“Oh that you would bear with me in a little folly–and indeed you do bear with me…. I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:1,16).
Even the great Apostle Paul thought it was all right once in a rare while to indulge his need for self-defense. So, I have good scriptural precedent.
When one of the on-line magazines called Church Leaders.com posted an article of mine, a critic accused me of doing anything to get an article on that website.
I replied that I write only for my blog and never know when one of several online mags will be picking up something from it. The first I know is when it shows up in my email inbox.
When you cannot find fault with someone’s reasoning, attack their motive. Ask any trial lawyer.
When an online magazine called Charisma posted our article on a doctrine we call “security of the believer”–which others refer to as ‘Once saved always saved’–you should have read the comments. Or, maybe you shouldn’t have. They were as mean-spirited as anything I’ve ever seen.
The audience for that good magazine (hey, they run my stuff frequently and are a classy lot) is mostly charismatic, hence its name. Which presumably means they are of the Pentecostal end of the theological spectrum. And for some reason, it would seem that ‘security of the believer’ is not a doctrine they believe. So, here was my article on ‘their’ website and these readers found it offensive. According to the comments, I was an unbeliever, ignorant of the Word, stupid, and had no business calling myself a follower of Jesus Christ. I was encouraging people to sin, denying the work of the Holy Spirit, and had no business in the pulpit.
And those were the nice comments!
I quit reading after taking all of that I could.
These readers are Christian people. (Editorial comment: Christian people can be as mean as the devil when they come across religious or political views not to their liking. The man who shot up Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church in 1999, killing a half dozen people and wounding others, was heard to yell, “You Baptists think you know everything!” Turns out the killer was raised in a church of another denomination where pastors would freely criticize other Christian churches.)
Anyway, I ended up talking to a couple of Charisma’s editors. They were very nice, incidentally. The editor who had posted it said he simply thought it was a worthy doctrinal statement which his readers should consider. When I asked if his job was in jeopardy–he enraged a lot of his readership!–he assured me it was not. Good. Then, another editor said she found those reactions surprising since their readers are invariably kind and gracious. Then, she said, “I don’t really read a lot of the comments.”
I learned quickly from having my stuff posted on these online magazines either not to read the comments or to read them with my guard up.
Stirring the Pot?
Friends and strangers alike sometimes accuse me of raising questions and starting fights just to sit back and watch the fur fly. “You’re an iconoclast,” a reporter once said. Others have had different names: “A pot stirrer.” “A rabble rouser.” “Troublemaker.” “Opening a can of worms.”
After saying we need to outlaw assault weapons, I’ve been taken to task for not understanding the various kinds of rifles. I’ve spoken out in favor of the women accusing a politician of sexual harassment and become the target of a goodly amount of accusations and verbal harassment myself. I voted for Donald Trump for president and then have spoken out against some of the dumb things he has done/said and as a result been branded as a liberal, unbeliever, and un-American.
Many Christian people take no prisoners when they enter these debates.
I’m not one who believes we should read only publications we agree with or listen only to news programs spouting the party line, but mature adults should check out what others are saying. Once it was known that I enjoy listening to “All Things Considered” on radio and “Morning Joe” on television, more than a few friends “just knew” I was being brain-washed and allowing it to happen on purpose. And that made me unwise and unqualified to speak out on moral issues.
In meeting pastors for the first time, invariably someone will thank me for taking positions they dare not. “I’d pay too great a price,” they say. I understand and agree. The pastor who takes a position on a local controversial issue or a national political race where his congregation is divided had a) better know what he’s talking about and b) be willing to pay the price. There will be a price.
When I was pastoring, I would have left these hot-button topics alone. Pastors have bigger fish to fry, larger goals to attain.
And yet, sometimes we have to do it. Pray the Lord for wisdom.
Case in point.
In the 1920s, Roland Q. Leavell had gone to pastor Picayune, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church. One day he became aware that some men in his congregation were members of the KKK and had just participated in the lynching of a black man. Next Sunday in his message, Dr. Leavell addressed the subject. “Any man who masks is a coward…if he will do in a crowd what he will not do alone he is a coward….no doubt, lynching is murder…children in this town have murderers for fathers….lynching cannot be justified under any circumstances.” (From He Still Stands Tall, the biography of Dr. Roland Q. Leavell by his daughter Dottie L. Hudson, p. 88).
Even though Leavell was a young and new pastor of the church, he took his courageous stand. “Some of the most prominent men in the congregation rose in the middle of the sermon and walked out….” His pastorate was short-lived. Two years after arriving, he left for a church in Gainesville, Georgia.
Dottie Hudson says Dr. Leavell’s journal following the debacle in Picayune has a number of blank pages. She assumes he was hurting and grieving. And that makes an important point: A pastor does not take a courageous and controversial stand because he enjoys stirring up trouble. He does it because he cares for the people and wants to obey his Lord.
Only love could motivate such actions.
At this late date, ninety years after Dr. Leavell preached that sermon, is there anyone who would say he was wrong? Or unwise?
He was a voice in the wilderness. God give us more of them.
The Lord’s church, it has been said, must be culturally aware and biblically driven. However, in this country, God’s people seem to be culturally driven and biblically aware. And there is nothing good to be said about that.
Aww…go ahead. It’s good to respond once in awhile. 🙂 I don’t always agree with you, but I do love you even if we’ve never met. You were the one who taught me to respect God’s people and think about how I treat them. Critics are so easy to see but the fruit will remain and critics will be silenced.
God bless you.
No kidding, Jayne? You’re crediting me with teaching you to respect God’s people? That’s terrific. Can you write me about that? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Dear Pastor Joe, thanks for your writing. I’ve learned so much from you and I pray God continues to use you for many decades to come and keeps you in good health. I have disagreed with your position on occasion and have written a few times, hopefully respectfully. I apologize if my words were rude. I’m a bit surprised that Pastors who preach hard sermons, correct and rebuke us regularly take offense when others do same. The example you gave on lynching could not have been expressed in soft words. The guilty would have felt insulted and rightly so. Perhaps, many readers are still immature Christians who need their more mature shepherds to be more tolerant. Perhaps, others believe they are contending for the faith like Paul who rebuked Peter sharply. In all this, God will comfort you and reward you for the unfair criticism. Please be very blessed, dear Sir.
Thank you, Blanche. I appreciate your note. As for the pastor rebuking us from the pulpit and then taking offense when the congregation returns the favor, remember that from the pulpit he is speaking to everyone and talking generally. But in your reply, you are addressing just one person, so it’s vastly different. Anyway, thanks! and blessings on you.
Dear Pastor Joe, you’re right about the sermon being general but I believe every good and caring pastor also corrects individuals too. Thanks so much again.
Thank you, Blanche. But I can hardly think of anything more disgusting than a pastor coming up to people to correct them on something. He is a preacher and an evangelist. Thank you.