse.

And Jesus said, “No more of this!”

If you are a hammer you see everything as a nail. If you are an orthodoxy-officer you see every point of theology as black or white, no gray, and the black gets lopped off like Malchus’ ear.

Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. What goes around comes around.

If I am short on grace, mercy, love, and respect towards those I have serious disagreement with, there will come a time when my need for grace, mercy, love, and respect will come up short.

I believe that there is a place for Christian Apologists. I believe that there is a time and a place to ‘defend the truth.’ I realize that the New Testament epistles are filled with correction of false doctrine. Paul defended the truth in his letters, as did Peter and John and James. But I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about us. I’m worried that we have too many apologists swinging swords and too many doctrine-police locked and loaded.

I’m puny and insignificant in comparison to God, kind of like an ant versus an elephant. God’s truth has been standing the test of time without my help. God does not need me to defend the truth of his word. I intend to continue to teach the truth as best I understand it. I will attempt to inspire all those who will listen to do their best to line up their lives with God’s truth as found in the Bible. I have no interest in being a sword-carrying apologist nor to enter into a mission to defend the Bible, especially towards those who love the Bible as much as I do but come to different interpretations than I do.

There are enough defenders of the truth out there already. I don’t think the world needs another one, especially not me. I think the world needs more Christians and pastors who are peace-makers. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I want to be a peacemaker. I invite you to join me.

If you haven’t been keeping up with this series you might want to start with pt. 1.

Recently I completed an entire year reading only the gospels during my quiet times. More specifically, I read the gospels using Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry’s The NIV Harmony Of The Gospels. Have you ever used a ‘harmony of the gospels?’ It can be a meaningful, interesting, confusing, and troubling experience all at once. Why confusing and troubling? Because in books like this the editors line up in chronological order the events from the life of Christ providing a comparison of the similarities and sometimes differences between the gospel writers as they attempt to retell the stories and teachings of Jesus. What you soon discover is that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John often disagree as to what happened, or one of the writers might leave out something significant that the others included or vice versa. Critics of the Bible use words like discrepancies and contradictions to describe these differences. I like the word differences better than discrepancies or contradictions. You see, I’m not trying to discredit the Bible or prove that it is a man-made book which is usually the agenda of those who revel in discovering the differences in the accounts of Jesus’ life. I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God but I also know that there are some differences, and sometimes significant differences in the four gospel accounts. How do I explain those differences? I don’t. I have no good explanation for them. I’ve heard some attempts but nothing that was completely satisfying to me.

I don’t know why Matthew said it was the mother of James and John who asked a favor of Jesus, and Mark says James and John were the ones who asked. I don’t know why Matthew tells the story of two blind men being healed by Jesus and Mark and Luke, telling the same story, say it was only one man. I don’t know why Mark says that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would give his disciples the words to respond with when standing before their interrogators but Luke tells us that Jesus promised them that he would give them the words. What did Jesus really say? Was it the Holy Spirit who would visit the disciples? Was it Jesus? I don’t know. Why does Mark say that the women who visited the tomb of Jesus on that early Sunday morning were met by a young man, while Matthew says it was an angel, and Luke says it was two men? Which story is right? I don’t know. And to be honest with you, I don’t really care that much.

None of these differences touch upon anything too important. However, if we had discrepancies between gospel accounts pertaining to the nature of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth…subjects like that, then we would have a problem on our hands.

Critics of Christianity and the Bible argue that even if these differences are minor they prove that the Bible was written by man, contains errors, and cannot be trusted. This is not an entirely incorrect line of reasoning. In other words, if Mark was wrong in reporting that there was one man waiting at the empty tomb when there were really two…where else was he wrong? I understand this way of thinking but it’s not my way of thinking.

I’m not bothered by these differences. They make me curious as to what really happened, whose story is the correct one, but they don’t bother me. The overall harmony of the Bible, for me, is an argument in favor of it’s inspiration. I find the relatively few ‘contradictions’ interesting but not something I stumble over.

After spending a year reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John I felt that together they gave me the whole picture of Jesus’ life and ministry. I guess even that is not entirely true since John tells us that there were many other things Jesus did that were not recorded. I need all four of the gospel stories in order to get the whole picture. If I only had Luke there would be details I missed out on. If I only had John there would be a lot of information missing. No single gospel writer possesses the whole story.

