Tag Archives: Brotherhood brawling

Who (or what) am I going to trample?

I recently read what was presented as an African proverb:

When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.

(I’ve also seen it as “it is the grass that suffers”; the idea is the same)

Like most proverbs, this can be applied a number of different ways. Where I’ve tried to take it to heart is to remember that so often when I go to battle, somebody (or something) suffers. There is collateral damage.

So I’m trying to do better at choosing my battles. Is this Facebook argument worth the cost? Am I willing to damage friendships, reduce ministry effectiveness, expend valuable time over that political argument or that doctrinal discussion? Is that change at church important enough to cause others to leave our congregation?

Sometimes, of course, the answer is yes. Many times, however, I have to admit that even if I “win” the argument, I won’t accomplish much of anything that is positive. And the grass gets trampled.

I may have to print that one out and keep it above my computer.

photo by dailyprinciples on Pixabay

When praying for someone is an act of aggression

pharisee and tax collector“I’ll be praying that God show you the error of your ways.”

It should be nice to have someone say that they’ll pray for you, right? Yet look at the above statement. There’s something about it that smacks of the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18, the pious superiority revealing itself in HolySpeak.

The “loving” statement above says that we have a difference of opinion, but my opinion is God’s opinion. It’s like the old joke about the two musicians arguing about how to perform a Bach concerto. Finally one says, “Listen, you keep playing it your way. I’ll keep playing it Bach’s way.”

Condescension. “Someday you’ll see how wrong you were.” Smug superiority. “Yes, I used to believe that way, until I really studied these passages.”

Here’s a news flash: You’re wrong.

Here’s another: I’m wrong.

Here’s a whole string of them: N.T. Wright is wrong. The Pope is wrong. Your preacher is wrong. That guy who is on every workshop is wrong.

We’re all wrong about something. And we need to act like we’re aware of that.


Image courtesy Sweet Publishing

Knowledge that puffs up

proudI’ve shared with some friends a concern I have about attitudes I see in our churches. Worse, these are attitudes that I see in me.

On the one hand, there are areas in which I’ve become uncomfortable with traditional interpretations and longstanding traditions. I’ve come to see things in a different way. If I’m not comfortable, I communicate those things poorly, coming across as: “If you were truly enlightened, you would understand this issue as I do.”

In other areas, I play the exact opposite role. I grow frustrated with those who seem more interested in criticizing and rejecting than they are in actually evaluating the status quo. I look on in dismay as they seem to dismiss God’s Word in an attempt to conform to culture. On my worst days, I communicate the idea that I stand for truth while they are promoting heresy.

If I’m not careful, in each case I put the emphasis on knowledge, rather than on love. Which is something that is directly addressed in the New Testament:

“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.”

(1 Corinthians 8:1–2)

There is no need to stand idly by while the church drifts away from what is most pleasing to God. Nor is there an obligation to kowtow to legalism in order to please the overly sensitive. However, there is a great need for humility, for entering every discussion with the recognition that we may be mistaken in some way.

I had a roommate in college that I only shared a room with for one semester. One Sunday, the speaker at church made a reference to unwritten creeds. My roommate was reflecting on that idea later, and he said, “Our only creed is the Bible. When we need to know something, we consult it. We’re always going to find the same thing, but we consult it anyway.” And that last line states the problem well.

One of our teammates in Argentina described what he had found upon visiting his supporting church while home on furlough. They had a new preacher, a man who had been blessed to learn everything learnable during his 35-year lifetime. The man had written a book on biblical interpretation. My teammate asked him if there was any chance that he was wrong about anything in that book. When the man replied that there was no such chance, my teammate said, “Then there’s no point in our discussing the Bible.”

When we enter a discussion with our minds made up, then it can hardly be called a discussion. When we think that truth begins and ends with us, then we will spread division everywhere we go. When we value our knowledge above our love for others, then that knowledge will never equal truth.

I shared the following short prayer with those friends on Facebook:

Father, help me to value love over knowledge! And especially help me to love those who know more than I do.

photo by David Schauer on FreeImages.com

Online spirituality, online carnality

I want to revisit the discussion about spiritual realities from last week. As I read the comments and thought more about this issue, I realized that one obvious application of all of this is right here. The Internet. Our cyberdiscussions.

Thinking about how the spiritual world surrounds all that we do, I think we need to take a hard look at our online interactions. What do they say about us? Do we see love and generosity, grace and peace? Do we see the bonds of the Spirit uniting us, even as we disagree? Or is there anger and judgmentalness, grudges and bitterness? Is it truth or is it falsehood?

“I have a right to get angry. Look at what he said.” That’s one of my favorite lines to tell myself. “Even Jesus got angry.” Yes he did, but I’m not sure that everything I feel can be titled righteous indignation. “We have to expose error.” Error is best exposed by shining truth on it, not by trying to bury it under criticism and ridicule.

When I give in to my carnal nature in online discussions, I’m ignoring the Spirit’s lead. When I use the ways of the world, I become more a part of the world and less a part of the Kingdom.

It all adds up. It’s a weakness of mine. Maybe by writing all of this, I can remind myself to do better. Better yet, I can remind myself to let God lead, not my pride.

The Black List

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Edwin Markham

I grow weary of those that would place themselves in the place of God, deciding who is and who isn’t worthy of the name Christian. A few weeks ago on Twitter, someone from the Christian Chronicle dared to quote a preacher who is on the black list for some in the churches of Christ (and you thought Joe McCarthy was dead). Quickly someone wrote to ask why he and his co-workers were so “besotted with progressives.” (Interestingly enough, this person had also been frequently quoted by the man he was criticizing; was he calling himself a progressive?)

It’s not the first time I’ve seen such criticism aimed at the Chronicle, a publication that attempts the difficult task of covering the broadest possible spectrum within churches of Christ (too broad for some, not broad enough for others). It’s always easier to align yourself with one camp or the other than to attempt to maintain journalistic objectivity.

I’m on an e-mail list on Yahoo of preachers from churches of Christ. Every once in a while, someone will write asking for the name of a “sound” congregation in a certain area. I’ve pressed for a definition of that term on a few occasions, but have only been met with embarrassed silence. No one wants to admit to keeping a McCarthy-like black list, but it exists for many.

A few years ago, someone at the church I was working with gave me a copy of a brotherhood publication. This particular issue was about “Change Agents” (this brother had gotten numerous copies for men in the church). One article had a list of “change agent” churches, institutions, publications, etc. At least that brother was bold enough to make his black list public.

Am I guilty of the same? Probably. I do find myself rolling my eyes at times when I see certain publications or institutions mentioned, but I make an effort to read what I can of what they produce. They are right about some things that I’m not. I don’t even know what they are, but I know that it’s true. There is no one that I can’t learn something from.

I grow impatient with those who would divide the Lord’s church. May I never be guilty of such. There are enough powers in this world that are working against God’s kingdom; we don’t need any internal forces doing the same. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite preachers of the past:

“I never call Christians or others ‘anti’s,’ ‘digressives, ‘ mossbacks,’ ‘tackies,’ or ‘trash.’ I concede to all, and accord to all, the same sincerity and courtesy I claim for myself, as the Golden Rule demands…” T.B. Larimore