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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Systemic arrogance--an elaboration on my previous post

I wish to expand upon and clarify what I wrote in my previous blog,on ARROGANCE.
I could picture that to some people, I am accusing many leaders within the church of Jesus of a negative quality that is not a part of them, which is, of course, silly.
To this effect, I will mention a quality in me, which isn't necessarily a positive, and is sometimes clearly a negative, which is that I am a sports fan. One sport that I an not a fan of is hockey. At the highest level, the degree to which intentionally breaking the rules, even when caught, is helpful to winning the game, is irritating to me. In this, I am referring to the idea that physically intimidating the opponent gets one as little as a two minute penalty, when in other sports it gets one ejected from the game, and that fans of this game defend this quality, I find abhorrent. This is in spite of the paralellism that I come from Michigan, and the team from Detroit was dominant over about a twenty year period of time. One of the years they didn't win, the team from New York did. Some marketer that year came up with a catch phrase for their team, while on the way to the championship, “Nice Guys, Mean Game.” I personally doubt the accuracy of the first part of the statement, but the last part alludes to the way the rules are set up, as I referred to above. The way the rules are set up bring about an attitude of personal meanness to the atmosphere around a hockey game that is specifically different from the other major sports—one can start a fight with a player on the other team, and instead of getting thrown out of the game and possibly getting suspended for more, one gets disqualified (possibly offset by the player on the other team getting the same) for two, five, or ten minutes. One has to do this maybe three or more times before actually getting tossed from the game.
Why I bring this up is that it occurred to me that, in most of the western church, the arrogance that selectively ignores certain directives of scripture is not personal, but systemic, but not all. Matthew 18: 15-17 states, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Let me give two examples that I see are exceptions to the rule. There is a famous Christian personality that goes by “Dr. ...” He overtly tells the story that he and another young believer started a Bible study in college, and, when it was time to graduate, i.e. Bachelor's degree, it was formed into an institutional church and moved to a building nearby. It eventually grew to be very large. Leading such a large organization, when did he get time to get a doctorate? Yes, I know that, at least a few years ago, one could buy a “doctorate” in theology from a P.O. Box in California for $75 and signing a statement of faith. Actually, it was $25 for a bachelor's, another $25 for a master's, and a third $25 for a doctorate. Clearly, it isn't accredited, but that's not the point (unless one moves to Germany, where that kind of thing is closely regulated). This man has claimed, in the course of a sermon, that it is in a type of counseling, which implies a doctorate that takes real time and work to get. Where'd he get the time? More to the point, from where? As best as I can tell, that question has never been publicly answered. I don't know this man; he lives hundreds of miles from me. Even if I was nearby, could I actually get an appointment to talk to this man? Let me put in this way—in many of today's megachurch's, even if one is a member, it's difficult to talk to the head person. If one calls on any common reason for talking to a church leader, one gets to speak with an assistant. Now, it just so happens that a few years ago, I happened to send an email to the above person's organization to ask where he got his doctorate from, just to see if I would get a response. I did! They politely thanked me for interest in their ministry, hyped what they were doing for a couple of paragraphs, told me how to send money to them, and promised to add me to their mailing list. They have proceeded to send me neither emails nor paper materials. Not that I need more bulk mail nor bulk email, but just that, while they didn't answer my question, they did make an unsolicited promise on their own and didn't follow up. Might I just point out that, in most times of history, and even many cultures today, I wouldn't know this man existed.
I wish to touch a second example. Again, I do not personally know this man, do not live near him, and probably couldn't get to meet him if I tried. I will say that I do know two persons who are in institutional church ministry who do know him (my understanding is that at one time they looked to this man as a mentor, but no longer do), and I have heard him speak twice. He started by working in music for two big internationally known ministries, started a church, and shortly after was asked to take over a large church lead by another internationally know name who is known for being spectacular. This man teaches “prosperity message.” With my own ears, I have heard him say that he has been given three gold(-color) Mercedeses. Other writings say that he has been given a house in an expensive suburb of the city he lives in, and a pool, and pool service, and lawn service. His wife filed for divorce (I am not close enough to know more than that), and put in the filing, which is a public record, so the local newspaper could get access to it, that she told who was so generous. The church corporation, of which he was in charge. That is, he gave all this stuff to himself out of donations. That's not at all a level example of “believing and receiving.” Once again, I can't go to this person and talk to him about it, he doesn't know me. That's why I would not mention his name (although, in this case, you can find it if you search the net). Also, in any time other than this culture now, I wouldn't have heard of it. These are two examples, in my opinion, of personal arrogance. I personally do not believe that this type of thing is the norm, but, the persons who engage in it are likely to be the most famous.
I will go back to when I was young to give what I see the norm as being. My parents did not “go to church,” but, when I was eight, decided that I should go to Sunday School. As I lived in the country, the nearest church was about three miles away. It was in a town of about a hundred people. There was one diner. My dad dropped me off at the steps of the church, drove a couple of blocks to the diner, got the Sunday newspaper, and, as he was a farmer working by himself all week, got to talk to other men hanging around the diner for about an hour plus. At the end of Sunday School, I walked to the diner, and he left and we went home.
