Why I don’t argue (much) about religious issues
Over the last couple of years, I have been alerted to a movement within the (mostly American) Church. There’s a lot of disagreement about how churches should present themselves, how Christians should live, and what they should and shouldn’t believe, and how they should interact with culture and society. I won’t go into the details, but it’s generally known the emergent church movement. (If you don’t know what that means, you’ll have to Google it; I’m not going to post the sides of the arguments here.) I have talked with “emergers.” I have had discussion with those stridently opposed to the movement. I have been on websites of those both pro and con. I have read essays and excerpts of books, but admittedly, I haven’t read any of the books associated with the movement. However, this post isn’t about the specifics of the movement.
I do have some concerns, but I’m not as alarmed as some folks are. There’s a LOT of debate happening IRL and on the internet, yet I’ve — up to this point — never embroiled myself in the debate, even though I do have some concerns and disagreements with some of the beliefs and practices of the emergent movement.
Why is that? Well, this post — which will likely be very long — will be an attempt to explain that. But if you don’t feel like reading a really long post, I’ll summarize here at the start:
Something very wise that I learned from my pastor is that it’s usually wisest to focus on the solution, not the problem.
Now, that’s not to say that we ignore problems and ignore root causes. But, we can get really mired down and despondent when the problem becomes our main focus, and not the solution. Or, “Solution” I should say, because the Solution is God Himself.
Also, I should confess that, to my shame, I used to be EXTREMELY combative. Extremely so. I delighted in the fact that I wielded such power with my tongue. I regularly debated people into the ground, regularly made people cry with my words. I justified all of this by telling myself that I only spoke the truth. That is, I never just insulted people; I used facts. However, I cared little — nothing, really — for the feelings of others. I figured that they were simply weak if they let their emotions triumph over their intellect, and it was their own d@mn fault if they cried. I was telling the truth, after all. And if the truth was cold and hard and unyielding, well, it just was. That wasn’t my fault, right?
I can see now that this is ridiculously flawed. It caused, as one might expect, the destruction of many a relationship. The relationships I still have from the first half-to-two-thirds of my life are primarily due to the generous forgiveness of those whom I have hurt. I have made serious, focused efforts to change my ways. I had to laugh when, a year ago or so, my sister said I was a peacemaker. I would never — NEVER — have guessed that anyone might think that. (Though, I don’t think I actually qualify as a peacemaker — it’s just that, of our extended family, which, at times, is not a very peaceful one, I do have a desire to see peace in the ranks.) So, thanks be to the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, He who makes things that are not, as though they were, and who calls things into being which didn’t previously exist.
So, I tend to be solution-oriented, and I avoid debate.
Now, I’m not saying that my way is the only way, or even the best way. To their credit, many have a wider focus than mine. Many are willing to spend time, energy, and emotion on issues that don’t effect them directly, but do effect the Church Body as a whole. I tend to be wrapped up on what’s going on in my own dear church, and in the churches connected (by apostolic minsitry) to my church. I LOVE that when others are alert to the threats to the Gospel. I love when people are not jaded. I love the sort of personalities that will never be willing to go with the flow. I love that there are people whose hearts are breaking over the state of the Church, and who invest intercession and other work to promote good doctrine. I love champions of what may appear to be lost causes.
My outlook is a little different, although I am concerned with what’s going on in the American Church. There is most certainly, definitely, sadly, a large and growing problem with much of the church in the U.S. today. But, my thought is, “What can I effect?” To me, it’s like angsting over gossip; it becomes an excercise in futility to get all worked up over something that I cannot correct, I cannot fix. Perhaps I should be more concerned than I am. But at the heart of it, I know some part of the church is healthy, and I know my Christianity is sound, and I know my church is healthy. If my history was filled with unhealthy church experiences, my level of concern would surely be much higher. But the fact is, it wasn’t, so that helps give me hope! I had a good childhood church (though it was a tad too hyper-Pentecostal for my tastes). In high school, I was introduced to the Vineyard, where I attended for about 4.5 years. I went to yet another Vineyard while in college. Those experiences have left me with hope for the future of the church. I don’t feel a dire sense of desparation over its future, because I’ve had a good experience with 30 years of its past.
Maybe God will change my heart on that at some time, and maybe He will call me to widen my focus, and increase my concerns outside of my small circles… but right now, I don’t think He is.
All of that said, I don’t think, necessarily, that debate and conversation about particular beliefs or doctrine is bad. God’s not afraid of people questioning Him; His truth will, eventually, win out. I have a huge amount of faith in the ultimate power of God, no matter what foolishness people involve themselves in. Meaning, they can question, and perhaps they’ll stray, but if they’re really seeking the Father, eventually, they’ll be back.
