Belligerent

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I’ll be honest with you. If you haven’t been following my series (Belligerent), you probably won’t appreciate this conclusion as much as if you had. You might want to go back and at least read pt.1, 2, and 3.

I’ve been spending the last five months creating a case for ‘belligerence’ in the church. The church (not all of the church but some of the church) is too violent. We have become hostile, brutal brawlers towards those we disagree with politically or theologically. It doesn’t matter if it is the non-Christian world or fellow-Christians, we are too willing to draw blood.

It is my concern that there is too much violence from the pulpit, the pew, and social media and not enough peace from the pulpit, the pew, and social media. Because of this, I want to be part of a new peace movement within the church. I want to be part of a new anti-war movement among Christians. I want to promote non-violence between sisters and brothers, and this series has been my attempt to help those interested move in that direction.

This doesn’t mean that we will all agree. We can have opinions, strong opinions. We can hold to our convictions. I agree with Paul who said, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:22-23)

But…when our opinions and convictions differ from someone else’s (whether they be followers of Jesus or not) we must not become belligerent.

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When I read the words of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament I find myself challenged to evaluate my reactions to those who I disagree with. For example:

Because Jesus, in the ‘High Priestly Prayer’ of John 17, prayed three times to the Father that his followers “may be one”, I ask myself, “Are my words, attitudes and actions creating oneness or two-ness? By ‘two-ness’ I mean a division, my group versus their group.

One theme from the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is a different kind of priest than those under the old covenant. Did you know that the Latin word for ‘priest’ means ‘bridge-builder’?

Peter calls us a ‘royal priesthood’ (I Pet. 2:9), I must ask myself, “Are my words building bridges or building walls?

Three times Jesus told us to ‘love one another’ (Jn. 13:34, Jn. 15:12,17). Do my attitudes towards those I disagree with reflect love…or something less than love, or even contempt and judgment?

Paul added to Jesus’ reminder to ‘love’ by say in I Cor. 13 that love is patient. I must ask myself if my words and actions and attitudes towards those I disagree with reflect patience or impatience? Do I rush to correct, judge, or label someone who is different than me?

Paul said in Gal. 5 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I must ask myself if my words or actions or attitudes towards those I disagree with are filled with that type of fruit? I fear that sometimes I have fruit but it is rotten, worm-filled fruit.

Peter said (I Pet. 2: 17to show honor all people. Does my life reflect showing honor to those I disagree with?

Because Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (II Tim. 2:24-25), I must ask myself if my words or actions or attitudes towards those I disagree with are quarrelsome in nature, unkind, impatient, lacking in gentleness?

YEAH, BUT…

There’s always a ‘YEAH BUT.’

Yeah, but what about orthodoxy?
Yeah, but what about heresy?
Yeah, but what about bringing correction?
Yeah, but what about loving the sinner but hating the sin?
Yeah, but what about defending the truth?
Yeah, but what about Jesus turning over the tables in the temple?
Yeah, but what about holiness?
Yeah, but what about obedience?
Yeah, but what about speaking the truth in love?
Yeah, but what about balance?

What about it?

I believe there is a place for all the ‘YEAH BUTS’ but I also believe that we’ve been giving too much of a place to them.

Believe me, if I choose to not correct others or act belligerently towards those I think are in error there will still be enough correction and belligerence out there to get the job done. The ‘YEAH BUTS’ are alive and well, they aren’t going anyplace. Those who feel an obligation to fight are alive and well, they aren’t going anyplace. I’m not worried about a lack of the ‘YEAH BUTS’, correction, or belligerence. I want to be part of something different.

This series you’ve been reading is a call…a call to:

Peace without compromising our Biblical convictions,
Unity while accepting diversity,
Honoring all people despite strong disagreement,
Evaluating our words and attitudes and action in light of the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5),
Letting someone else do the correcting,
Putting an end to the belligerence,
Being part of an anti-war movement.

That’s where I’m going. Do you want to come with me? Let’s join hands and go there together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A member of my Small Church Pastor group page on Facebook asked a question and addressed it to “…his brothers in the ministry.”

