Dear Mr. Prophectic Voice for the Church,
While I appreciate that you feel the need to make every other post, comment, tweet, or FB contribution about how the church in the West, or a certain theological tribe, or even specific high-profile preachers have strayed from the ideal of nascent, biblical Christianity, might I ask you to reconsider your current “ministry” strategy with a few suggestions:
Dial down your dogmatism.
It’s one thing to go to battle if we’re going to wrestle over the atonement or the uniqueness of Jesus, but often what I read falls into areas that not even the Bible seems dogmatic about. For example, when someone calls out other models of discipleship, or corporate gathering, or simply “how they do church” because they’ve found the “biblical way” to do it, I think to myself, “How can that be when we don’t have any one-time-for-all-time way of that in the New Testament?” Could it be that God, in his inestimable wisdom, providentially allowed the writers of the New Testament to NOT give a precise blueprint of exactly how those things should look in the specifics (e.g, Lord’s Supper weekly or not) because, just maybe, it might look different depending on both the cultural and historical setting (to mention only two) in which each local church finds herself. Again, I can appreciate your theological reasons for your way but when you end up speaking with your typical dogmatism of what should always be it makes me think you actually know the Bible less, not more.
Take the issue of how a church should conduct a worship service. I see guys blow up all kinds of models around them (I find them often to be straw-men arguments) but when D.A. Carson, one of the most highly respected theologians and scholars around can say, “The New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements. We do well to admit the limitations of our knowledge,” and concludes saying, “There is no single passage in the New Testament that establishes a paradigm for corporate worship,” 1 wisdom would dictate we dial down our dogma-meter. So chill out a bit. Stop sounding like your ideas are going to be nailed to the door at Wittenburg when in reality they’re simply posted to your blog at WordPress.
Stop using your education in biblical studies to validate your conclusions as some kind of expert.
You and I both know there are a lot of people who went to seminary who have said and written dumb things. Need I say more?
You’re in a tribe. Get over it.
True, you’re not in the one you can’t stand and love to post about incessantly. But make no mistake, you are in a tribe. This means you also are privy to having group-think, the temptation to be insular and demonize those opposite you, and develop serious holes in your theological/ministerial/ecclesiastical swing. So you’re not immune from being like those you disagree with; on the contrary, in many ways you’re just like them. If you really want to help your tribe, turn your prophetic powers upon them instead of the ones you’ve already made clear time and again you don’t agree with. That’s how real reformations start. Luther didn’t want a new church but a reformed one. A tribe also lets you know that while you’re a part of Real Christianity, you’re not the epitome of it.
Spend more time telling others what you’re for than what you’re against.
The truth probably is that right now you are so incredibly inconsistent in your own belief system and blind to your own cultural presuppositions (I’m sure I am) that more than likely within a few years, some 20-something who is still only halfway through his undergrad degree in Biblical studies (with little to no chips on table) will say something “prophetically” about you or your ministry, or your strategy, or your preaching in the same dogmatic, critical spirit you are doing to others today. Why not learn now what many of us (including myself) had to learn the hard way as we got older? Spend the bulk of your time showing everyone your loves and less time with that one axe that’s surely been ground to a stump by now.
Practice the maxim: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
Now, I’m sure we will all fail this from time to time. I’m know I have. Heck, this post may not qualify (though I hope it does). Stop making every issue equivalent to the atonement. Put the theology book down and start reading the one on church history. In it I’m sure you’ll find a bunch of people who really loved Jesus, took their faith seriously, submitted themselves to the Bible, were committed to the developing historic orthodoxy, and still their expression of preaching, small groups, and the like were different from each other. A healthy dose of church history (even just studying the last 250 years of American church history) should create not a greater dogmatism for a return to ‘Real Christianity’ or an increased passion for posting more links to your favorite theolog-ideolog’s articles, but a greater sense of liberty and charity for those who love Jesus, his word, his gospel but differ from how you “do church.”
Your cynicism is a mark of not only immaturity but a sin that should be repented of.
If at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, Paul can point out the graces of God evidenced in a seriously jacked up church because ultimately that local church, as broken, faulty, and wrong as she is, is still the Bride of Christ, then surely the spirit of how you rebuke those who’ve missed your idea of “True Christianity” should have little place for mockery, belittling, sarcasm, and just plain meanness. Paul, in addition to rebuke, had genuine hopes, prayers, and encouragement for a church with which he deeply, personally struggled. Do you love churches you don’t like? I would say that snide, smarter-than-thou tones already reveal to all what you think. I would also argue your cynicism is as ugly if not uglier than the brokenness in the churches you don’t like.
Don’t confuse prophetic with being a jerk.
Look, the church needs a prophetic voice, just make sure it’s prophetic and not really just complaining about non-essentials that only serve to make you look smaller, less charitable, and more immature than the people you are trying to critique. If you constantly have the same people responding to your less-than-redemptive posts it likely means you’ve maxed out your reach and are just running around the cul-de-sac with people who have the same spirit as you. Listen, being prophetic is a gift to the church, being a jerk isn’t. I should know, because I’ve definitely been both.
- Carson, Worship By The Book, 52, 55. ↩