Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday's Meditation: In Which I Am Mostly Sad, and a Little Angry

Last week a nationally-recognized pastor posted comments that were insensitive and unwise. Later, a nationally recognized blogger labeled the pastor with an unflattering name and suggested readers contact the pastor’s church to complain about his actions. In the borough of the blogsophere where I live, it was a pretty big deal.
On Thursday I decided I would try to start my own controversy by wondering out loud why North American Christians seem to be incapable of raising the dead. No one noticed, but these events were related. If the connection seems too subtle, here it is--written plain: the North American church finds itself largely powerless because we are so mean to one another. We have lost sight of what it means to honor one another.
The nationally-recognized blogger is someone whom I’ve never met, but is deserving of honor. This blogger has written one fine book and undoubtedly will write plenty more. The nationally recognized pastor is someone whom I’ve never met, but is deserving of honor. This pastor reaches thousands of people I could never reach. They both have the goods. They both love Jesus. They both deserve respect. The two of them are brother and sister, and I think Dad isn’t happy when his kids fight publicly.
There is room for disagreement within the body of Christ. When Christians work through disagreement with grace and truth it can be an example to the watching world of how the two can walk hand in hand. We owe it to one another to speak the truth in love. If our words are not the truth, then they are not really loving; if our words are not loving, then they are not really the truth. When we walk with both grace and truth we walk in maturity.
We need to examine the connection between lack of honor and lack of power within the church. Consider these words from Holy Spirit:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4: 29-32)
Hidden in the middle of this passage is an important truth: we do not grieve the Holy Spirit by our doctrines or opinions, but by how we speak to one another. When I speak poorly of my brother or sister, I hurt God’s feelings. Is it too hard it imagine that when we grieve the Holy Spirit he says, “I’m outta here?” 
Our western world is word-weary, and the path to their hearts packed hard with the weight of argument after argument. Arguments are easy because everyone thinks they are right--otherwise, why argue? Honor is difficult because it forces us to find practical ways to live out the verse, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter  4:8)
Pastors and writers have this in common: where there is a multitude of words transgression is unavoidable. It’s going to happen. It comes with job, and it comes through our frailty. The larger question is, do we have grace for one another?
Last week’s dust-up is one of many, too common among brothers and sisters. Wait a week and there will be another. And another. Meanwhile the world is waiting for us to raise the dead.

14 comments:

  1. Joy Suzanne HuntJuly 18, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    Amen! We need to remember always that our unity (or lack thereof) is a testimony to the world- not that we must always agree, and I think its even ok to let the world see our disagreements. But what we want to be visible is the love of Christ in the midst of disagreement, even of correction. Our love for God and for each other needs to be more important than personal indignation, and more important than being right.

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  2. Hi Joy: Exactly. Our unity should be a testimony. And I also believe our testimony would be empowered with God's presence if we learned how to honor one another. If there are disagreements (and there always are), we need to place our esteem for one another front and center, *and* work things out in love.

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  3. Well-said. And absolutely, positively the truth. Meanness has consequences that reach far beyond what we see on the surface.

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  4. And we don't think of it a meanness. Instead, we think we are "standing up for the truth," or something like that. Jesus was the perfect example: filled with truth--and grace.

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  5. "Pastors and writers have this in common: where there is a multitude of words transgression is unavoidable. It’s going to happen. It comes with job, and it comes through our frailty. The larger question is, do we have grace for one another?"

    Ray, thank you for posting this. In a quest to be right, we forget the righteousness of loving each other deeply as He did Himself.

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  6. So true, Angie. "Being right" is a strong drink, and sometimes can cloud our senses. Those old, old words from 1 Corinthians 13 are still true: apart from love, we're nothing. Blessings!

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  7. Ray, you had me with the headline. That "mostly sad and a little angry" feeling is a very particular one, and I know it all too well, particularly when it comes to issues that erupt between brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I agree with this bold observation:

    "...the North American church finds itself largely powerless because we are so mean to one another. We have lost sight of what it means to honor one another."

