Tag Archives: division

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

The Fissiparous Church

I came upon a quote from N.T. Wright that seems to speak to yesterday’s discussion:

It seems to be the case that the more you insist that you are based on the Bible, the more fissiparous you become; the church splits up into more and more little groups, each thinking that they have got biblical truth right.

I saw this quote in another context, but it comes from Wright’s excellent article titled “How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?” (Any quote that uses the word “fissiparous” has to be good!) I don’t have enough experience with other groups to speak to them, but Wright’s words certainly ring true about the churches of Christ.

As many have long said, hermeneutics are a big part of the problem; our approach to biblical interpretation is often flawed. (Especially among those who reject the idea of interpretation: “We don’t interpret the Bible, we just read it and do what it says.”)

But is that the whole problem? Philip’s analogy yesterday was helpful, talking about his relationship with his wife. Where there is love, all differences can be worked out. Where there is no love, any difference is grounds enough for separation.

The New Testament speaks more about love and unity than it does any other doctrinal issue. Unfortunately, we want to relativize those things. When a friend from the Boston Movement shared with me an article claiming that number of baptisms was the biblical standard of success for a church, I told him that unity was the biblical standard of success. He replied, “Yes, but it’s unity that comes from a common commitment to evangelism.”

Others claim that unity comes from complete doctrinal agreement. I disagree (which immediately puts me out of their circle). The early church maintained its unity despite doctrinal differences. When we place rightness over oneness, there is a division in our future.

Or am I off base? Yesterday’s comments were full of wisdom; I look forward to further guidance and necessary correction today.

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