“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). We live in a world where too often we hear about the unfruitful works of darkness–the nightly news seems to thrive on ghastly stories of murders, rapes, and violence. Frankly, it is why I don’t watch very much news. I’m not into ratings wars propelled by human suffering.
Yet, there is a place for the proper exposure of dark deeds so that the evil may be seen to be evil and our consciences and culture may be guarded against the numbness that comes along with moral decline. One would like to think that a news media which thrives on bringing to light every weird and wicked peccadillo would jump at the opportunity afforded them with the trial of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor accused of murdering babies who survived late-term abortions. The details are genuinely disgusting, but that’s not my concern in this post.
My concern is over the virtual media blackout. Thankfully, it may be breaking due in large part to an editorial by Kirsten Powers that closes with these words, “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.” She is spot on with the main point of her statement–”The deafening silence…is a disgrace.” Tucked inside of her words, though, is a key which may explain the silence.
Viewing the media as a force for justice may be where the problem lies, since justice cannot be conceived of apart from moral values. There is no doubt that the media have been on the side of just causes in the past, but it seems equally clear that they have also been on the side of unjust causes. Like all people, those in media make their assessments of what is justice based on their own morals. In times where there has been a moral consensus about an issue, then the media has often been a vocal and important tool in pursuing justice (e.g. civil rights). It seems pretty clear that we don’t live in a time where there is a moral consensus about much, especially abortion.
If the predominant forces within the media world do not believe that abortion is a moral ill, then they face a genuine conflict in reporting the gruesome details of the Gosnell murders. They might find themselves stirring up opposition to a practice which they have defended. It is quite possible that their morals put them on the opposite side of justice in this case. Well, not as persons–I’m sure they are disgusted by the butchering and barbarism–but as advocates for social justice. Collectively, they might not want to give aid to their moral enemies in the abortion fight. Their “pursuit of justice” still pushes them to protect the “right” to kill babies.
This is the challenge of our day, a day where the culture is split on large, important moral issues. The media does view itself as a force for justice, but it often defines justice very differently from significant numbers of Americans, especially those who look to the Bible for ethical and moral instruction. The justice the media pursues, just like the rest of us, is one which is based on moral values. It appears that the media’s moral values in this case are being exposed.
What Gosnell has done is evil and the lack of media coverage, given its normal propensity to exploit and explore evil, is a disgrace. People whose moral values are offended by both the barbarity and the silence should raise their voices, not only to stop such barbaric acts, but to fight against having a culture shaped by the morals of the media. Our consciences and culture need to be stung by the moral tragedy that Gosnell’s murders represent.
Let us speak up, but do so graciously, pointing people to the real answer for the moral mess that comes when life is treated as disposable. Humans are made in God’s image, and Jesus Christ died and rose again so that we could have real, spiritual life. Let’s pray for another Great Awakening and let’s pursue it with a gospel focus that doesn’t reduce the Church to the level of a political action group. The ugliness of the Gosnell murders has exposed the ugliness in the human heart and there is only one remedy for that–the new birth. Let’s express our outrage, but let’s not get fooled into thinking that getting the media or legislators on our side is the real answer to our problems. We need an outpouring of God’s grace that produces a genuine revival among His people and awakening in our land. SDG.
My family and I are very thankful for the encouraging reports of prayer being offered for my son and us from around the world. I think I have received notes from folks on almost every continent expressing their concern and assuring us of intercession being made for us. We have seen God’s hand in this and are grateful beyond words. Derek came home from the hospital this past Saturday, but still has a lot of healing up to do. An 80,000 pound truck doing 55 mph can do a lot of damage to your body, so it is quite amazing that he is doing as well as he is. There are still issues, but it looks like his body is healing up well.
Times like this, at least for me, lead to a lot of wrestling with how to communicate effectively what we know and believe as it is fleshed out in our experience. One phrase that I have used regularly is that “God graciously protected my son’s life.” I am not sure what others are thinking when they hear the word “graciously” in that statement. What I mean by it is that God did something for him and us that we don’t deserve. God showed him and us grace in how He protected him from far greater injury, and He especially showed grace to us in sparing his life.
It is gracious precisely because it came from God freely. He was not obligated to protect him in this way. Derek’s life is God’s, bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, so He has the right to use Derek in whatever way He deems right. If He had permitted his life to end or to face far graver injury, there would be no wrong in God for allowing it. There is nothing in us that deserved some better outcome than others have experienced. It is foolishness, biblically and theologically, to think this outcome is tied in some way to some merit in my son or our family. Why does Peter walk out of jail, but James gets beheaded? Not because Peter deserved it and James didn’t. God simply had different plans for their lives. The Sovereign Lord wanted to magnify His own name through the martyrdom of one and the continued ministry of the other.
