This month: 185 - Priesthood of All Believers
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

Remember Me    Register ›

Archives for 122 – Judgment-Free Disagreements

What I’ve loved about Wineskins for over two decades now, is its safe environment to exchange our new ideas, or to even stretch our comfort zone.  I would like to utilize this format now to raise an issue none of us really want to face head-on, yet this common struggle is decimating us.

Take a deep breath, and let’s be brave together.  If there’s one great weakness we’ve mutually experienced through our blessed Restoration Movement, it is the inevitable fracturing within our fellowships.  Our tendency towards fragmentation is the “elephant in the room” and it is our Achilles tendon.

The main factor contributing to our division isn’t necessarily what we typically think it is.  Our main problem does not stem from the way we individually view Scripture, or how we might understand doctrinal positions like women’s roles, or even how we chose to worship.  I think those are all red herrings.

Our inability to maintain unity is due to our lack of one very particular skill.  Conflict resolution.

We are afraid of conflict because we are unequipped to manage it.  Our anxiety levels skyrocket at the mere thought of confrontation.  We therefore repeat an unhealthy cycle, over an over again, one that almost feels like a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Conflict, to be clear, isn’t the problem, but not knowing how to deal with it is killing our brotherhood.

I know about this fallout from a painful and very personal experience.  Several years back as I ministered in what could be described as a fairly mainline church, we eventually called up the “Church Doctor” when our corporate pain was unbearable.  Yes, we reached out to none other than Charles Siburt.  Two years after our work with Dr, Siburt concluded, the pain was still too raw for a slim percentage of our congregation, and nothing would satisfy this small group short of my departure.

This is a story that feels as old as time itself.  A church has a conflict, the minister moves on or there’s a new set of elders installed, and we repeat the same scenario three to five years later.  As a result, we all limp along, somewhat wounded, somewhat cynical.  Could this be why so many of our younger people shy away from our churches?

But that’s not the end of the story.  We can write a new chapter when God happens to breathe new life into those who are open to His moving.  It seems like the Spirit is closest to us in our most difficult times, or shortly thereafter.  And, afterwards, once the healing begins, we learn to apply some of the core Scriptures that instruct us on how to live as a community, on how to get along, on how to be the Body.

If we want to thrive in our congregations and see God’s Kingdom increase, we need a new perspective on conflict.  If you attempt to implement change, you can be sure there will be conflict.  Conflict is almost necessary for growth, because at its basic level conflict is nothing more the friction that happens as two or more opinions are shared.  Conflict is neither evil nor harmful, what makes conflict healthy or unhealthy is how we manage it.

Sadly, in our Movement we haven’t had the greatest history of dealing with our conflicts very well.  The good news is, once we acknowledge our very real problem, we can turn a new page and embrace our differences, and we can overcome our conflicts through practicing the one doctrine that unequivocally bonds us together, that being, Love.  It’s only by this Love that all people will know that we are His people.

Call me old fashioned, but maybe it’s time we revive an old saying in earnest, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.”

 

 

To illustrate how far down the wrong path many Christians have gone, consider the following not-so-far-fetched, hypothetical situation: Christian protesters stand in opposition to one another. All carry picket signs that read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” One group is against abortion. The other is protesting the death penalty. But get this. Each group is opposed to the other’s issues. The pro-lifers believe in capital punishment, while the anti-death-penalty folks are pro-choice. They begin to mock and scream at one another with such vehemence that some folks begin to beat each other to death with their “Do Not Kill” signs.

Can you picture this scenario? It’s not so crazy, is it? Does it make sense to be so opposed to death that we are willing to kill for it? Is the rage some Christians display towards other Christians justified? Is this hostile situation at all compatible with what God envisioned for the people of God or with what Jesus hoped for from his followers?