A woman pastor lightheartedly responded, “Hey…what about your sisters in the ministry?”
The first pastor wrote back, “Sorry, no offense intended. It’s just habit I guess. I’ll change it.”
Another male pastor immediately said, “Don’t be so sensitive.”
Another female pastor took issue with the pastor who said, “Don’t be so sensitive.”, posting a rather lengthy, heated response   and calling for gender-neutrality language in our conversations.
A different pastor private messaged me to tell me that a woman in the group was pushing her feminist agenda.

“Wait. What? Where? I must have missed that.”, I told him. And then another comment appeared on the thread.

“Gender-neutrality language is a bunch of crap, PC crap! I hate political correctness! That’s what’s wrong with the church today. You need to take a chill pill.”

“Whoa Nelly”, I thought to myself, “That’s not cool.” I immediately private messaged the pastor to tell him that his response was inappropriate and unacceptable in our group. He left the group and so did the female pastor who was so upset.

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In preparation for this blog I posted on my Facebook timeline and my Small Church Pastor group page:

Help me out: Give me a brief definition of PC (Politically Correct). Not an example but a definition. Don’t look it up in the dictionary. How would you define PC? If you give an example instead of a definition there is a good chance it will be deleted.

Why the last sentence? Remember, I’ve been moderating my group page for more than eight years. I’ve been learning a lot about some, not all, but some pastors. Some pastors can’t simply answer a question without adding their commentary. It’s the commentary or examples in response to a question like I posted that often lead to mean-spirited controversy on my group page and we are working hard at avoiding that. Despite my warning, a number of pastors still managed to give specific examples of what they thought were attempts at being politically correct. True to my word, those entries were deleted. Some pastors don’t like it when I delete things they post that I feel are a departure from our group rules. I would guess that about half the time when I feel a need to remind pastors privately of our rules they handle it really well. The other half of the time they get mad at me and leave the group.

Well, back to my question. Over fifty responses came in over the next two hours. I really didn’t expect that many comments. I also didn’t expect how passionate some pastors are about the subject of political correctness. If you listen to some Christians and some pastors you would come to the conclusion that PC is one of the biggest problems in our country and probably the main problem with the church today. I’m not sure. What if the problem isn’t that we are too PC but that we aren’t PC enough?

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When I see the phrase politically correct, I first focus on the word political. Then I think of politics. Then I think of politicians. From there I think of things some politicians do or say in order to get elected. There is a dishonesty associated with it and a manipulation of the electorate.

Only one of the 53 responses to my question came close to mine: “Whatever phrasing or actions that will gain you the most (or cost you the least) votes.” Many of the comments were similar to these:

  • To go along with what the masses say instead of what is the truth.
  • The willingness to cast truth aside in order to not offend someone.
  • Not speaking truth
  • Setting aside all personal convictions to appease others.
  • It is a thought control tactic used by the liberal left which on the surface has the express purpose of not offending the disadvantaged and those who oppose Christian values, but which the unexpressed undercurrent is to silence truth and erode religious freedoms.

On the other side there were definitions such as:

  • Being kind and speaking in love.
  • Using language that isn’t offensive.
  • Choosing vocabulary for referring to people that is not based on prejudice nor intended to hurt or demean.
  • Choosing alternate, often unfamiliar language or practice, in an attempt to minimize actual or perceived offense toward a particular group.
  • A term that only people of privilege use to describe with disdain those who think differently about the power of language than they do.

I found it interesting to trace the origins of the phrase ‘political correctness’ or ‘politically correct’. I thought of sharing with you the history of PC and how it has evolved in meaning over the years, but that would digress from my point. When you have the time Google it, I think you will be surprised.

My point is that many Christians today are accusing other Christians of being PC. This indictment is usually accompanied by an air of contempt and belligerence. The claim is that certain believers, churches, and entire denominations have caved in to social pressure and have knowingly walked away from the truth of scriptures in order to better fit in to the non-Christian culture. Are there PCers like that out there? Probably, but I don’t know any of them…and I know a lot of Christians and Pastors and churches.