    I, too, have little patience for the infighting that goes on within the Church, mostly because it distracts us from doing the important work we're called to do.

    Sometimes, though, the issue itself that we're "fighting" about is doing lots of harm and damage in terms of the love of Christ that needs to be spread. When that's the case, I think addressing that is an important part of our work. You write about honoring others, but the pastor in question was doing the very opposite, AND teaching others to do the opposite. That doesn't mean he doesn't deserve honor, but he certainly doesn't deserve it more than the individuals he's putting down. Maybe it even means that those who are "most honored" are most responsible for modeling this type of honor for others.

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  8. I'm so glad you've raised the points you have, Kristin. There's no doubt that the pastor in question dishonored others. His remarks were insensitive and unwise, and you raise the further point that he invited others into his error. He was wrong, wrong, wrong. The challenge for me is how to respond--or even whether to respond. I don't know--it's certainly not a one-size-fits-all situation.

    I tend to fall back on Biblical examples like, "Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall." (Romans 14: 4) -- and I don't mean *you,* Kristin, I'm just quoting the verse! --

    The danger in a confrontational approach toward someone who is wrong is that we can so easily become the beast we are fighting. When we are certain that we are "right," it's so easy to cross the line of respect and honor--because after all--the other guy is wrong.

    There's no satisfactory solution. I set to praying that there was some kind of accountability structure--and in this case there was, apparently. But there are plenty of cases where there is not.

    What to do? I have only two suggestions, maybe three: pray, asking the Father to intervene; contact people privately, not publicly, with an eye to winning the relationship not the dispute; and third, perhaps simply trying to model the opposite wherever and whenever possible.

    As always, peace to all!

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  9. You captured well why I felt so uneasy last week. Did the pastor's actions need to be addressed? Yes. Did it need to occur in the blogosphere? I'm still not sure. At least perhaps not the way that it did. It seems too easy for Christian frenzies to begin and no one is left satisfied in the end.

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  10. Thanks, Leigh. As "frenzies" go, this one was pretty calm! In the end, the pastor got the message but I wonder what message the watching world got. I have such respect for both the people involved. I'd love to hear someone weigh in on how--in the internet age--we can approach one another privately, respectfully, and with a godly outcome.

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  11. Sarah@EmergingMummyJuly 28, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Your last paragraph there? Those are my toes you're stepping on, brother. Amen.

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  12. I owe you a "thank you" for letting me steal your "in which . . " format. Hope your toes are OK. :-)

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  13. Hey Ray, I just came across your blog so I'm new here. I'm a Christian worker in a country in South Asia from where many of the stories of resurrection you reference come. I can assure you that the church here is just as mean, just as fractured, just as full of people judging and jumping on one another as the church in the US. In short, we're just as broken and sinful over here as the church is in the western world.

    I definitely don't fault your call for believers to be showing love and grace to one another - I've written several posts over on my blog doing the same. But holding up the majority world church as an idealized poster child whose example we should aspire to is not terribly helpful. God will always be using His church despite its faults and failures - not because we've obtained a certain level of "Biblicalness".

    After all, while the apostles were busy raising the dead and healing paralytics they were part of a church where God was striking liars dead within church walls and to whom letters of chastisement for their desertion of the gospel were being written. Not exactly stellar examples either...

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  14. Welcome, Sarah! You raise two excellent points. Though I have traveled a little in Asia and South America, I'm no expert--I'm guilty of painting an idealized version of believers in faraway places while criticizing those closer to home. Still, we in North America have much to learn from the Church in the emerging world, don't you think?

    Also, I appreciate your appeal to scripture. There are Ananias' and Sapphira's in every age and place. The church in Corinth was probably no picnic either.

    Unity of heart is but one measure of spiritual health. And the mere existence of powerful workings of the Spirit should not imply God's approval of everything going on in a location.

    I stand corrected! (And you're welcome here any time.)

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