After Adam and Eve were cast out from the Garden, we find the story of Cain and Abel. The text does not adequately explain why Abel’s gift was more pleasing to God than Cain’s. There are good possibilities: Abel brought his best while Cain gave something average; Abel’s heart was in the right place while Cain’s was not; and so forth. In reality, we don’t know. The narrator only tells us that Cain’s gift was not regarded by God. There’s no clear rationale.

The reason, however, is irrelevant. This tale is not primarily about how to offer a pleasing gift. This story, rather, is about what happens when anger and jealously grow within us as they did in Cain. His rage was so great that God actually confronted Cain, to no effect. In Gen 4:8, Cain killed Abel. Anger tends to produce violent intentions, and these spiteful desires can cause us to lose sight of the sanctity of life.

In Jesus’ only recorded commentary on the 6th commandment, he warned against anger. “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Whoever murders is liable to judgment,’ but I tell you that you’re liable to judgment if you just get angry at your brother or sister” (Matt 5:21-22).

Like murder, anger is destructive. Anger, whether verbally revealed or secretly hidden, violently rips at another person. This doesn’t just harm the individual. It’s an attack on the entire community: both on the trust & security that people feel as individuals, and on the very way of life they share together. It’s not the way God intended for us and is certainly at odds with Jesus’ teaching about the shared life of his followers.

You might counter that we live in a Cain v. Abel world, not Eden, and that this demands real responses to harsh realities. Ours is a fallen world, you might respond, not the ideal world where we can all live in peace, love and joy. Even Jesus got angry in the temple, you say, and told his followers to grab a sword and to hate their parents.

For starters, those comments from Jesus are taken out of context with no appreciation for Jesus’ overall message. And his anger in the temple is consistent with his anger against those who oppressed the poor, broken, and downtrodden in the name of religion. There is room for anger for the right reasons and in the proper circumstances.

But the thought that we must stoop to the dysfunctional and hate-filled level of our broken world is far from consistent with Jesus’ teaching—or the Bible’s overall message, for that matter. Jesus was given the chance in Matthew 19 to endorse the broken reality of the world, but he refused to take the bait. They asked him, “Is it okay for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” The underlying assumption behind this question isn’t just about divorce and remarriage. It’s about whether or not we believe that the brokenness of this fallen world is as good as it gets.

And how did Jesus answer? He pointed back to Genesis 2, to the world before the fall, before sin entered the picture. “Have you not read . . . ?

Have we not read? Have we not paid attention to the key message of Jesus’ teaching? The key message is that God wants us to strive for a paradisaical way of living and behaving here on this earth. And if there’s one place that this should be most possible, that’s within the community of faith. If the people of God can’t begin to resemble the ideal state of things, then who can? Yes, God provides grace for those who don’t measure up. Yes, none of us will ever be perfect. Yes, there is none who is righteous, no not one. But that doesn’t mean God is content with us being lazy, angry, slum-dwelling morons who never attempt to amount to anything.

God wants us to live—as much as possible—as the first humans lived in Eden: in harmony with one another and with God. It sounds suspiciously like the two greatest commands and like Paul’s summation of the law in Romans 13:8-10.

If the people of God can’t live with love, mercy and compassion for one another, then who can? This has to begin with us. And it has to apply to how we treat one another, even in the most contentious issues of our day. If we can do it, then maybe—just maybe—the prayer of Jesus in John 17 will be less of a pipe dream and more of a reality. And the rhetorical violence of our world will no longer be a mark of the people of God.

freely-10076-preview-973x649Over the last few years I have finally learned that I do not have the authority to change someone’s mind. I don’t have enough logic or reason to ensure someone will change their mind. There is one thing I can do. I can pray. When it comes to having theological disagreements with people I am trying to pray for every single person I talk with. I am trying to pray more than discuss because only God has the authority to help change a heart or a mind.

When I do this, surprising things often happen. One of those things is this realization – Often the heart and mind that actually needs changed is my own rather than the person I am talking with and the only way to come to that realization is to pray.