No single Christian or denomination possesses the whole story. Every stream of Christianity has some important point of teaching where they are wrong. We need each other with all our differences in order to see and experience the totality of Christ. And even with one another’s unique perspective, we still “see in a mirror dimly.” I want to be looking for that part of Jesus in others that is lacking in me. Regardless of the ‘group’ I identify with the most, those outside of that group have something to teach me, something to show me, something I need. We might have significant disagreement over important theological topics but they are still my sisters and brothers in Christ. Even if I am right on a certain point and they are wrong, God loves us the same.

The gospel writers, like the body of Christ, do not always agree and yet there is a harmony between them. There is far more that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have in common than not. At any given time I can choose whether to focus on my differences with someone or focus on my similarities. It is at those points of similarity that we have harmony. When we disagree with one another we have an opportunity to practice love, humility, honor, and respect. Disagreements provide us the opportunity to experience harmony despite the disagreements.

Coming up next: Belligerent pt. 11: Chopping Off Ears While Defending the Truth.

 

 

 

 

Twice a year I offer free coaching to the first ten pastors who sign up on Facebook, Twitter, or by my monthly newsletter. Even though coaching is how I make my living I believe that you need to always give something away. Call it Christian Karma, What goes around comes around, or Whatever a man sows he will reap (Gal. 6:7). So, twice a year I give away six one hour coaching sessions to ten people.

A couple of years ago a young pastor made it into my group of freebies (yes, that’s what I call them). With about fifteen minutes left of our introductory call the conversation took an abrupt turn.

Dave, could I ask you a question?
Sure.
What’s your theology?

(Keep in mind that I have about fifteen minutes left of our phone call.)

Well _____, that’s a pretty big question. I don’t know that I have the time to explain to you what my theology is. I bet there’s something specific on your mind, something that’s important to you. If you want to ask me specifically about that you can but to tell you the truth, I’ve never been asked that question before by a pastor I was coaching. Why is this important to you?

 Well, he said, I don’t want someone counseling me who does not think the way I do.

(I’m glad my friend could not see my face because I’m not that attractive with a dropped jaw.)

Well let me explain that I am not going to be counseling you. Coaching is different than counseling. I have no desire to talk about any differences we might have theologically nor to change you over to my way of thinking. When I coach pastors, theological distinctions between us never come up.

Oh, I see, I guess you’re right. Sorry.
No problem.

I was surprised by how much my friends words, “I don’t want someone counseling me who does not think the way I do.” saddened me. I couldn’t help but think what this young pastor was poised to miss out on if all he ever did was surround himself with people who thought the way he did.

***

If I have decided to be a learner then everyone and everything becomes my teacher.

In 2005, at the age of 47, I returned to college to complete a degree I had put on hold in 1978. After two years of ministry training at San Jose Bible College (It’s not there anymore. The school is now north of Sacramento, California and is called William Jessup University) the church I was serving at offered me a full time position. My academic Dean thought I should take the job even though it meant I would have to postpone my education.

“Dave”, he said, “you’re young. You can always go back to college. This is a great opportunity. I think you should take it.”

So I said goodbye to college and hello to full time ministry. I did come back to finish my education but it took 27 years. I was part of a newly developed accelerated degree completion program. One night a week. One class at a time. Each class lasted five weeks. I was part of a cohort, a small group of students who stayed together throughout the entire program.

Over the years my college had morphed into a Liberal Arts Christian University which meant my small group of fellow students made up a wide range of theological thought. Each week I interacted with those from the far right to the far left. Some were more patient with those they disagreed with and others were not. Some seemed eager to learn new things and understand different ways Christians interpret the scriptures and then there were those who seemed threatened by such differences.

William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury 1881-1944) said, “In our dealings with one another let us be more eager to understand those who differ from us than either to refute them or press upon them our own tradition.”

You can learn a lot when you are willing to explore outside of your own group. Your group is made up of people who think the way you do on important political, societal, and theological issues. What concerns me is how some (not all, but some) Christians and how some, (not all but some) Pastors respond to those they disagree with belligerently, refuting them and attempting to press upon their brothers and sisters in Christ their own tradition. There is no humble, respectful, teachable, open-minded dialog representing genuine interest in learning the perspective of the other person. Our opinion-door is closed, locked tight, and has pinned to the outside a sign which reads “Do not disturb. Trespassers will be shot.”

