Posts Tagged ‘separationism’

We have now reached Bruce Gerencser’s 10th post in his My Journey series, Why Are We Who We Are? A Personal Reflection, which explores fundamentalism in the nature versus nurture context. Basically, he asks whether it is our environment or our biological makeup that makes us who we are. Sociologists have debated this question ever since we conceived of it. The general consensus is that we are a product of both, though some favor one over the other.

My problem with the whole nature versus nurture question is that it precludes the possibility of God’s intervention in a person’s life. It also marginalizes free will, pretending that our decisions regarding religion, politics, ethics, et cetera are largely the product of either genetic predisposition or cultural conditioning.

Folks with this mindset of nurture versus nature often make the argument on the side of nurture that Christians would be Muslims if they had been born in a different country. This ignores the fact that people convert to Christianity in Muslim countries despite the peril to their lives and families this personal decision entails. Likewise, if we were largely a product of either biology or sociology, folks like Bruce should never leave the fold. For that matter neither should’ve I or any of the other churched youth who leave the church each year. Furthermore, the nature versus nurture approach presents a false dilemma that is ultimately self-defeating, for we are then forced to ask the proponent of such an approach whether his decision to accept the nature versus nurture approach is the product of either nature or nurture: if it is the product of nature, how can we be sure he is biologically hard-wired in such a way that he can trust this opinion is true, and, likewise, if his position is the product of nurture, how can he be sure his society has stumbled upon the correct philosophy?

Clearly there is more to our decisions than nature versus nurture. There is an element of free will.

Now Bruce charges fundamentalists with erroneously seeking simple answers to complex questions. This is a misrepresentation. Fundamentalists seek out absolute answers, because we believe the truth can be known and has been revealed in God’s Word. Of course, some fundamentalists [and I do believe this is the stripe Bruce is referring to] want their world ordered down to the last detail. They forget that without faith it is impossible to please God, so that while the truth is absolute and can be known, we are not exactly omniscient.

Our lack of omniscience, especially coupled with the fact that we have free will, leads to a problem: we do not always recognize or accept the truth; furthermore, we often come to the truth by degrees or in stages, so that Paul warned that grace and longsuffering toward our brethren is absolutely necessary.

The stripe of fundamentalism Bruce encountered is one I’m unfortunately well acquainted with. Their rule-mongering reminds us of the Legalists of Ancient China. The Period of Warring States was, as the name suggests, a time of upheaval and civil war. In order to maintain order and control, a philosophy arose called Legalism, which drew up extensive and detailed lists of crimes and assigned exacting punishments for each one. This code was so detailed that a Legalist judge’s job was not to determine the punishment for a crime, but merely to define the crime itself – for the punishment was already prescribed for any crime he eventually decided upon. Like the Legalists of Ancient China, legalist fundamentalists want their world completely ordered in strict categories of black and white. Therefore, they decree [implicitly or expressly] dress codes, speech codes, forbidden places, music codes, entertainment restrictions, and a whole host of similar nitpickery. Some of these legalists were so legalistic that they denied that they were actually legalistic based on an exacting and legalistic definition of legalism!

I have even heard legalists argue over the “correct method” of evangelism. While I attended Appalachian Bible College*, there was a church who regularly handed out soda to folks stuck in gridlocked traffic near the church. These sodas had a little verse affixed to them inviting the thirsty to learn more of Christ and an invitation to their church. They did similar things with handing out gum, snacks and various other things. This church was also big on what they called “friendship evangelism” and what I simply call authentic discipleship. Unfortunately, there were certain professors within the cult of pseudo-spiritual legalism at ABC who objected to these evangelistic methods for various reasons, insisting instead students use tracts, the Romans Road and more traditional evangelistic approaches. They had the perfect right to express a preference or even to point out any weaknesses they saw in novel approaches to evangelism – I would go so far as to say that they had a duty to do so – but they went further by condemning these novel evangelistic methods as incorrect and even unBiblical. Paul, they argued, would never have handed out cans of soda with Bible verses on them. Peter preached; you would never have caught him encouraging “friendship evangelism.” We need to stick with the methods revealed in the Bible! Of course, the counter-argument is that Jesus so utilized friendship evangelism that he was derisively named a friend of sinners. The Bible reports that he regularly ate with sinners, tax collectors, and even self-righteous religious folk. Likewise, in addition to traditional teaching and preaching, Jesus utilized parables [clever teaching stories] and regularly utilized statements we might term thought-provoking hooks. For example, He called Himself the Bread of Life and the Living Water, and called his disciples to be Fishers of Men. In fact, it was one of Jesus’ hooks that He spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the Well that this church was affixing to their soda cans in their allegedly unbiblical and incorrect evangelism methods!