What I see happening is that there is a growing group of Christians who are trying to walk out their faith as closely to the example of Jesus as they can. As they attempt this they are becoming more kind, more accepting, more tolerant, more loving. They want to avoid offending others as much as possible. They love God. They believe in the Bible. Theirs is a different kind of PC, not ‘politically correct’ but ‘people compassionate.’ Do they get it right in every area of doctrine and practice? Of course not, but neither do those who are on the other side. Nobody gets it completely right.

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Few would argue that the apostle Paul was not afraid to speak the truth, confront sin and doctrinal error. His letters are filled with examples. Recently while reading through I Corinthians I came across two passages that made me see how balanced Paul really was.

I Cor. 9:20 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.  (NASB)

I Cor. 10:32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.. (NASB)

They say, “You can’t please everybody.” but is seems that Paul tried. Paul didn’t want to offend if he didn’t need to. Paul was trying to build bridges rather than walls in order that he might win people to Christ. I could imagine that if I said the same things Paul said in the above scriptures that some would accuse me of being too PC, a people-pleaser, that I’ve caved in to societal pressure.

I don’t want to call someone PC too flippantly, especially if my words accompanied by contempt and belligerence. I don’t want to accuse someone of being PC without talking to them and seeing their heart, their motives, their convictions. And if I happen to actually take the time to get to know the person I’m concerned about and end up not liking their motives, convictions and heart, if I still strongly disagree with them…I don’t want to attack or be offensive, I don’t want to be belligerent.

I think there is more PC out there among Christians than we imagine but it is not political correctness, it is people compassion.

 

Typically when I begin a coaching relationship with a pastor the first phone call is an orientation to coaching. I begin by sharing a little about my background. Next I explain my philosophy of coaching. Finally I talk about expectations, i.e. what I will expect from the coachee and what the coachee can expect from me. It is at this time that I will say, among other things, “You can expect complete confidentiality from me. I will never talk to anyone else about what we discuss in our calls. I want you to feel that I am safe, that you can talk to me about anything and it won’t come back to bite you.”

It is important to me that the person on the other end of the phone understands this. It’s important for a pastor to have someone like this in their life. Few pastors do. Far too many ministers have stories of opening up to someone they thought they could trust only to later regret being so transparent. This is one reason many pastors feel so lonely. They don’t have anyone they can talk to, really talk to, really and honestly talk to…that is safe.

I feel it a great privilege to be this type of person to so many who lead our churches. Because of this, pastors will open up to me about things they are afraid to share with their church leaders, their supervisors, or their colleagues. Such was the case with pastor Bob (not his real name).

My coaching call with Bob took place before the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage. Bob’s state was about to decide whether or not to legalize SSM. As was the case in so many states approaching a moment like this, tensions were high, rallies and demonstrations from both sides of the debate were happening regularly. The topic of homosexuality and SSM had never come up in Bob’s church before but now with the issue in the news and on the street Bob realized he would have to say something about it because so many in his church were looking to him for guidance.

Bob had always held the more traditional view that the Bible clearly condemned homosexuality. But Bob was also aware that there was a small but growing group of Evangelical pastors and authors who looked at the same Bible Bob did and came to the conclusion that either the passages typically used to condemn homosexuality and SSM, had either been misinterpreted or did not address monogamous, committed relationships between same sex attracted people. Keep in mind that Bob did not agree with this interpretation of scripture but he felt a need to at least hear the other side being presented by his brothers and sisters.

After Bob’s sincere attempt to objectively look at the arguments of those Christians who were in favor of full inclusion of homosexual believers in the church, I asked him, “So what conclusions have you come to?”

“I haven’t changed my position, but can I be honest with you?”

“About what?”

“I have to admit that the other side has some good arguments. They are not simply disregarding the authority of the scriptures like I use to believe. I guess I’d have to say that the topic is not as cut and dry as I thought. Don’t tell anyone that I said that.”

