On Friday as I was on the way home from Leederville on the train my phone rang and I finished up in a conversation with Gaz and Stu about how we should behave towards those we disagree with or believe to be in error in some way.
The question that often gets raised is ‘to what extent do we challenge and confront and to what extent do we ignore differences because we are all ‘on the same team’ and ‘unity’ is more important?
Its a tough issue, because there is no question the body of Christ is larger than many of us have ever imagined, yet at the same time there are some core truths that we ought to fight for.
Of course one of the immediate issues we need to deal with is our own assumption that we are the ones who are correct on any given issue… always tricky.
The older I get the fewer are the issues I will fight for. By the same token if I’m going to get in a scrap then I’ll be going in hard and there may well be blood on the floor as a result. I don’t fight much, but I do fight hard.
One of the generally recognised functions the ’emerging church’ has in the global arena is that of a prophetic voice – calling the church back to the main issues and challenging indulgence, excess and mistaken priorities.
(I interrupt this post for a caveat – there are many generalisations in this post – if that bugs you then stop reading or get over it :))
So the question that comes up is ‘how do you serve as a prophetic voice while also keeping relationship with those who you are sharing the journey with those who are brothers and sisters?’ And then perhaps even more critical is ‘when do you choose to make a call that will result in division? What is really worth fighting for?’
I like a much quoted Hirschism (although he probably snaffled it off somebody else) which says “that which you criticise you must first love” and also a Richard Rohrism, “the best critique of the bad is the practice of the better“.
I agree with Rohr, but I also see the need to sometimes say ‘enough is enough’. There are times when we allow pure heresy to co-exist alongside truth because it is easier. Perhaps the classic example is ‘prosperity doctrine’ in all its various guises. I’m happy to come out swinging on this one because it is the antithesis of the gospel and it needs regular kicks in the goolies.
But then there are other issues that really do require some critique but which seem to receive less attention. Do we ask the question often enough of why we have such huge dedicated worship buildings, why we spend so much on paid staff (who often serve us), why pastors are regularly put on a pedestal and treated as super-saints, why tithing is preached as though it were law, why ‘excellence’ glorifies God more than a bloody good try, why the primary KPI’s in churches are bums, bucks and buildings, why radical discipleship seems like optional discipleship, why… I could g on and you could form your own list.
Now before you get ancy about my list, I’m not really interested in debating the merits or de-merits of some of those things, but i am interested in debating how we know what we ought to go into bat on. What is worth a stoush and what is worth leaving alone?
The guys asked me whether my own choice to usually walk a more conciliatory line was because of funding from denominations – a fair question. And to be honest, while money makes our lives much easier and helps us do our ministry better if it ever came to a question of compromising or softening our message so we can eke a few more bucks out of established church leaders then I would pull up stumps and walk away.
We have been faced with that already. We have had threats of funding being withdrawn because we don’t tow the party line. The funding is essentially my salary, but as far as I concerned if we have to kiss somebody’s butt to get it then they can keep it. No issue. God has always provided us with $$$ and we certainly aren’t about to bow and scrape to get it.
My choice to (generally) take a conciliatory tack is less about unity per se and more about the fact that the world we live in has some realities that do constrain us. While ideals are wonderful and essential I am well aware that ‘we do need to meet somewhere‘ and that our meeting place can’t always be someone’s home, that someone needs to lead and often that person invests more time as a consequence and so it goes on.
Perhaps its when our realities take the place of our ideals that I get most toey – when we make church based decisions based on business principles rather than imagining how a family may function. Sadly I think this is the case for many churches in the western world and this does require a rocket.
I am still pondering this one as its a really important question.
Its too easy to put yourself out there as a ‘prophetic voice’ and only be prophetic about the things that annoy you! We all have blind spots and areas where we are plain ignorant, that we would not be prophetic about.
So any time we stand up to offer a critique of our brothers and sisters, it must be done with great humility and awareness of our own fallenness. Arrogant, opinionated people rarely get heard.