This post is in response to a question posed by my Pastor on his blog. It took me a long time to write (particularly since I lost the first draft to browser problems), so it’s going to count as an entry for me as well. The question he posed is this:
Do you see any elephants in the room?
I am wanting to do a little blog research. I need your help.
There are very few things as wearisome to a Pastor as the infighting in the kingdom of God over gray issues. Most God-fearing people can settle their theological and philosophical disputes on the black and white issues, but the gray issues become bloody battlegrounds of bias.
Mark Batterson, of National Community Church in Washington DC, blogged about some of these issues when he wrote:
“About four hundred years ago, a German theologian named Rupertus Meldenius, was frustrated with the infighting and backbiting in the church. And he said something so profound that it has passed the test of time.” He said:
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
We have turned “issues into elephants”! We love to skirt around the issues. The church bells ring with criticism and gossip because of the “elephant”. The “world” cuts us out of the equation because we don’t care enough about their “real needs” to put down our battle axes.
Would you take a second to comment on this question: What “elephants in the church” would you like to see us speak about during an upcoming series? What are the real issues that intrude on our divine purpose? I am not sure what my timetable will be on doing this series, but hopefully sometime soon.
This should be interesting.
Let me first say that I don’t think we have “elephants in the room” of any significance at ALC. Pastor Hennigan’s ability to be direct without having to defend every little decision is a credit to him and his leadership. While there are things that aren’t discussed over the pulpit, I don’t sense an apprehension to discuss them, but rather an ability on his part to keep the focus on things that matter. This is a tricky balance, but I think his attitude and approachability make that possible.
I could get into some of the specific things that I think are issues that might traditionally be considered “elephants in the room”, but I am going to respond to the question in broader terms for now. I grew up in the UPC, and when I think back to how much time and energy I’ve wasted wondering if this rule was right, or whether that person was still saved, it kind of makes me sick. These things were, by and large, the defining characteristics of my belief system for a long time. We had the “whole truth”, and no one else did – in part because of the way we dressed. The arrogance of that is mind-boggling.
As is human nature, we have a tendency to lose sight of how to prioritize certain things. We tend to make much out of characteristics that are tangible, because it’s easier to recognize and evaluate. We look at hair, dresses, beards, jewelry – because they are all so easy to see and identify. It is easy to measure a person by these benchmarks since you can’t see what’s in their hearts. I believe that what were originally set up as holiness guidelines have become the defining characteristic of our movement. I don’t know that I agree that the organization has lost its defining purpose, but I believe that the purpose frequently gets lost behind the procedure. If you look back on the founding members of the UPC, you would be surprised to see women in earrings and men with beards. The fact that most of us don’t know that is a testament to how things become distorted over time.
One thing that I think happens frequently is that we confuse church law and God’s law. I think the church often sets rules to protect their members in a broad sense, though the rules themselves may not be Biblical. I don’t think this is a bad thing — until it starts being taught as if it is Biblical. Every organization has a right to have bylaws. If you don’t agree with them, you don’t have to be a part of that organization. For instance, I can’t find anything (conclusively) in the Bible that says that consumption of alcohol is wrong. There is much debate about whether “wine” in the Bible was fermented or not, or whether is was sometimes, and other times not. I see a great deal about drunkenness, drinking in moderation, not defiling your body, etc. Here is a link to an interesting analysis of the issue if you’re interested (http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nowine.html). But how does an organization legislate something like that? You can’t say, “you can drink, but only in moderation.” Moderation is defined differently by everyone. So, in order to protect people, it makes sense to play it safe. Just don’t. You’ll be better off not subjecting yourself to a temptation to abuse alcohol. I think that is very valid. BUT – it may not be biblical, thus it’s organizational. The problem comes when we lose sight of that, and begin to attempt to judge others’ salvation based on our organization’s guidelines.
My hope is that we at ALC always keep sight of this difference.