The next time you are having a theological disagreement whether it is online or in person, stop for a moment and pray for the other person. Then pray for yourself. Last, pray that in all of what is said and done that ultimately God would receive the glory. This helps us temper our words and our attitudes to be more like Jesus. It is hard to pray for someone and attack them at the same time. So let’s spend as much or more time praying and we do discussing and disagreeing. We might finally realize that there is as much or more going on that is eternally significant about the relationship than there is about the issue being discussed.

smolderingwickAs Jesus went about healing the least of these Matthew lets us in on a little secret in Matthew 12:15-21. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ healings were a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s words about the suffering servant in Isaiah 42:1-4,

18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
    my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a bruised reed
    or quench a smoldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
21     And in his name the Gentiles will hope.

The suffering servant related with the suffering of the people and treated them with great gentleness and care. I wish I could be more like Jesus when it comes to applying this idea to theological discussions. Here is what I mean by that.

First, every person you encounter is a bruised reed or a smoldering wick. People have more baggage and more pain in their lives than we can imagine. People are searching for belonging and are often bruised by a world of rejection. Even those who seem tough on the outside are often hurting as much or more on the inside. They just get to be really good at protecting themselves from letting that be seen. What they don’t need is one more Christian smashing them to pieces.

Second, that means that we treat people with gentleness because they need gentleness. The temptation of theological discussion is to snuff out the smoldering wick and break off the bruised reed. The goal becomes victory over fellowship. The purpose is self-centered rather than Christ-centered. We can focus so much on ideas that we forget about people.

I think the purpose of our discussions has to shift. The shift that must take place is the result of worldly value systems and worldly ways of seeing and dialoging with people syncretizing with our Christian faith. It is a shame. It multiplies the hurt. The shift is not a shift to check our brain at the door but a shift to engage our heart with our mind and make sure we are people of compassion. I once had a friend tell me that a prominent Christian leader was a great Christian and a great person as long as you didn’t talk theology with them. That is a sad commentary on things!

Oh to be like Jesus…what a blessed thing that would be. To treat others with mercy and compassion…how fulfilling and life-giving that would be! Let us follow the example of Jesus who didn’t go for the jugular but went for the heart. That doesn’t mean there is no room to be direct. That doesn’t mean there is no room to disagree. Let us do so with love and mercy and with an understanding that the end goal is to build up rather than to tear down because people are already torn down enough.

So the next time you think you have the edge in winning the argument…their reed is bent and nearly broken or the wick is smoldering and about to go out…make sure you strengthen their reed and rekindle their flame along the way. It is ok to make your point but please don’t try to snuff out their spirit with your superior wisdom because that isn’t wisdom at all. You are just fooling yourself. You aren’t fooling God.

When I think about having cordial disagreements in the church, I often focus on how I describe others. I rarely think about how I describe myself. Yet what I say about me and those that agree with me can speak volumes about how I view others.

For example, I was in an Internet discussion group where people would often ask, “Does anyone know a sound church in Smallville?” When I would press them for a definition of “sound church,” there would typically be no response. But the meaning was obvious: if you agree with me, you are sound. If you don’t, you are unsound.

When someone tells me that another person “still believes in the Bible,” I know that the two of them agree on certain doctrinal points. And that they assume their opponents no longer hold Scripture in high regard.

Sometimes people tell me they are speaking for gender justice. What they mean, of course, is their definition of what is just. Anyone who disagrees must be promoting injustice, right?

Others say that they favor the biblical view of manhood and womanhood. I’m sure they feel their opponents prefer an unbiblical view.

I’m the one who stands for truth. I’m the one who teaches what the Bible says. I’m viewing this matter as Jesus does. I stand for justice. I stand for equity. I stand for the theologically sound, intellectually fair, culturally relevant… well, you get the idea.