***

In pt. 8 of this series I mentioned the changes I’ve made in some of my theology over the years. For example, for many years I was very confident in what I felt the Bible said about women in the ministry. I taught my position and implemented my position in the churches I pastored. When the subject of ‘women in ministry’ became a hot-topic in my group, when I discovered that there were some in my group that interpreted the scriptures differently than I did, I decided that I was going to revisit the topic and try really, really hard to be objective. It’s really, really hard to be objective when you already feel that you are right. But I tried really, really hard. I read position papers from fellow pastors in my group. I read books by theologians who believed differently than I did. I wanted to be open, even though in my mind my understanding of women in ministry was a closed issue.

Do you know what happened? You guessed it. I changed my mind. I still think that my old position has some strong points but I feel my current position has more strong points. That’s usually how it is. Usually we have to choose the better of two good arguments. We have to make that choice for ourselves. Someone else will make a different choice. One will feel an argument is weak and the other that it is strong. Over the years I have discovered that my positions on controversial topics have their own weaknesses in them.

I wish there were one person designated by God to be the debate-fixer. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could tell us authoritatively whose interpretation of the scriptures is right and whose is wrong? I wish we had someone like that to turn to but we don’t.

I doubt that any of us will get 100% on our theology exam when we get to heaven. I wonder if in heaven all the issues we strongly disagree about will be cleared up? I wonder if we will care? Imagine the heavenly scene…

Hey, I didn’t expect to see you here.
What?
Nothing. Did you hear that Paul is gong to be giving a lecture at two on ‘Who was right and who was wrong?’
Really?
Yeah, wanna go?
I think I’ll pass. Besides, John is giving an introduction to the harp at two-thirty and I don’t want to miss that.

If I have decided to be a learner then everyone and everything becomes my teacher. Don’t be afraid to learn from those you have serious disagreements with. Everyone has something to add to our faith if we are willing to look, listen, and learn. And it is at that point where we allow our lives to be enriched by someone we disagree with that our hands are joined together rather than separated and forming fists.

Coming up next: Belligerent pt. 10: The Bible Does Contradict Itself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently I posted on Facebook,

“What if correct doctrine is not the most important thing?”

That’s it. I left it hanging there with no other comment or hint as to what I was getting at. The response was pretty much what I expected. About half either “liked it” or left a comment implying that there indeed are things more important than correct doctrine. The other half challenged the statement and defended the primacy of ‘correct doctrine’. One response caught my attention. A pastor said, “I have found in the past 50+ years I have been a Christian, as I grow, my doctrine changes.” I think I know what he meant by that.

I’ve been a Christian for about forty-two years. I came to Christ when I was sixteen. From the very beginning I was pretty serious about my faith and ministry and daily reading my Bible. I was ordained and went into full time service at nineteen. I would become a church planter and senior pastor at twenty-one. That’s either incredible or stupid…or both.

Over the years, and particularly as I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed some of my theology. Not the ‘Apostles-Creed’ type of theology but important things that Christians can disagree on. Let me give you some examples.

I used to think a certain way about ‘tongues’ but then I changed my mind.

I use to think one way about the Roman Catholic Church…but now I think another way.

I was quite convinced about my view of eschatology. Now I think differently.

There was no room for debate in what I thought about female pastors. I have since changed my opinion on this.

And politics? Most of my adult life I voted the ‘party line’ but I don’t any longer.

In addition to these specifics, there have emerged a number of important Bible topics I was once certain about which now have been placed on a shelf labeled “I don’t know.”

I remember hearing that great old radio Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee (1904 – 1988) say, “It’s the strangest thing, but I knew more when I was younger than I know now that I’m older.”

***

What have I learned from all the changes I’ve made in some of these important theological subjects?

1. Because I once felt strongly about these things but have changed my mind, I can understand and respect those who still believe like I used to.

2. Those who think differently than I do on these subjects are not stupid or ignorant about what the Bible teaches.

3. Those who disagree with me on some of the topics listed above are often more educated and more knowledgeable in the scriptures and in theology than I am.