(laughter)

“What do you mean?” I said.

“If some of my colleagues knew I’d read some of the books I did I would get in trouble. And I can’t imagine what would happen if I admitted that the opposite side has some legitimate arguments.”

“So what you’re saying is that even though you still believe the Bible condemns homosexuality, your reputation would be damaged simply because you were willing to listen to the other side?”

“Oh yeah”, said Bob, “definitely. Dave, you’re the only one I feel safe to talk to about this. I know you’re not going to turn me in.”

(more laughter)

Bob is not alone. There are many conservative Evangelical pastors out there who feel caught in the middle. Even though they still believe that homosexuality is wrong they no longer believe that the Bible is entirely clear on the subject. They have come to understand and appreciate those who interpret the Bible differently than they do. But they are afraid to say so. Some have doubts about what they have always believed. But they are afraid to say so. Some have even changed their position. But they are afraid to say so. Some have told me that they are not exactly sure what God thinks of homosexuality but they are afraid to say so to anyone but me.

We’ve gotten to the place where you can be attacked or get in trouble just for thinking, or re-thinking, or questioning, or respectfully listening to those who think differently than the group you belong to thinks. You can be judged and slandered and ‘unfriended’ on Facebook (and in life, I know, it’s happened to me) for revealing that you appreciate certain authors or speakers. This isn’t limited to the subject of homosexuality and SSM.

Whatever denomination you belong to there is a good chance that there are certain theological distinctions held by your group that if you strayed over to a different position you would get in trouble and possibly defrocked. In some groups you would be attacked if you simply said, “I’m rethinking my position on…

Spiritual gifts
Women in ministry
Ecclesiology
Baptism
Eschatology, to name a few.

Notice that my imaginary friend did not say, “I’ve changed my position on…” but only, “I’m rethinking my position on…” That alone is enough to be called into the principle’s office.

How many times have you said, or heard someone else say, ‘The Bible is clear…’ or ‘The Bible clearly teaches…’? When I read my Bible I tend to see more clarity than I do vagueness but there are definitely some things that I see as gray while some of my friends see the same things as black and white. It seems to me that some things some Christians think the Bible is clear about are not as clear as they think. If the Bible were clear then why are there so many denominations and different opinions held by Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians?

There is a small but growing group of Christians who are caught in the middle. They don’t see black and white. They see gray. Not everything is gray to them, it’s not like they don’t believe in absolute truth or the basic tenets of the Christian faith, but some of the other things are gray to them. They have friends or fellow-pastors who see many things as black and white…but they see those same things as gray. This group doesn’t have as strong an opinion about some things other Christians have strong opinions about. And some in this group are afraid to admit this publicly. Rather than saying, “The Bible is clear about…” or “The Bible clearly teaches…” they would say, “I’m not sure what God thinks about…”

Do you see certain theological topics as gray while those around you see the same subjects as black and white? It’s okay, you’re not alone. Be humble and patient with those who see black and white. Remember…they could be right. I wish I didn’t have to say this but be very selective with whom you share your ambiguity. Ambiguity can get you in trouble.

Do you see certain theological topics as black and white? It’s okay, you’re not alone. Be humble and patient with those who see gray. Remember…they could be right. Work at being a loving, respectful, honoring and safe person for those who see gray. After all, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ. We all love Jesus. We all believe that the Bible is God’s word, it’s just that some of us see things as black and white and others of us see things as gray.

We may never know with certainty who is right and who is wrong until we die and take that required theology exam that will determine who gets into heaven and who stays outside with the rest of us C+ students.

 

 

 

I became a Christian in 1973. Because of some early Christian influences in my life, I naïvely believed that there were only three kinds of churches. There were Catholic churches. There were Liberal churches. And there were real churches, i.e. Evangelical churches. Let me say again, I was naïve, but this is what I had been taught.