Some people are just like that. Like my sister, who left Christianity, and still isn’t back in the fold. Like a friend, who rebelled against her father’s instruction, and married the guy, then had to have her husband stick a gun to her head and then get sent to jail (he did, not her) to come to her senses, “Oh. My dad was right. This guy is no good.” There are a lot of people out there (I’m not one of them) who have to hit rock bottom, or who have to have things proven to them before they believe. They tend to debate, to challenge, to ask question upon question upon question. They doubt. They can’t just take the authority’s word for it. Now, I think that causes a ton of needless woundedness. But, nevertheless, that’s who they are, that’s their personality.
But, it all comes back to the sovereignty of God. God is God and will do as He pleases. He lets some people rebel, and they get swallowed by the ground — literally die. He lets some people rebel, and gives them over to their fleshly desires, but then opens up His arms when they come back — like the prodigal son.
IOW, just because someone (or even a whole movement) rebels, doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. I have seen with my own eyes — from around the world — a strong, core, remaining set of believers. That strong set of believers should be much larger than it is, but at least it is there.
Rather like the Dark Ages, when the Teutons were controlling Europe, and the Muslims were controlling the Mediterranean and the Middle East. There were some who really thought Christianity had gasped its dying breath. But, it emerged!!
In my opinion, no matter what foolishness man involves himself in, God will emerge victorious.
Something else I was thinking about recently: Maybe the CORE of Christianity is, truly, being removed from the United States! Like, God is letting us go through a major shaking time, and will leave just a remnant of real believers in the U.S., and the core of Christianity will emerge somewhere else, like China. Who knows?
It’s just that, whatever is happening, here in the U.S., God in His sovereignty, is allowing. I need to strengthen and equip my own self, and be on guard for the enemy’s deception… I need to be alert to any misguidedness that I may encounter when I minister to others… But — at this point — I don’t think God is calling me to be extremely alarmed at the state of the affairs of the Church. He has appointed different jobs for each of us, and to take on a job that He has not assigned to me would be an unwise use of my time and energy and emotion. I really believe that. He may, of course, at some future time, call me into a heightened state of active and aggressive concern. But right now, I really feel like my plate is full with what He has called me to. Beyond full.
Something that bothers me about the groups that are outspoken about their anti-emergent views — though I agree with many of them — is their acerbic, combative, ridiculing manner. I think it’s unwise, and likely harmful, when people speak out of brashness and call down mocking judgement on anything. The Pyro guys can mock just as stridently and just as ugly as the emergent folks. In my book, two wrongs don’t make it right. Timing and attitude and approach and the heart’s motivation is 98% as important as what is said. It’s rather akin to delivering a right prophetic word at the wrong time, and out of the wrong motivation — even if the word is right, done wrongly, it can cause serious damage. There MUST be wisdom applied to our words. We MUST submit even our own emotions to the cause of the Kingdom of God. We have to place all areas of subjectiveness under the objective goal of God and His purposes and His instruction. Even the people who are right in their doctrine must submit their emotions and any unGodly attitudes to HIS purity and His timing and His causes. IOW, it most certainly does matter what anti-emergent folks say, and how they say it, and when they say it. We must speak the truth in love — not just speak the truth.
God will be true to His word, no matter what everyone else does or does not believe. I trust that. I believe it. I put my faith in the fact that God is God — in all His fullness — no matter what anyone else says. So, in a way, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, because God is still on His throne, and He will still win, and He’s still sovereign, and He is still building His Kingdom, and He’s still the wisest, best, most lovely, most RELEVANT God/”belief system” that there is. HE IS GOD.
Meaning, can others temporarily damage His name, by their heresy or foolishness? Yes, they can. But not permanently. He will have His way, no matter what anyone else claims about Him. Just because someone claims something untrue about Him doesn’t mean that He’s going to submit to that. He’s STILL all-powerful.
So, that’s what makes me ultimately, not so very worried about what people do or don’t believe about God. To an extent, that is. I mean, it IS important what we believe, what we practice, our doctrine… how we go about being Christians. But, ultimately, God is even sovereign over that. God the Father, Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit Himself are way, way, way more important, more powerful, more pure than anything we do or believe about Him. God IS the truth. So, while it’s important for me to have sound doctrine, and while it’s VASTLY important for leaders to preach and teach sound doctrine, ultimately, it’s God’s all-surpassing greatness, God Himself, that is what’s most important. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His word will never pass away. So, if we’re Christians, I don’t believe we are to worry needlessly about what other Christians are believing (or not believing).
So, not to say that debate, conversation, or even being contentious is always wrong: I love Martin Luther. Even though, in many ways he WAS contentious, God used him mightily, and still uses him. The Church needs alarmists, needs those with foresight, needs the forerunners, needs prophets, and even doomsayers from time to time. So, I’m not saying that everyone who takes contentious stances are automatically wrong. But, given my history, and what I feel like He is calling me to, my desires tend to be anti-debate, anti-contention.
I want to focus on God the Father, and not try to argue with people, especially other brothers and sisters in Christ.