I have to admit that I flinch a little when I magnify God’s kindness to us in this circumstance precisely because I know godly people who have faced similar circumstances and their child didn’t survive or experienced more permanent damage. What caused the difference between the outcomes? The sovereign hand of God, not any worthiness or merit in my son or us. Just like with Peter and James, God has different plans for magnifying Himself for different individuals and families.
The fact is that God is in control of all things, so that means He could have prevented the truck from hitting my son altogether had He so chosen. He didn’t because He has something that He wants to accomplish in Derek’s life (and our family’s and among those around Derek’s life). But please don’t assign grandiose meaning to those words “He has something He wants to accomplish in Derek’s life”–I mean simply that this very trial Derek is experiencing is another opportunity for him (and those around him) to grow in grace and serve Christ.
Surviving this accident is not some heavenly sign of future greatness. He’s alive today because of God’s grace, but here’s the newsflash–so are you. That one person survives and another doesn’t means that God’s plan for the one’s life was complete and the other’s isn’t. The difference is in God’s will, not the value or merit of the people.
So, I live feeling the tension that we are to rejoice in God’s kindness and mercy that has been graciously provided, but we must do so in a way that recognizes that God has not in any way been unkind, merciless, or lacked grace toward those for whom He had different plans. Since the outcomes were not based in the merit of the recipient, but in the sovereign plan for the God who can be trusted, we bow the knee in worship regardless of outcome. He knows and does what is best for His own glory and the good of those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. SDG.
I have a sermon on James 1:2-4 entitled “The School of Hard Knocks” because of what that text teaches us about the value of trials in our lives. God’s goal for believers is to make them like His Son, and one of the ways by which the Father lovingly pursues our spiritual growth is the school of hard knocks. Although it sounds crazy in some ways, we are to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” because we know something about trials, namely that they produce endurance and endurance leads to spiritual maturity. It is not the trials themselves that are the joy, but the knowledge that they produce the good fruit of endurance and maturity.
My youngest son, Derek, is an 18 year old high school senior who literally entered the school of hard knocks last week. On his way home from a friend’s house he pulled off the road to help another motorist whose front tire had come completely off so that the car was shooting sparks all over the freeway. Derek approached the car on the passenger side, but when he could not get the driver’s attention to see if she was okay he came around to the driver’s side. As he tried to talk to an unresponsive driver a semi-truck hit him. Incredibly, he survived the hit. I am typing this as I sit at the end of his hospital bed, where he lies sleeping and I am filled periodically with praise and thanks to God.
Derek was pretty badly banged up–9 broken ribs, punctured lung, fractured skull, broken clavicle and scapula, a laceration in his liver, a handful of fractures in his neck and spine, as well as a couple of cuts that needed stitches and loads of abrasions head to toe from being knocked an estimated 115 feet down the freeway by the impact. Even as I type this I can’t believe that is all that he suffered. He got hammered by a semi going 55 miles an hour. God showed him and our family incredible mercy and we are exceedingly thankful.
Anybody who has received a phone call like I received last Tuesday night knows that it is hard to explain the feeling that floods through your body. It was not the first time I’ve gotten a bad phone call, but I literally felt like the wind got sucked out of me this time. My wife and I were in Florida and our son was being taken into emergency surgery because he was in critical condition in a hospital back in Detroit. As only God can do, though, He graciously gave peace and folded us into the comfort that comes from knowing He rules over all things.
As a pastor I have often found myself giving counsel to people who are getting hit with the hard realities of life in a sin-cursed world. One bit of counsel I’ve shared countless times is that the wrong thing to do is to start asking, “Why?” That question flows from the wrong place in our hearts and almost always leads into a destructive, downward cycle. The right question, I believe, is “What?” Specifically, “What do you want me to learn? What do you want me to do?” The reason I give this counsel is rooted in the truth of James 1:2-4–God’s plan for the spiritual growth of His children uses trials to produce endurance and maturity. And I know that this is God’s plan for my/His child. Derek knows Christ and has committed his life to serving Him, so I know that this is God’s will for his life right now. God is going to graciously grow him and us through this. Knowing that enables me to count even this as joy. SDG
The tragic happenings associated with the arrest, guilty plea, and sentencing of Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond are a sad spectacle. Well before any of this blew up, I’d expressed my opposition to Schaap’s ministry and toward ministerial fellowship and cooperation with him. I’ll not rehash that here, but will note that the outcome, sadly, really isn’t shocking given the perverse way in which he handled God’s Word.