I believed that the Roman Catholic church was a cult so I dismissed them and placed them in the same category as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons. I disregarded the Liberal churches (keep in mind that I couldn’t have told you who they were but I knew they were out there) because they didn’t believe in the Bible and Liberal churches were nothing more than a religious social club. Did I mention that I was naïve? So the only thing that was left, the only churches that really counted were the type of churches that I went to…Evangelical churches.

Now fast-forward to today.

I still (kind of) think of myself as an Evangelical and attend an Evangelical church. I have a degree from an Evangelical university. Most of the pastors I work with in my coaching and consulting practice would be considered Evangelicals. But over the years I’ve had a growing group of Liberal pastors as clients. At the beginning of this series I mentioned that I am the founder and moderator of a large pastors group on Facebook. Pastors of every denomination and persuasion are welcome in my group. The stated purpose of our group is:

The Small Church Pastor group provides a safe place of encouragement, resources, ideas, prayer requests…and laughs between senior pastors and the spouses of senior pastors. This group does not allow challenging, debating, or attacking other denominations, pastors, or controversial issues that churches and pastors might disagree on. Our group stays away from discussing the meaning or interpretation of specific scriptures or doctrines Christians and denominations might disagree on.

This group is one of the few places on the Internet where Conservative Christians and Liberal Christians can come together and not get in a fight. We are not always successful, but we are learning and trying.

Progressives are the new Liberals.

Both my Conservative Evangelical friends and Progressive Christian friends may disagree with me on this but as I dialog with today’s Progressives I find very little that is new in what they believe in comparison to what most Liberals of yesteryear believed. But if you listen to some Conservative Evangelicals you would think that the Progressive movement has introduced something new to the story of Christianity in the world. If I am right, if Progressives are, basically, the new Liberals, why then are some Conservative Evangelicals sounding an alarm as if the building was just set on fire?

I have a theory. I can’t prove it. I’ve seen no scientific study to verify it. I don’t have enough money to commission Gallop to look into this. But I think the reason why Evangelicals are so concerned with Progressives is because of one significant way in which the Progressives of today are different than the Liberals of the past.

This is not true of all Progressives, but many Progressives today still think of themselves as Evangelicals. In the past, Liberals didn’t think of themselves as Evangelicals. Because of this it was easier for Evangelicals to dismiss them and relegate them to the category of ‘apostate church.’ The interesting dynamic today is that there is a growing movement of what is called Progressive Evangelicals. Progressive Evangelicals believe that one can be both Progressive and Evangelical whereas some Evangelicals do not believe this is possible. Therefore, many Conservative Evangelicals feel a responsibility to preserve the true meaning of Evangelicalism and sometimes attack and debate the popular voices of Progressive Christianity. It’s kind of like, as long as you weren’t claiming to be one of us (Evangelical) everything was okay but now that you’re using our title it’s not okay.

Did you know that most Progressive Evangelicals and most Conservative Evangelicals agree upon what it means to be an Evangelical? In addition to this, most Progressive Christians and most Conservative Christians agree upon the basic tenets of Christianity.

The Future of Evangelicalism in America

 I don’t think Progressives, whether they consider themselves Evangelicals or not, are a fad that will pass. I believe that Progressive Evangelicals are here to stay. I think Progressive Evangelicals will continue to grow in number. I don’t know if they will ever catch up with the number of Conservative Evangelicals but they might. If my prediction proves true I see only two possibilities:

1. Progressives and Conservatives will learn to respect each other, find common ground and do what they can to work together to reach people with the gospel without compromising their theological differences. We saw something similar to this happen between the Charismatics and the non-Chrasimatics. Or…

2. Progressives and Conservatives will become two totally separate and distinct camps at best ignoring each other or at worse at war with each other.

I, for one, am hoping and praying for number one rather than number two.

It seems to me that some Christians always need something to be mad about, afraid of, something or someone to be against. It’s less work to have an enemy than it is to have a friend.

Way back in 1988 Tony Campolo came out with a popular book entitled: 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid To Touch. Recently Tony has become a hot potato himself after coming out in favor of same-sex marriage (after having been against it) and therefore falling out of favor with many Evangelicals.

