“Distant Voices” is a wonderful book written by one of the top scholars in the Stone-Campbell Movement, Leonard Allen, now at Lipscomb University. It was published quite a few years ago and remains in print. He documents how diverse our church was before the Civil War and the creation of “brotherhood papers” hardened hearts and split us again and again.
I was thinking about that again this week as I puzzled over something that has happened again…for the umpteenth time. Before I describe it, please understand that this is not a backhanded attack or passive aggressive whine: I am genuinely puzzled about something.
I and my congregation were described, but not named, in a few Facebook posts. The posts were not flattering. I was sarcastically called “one of those giants among us” who tell us we’ve all got it wrong.
Me? A giant? I’ve seen my name listed along names that I DO consider giants of faith but I don’t belong there. Let’s review: I am just Patrick. I am Bill and Catherine’s son. I have no degrees in Bible or Preaching or Theology. I am working out my own salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul told the Philippians to do. I am as fault-ridden and error prone as anyone you will ever meet. I am so sinful that it took a supernatural act to save me and I am not nearly as holy as I want to be. I often state, in public, on the record, that I’m quite disappointed at how little progress I’ve made over the years in that area.
I’ve done a lot of speaking at churches over the years but I never went to a church that didn’t first ask me to come. They often had to ask a few times because I’m rather infamous for being an introvert who needs a lot of alone time to function in public for brief periods of time. The leaders who ask me to come to their churches or youth events almost always assign me a topic and scriptures to use and then set parameters on me regarding time allowed and the temperament of the congregation. I must be good at staying in my lane because I usually go back to the same places over and over.
I have never monetized my lessons, selling them or selling books to try to “get my message out there.” My lessons are all over the internet because others record them and post them. I don’t. I have never made a penny off of them nor have I tried to sneak them into the homes of people who don’t want them. I have a YouTube channel but it only consists of my amateurish guitar work.
So…how am I trying to change their churches and why do they feel I’m a danger to them? Seriously – that baffles me. I know of a great many preachers who don’t believe what I believe and who preach their heartfelt and sincerely held beliefs with incredible skill. I don’t mind. They don’t bother me. So why does the very fact that I exist and that I teach what I believe pose a threat to them? (This is a very broad brush. The fact is that only a very tiny percentage of ministers who disagree with me react this way. However…they make loud noises online and in print)
If I may be forgiven for doing so, I would like to suggest that this response to speech you don’t care for mirrors that of Antifa protestors who scream in the streets and shout down any who dare disagree with them. It seems to be the same as those students who won’t allow a speaker at a university if they might be triggered or frightened or told they are wrong. True – those who’ve named me as a danger to their churches haven’t burned down any buildings or thrown rocks like the Antifa crowd but they have certainly done so metaphorically, trying to burn down my reputation and those of others who might agree with me on a point or two. And rocks? I’ve had a lot of those across the threshold as well – metaphorically.
A couple churches that asked me to come speak to them told me that they hired security after getting vicious emails from other local congregations. I do not know what the content of those emails was but it was enough for the shepherds to take precautions. That seems so anti-Christ in spirit and tone. Again, if I was coming to force my way into their churches, that would be one thing. But going to a church that knows me and wants to hear from me on a certain subject threatens you and your people how, exactly? Why must those who disagree with you be shamed and silenced? Do such tactics mirror Matthew 5-7, Romans 14-15, and Acts 15 or the marchers of Antifa and the screaming mobs on some campuses?
When I look at Acts 15 where two groups of Christians met with a serious disagreement, I can’t help but note that none were “named and shamed” but, rather, the wisdom of the elders and the Spirit (“it seemed wise to the Spirit and to us”) led them to not even address the issue brought to them in their letter back to the churches. They didn’t want to “make it harder than it has to be” and told everyone to, basically, stay sexually pure and not act like pagans. They allowed each group to be who they were where they are.
I’m at Fourth Avenue in Franklin, TN. I love this church and they love me. I can’t see how anything we do here is a threat to anyone else. We aren’t trying to change anyone. If their church members are listening online they are doing so because they chose to do so. They were not pressured and we don’t advertise the posts as “must listen!” Is the very possibility that some of their local members might be listening and might decide to agree with us the reason for those Open Letters sent out by their leaders? Paul said he didn’t care who preached or why they preached as long as they were speaking about Jesus – even if someone was preaching for the express purpose of making Paul’s life harder (Philippians 1). So why are these posts so dangerous that some leaders feel required to leap to their keyboards or, as happened in two cases over the last few years, randomly write letters of attack to our elders and members?
I see no scripture allowing that. Yes, some apostles were led by the Holy Spirit to correct this or that but surely none of these Keyboard Kommandoes consider themselves apostles inspired to write by the Spirit…right?
Jesus said that we were allowed to point out the faults of others only if and when we were faultless (Matthew 7:1-5). I find no way around that. I do not believe that I have ever named those who’ve attacked me or the churches I’ve served over the years. If I have, I was wrong and beg their forgiveness.
I’m just Patrick. I’m trying to follow the steps of Jesus the best I know how. Surely that is not a danger to anyone else. But, if it is, is that due to a fault in my teaching or a fault in their heart?