As I grew up, at about age 15, I came to faith in Jesus. I started going to the church service. There was a young pastor who had just graduated from seminary. He was the right person to come across my life as a young believer. Over time, I come to realize that part of the reason he would up in this little church was that he finished in the lower part of his seminary class. I came to know that to be a “minister” in this denomination, one had to have a seminary (master's) degree and ordination. The morning and evening services followed an order of worship. The denomination had six approved orders of worship, all of which were similar. Except for an occassional visit by a missionary looking to raise support, the person giving the sermon and leading the service had to be ordained by the denomination, with two exceptions. One was if the minister fell ill or injured so late before the beginning of a Sunday service that there was insufficient time to get a replacement, at which time a designated elder would lead and speak. As, just before I came to faith in Jesus, this church had a pastor who was in his 80's, this actually happened once. The second exception was if there was enough time to get a replacement, in which another “minister” or a seminary student could fill in. As the church I went to was about thirty miles from the seminary, twenty miles from where the denominational magazine was published, and near to many other churches of that denomination, most of which were doing financially better than this small church, this method of having a substitute was normal. One problem I didn't realize until years later was that the seminary was notable for demanding more Greek courses than any other seminary, so it attracted persons who wanted to become Greek professors, and didn't necessarily want to be pastors, or even agreed with the denomination's theology. I remember hearing a student named Roger speak, and getting the feeling that he wasn't even saying anything.
At that church, I remember sensing something special happened every time, somehow, the service did not follow the order of worship. The pastor, during my senior year in high school, one day when speaking to me personally (this church was small enough that, in addition to his standard duties, he taught a Sunday School class that was 7th grade until one either gets married or moves out of town) suggested that, when I went to college, I check out Inter-Varsity. There, I met other persons my own age that desired to follow Jesus, from a wide variety of backgrounds. I sensed the Holy Spirit move in meetings and situations that had no “order of worship”. Some of these persons, including a sister than came from the same denomination as I, had some involvement in what was called the Charismatic Renewal. I learned about the work of the Holy Spirit, and met some persons of Roman Catholic background that desired to follow Jesus. Near my senior year in college, I looked at going to seminary, but struggled with my church's implied teaching about a minister being “called”. It seemed that that was a special experience, and I wasn't sure that I had received that revelation. I applied anyway, and was accepted. I was uncomfortable with a few doctrines of the church I grew up in. I realized that, if I became a pastor in that denomination, I would be responsible to defend those points of view, and I wasn't convinced of them myself. For the record, these included infant baptism, that this denomination had just taken the position that the gifts of the Spirit were for today, but no one taught about this doctrine, and many non-leaders in the churches opposed it, and that there was so much taught in the seminary and done in the churches that just weren't useful to help persons grow in following Jesus, such as doing things the same old way just because that's the way it's been done.
I could go on with my story, but that last phrase is systemic arrogance. It doesn't matter if there is a Biblical basis for doing a thing, just do it. One can see in the world that almost everything has minimum standards—the power of current down the electric lines, a level of training for a certain job, the procedure for trading stocks, or livestock, or repossesed property. God's standard gives us humans fits. God ordains, as He looks in our heart, and not by academic standards, so someone, almost assuredly an unbeliever or really deceived believer in the late days of the Roman Empire, enforced standards like the religions of the world in those days had. I have observed that if one keeps a tradition in force for more than two full human lifetimes, such that no one remembers how it used to be, the new tradition then seems like the normal one. Therefore, there are many brothers and sisters in Jesus through a wide variety of systems that have accepted whatever system they are in as being the norm. Even among those of us who left the system we grew up in (and that's almost half of all believers in this culture), we moved to another system. Even the “undenominational” institutional churches copied some of the structures from the traditional churches.
I think of the line in Larry Norman's “Right Here In America”, a song woefully dated to the times of the late 1960's-early 1970's, “And we don't have the time/To build nice little churches/Besides, we don't need them/We're holding our church in the streets.” Maybe, where Larry was in southern California, it happened somewhat, but, for the most part, it didn't happen. Pastors got tossed from their denominations, and started new organization's with the form they were familiar with. Those who were young respected older leaders who taught and guided them. Calvary Chapel (and a few other associations) stand as representative of how Larry's line above was not the rule in the 1960's, and all the pentecostal churches stand as representative of how it wasn't the rule in the 1880's to 1910's, and this point can be developed back and back.
Personally, I am kind or hard-nosed on the idea that persons learn more about following Jesus from open discussion Bible studies than from sermons. Being stuck in a room attempting to prepare one to one and a half hours of teaching per week is a poor way to know what questions need answering, and questions can be better answered the smaller the group is. Also, the smaller the group is, the less likely the leader is going to get off track, and if he/she does, the fewer persons will be harmed. The problem with the two persons described in the beginning of this writing is that both lead organizations of thousands of attenders.
I can understand why. I love and respect education. If one is a pastor, married with kids, and one realizes that one has no skill other than running the system, it takes immense courage to step out of it, and it oftentimes doesn't go well. Getting accredited and having the skill to form a new group of believers are two widely different things.
Lastly, I must tack on that, in North American culture, where “Christianity” is somewhat status quo, there are a lot of people going to church, having learned the phrase “I believe in Jesus as my Savior and Lord”, who may believe in Jesus for salvation, but are unwilling for Him to actually be their Lord. You nor I know who is on the side of Jesus, and who is faking for personal cultural benefit. Some may clearly look like a fake, but then repent. Some may seem sincere, but only they know inside they are not actually committed, and maybe they have deceived themselves. Only when the culture turns overtly hostile is it clearer, but that's not pleasant.
I struggle with the idea that it is difficult to be a part of a church that doesn't collect money to advertise its way to growth, but it oftentimes looks to be the only way that works in this culture. The only thing is that having a bunch of upbeat musicand a motivational speech needing a budget that precludes sending people and money to that part of the world that doesn't have believers isn't a good trade off.
But then, maybe I'm just looking at things from the distorted angle of a person who is old enough to be unable to earn anymore.....

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