I recently read a letter from one Jack Hyles’s daughters that was painful, in many ways, to read. In it, she expresses regret for not speaking out against her father’s excesses, especially in light of the ultimate tragedy connected to her brother-in-law, Jack Schaap. You can read it for yourself here.
I don’t know Linda Murphrey, and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t agree with her on many things. What I do know, though, is that this is an incredible letter. And I know that there should be many men serving as pastors and leaders within the various Fundamentalist orbits that should be ashamed of themselves. The sins of Jack Hyles were not hidden, and I am not just referring to the ones brought forward by Robert Sumner and others. Hyles was a liar and people around him knew it. I figured it out when I was a college student because I made the mistake of believing and repeating one of his stories only to find out that it was completely false. I simply cannot believe that the people around him did not see these things. I also can’t believe that the leaders of other organizations and institutions didn’t see the problems.
Linda Murphrey’s regret about not speaking out sooner should be felt by those who didn’t speak up. And a new generation should be warned by this mess, leading to a fresh, firm resolve to not let it happen again. The “it” to which I refer is not that a pastor will fall or some abusive leader will emerge. The “it” is the silence of men who know better and should have acted. Nobody is above accountability to God’s Word. Nobody.
That men like Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap can keep their places of influence is the fault of their followers and those along side of them who refuse to do what God says. That certain segments, perhaps most, of the old Fundamentalist coalitions allowed such ungodliness to go unchallenged is one of its worst blemishes. I wish I were sure that those days are gone, but I’m not. They need to be, but they won’t unless there is a higher commitment to God and His Word than our “circles” and institutions.
God wrote Mene Mene Tekel Parsin on the walls of Jack’s office long before the piled up garbage spilled out. Braggadocios claims about numbers or pulpit bravado about being God’s man shouldn’t cause people to ignore biblical qualifications. It is well past time to put to death the false idea that apparent blessings serve as some kind of divine endorsement. It is also well past time to recognize that the ministries of men like the two Jacks have given God’s enemies cause to blaspheme, and that people who are genuinely concerned about the Faith once to the saints delivered will separate themselves from those who continue to promote and perpetuate their unbiblical beliefs and practices.
I had the privilege of preaching in seminary chapel yesterday. One of the great blessings of my current ministry is that I get to teach seminarians each week and preach in the chapel regularly. I often try to preach from texts of Scripture that I think will help shape the ministry mindset of future pastors and missionaries. Yesterday, I chose to preach from Matthew 7:1-5 and urge the men to guard themselves against the hypocritical mindset which the Lord confronts there.
The first part of verse 1 is perhaps one of the most often quoted and misused texts of Scripture. “Do not judge” is an oft-abused trump card in debates. It seems clear that Jesus is not against judgment, but against a certain kind of judgment. The context makes that clear–just a few verses later He tells them to watch out for false prophets and that they can know them by their fruits, something which obviously requires the exercise of judgment. John 7:24 is helpful in differentiating the two kinds of judgment, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Jesus is confronting a wrong kind of judging in Matthew 7:1-5, not all judgment.
Specifically, the reason that our Lord points out the hypocrisy of the judges in Matthew 7 is because they are not genuinely concerned about sin or about helping other people. If they were concerned about sin, they would deal with their own first. The fact that the person ignores the beam in his own eye while worrying about the speck in his brother’s eye shows that. If he really cared about sin, he wouldn’t ignore his own. If he really was concerned about the other person, he would take care of his own sin so that he could see clearly to help him. By ignoring his vision-impairing beam, he makes it clear that he really isn’t trying to help the speck-afflicted brother, but thinks himself better than him.
The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers is evidenced by a genuine concern about sin that looks first at ourselves, then outward to help others. Phony, hypocritical concern about sin doesn’t deal with our own first, it focuses on the sins of others. My charge to the future pastors and missionaries was simply to not allow that phony spirit to invade their lives or ministries. If we, as leaders, are going to be genuinely serious about sin, then that starts by looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word.
It is much easier to point out where others are falling short than to admit and address our own errors. As leaders, though, refusing to acknowledge and act to correct our failures not only reveals a flaw in our character, it undermines the credibility of our claims to be concerned about wrong. How can anybody take the claim that we want to do what is right (by dealing with other people’s problems) when it is obvious that we don’t (by not dealing with our own)?