4. Many who have positions that differ from mine have sometimes sacrificed far more for the gospel ministry than I have.

6. I still have more areas of agreement with them than I do disagreement.

7. Despite our differences they are still my sisters and brothers in Christ and I want to love them, respect them, give them honor, and refuse to talk them down or be belligerent with them.

***

In part seven of this series I mentioned ‘labels.’ I’d like to come back to this.

Did you notice in my list of topics that I’ve changed my opinions on, I left out the specifics of what I used to believe and what I now believe? Maybe you already think you know my position on some of the subject. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re not. I intentionally left out the details.

As I’ve said before, we all have a strong ego need to be right and belong to a group who is right. Everybody wants to know whose team you are on. Everybody wants to know which team they are on. Everybody wants to be on the winning team. Everybody thinks that the other team is inferior. Some can even go as far as to think the other team is the enemy.

Once you state your opinion on a topic, something, especially if that topic is really, really important to the other person, you are going to be labeled.

“Oh, so you’re a conservative.”

“Oh, so you’re a complementarian.”

“Oh, so you’re a cessationist.”

“Oh, so you’re a progressive.”

“Oh, so you’re a Republican.”

“Oh…so you’re one of those.”

And, depending on how important the label is to the person doing the labeling, upon learning which label fits you (or which label they think fits you), they can use you as either a bullet or a target.

“Hey, so and so thinks like us. Let’s use him/her as a bullet, let’s bolster our ranks, let’s shoot at the other side.”

Or…

“Hey, so and so thinks like them. Set that target up. Ready, aim, FIRE!”

I don’t want to use anyone as a bullet or a target and I don’t want to be used that way either.

A while ago I made the decision not to share my opinions about some controversial issues in any public online forum. There are certain subjects that are so volatile that I think they are best discussed one-on-one and only when I am convinced that the person asking me my position is interested in honest, respectful, and open dialogue. If I have any reason to doubt the sincerity of the person or have reason to believe that they will use me as either a bullet or a target I will decline to comment or say I have no opinion or admit that I’m not sure what I believe about the issue.

The truth of the matter is that sometimes I don’t have an opinion and I’m not sure what I believe about some hot topics, but even this can get me in trouble.

“So Dave, what do you think about (fill in the blank)?”

“I don’t really have an opinion on that.”

“What do you mean you don’t have an opinion?”

“I don’t know what I think about (fill in the blank), there are good arguments on both sides.”

“How can you not have an opinion, the scriptures are clear.”

“Apparently the scriptures aren’t clear on that or Christians wouldn’t disagree on it.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Ready, aim, FIRE!

***

It’s reported that Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to remain silent and thought of as a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.”

Too many people are quick to voice their opinions on very complex issues, and when they do they sound like fools who spew their clichés and parrot their point of view having never objectively explored the subject on their own.

It’s okay to remain silent on some of the issues so many are speaking up on. It’s okay to not have an opinion. It’s okay to have an opinion but feel no need to express that opinion. I don’t have to tell people what I think. The ‘opinion wagon’ is alive and well and will not be slowed down or suffer in the least if I don’t join it.

 

Coming up next: Belligerent pt. 9: Learning From Those You Disagree With

 

 

 

 

In many ways what you are reading is a continuation of Violence in Social Media, pt.4 and pt.5. I did, however, want to expand the topic beyond Facebook and other online means of communication and include some general thoughts on how we interact with those we disagree with.

Personal convictions and opinions

Everyone has convictions and opinions. This is to be expected. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. The problem with strong convictions and strong opinions (whether they be over political or theological issues) is that we have a tendency to convince ourselves that God thinks the same way we do. Once we’ve assumed that God is on our side it is easier to close down our thinking, condemn and confront those who think differently than we do rather than staying open, inquisitive, and accepting. We start with an opinion that turns into a distinction that turns into a wall that turns into a judgment. We must learn to stop after the opinion.

When in the process of confronting error or describing differences of opinions I come across to the other person like I’m challenging or confronting them, cornering them, accusing them, mocking them…I fail. It’s possible to win an argument and still lose.

Using a violent and belligerent approach never works. Why? Because the one being challenged feels attacked and becomes defensive and protective. Since debate and arguments almost always become mean-spirited they seldom result in changing the thinking of those doing the debating.

