Politics these days is seemingly always deadlocked: conservative versus liberal, us against them; you against me; win or lose. Parliament has an odd and annoying tradition of drowning out opposing parliamentarians with loud, partisan shouting across the floor.
This is apparent in every day life as well. Simple opinions can easily elevate to annoyed disagreements with each side looking to deliver a knockout punch. The seller and the buyer each have different calculators about the true value of a product. Raising the minimum wage is either a curse or a necessity depending on your viewpoint. Most of us have witnessed divorces that seemed more focused on claiming parts of the wreckage than on finding ways to separate gracefully. Even sports feels a need to force-feed us a winner and loser because we have no taste for ties any more.
Have we lost the humility to listen or reevaluate our opinions? Do we have the emotional maturity to compromise or even to agree to disagree?
I’m sure you know that religion is no stranger to partisanship either. We’re more correct than you are is why Protestants (yes, we like to protest) have so many flavours and iterations. There are estimated to be around 40,000 denominations (give or take ten thousand) but it is notoriously impossible to calculate. And anyway, there are 35,000 – 40,000 independent churches that belong in another shadowy folder altogether.
This is an interesting discussion. Some say that our independence and disunity is an evidence of pride and wrongheaded legalism. Others will say that our willingness to critically examine and renew ourselves has a healthy, cleansing effect. Personally, I fall squarely on both sides…
One of the hot topics in christian circles last week involved two leaders, each notable in their own right. John MacArthur is a conservative pastor, writer and broadcaster who holds to a conservative doctrines and literal interpretation of the Bible. Beth Moore is a speaker and writer who founded an organization that focuses on women’s issues and discipleship and would tend toward a progressive position.
Moore came under fire a few months ago for accepting an invitation to speak in a church on Mother’s Day. The church belonged to the Southern Baptist Convention and, though some of you will find this hard to believe, women in leadership is still a hotly contested subject in those circles (I’m personally from church roots that have encouraged women in leadership from its beginning in the late 1700s).
Then last week at a Truth Matters Conference (for pastors), MacArthur participated in a panel discussion where the panelists were asked to give quick responses to various words fed to them. Host Phil Johnson opened with ‘Beth Moore’ and MacArthur immediately answered “Go home.” The pastors in the audience (I’m guessing all men) responded with heavy applause as MacArthur added, “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher—period, paragraph, end of discussion” to which Johnson added something suggesting she was narcissistic and power hungry.
MacArthur’s style is typically confident and dismissive and I’m sure he has many supporters. Suffice to say Beth Moore has received solid support across the theological spectrum but it was her two initial Twitter responses to MacArthur that struck me:
I did not surrender to a calling of man when I was 18 years old. I surrendered to a calling of God. It never occurs to me for a second to not fulfill it. I will follow Jesus – and Jesus alone – all the way home. And I will see His beautiful face and proclaim, Worthy is the Lamb!
Here’s the beautiful thing about it & I mean this with absolute respect. You don’t have to let me serve you. That gets to be your choice. Whether or not I serve Jesus is not up to you. Whether I serve you certainly is. One way or the other, I esteem you as my sibling in Christ.
I have to tell you that almost any response from her would have been understandable but it was her generous spirit that touched my head and heart. She strongly disagrees with him but feels no need to fight, send verbal jabs, or carry on the disagreement. It is apparent who is narcissistic and weak and who is humble but strong. She even suggests that they are brother and sister in Christ.
Typically the following passage is used by liberals and conservatives alike to point out how the other is obviously wrong and not listening. But I think St Paul would have preferred that we thoughtfully apply it to our own hearts.
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. – 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (NLT)
The Bible is inspired from God and is useful in training and guiding us so we should be open to its correction and instruction. Not everyone wants to listen but we are to speak anyway with patience, honesty, encouragement. It won’t always be easy but do what God has given you to do.
In some people’s minds this passage reads as permission to attack perceived dangers to the faith (MacArthur style) but I don’t think it has anything to do with force-feeding what we believe. Rather I think it’s about living our beliefs with soundness, conviction and integrity.
There are three important concepts here for us as we live in a world of clashing philosophies. First, we must rely on quality input in our lives from God and people of faith. Second, it is up to us to humbly learn and discover what is true and worthwhile. Third, you are also a teacher – congratulations! Your task is to share your faith naturally with the truth and wisdom you have gained.
You might want to sit down for this…………. I’ll wait ………….
You should even ask God’s Spirit to open your eyes to my writing. Should you read this blog? Should you consider what I’m saying? What does God have to say to you through my writing? I believe and pray that I have good and God-inspired things to share with you but you are the other part of the task.
God’s Spirit is inside of believers: Are you intentionally tuned in? Are you taught by people of humility and wisdom? Are you open to listening, learning, changing, growing? Does Scripture have access to your heart and mind? Is prayer a daily instinct?
Are you more interested in winning or being faithful?