The irony of the legalist fundamentalist’s position is that when Paul addressed their plight, he called them weaker brethren and advised the rest of us to humor them and show them long-suffering. In fact, he recognized that their faith relied upon the crutch of legalism and so Paul advised brethren who’d grown beyond the need for that crutch to voluntarily limit their liberty lest their weaker brethren stumble and transform liberty into license. Of course, they were expected to grow up at some point…

Now let’s compare this Biblical revelation to Bruce Gerencser’s conclusions concerning legalist fundamentalists, especially preachers:

“My upbringing helped to shape me into what I became. From the age of 5 all I ever wanted to be was a preacher. I never had the struggle many men have about what they want to be when they grow up. My heart was set on being a preacher and from the age of 14 to the age of 50 that is exactly what I was.

I looked up to the pastors of our Church. They taught me how a preacher is supposed to live his life. Every pastor I ever had was an ambitious, judgmental, controlling person. The College I went to was populated with teachers that were former and current pastors and they reinforced what the pastors of my youth taught me. The pastor of the Church I attended while in College was a control-freak. He was the boss of all bosses. He was the potentate of the Church. He was a Moses on Mt Sinai. As a 19 yr old boy I revered this man. He was everything I wanted to be.

I pastored my first Church when I was 22 years old. I was arrogant, controlling and full of myself and the Holy Ghost..                         I was taught leaders are meant to lead. A good pastor was an in-charge pastor. A good pastor was a decision-maker. A good pastor would not let anyone deter him from doing whatever God led him to do. (and God talked to me personally through the Holy Spirit and the Bible)

Every pastor I knew was just like me. After all, birds of a feather flock together. Every pastor I knew was controlling and authoritarian. Pastoral authority is a big topic of discussion in fundamentalist Baptist churches.

Time and circumstance tempered me. Towards the end of my years in the ministry I came to realize how wrong I had been about the ministry and how a pastor should conduct himself. I was very sincere and honest as a pastor, but I came to see that I actually hurt people by being a controlling, authoritarian pastor.

I met some evil people during my time as a pastor. I met pastors who preyed on the people they pastored. They manipulated and controlled people in order to gain financial, material, or sexual favor. Lynn is quite right when she said:

I think nasty, authoritarian people are drawn to fundamentalism.

Most fundamentalist churches are pastored by, and controlled by, one man. He is the man of God. He is the one person in the Church that has God’s ear and God,in return, has his.

I would add that fundamentalism also attracts church members who are authoritarian and controlling. Fundamentalist churches are rife with conflict and it is quite common for people to leave the church over conflicts with the pastor or other power brokers in the church. Most fundamentalist Baptist churches have experienced a split at one time or another. It is not uncommon for a group of people to leave the church and go off on their own and start another church. (always led by the Holy Spirit of course)”

How much of what he says here resonates with your journey? In my case, I can honestly say that I empathize with his general impression of the fundamentalist movement as legalistic, grace-less and controlling. I can also tell you with certainty that this generalization is not always fair. Not everyone in the fundamentalist movement is authoritarian and controlling. Many join the fundamentalist movement because they affirm the core doctrines of the church and, despite their warts and dress codes, the fundamentalists generally stand for those doctrines without dissemblance. I know lots of people like me within the fundamentalist movement who aren’t part of the legalist element. In fact, I am ordained through the Association of Fundamental Ministers and Churches, so you could call me a card-carrying fundamentalist; yet I tell you the truth, our local AFMC meetings [which consist largely of ministers and Gospel workers] are some of the best times I’ve ever had. I can’t think of a more graceful, joyful, friendly bunch and I am richer for my fellowship with them. And I will tell you unequivocally that, fundamentalist they may be, but they are not the sort of fundamentalists Bruce describes.

Which brings me to my ultimate point concerning nurture versus nature: I think that the entire reason why ex-Christians like to put their experience in terms of nature versus nurture is to minimize their personal responsibility for being the type of Christians which they now despise. Surely they were just a product of their environment or their biology! Surely they were simply being swept along by the forces of society or genetics until the moment they woke up! You see, being that type of legalistic Christian comes with a fair measure of guilt, which can never be absolved in an atheist paradigm except by denying their own free will and responsibility at that stage of their lives [while arbitrarily suggesting that they are free of such overruling forces now so as to freely exercise their will, right?]. On the other hand, the Christian may admit their accountability, repent of their legalism and seek to make amends, and strive to be more Christ-like instead.