Few things, from my vantage point, undermine the leadership of parents, pastors, or ministries more than this kind of hypocrisy. The parent who quickly and strongly rebukes a child for wrong, while ignoring his or her own failures as a parent eventually loses the trust of the child. A pastor who confronts sin in the lives of church members, but fails to confront it in himself undermines his own spiritual leadership. A ministry or organization, for example, that exists chiefly to point out the disobedience of other people and ministries, but refuses to correct its own failures as aggressively loses its credibility by demonstrating that obedience isn’t really the controlling principle which governs it.
Jesus answer for judgmentalism is not to reject proper judgment, but to exercise it first with regard to ourselves. If we really care about sin, we’ll deal with the beams before we talk about specks. We’ll start in the mirror, not in somebody else’s eye.
An Ed Stetzer blog article and tweet about megachurches caught my attention the other night, but I haven’t had time to write about it until now.
The tweet caught my eye first. Ed wrote, “Christians choosing megachurches & megachurches thriving is not a matter of debate, it’s just math.” I responded to his tweet, by suggesting that two terms in the statement need to be clearly defined biblically–Christians and thriving. Trying to seek agreement rather than argument, I suggested we both agree that attending a church is not the equivalent of being a Christian and that numbers are not the measure whether a church is thriving or not. Now, I did this in tweet form, so it was much more tightly constructed than this due to character limits.
Ed responded simply that he was comfortable with how he used the words. That response that was really more of non-response–it seems pretty obvious that he was comfortable with them or he wouldn’t have used them. I know that Ed traffics in a world which is unlike mine in a number of ways, the most pertinent to the issue at hand is the tendency to treat church growth issues as a matter of objective quantifiability. The “it’s just math” part of his tweet is what I mean.
Where I think I part from Ed, at least based on what I read and his response to me, is that I don’t see how assessing the health of churches (which clearly is implied with a word like “thriving”) can be a matter of “just math.” Thriving is a word that presents us with a judgment on how something is doing, and to draw that conclusion from the numbers alone is woefully misguided. My friend, Les Ollila, used to say that there is a difference between growing and swelling–your head will get bigger if you bang it against the wall, but that wouldn’t be considered growth. In a similar way, a church could be getting bigger for unhealthy reasons, so “math” is not the only or even main way to evaluate whether a church is thriving.
This false sense that you can quantify church health (thriving vs. not thriving) shows up in the article that Ed was tweeting about. There he uses the word “fact” to describe his conclusion that megachurches are thriving. By using that word, he attempts to move the discussion from the realm of opinion, telling his readers that everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. I agree with him on that point, but the flaw in his article and argument is that he isn’t talking about facts.
It is a fact that more people are attending megachurches. That is a math issue, so we can count them and draw a firm conclusion. But when he introduces two subjective variables into his assessment (that it is Christians who are attending and that increased numbers means they are thriving), this is no longer a mere statement of fact, it is a value judgment. He has assumed that all megachurches are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and that the growth in attendance is not only from genuine believers, but that larger attendance equates with greater spiritual health in those congregations.
If it is at least a possibility that some number of those churches which make up the megachurch category are in fact not faithful to the gospel, are in fact drawing crowds without a genuine faith commitment to Jesus Christ, and/or are marked by any number of internal spiritual deficiencies (e.g., frustrated, burned out leaders or members, growing financial burdens and pressures, etc.), then his “fact” statement is not accurate. If Christian, however, is being used simply to mean something like non-Muslim or non-Buddhist and thriving means only that they have more people there now than last year, sure, he is probably right. “Christian” congregations of over 2000 seem to be drawing bigger crowds than ever before.
For myself, I don’t see much value in “facts” like that. They may tell us what a numerical trend is, but they don’t actually enable us to think about church growth helpfully. Church growth, conceived of biblically, is not value-free. Who makes up the church and how the church is functioning are important biblical factors in determining whether a congregation is really thriving. It is never just a matter of math.
Thanks to Al Gore it seems like everybody knows (or thinks they know) what everybody else is doing and quite often seem to have an opinion about it. No doubt, some of this is good and helpful. Just as certainly, much of it is not so good and not helpful at all.
I wish there were some kind of clear, hard and fast rule that marks the boundary line which separates the legitimate need to know and right to comment from the sinful tendencies toward being a busybody. Are all matters of public knowledge really matters of legitimate interest and interaction? How do we define public knowledge anyway–someone posted something about it?