When Tony’s book originally came out I read it but I don’t think I appreciated it as much as when I recently read it again. 20 Hot Potatoes was ahead of its time. Campolo’s book listed topics that either Christians typically fought over or chose to ignore completely back in the 1980’s. Although his positions on these controversial subjects seem rather tame for today I am amazed that he was able to stay in good favor with his conservative friends back then. In other words, if these topics are contentious today think how much more so back in the 80’s.

Tony dared to present another perspective on hot topics of the day like:

How do we respond to people with AIDS?
What about women preachers?
Christian women choosing a career rather than staying home.
Homosexuals and the church.
Can Christians kill?
Are Evangelicals too pro-Israel?
and a favorite of mine, Is hunting a sin?

You’d be hunted down and run out of town for suggesting that where I live. Any way…

Reading 20 Hot Potatoes again reinforced to me that very little changes over time. Solomon apparently was right when he said that there is nothing new under the sun. There was controversy among Christians back when this book came out and there is controversy today. If Tony were to write a new 20 Hot Potatoes he would probably have some of the same topics in his list and some new ones.

I’d like to share with you my own ‘20’ list. These are not so much ‘hot potatoes’ as they are buttons, belligerent buttons. Buttons that when pushed, bring out anger, meanness, disrespect, contempt, and condemnation from some Christians and some pastors. I will not be elaborating on these points as Tony did in his book. Maybe that’s because I’m more of a coward than Tony was but I think it’s because I just want us to be able to see clearly the topics that have, can and do, bring out the worse in us.

Presidential election years
Politicians we disagree with
Homosexuality/same sex marriage
Rob Bell
Abortion
Gun control
Immigration
The relationship between the church and Israel
Harry Potter
The secularization of Christmas
Halloween
Popular Christian leaders who have fallen
Oppression of women
The role of women in the church and in the family
Evolution
Literal or figurative 7 days of creation
Racial injustice
Feminism
People on state or Federal assistance
Islam

If I were to post something on Facebook, either for or against any of these topics, within minutes there would be angry, judgmental attacks. People who had been my ‘friends’ the day before would suddenly treat me differently. One can go from friend to foe in seconds on social media.

Can you see any belligerent button on my list that is a sensitive subject for you? When you come across someone who thinks differently than you do on this topic do you get angry? Why do you get angry? Have you ever taken your feelings to the Father and asked him, “Show me the real reason why I am angry.” This can be a risky thing to do. You might be surprised what he shows you. Maybe you think your anger is ‘righteous indignation’ as you remember the story of Jesus turning over the tables used by the money-changers and other merchants in the temple.

I believe that there is such a thing as ‘righteous anger’ but ours is seldom righteous. James told us that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

There is no virtue in being right if I am belligerent to those I think are wrong.

 

If you haven’t been following this series it might make more sense to you if you go back and try to catch up. You can start here.

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If you have been following this series you know by now that I am not a big fan of labels. When we label we limit. When we label fellow Christians we draw a line in the sand with you on one side and me on the other. The thing that is hard for us to accept is that we’re all on the same side even though we might have serious disagreements about serious subjects. If unity means 100% agreement on every important theological point then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 hasn’t a chance of being answered.

Popular labels among Christians:

Egalitarian
Complementarian
Charismatic
Cessasionist
Conservative
Liberal
Progressive
Mainline
Calvinist
Armenian
Liturgical
Welcoming and Affirming
Welcoming and Non-affirming
Evangelical…to name a few.

Labels can be helpful as long as we realize that they come with limitations. Labels are like clothing, seldom does one size fit all. For example, it might be helpful for me to know if I am coaching a conservative or a progressive pastor. But after more than eight years of working with both conservative and progressive pastors I’ve come to realize that there are degrees of every label we assign to someone and therefore, knowing who is a ‘liberal’ (the old fashioned word for ‘progressive’) and who is a conservative Christian is only of little value.

