Belligerent pt. 13: Parishoners, Pastors, and Parrots

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.

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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.

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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.