We will discuss legalism a bit more in the next post.

God Bless You,

Tony Breeden

*This post should not be taken as a blanket condemnation of Appalachian Bible College. Nor do I contend that everyone at ABC, then or now, is legalistic. In fact, I support my alma mater’s stance on the authority of the Word of God and its mission to train up servants for Christ, though I caution anyone within fundamentalism that grace AND truth came by Jesus Christ.

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In Bruce Gerencser’s 7th post in his My Journey series, What Should We Do About Bruce?, he makes the following criticism:

“Their Christianity has no place for the world. It has no place for those who are not just like them. Their world is a narrow, homogenous world. They make forays into the world to evangelize, do what business is necessary and to earn a living. The rest of their time is spent within the safe walls of the Christian home and Church.”

I bring this up because we’ve also been looking at Barna.org’s Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church.  Reason #1 on that list is “Churches seem overprotective,” and under that heading is found the following comment:

Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%)…”

The basic charge here is one of irrelevance.

This is just sad, because while we are charged to fulfill the Great Commission to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we are also charged with good works.

Consider the following Bible verses concerning good works:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to
keep himself unspotted from the world

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

1 Peter 3:15 [K]eeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

When you look at these verses, you begin to get a picture of the importance of good works in a Christian’s life. While we are not saved by good works, good works are an evidence of a transformed life and the mark of true religion. We were saved for the purpose of good works that glorify God, point men to Him and put scorners to silence even when they disagree with us. Is this the Christianity we see today in USAmerica?

Is this the Christianity we see reflected in you? What good works are evidenced in your life and how do they glorify God? Do people think of you as good people, good at argument, or good for nothing?  Do they see you as holier-than-thou and self-righteous, or someone who truly loves and cares for folk?

The thing is we have to earn the right to be heard in many cases; especially in those cases where folks have been burned by the church.

Let me give you an example from my own life. When I was living as an agnostic who regularly blasphemed God in song, I was asked on many occasions to join the ranks of atheism. Surely having been exposed to the hypocrisy of the church, I could boldly say that God did not exist, they reminded me. Yet in my case, I was fully aware of two imperfect people who were Christians, who truly cared about me and were not hypocrites: my parents. Furthermore, my father was so down-to-earth that I could not fathom why he would believe in God unless he was convinced it was reasonable and useful. I watched them as they served God, did good works and, yes, stumbled and fell. Each time they messed up, they confessed their fault, made amends and moved on. Their good life and works and their testimony prevented me from becoming a full-fledged atheist – in essence, they gave me a reason to doubt my doubt about God and opened a door that made me receptive [if still highly suspicious] to hearing their take on things.

This is what Christians need to strive for. Like it or not, the perceived hypocrisy and irrelevance of the church is an impediment to the Gospel. In many cases, it is not just our silence that prevents the Gospel but the absence of any evidence of the Gospel in our lives!

Here’s a thought-provoking article I ran across with a list of 100 practical ways to love and serve others:

http://learnthis.ca/2010/02/100-ways-to-serve-others/

Can you imagine how this world would be turned upside-down if Christians actually began re-asserting the importance of good works in our lives?

I leave you with the words of G. K. Chesterton as a challenge:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried!”

God bless you, and may love constrain you to serve,

Tony Breeden

During a bit of research into something else entirely, I stumbled across a September 28, 2011 article from Barna.org called Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church. The article was obviously a teaser for their book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church, why I intend to review sometime this year. Barna.org states that a “five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman… was comprised of eight national studies” which focused on young adults who were “regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.”

The study revealed that there was no single reason why our kids decide to quit church. So much for a magic bullet! Instead, their research “uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”

The given reasons, in the order they were presented in the article, were:

  1. Churches seem overprotective
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic towards science
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

That’s a pretty interesting list. This post will concentrate on their first reason, with posts on the remaining reasons to follow.

Barna.org claims that young Christians leave our churches in part because churches seem overprotective. The article elaborates that:

“A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).”