Did you know that there are progressive conservatives and conservative progressives? Not all progressives agree with each other. Not all conservatives agree with each other. Some conservatives are liberal in some areas of their politics and theology. Some progressives have areas in their belief systems that align more with some typical conservative positions. It’s almost impossible to say, “All conservatives believe ______. And all progressives believe ______.”

The irony in what has been said up until now is that I’m about to use labels. In fact, I’m going to attach labels to labels.

Allow me, for the sake of this article, to oversimplify things by saying that Christianity can often, but not always, be divided into two groups, conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I’d also like to use the labels ‘close-minded’ and ‘open-minded.’

Being close-minded (at least not in the way I am using the phrase) is not necessarily a bad thing and being open-minded is not necessarily a good thing. Try not to read into my use of these words any bias.

If you tell a progressive Christian that they are ‘open-minded’ there is a good chance you mean that as a good thing and that they will take it as a compliment. However, if you tell a conservative Christian that they are close-minded there is a good chance you mean that as a bad thing and that they will take it as an insult. Let me be very clear again, especially to those of you who consider yourself a conservative Christian…I am not using the phrase ‘close-minded’ in an entirely negative way nor am I using ‘open-minded’ in an entirely positive way.

It seems that conservatives get a bad rap as being close-minded simply because they have firm convictions about what the Bible says and what it does not say. Conservatives tend to see things as black and white, truth and error. They are not ‘open-minded’ to things outside of what they understand the Bible to teach. Progressives look at the same scriptures but see many things as grey. There is a lot of black and white in the Bible and there is, or so it seems to me, a lot of grey in the Bible. Conservatives and progressives can’t always agree on what is black, what is white, and what is grey.

Below you’ll find a list of observations I’ve made after working for eight years with both conservative pastors and progressive/liberal pastors…open-minded and close-minded church leaders. Whether you are a conservative or a progressive it is my hope that what you’re about to read will help you understand better those who think different than you and possibly recognize weaknesses in your own approach to life and ministry.

Both the ‘open-minded’ and ‘close-minded’ demonize one another. This represents a closed-mind no matter which group is doing the demonizing.

Being ‘close-minded’ does not mean you will never change your mind, it just means it might take you longer to change your mind about an important conviction you’ve held than the one who is open-minded.

It’s risky to be open-minded because you might change your mind for the worse.

Being ‘open-minded’ does not mean you don’t have strong convictions, it means you are willing to challenge those convictions and listen objectively and respectively to those who do not share your convictions.

Some open-minded people find it difficult to listen objectively and respectively to those who do not share their convictions.

Some close-minded people find it difficult to listen objectively and respectively to those who do not share their convictions.

Close-minded people don’t think they are close-minded, they think they are right. Open-minded people do think they are open-minded and they think they are right. This can indicate a closed-mind regardless of who is doing the thinking.

Being ‘open-minded’ can be a slippery slope…but that’s no guarantee that one will slip.

Some things are worth being closed-minded about.

Both the open-minded and the close-minded can have a pride problem.

There are extremes of open-mindedness and extremes of close-mindedness. Both are dangerous.

In many ways God is ‘closed-minded’.

The close-minded tend to think in terms of black and white. The open-minded tend to think in terms of grey.

The only balance in regards to open-mindedness and closed-mindedness is found in Jesus. All the rest of us are imbalanced.

Both the open and the close-minded find it hard to be like the balanced-Jesus.

The trick is knowing when to be open-minded and when to be close-minded.

If you are open-minded and feel superior to the close-minded you grieve the heart of Jesus.

If you are close-minded and feel superior to the open-minded you grieve the heart of Jesus.

Both the open-minded and the close-minded must learn to accept one another. This is a form of open-mindedness in both.

If there is something more virtuous than open-mindedness or close-mindedness what would it be?

It is possible to be an open-minded conservative and a close-minded progressive.

It is unwise to assume that a conservative is totally close-minded or a progressive is totally open-minded.

Just because one is open-minded is no guarantee that it is easier for them to admit when they are wrong.