Why do some Christians feel such a need to defend their position and disarm their opponent?

 

  1. Wounded pride: “How dare you say I am wrong.”
  2. Fear: “The world (and the church) is slipping into hell. Someone has to defend the truth before it’s too late.”
  3. Human nature: It’s in our blood to form tribes, and tribes must be defended.
  4. Feeling threatened: When we feel in danger we have two options; we either run away or take a stand and fight. We don’t want to run away because that seems like we are giving up, which, of course, would be wrong because (fill in the blank) is so important. Therefore the only option in situations like this is to stand and fight.

 

When two people debate or argue, the result is never changed minds but instead a wounded and reinforced pride in one or both. Those listening in on the argument may change their way of thinking but it is at a great cost.

We all have a strong ego need to be right and belong to a group who is right. Everybody wants to know whose team you are on. Everybody wants to know which team they are on. Everybody wants to be on the winning team. Everybody thinks that the other team is inferior. Some think the other team is the enemy.

What if there were no teams? What if we refused to play the game?

Labels

There are extremes within every group, political or theological. On one end you have fundamentalists and on the other, progressives. But then you have conservative progressives and liberal progressives. There are conservative conservatives and liberal conservatives. Everyone can be labeled but because there can be varying degrees of every label (some liberals are conservative on some political and theological issues) labels seldom accurately describe an individual. The degrees can be important but we tend to forget the degrees and look only to the label. When we label, we limit.

When we label a person there is almost always some contempt attached:

I disagree with you.
I label you.
I think I am better than you.
Contempt.

Violence doesn’t work

You will never convince someone they are wrong by using violence in any way, shape, or form.

Jesus said, “…if you don’t have a sword, buy one. (Luke 22:36) Our problem is that we have bought more than one. Our personal sword collection grows and grows.

“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)

Previously Jesus had told them that the two most important laws from the Old Testament were, love God and love people. After that Jesus added his own law…love one another. We (the church) have consistently failed at both. We swing our swords at our non-Christian culture and thrust our blades into our fellow Christians. Paul called the Bible the sword of the Spirit and Christians have been stabbing people with it ever since.

When it’s time to dig in your heels make sure you are not standing on someone’s back. It’s better to try and untie knots rather than cut them. I don’t want to always be grinding an ax and looking for something to chop.

I want to reserve swinging my ‘sword of truth’ for the devil, never for my brothers and sisters. With my sisters and brothers, may the sword be gently laid on the ground as we gather around it, sit down to study it together while holding hands.

Conclusion:

We must judge our attitudes and actions towards those we disagree with according to I Peter 2:17:

Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

I want my life to be a bridge rather than a wall. When enemies refuse to talk all that remains is war. I don’t want to make enemies, I want to make friends and when I disagree with someone I want other options than war.

In part one of this series I mention Mohandas K. Gandhi’s two volume Non-Violence In Peace And War. Reading excerpts from this book I learned three Hindu words:

Satyagraha = Resistance by nonviolent means.
Satyagrahi = One adhering to the principle of satyagraha.
Ahimsa = Nonviolence as a principal governing every area of life. This word was coined by Gandhi.

Gandhi regarded Jesus as the personification of non-violence. I believe ahimsa is a principle all followers of Jesus must live by. Ahimsa has at its root the idea of loving people, being at peace with people, showing kindness and respect to all people…especially those we disagree with. Ahimsa is a reflection of the Prince of Peace. Ahimsa breaks down walls rather than building them. A person living by Ahimsa would rather have a wall fall on them than erect a wall to separate people.

In 1964 Thomas Merton wrote a commentary on this work of Gandhi called: Gandhi On Non-Violence. At the end of his introduction Merton says,

“Peace cannot be built on exclusivism, absolutism, and intolerance. But neither can it be built on vague liberal slogans and pious programs gestated in the smoke of confabulation. There can be no peace on earth without the kind of inner change that brings man back to his right mind.”

If order for us to come back to our right mind and embrace the law of Christ (love one another) we will need an inner change. It can happen.

Coming up next: Belligerent pt. 8: Changes In My Theology

 

 

 

 

If this is the starting point for you in this series it might be more helpful to go to the beginning, take your time, and catch up.