It is true that this generation has an unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews, thanks in large part to the Internet and new portable, interactive technologies. Kids today carry around stuff we only saw in sci-fi movies back in the 80s. It’s awesome, but there’s a bit of danger to any new technology. Even without the technology, there’s a danger to unguided access to non-Biblical worldviews… which is what makes this generation’s “prodigious consumption of popular culture” so troubling to many Christians. Popular culture is not worldview neutral. Granted, most movies and TV shows aren’t as overt in their worldview as the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy or the Joss Whedon’s Firefly series [both of which I enjoyed immensely, by the way; I wish Christian films were as adept at conveying our worldview!], but that’s precisely what makes them so pernicious. You aren’t even aware in many cases how cultural saturation is gradually changing your worldview. Of course, the reason that teenagers can’t be President is because wisdom comes from experience. As you get older, you begin to notice these things. The reason that 18% [almost in 5] of our churched youth don’t see what the big fuss is over movies, music and games is that to them it’s just movies, music and games. It’s just entertainment. They’ve no idea of how the messages they consume, consciously and unconsciously, eventually affect their worldview. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that most of what we consume from the media is antagonistic towards a Biblical Christianity.

But does the Church demonize everything outside the church, as ¼ of the churched youth surveyed believe? I was considering this question thoughtfully when I ran across a new post by none other than Bruce Gerencser [the fellow who inspired me to begin researching why folks leave the church]. Bruce’s post was on the subject of culottes, a sort of ill-thought-out cross between pants and a dress. There’s simply no way to put the “cool” into culottes. They’re just that bad. There’s an Old Testament law against cross-dressing and, back in the day, some fundamentalists decided that a woman wearing pants was a violation of this particular Thou-shalt-not. I’ve also heard arguments for modesty made on behalf of wearing these silly-looking things. Oddly enough, Bruce’s post reveals that he had an occasion to see more than he bargained for despite Baptist endorsements of a modesty factor second only to the burqa. The post was both amusing and painful.

You see, culottes could be something of a poster child for the idea that the church demonizes everything outside the world. In this case, pants on women. As a matter of historical irony, the word culottes originally denoted knee-breeches for MEN. During the Victorian era, culottes came to denote a long, split riding skirt that allowed women to ride a horse like a normal human being rather than side-saddle. From there, culottes [also known as skorts] were developed for a wide variety of purposes including gardening, bike riding, house cleaning, and attendance of religious schools, with the faintest appearance [dare I say, hint] of wearing a skirt. No, I’m not a fan. Yes, I speak sarcasm.

The problem with culottes is that they help engender a Christian ghetto of sorts. It’s life in a religious bubble. We read Christian books, buy Christian movies, and yes we even have a Christian dress code. I hear we even have Christian breath mints! We seem to be trying to be neither in the world nor of it. Because we’ve demonized the world, we are forced to create a Christianized version of it as a safe haven. Yet our Lord commanded us to go out into the world and make disciples. Certainly, He who was called the Friend of Sinners would not condone or approve of the strategy of the separationists. Separationists aren’t interested in adding to the church, but simply preserving it against loss. They had best look to the fate of that fellow in the Parable of the talents who thought as they do!

Do not get me wrong here. This is not a blanket condemnation of fundamentalists or even people who wear culottes. I’m a card-carrying fundamentalist. I believe in modest. I don’t believe in cross dressing or that culottes are the answer. I mean, where did we get the idea that modesty means frumpy? Yet I often joke that I’m trying to put the fun back into fundamentalist, because – let’s face it – the duh and the mental are pretty much covered. We forget that we are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not merely conformed to a code of dress and conduct. This transformation is what separates us from the moralizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies and Muslims. I would submit that this fundamentalist preoccupation with rule-mongering is actually detrimental to the Church in two ways:

  1. It most often comes across as judgmental and grace-less, and
  2. It makes it difficult to determine the truly transformed from the cleverly conformed to the point where we often give folks false assurances of salvation based on how well they can follow the dress/speech/conduct code.

And here I must make a critical observation: the reason these churched youth are able to complain about the way Christians seem focused on what media they consume or that they seem to demonize everything outside the church is because Christians are not leading transformed lives. Transformation is difficult and requires dedication, commitment and submission to God’s will for us. There may be an ugly period while your caterpillar faith transforms into a creature capable of flight. The horridness of your transformation will be naked for the whole world to see. Conformation is a varnish, a touch of make-up, a suit that can be put on or cast off with relative ease. You’re still you in the end. Like a chameleon, you change your colors but not your essence. Nothing internal, nothing of substance has changed. You can hide what’s beneath under a shiny veneer. No one has to see what’s really there. The chameleon Christian is what I run into more often than not. A truly transformed Christian, even a Christian in the messy process of transformation is painfully rare; but it is the difference between Christ in you, the hope of glory and Church on you, the pale reflection of glory. No wonder they complain about what we warn against, rather than asking us a reason for the hope within us!

In my next post, we’ll discuss further why the church seems so disconnected from the world it is called to reach for Christ.

God bless you, especially you who strive for true transformation,

Rev Tony Breeden