Here are a few reminders as we disagree with people:

  • We’re wrong. About something.
  • They’re right. About something.
  • Nobody holds a position because they think it’s wrong. Or ungodly. Or unbiblical. Or unjust.
  • Labeling your position or your movement as “defenders of truth” or “promoters of justice” or “doctrinally sound” isn’t helpful. Since we’re all seeking truth and justice and soundness, it’s arrogant to claim those titles for you and yours.

Remember, a little humility can go a long way.

Keep at it, and you can join me on the side of truth. And justice. And faithfulness. And…

dove_fire1 Cor 12 and giftedness

Now that we have a better understanding of 1 Tim 2:11-14 and 1 Cor 14:33b-35, we can consider the significance of giftedness without feeling like we’re pitting one scripture against another. How does Paul say giftedness should be lived out in the church? The obvious place to look is 1 Cor 12 —

(1 Cor. 12:4-7 ESV) 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

We immediately learn that the Spirit gives a variety of gifts to Christians. Each Christian is given “the manifestation of the Spirit.” BDAG (the premier biblical Greek lexicon published) states, in defining phanerosis, the word translated “manifestation,” that clearly Paul is referring to the charismata, that is, gifts of the Spirit. That is, the gifts the Spirit gives us manifest to others the presence of the Spirit in us. Read more »

dove_fireThe missing Holy Spirit

I couldn’t help but notice that Matthew’s article, arguing that giftedness does not provide authority, never once mentions the Holy Spirit or even uses “Spirit” or “spirit” in any form. How can someone write an article dealing with the question of giftedness and omit the member of the Holy Trinity — that part of God — who gives gifts?

Matthew tells me that he accepts the teachings of H. Leo Boles in The Holy Spirit: His Personality, Nature and Works (1942) (I can’t find an electronic version), a book that, along with J. W. McGarvey’s commentary on Acts (free download), has had a huge influence on Church of Christ thinking regarding the Spirit.
Read more »

dove_fire

What if the text is authentic and expresses Paul’s own teaching? How would we then interpret the passage?

Reconciling with chapter 11

First, this passage can’t repeal the first half of chapter 11. And no matter how you exegete chapter 11, the fact is that women were praying and prophesying in the presence of men in the assembly. Some speculate that the early church had a separate event for prayer and prophecy, but (a) there is no historical or biblical evidence for this and (b) we know from chapter 14 that prayer and prophecy took place in the regular assembly. So if we interpret 1 Cor 14:33b-35 to simply say, “Women may not speak in the assembly,” well, that interpretation is flatly contradicted by chapter 11 and is therefore false.

Some argue that 1 Cor 14:33b-35 does not apply to Spirit-inspired speech. But there is nothing in the passage that actually says that. While the prophecy in chapter 11 was certainly Spirit-inspired, on what basis do we conclude that the prayers of the women were inspired by the Spirit any more than their questions? We can’t just assume and then ban half the church from speaking based on a human assumption. Doctrine built on assumption is nothing but speculation. Read more »

dove_fireIn the September issue of the Gospel Advocate, Matthew Morine challenged the claim that women may be authorized to speak to a worship gathering including men because of their giftedness. The article is available on the Internet here. Matthew writes,

The argument is that if God has “gifted” a woman with the ability to speak in public, God must want women to speak before men and women. …

The Pepperdine keynote speaker said that every role of church leadership should be available to women. Why? Because they have been gifted. This idea of giftedness authorizing preaching or leading highlights the current culture of our time. Instead of going to the Bible for the answers on this debate, those who advocate this change are appealing to the entitlement mindset within America today.