***

I’ve begun to notice how often we use a violent, war-related vocabulary when talking among ourselves.

We’re in God’s army and our faith is under attack. We’d better put on our armor and fight the good fight of faith by taking up the sword of the Spirit. We are at war with the devil and must rally our prayer-warriors to defeat satan. We need mighty women and men of faith to defend the Bible (or God, or Truth) or else God’s judgment is coming. There’s a cultural battle going on by the enemies of Christianity.

It’s true, many of these words come right out of the Bible. For example, Paul at one time or another used most of the same words or phrases in his letters. But I’m not worried about Paul. I’m worried about us. I’m worried that our vocabulary, although Biblical, can perpetuate our violent way of thinking, acting, and speaking.

Matt. 15:18 “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”

If I am an angry, defensive, belligerent man, then angry, defensive, belligerent words are going to come out of me. If there is violence in my heart then violence will come out of my mouth. My mean inner-man will produce a mean vocabulary which will feed my mean inner-man…and around, and around, and around I go.

If I am going to be a peacemaker (the type of person Jesus said would be blessed) then I need to find a way to achieve my communication goals by using peaceful words rather than violent words. If I don’t have to use war-related words, why would I choose to?

Paul said that our words should give grace to those who hear them. (Eph. 4:29)

Is there another side to this that I am missing? Of course there is. If I wanted to, I could make a list of scriptures that speak of confrontation rather than peace making, or rebuking, correcting and judging others. Is there a place for this ‘other side’ of the argument? Apparently so.

I am well aware that my argument is imbalanced; in fact it is purposely imbalanced. The ‘other side of the argument’ will do just fine without me contributing to it. The violent, war-related vocabulary dominates much (not all, but much) of the Christian world and I doubt will be affected by my small imbalanced position. Sometimes in order to arrive at the true center you have to swing far to one side. And sometimes, before you can do that, you have to change the center, your center.

 

The good thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The bad thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The problem with ‘free speech’ is that it’s not free…it’s costly, especially when those on their soapbox are angry, judgmental brawlers who don’t appear to care how their words hurt and offend others.

Some Christians and some pastors can really get mean, nasty, and down right belligerent when talking theology, more specifically, when talking about how someone’s theology is wrong.

***

In my way of thinking, a controversial subject is any topic that Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Apostle’s Creed-abiding Christians disagree on. When Christians can look at the same passage of scripture and come to different conclusions we know we are dealing with something that is controversial, or debatable.

My Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Apostle’s Creed-abiding sisters and brothers in Christ disagree on all kinds of important things. We’re all reading the same Bible but disagree on the role of women in leadership, eschatology, gift of tongues, the proper mode of baptism, Election…I could go on and on.

Ruertus Meldenius told us, “In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”

And everyone says, “Amen.”

The problem is we can’t agree on what is essential and what is non-essential. Often times what is non-essential to one is essential to another. As Protestants we lack a unifying authoritative figure (like, let’s say, our Roman Catholic friends have) over us to tell us what’s what. As Protestants we don’t want a Pope but we could sure use one. We need someone to tell us what the bible says about these controversial subjects. But we don’t have anyone like that. Someone must be right and someone must be wrong. Who gets to decide? And this is where violent, aggressive, angry, mean-spirited Christians come in. There are far too many pastors who act like they have a corner on the market of theological orthodoxy.

“What you believe isn’t orthodox.”
“Really? I think it’s orthodox.”
“Well you’re wrong.”
“Why?”
“Because I’m right.”
“What we need is a Pope to straighten this all out.”
“That’s not funny. And besides…that’s not orthodox.”

The battle cry of the belligerent is, “The Bible clearly teaches (fill in the blank with a debatable subject).” But if the Bible was clear on a controversial topic it wouldn’t be controversial. If my Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Apostle’s Creed-abiding brothers and sisters in Christ disagree on the End Times then saying the Bible clearly teaches a pre-tribulation rapture of the church is not fair. If the Bible was clear on this, why then do we have Postmillennialists and Amillennialists?