Just because one is close-minded is no guarantee that it is harder for them to admit when they are wrong.

Both the open and the close-minded find it difficult to admit when they are wrong.

No doubt there will be things the open-minded are open to and they are wrong; and there will be things the close-minded are closed to and they are wrong.

Any virtue in close-mindedness or open-mindedness is negated when accompanied by pride.

Our secular culture will appreciate us more if we are open-minded but this is not necessarily a good thing.

Our secular culture will appreciate us less if we are close-minded but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

****

Are you open-minded or close-minded? Are you a conservative Christian or a progressive/liberal Christian? Are you a mixture? Are you friends with anyone who is the opposite of whoever you are? When we lay down our labels, fears, and pride, and sit down with brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than us, engaging in respectful and open-minded discussion, we soon discover that we have more in common than we originally thought.

You might be wondering, “Dave, which are you? Are you a conservative or a progressive?”

My answer is, “Yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ellen’s closet is packed. Mine…not so much, especially during the winter months. I have four flannel shirts that I rotate through each week. Ellen threatens me that she is going to burn them. I threaten her that I will leave her if she does. Of course I’m joking. I’m not sure she is. A man shouldn’t have to put a lock on his closet door. Anyway…

Shirts remind me of the labels we put on people. Everybody has favorite shirts, or pants, or shoes, and everybody, or so it seems to me, has their favorite labels that they like to put on others.

In the church world we have shirts we like to put on people. We’ve got Evangelicals and Liberals, Charismatics and non-Charismatics, Egalitarians and Complementarians, Gay welcoming and affirming and Gay welcoming but not affirming, Calvinists and Arminians, Traditionalists and Progressives, pro-Flannel shirts and anti-Flannel shirts. This is just a partial list of the many labels we like to put on people. As I see it there are four problems with labels.

1. With labels, as with clothing, seldom does one size fit all. For example, many Evangelicals believe some things Progressives believe (politically and theologically) and vice versa. Some Progressives consider themselves Evangelicals. I know some Southern Baptists that are more Charismatic than some Charismatics.

2. It is hard to label a person without there being contempt attached. Just listen to the next person you hear put a label on someone. They might not use these exact words but you can still hear in their voice “Those stupid…” tacked on to the beginning of their sentence, or, “…and I’m better than they are.” added to the end of their sentence.

3. Labels lead to arguing and arguing never works.

Arguing doesn’t work. It is pointless. The only thing an argument does is make someone angry or hurt. The same is true with debating. You might win the debate but in so doing you create a loser. No one wants to be a loser. You’ve won but forced someone else to become something they don’t want to be. Arguing and debating draws a line in the sand and eventually the sides retreat away from each other with the line in between them.

Some pastors seem to enjoy arguing and debating and kicking sand in the eyes of those they disagree with. I want none of that.

Some pastors can be so bold, brave and belligerent on social media. These opportunities to rant or vent or express ones opinion or “get something off ones chest” seldom change anyone’s mind. All this does is reveal who is on their side and who is not. Ultimately no one has grown from either side, no one has learned or changed. Hurt and pain grows, but not much more than that. I don’t want to be that kind of Pastor.

This reminds me of Paul’s advice to Timothy when selecting elders in the church. “Don’t pick anyone who is addicted to wine or pugnacious (loves a good fight, quarrelsome, one who leaves a bruise), but look for one who is gentle and peaceable.” I Tim. 3:3

That’s the type of pastor I want to be.

4. Finally, when I label a person I fail to see the person as a person and instead see them as a label. Labels limit. Labels limit my ability to love the person as God loves them and see the person as God sees them. The person I label, the person I have contempt for, is dearly loved by the Father we both share.

When I was a kid I remember an advertisement at the back of a comic book for a pair of glasses that would enable you to have x-ray vision. They led you to believe that with them you could see through people’s clothes. Hot Dog! I ordered one. It didn’t work.

I want to see through the clothes, through the labels that I try to put on people. I want to see naked people.

 

 

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.

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