In this article, I want to focus on the substance of Matthew’s concerns regarding women leading in worship. What does the Bible really say? Read more »

Grace-SpeechMy senior year of High School I took a theater class to fill an empty spot in my schedule. Mrs. Hayes taught the class with grace and was very compassionate to a bunch of guys who had no idea what stage right was or how to use voice inflection. Several times during the year she allowed us to participate in some improvisational activities where she would call out a scene and we had to make it up as we went along. After our first try at improv Mrs. Hayes gave the class a gift she desperately wanted us to take to heart. She said, “When you are acting, don’t do anger. Anger is cheap and easy, and you are much too good to rely on something so far beneath you.” Mrs. Hayes tried to open our eyes to a universal truth; when our first impulse is to go to anger we have a control problem. Expressions of anger are a desperate attempt to control someone else when, truthfully, we are not sure how to control ourselves.

Anger and slander like to hold hands; they come from the same emotion and strive to get the same result. As we become more and more connected through screens and keyboards, we are getting more and more isolated. A simple scan through Facebook or Reddit only proves that we have lost the art of disagreeing without being contentious. Have you ever been told, “Don’t read the comments!”? We live in an era where being an internet troll is only bested by our ability to be passive aggressive. Then again maybe it’s not just this generation.

In John 8, Jesus is having another disagreement with the religious elite. Starting in verse 13 the Pharisees said because Jesus is testifying about himself that His testimony is worthless. The conversation takes a nose dive from there. By the time we get to John 8:48 the Pharisees resort to calling Jesus a “demon possessed Samaritan.” This was not the first time they accused Jesus of having a demon or working with Satan. Every gospel account includes a conversation where the Pharisees accused Jesus of not coming from God but in reality coming from the Devil (Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22, Luke 11:15). When they felt like they were losing ground they resorted to what was cheep and easy.

We use accusatory and slanderous language in an effort to control other people. From a very young age we figure out if we can talk faster, louder, and more aggressively than the other person we can control the situation. It seems at times that the older we get our desire to control only intensifies. When the Pharisees are making these attacks on the character of Christ, it is in an effort to control Him. The crowds were drawn to Jesus and His message of freedom, inclusion, mercy, and grace. If you cannot control the crowd you can at least control the one the crowd is following. These tactics don’t work with Christ, and they don’t work with those who have already given control of their lives to Christ.

I believe that a good working definition of maturity is our ability to say, “I could be wrong.” It is pure arrogance on anyone’s part to think we have a perfect understanding of the truth. We do the best we can with what we have been given. My thoughts and beliefs have changed so much in the last 20 years of this journey. I have left ideas only to return to them later, and found freedom in areas that I did not know existed. Since I realize there is so much that I don’t understand, then I should be willing to give grace to other travelers down this road.

I would like to offer two take aways I believe will be helpful to this discussion of judgement free disagreements. The first is we need to extend grace to those who are where we have been. A few years ago I was at a lectureship talking to someone with a different view than I had. I know they understood my position because they said several times, “I used to think the same way.” What I needed at that time was someone to talk with me using compassion and grace. I needed someone to say, “What really helped me was looking at this passage”, or “What was going on when Paul wrote or said”. I would have been helped on my journey by someone who went slow and loved me enough to help me understand. What I got was dismissive rhetoric that caused me to dig my heels in and distance myself from a better understanding. We need to drop this idea that because we have come to a different view we are somehow more enlightened and don’t have the time to show compassion and grace to those who are struggling in the same minefields we have already traversed.

Secondly, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth; Do everything with love (1 Corinthians 16:14). I am inclined to believe that includes how we talk to one another when we disagree. We can disagree without being a jerk. We can disagree while listening to someone else’s point of view. We can disagree and still love the person we disagree with. We can disagree and consider the fact that we might be able to use this as an opportunity to grow, stretch, and learn because we just might be wrong. I often remind the parents on the sports fields that the 16 year old out there who is doing their best to call your 7 year old’s soccer game is someone’s son or daughter. You need to talk to them them the way you would want someone to talk to your child. That’s also a good idea when you are talking about the Kingdom of God with someone who has a different understanding. The intent of those who are saved by the blood of Christ must be to let their talk be filled with grace. (Colossians 4:6)

Page 1 of 2:«1 2 »