I believe that there is absolute truth. For me, as I’m sure it is for you, the Bible is my source for truth. I assume that God must have an opinion (absolute truth) about certain hot topics. God is either in favor of tongues today or not. Infant baptism is okay in the eyes of God or not. God is either a Postmillennialist or not. But when we disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ on certain important but debatable topics we don’t need to go on the attack, ridicule, be disrespectful, we shouldn’t burn them at the stake. Our response should not be a violent one.

When I run into someone who interprets the Bible differently than I do (and the subject is something I feel very strongly about) I must remember Paul’s words and, “…not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach (and able to be teachable), patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition (because who knows, I could be wrong and if so, I will want my ‘opponent’ to show me kindness, patience, and gentleness). II Tim. 2:24

Coming Up Next: Violence in our vocabulary

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t been following this series might I suggest you go here first so you have a better context.

It seems to me that the church (not all of the church, but some of the church) has become too violent. We can be hostile, belligerent, brutal, and brawlers towards those we disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it is our secular society or fellow Christians, we are way too willing to land a punch and draw blood. I can be just as guilty.

In my last post I discussed violence in the pulpit. In the weeks to come I will be touching on violence in our vocabulary, violence in our homes, and violence in how we interact with those we disagree with. This article will focus on violence in our social media.

When I began my coaching practice I had yet to delve into social media. I had a newsletter that went out to pastors on a monthly basis but newsletters typically do not generate conversation. As soon as we moved from San Jose, California to southern Oregon in 2007, I started a Facebook page and joined Twitter. Shortly after I began on Facebook I decided to start a group page for pastors of smaller churches. For about the first five years my group page grew at a snails pace. Then it exploded! I never had a mega church but now I have a mega Small Church Pastor group page.

I am the moderator of this group. Every time a member posts or makes a comment on a post I’m notified. Moderating a group of online pastors can be like trying to herd cats. Some pastors find it difficult to adhere to my rules:

“The Small Church Pastor group provides a safe place of encouragement, resources, ideas, prayer requests…and laughs between pastors and the spouses of pastors. This group does not allow challenging, debating, or attacking other denominations, pastors, or controversial issues that churches and pastors might disagree on. As moderator, I (Dave Jacobs) reserve the right to delete any post or comment that I feel is not appropriate or not in keeping with this stated purpose of our group. Do you agree to participate according to the above?”

Pastors now have to say “yes” before being accepted into the group. But still…some, not many but some, forget the rules.

Because of this, I skim anywhere from 100 to 200 comments and posts a day to make sure everyone in my group is playing nice. Since using social media is part of my job, I’m online all day, every day, weekends and evenings…not so much.

Facebook can be a wonderful place to hang out. I’ve made some great friends and have been reconnected with old friends. But Facebook has disturbed me as I have seen so many mean, opinionated, belligerent Christians, many of whom are pastors.

Facebook, the new Soapbox.

One definition I found for ‘soapbox’ was, “A soapbox is a raised platform on which one stands to make an impromptu speech, often about a political subject. The term originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves by standing on a wooden crate originally used for shipment of soap or other dry goods from a manufacturer to a retail store. The term is also used metaphorically to describe a person engaging in often flamboyant impromptu or unofficial public speaking, as in the phrases “He’s on his soapbox”, or “Get off your soapbox.”

I think this fits Facebook perfectly.

The good thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The bad thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The problem with ‘free speech’ is that it’s not free…it’s costly, especially when those on their soapbox are angry, judgmental brawlers who don’t appear to care how their words hurt and offend others.

Nowhere does this insensitive mean-spiritedness show up more on Facebook than with the subjects of politics and theology. I am still amazed at how angry some Christians (and some pastors) can come across when they talk online about politicians they disagree with.

Peter had something to say about Christians and politicians: Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. I Peter 2:17

There are two things I find interesting about this verse. First, the ‘king’ Peter admonished his readers to show honor to was Nero, a notorious, possibly demon-possessed, sadistic ruler. Second, the word ‘all’ is a very interesting word in the greek. It means…all. It really does, I looked it up.

Everytime I hear someone talk about “those idiots in Washington” or say something worse, I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:22:

 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Well they’re not my brothers and sisters. They aren’t even Christians. I can say what I want.”

“You just might have found a loop hole. Good for you. Go ahead then and Raca-On.”

Next up: Pt. 5 Violence in Social Media: Theology

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