Seems like the “sunlight is the best disinfectant” line has been growing in popularity, but surely it needs to be balanced by the fact that some things are better left unspoken (cf. Ephesians 5:12). Exposing sin and error is vitally important, but I wonder about people whose whole life is spent digging in other people’s dumpsters looking for garbage about which to write.
As I said, there are no clear lines, but I don’t think that frees each of us from the responsibility of developing our own ideas about where the line should be drawn. Just because we may not all agree with the placement of the line, that doesn’t mean we should abandon the effort to live within a set of lines. A simple rule of thumb for me is whether the primary subjects of the discussion put themselves into it or whether others are talking about them. And when the subjects have asked for confidentiality, then there better be very clear and solid reasons for ignoring that request.
Another line that I think needs to be thought through is whether the things that I say in any discussion are actually public knowledge. There is a great temptation to offer up info that other people don’t have access to, and the power of that temptation is rooted in our pride. If we know something other people don’t know that gives us a certain insider status that puffs our importance. It is a devil’s bargain, though. What we gain in notoriety, we lose in credibility with those whose private info we just announced. People who can’t keep their mouths closed gradually lose access to important discussions simply because the people don’t want private discussions spread around carelessly and selfishly. It is better to be trustworthy than newsworthy.
An obvious line that is often crossed is the matter of honesty. It seems like we live in a day when being the first one to say something is of greater importance than being accurate in what we say. A clear news coverage example of that was how the press reported the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. They got just about everything wrong in the early reporting, but they kept running stuff out there because they are competing for viewers. To turn a twist on an old line, the modus operandi seems to be, “It’s easier to print a retraction than to get verification.”
People who are serious about the truth, though, need to walk more slowly, write more carefully, and most likely communicate less, not more. And we should communicate more directly, talking to people rather than about them. When we do need to take a stand against something, it is very important that we have our facts right or we will do more damage than good in the end–the people we critique will dismiss our valid points because we appear to be dishonest with the facts. It really is a shameful thing to do God’s work in the devil’s way, and, if we are honest about it, that is what gossip and lying is.
So, here are some questions I ask to help me think through how to handle news I hear: (1) is this truly a matter of public knowledge and appropriate for public comment?; (2) am I sure that the “facts” being stated here are accurate?; (3) should I talk to the people who are involved before saying anything publicly?, and (4) is it really any of my business?
I know that I have failed to apply these questions properly in the past. I also know that my answers to them will at times be different than how others would answer them. I guess I am not so concerned about everybody agreeing as much as everybody thinking about when and what they speak in public contexts. We will be accountable for our words, so I think this subject demands our careful attention.
Just a quick post to announce a new ministry door that is opening on the radio. Starting today at 3:30 p.m. (EST), we are launching a radio broadcast named The Faithful Word that will air on WLQV AM 1500 here in the Detroit are, but it will also be available online at www.faithtalk1500.com and via mobile device at http://bit.ly/AM1500.
The regular broadcast will be M-F at 3:30 p.m. (EST), but it will re-air at 10:30 p.m. (EST) for a while also.
We’re starting with a series of sermons from the book of Proverbs and praying that God will use the broadcast to cause the Word to spread rapidly and be glorified (2 Ths 3:1). Please pray to that end!
A recent blog post (at a site to which I will not link and will not name because it thrives on drawing attention to itself with trumped up stuff like this) attempted to make the case that the financial health of a ministry is a good barometer of the compromise or fidelity of that ministry. The author crudely labeled his categories “winners” and “losers” based on whether a financial website showed them having more revenue than expenses (the winners) or more expenses than revenues (the losers). In his simplistic view of things, losing money is the result of compromising in some way and “making a profit” was the result of remaining faithful.
When I first saw the post, a few things went through my mind: (1) not surprising; (2) more of the same “throw the kitchen sink” stuff; and (3) I hope someone points out the folly of his argument. I was glad to see the basic argument was challenged, but again not surprised to see the point of that challenge dodged. In fact, not only was it dodged by the lame excuse to be looking at it from a businessman’s perspective (rather than theologically), the author added to the problem by insinuating that people should be wary of recommending a certain ministry because its financial position might become worse.
I really did try to set the blog post aside, but it touches on some ideas that have long been a concern to me, so I’m going to push back on it. I’m going to do it on the level of ideas, not specific people or organizations, because that is what I am concerned about. I’d like to offer three criticisms regarding the approach used in that blog post.
A Carnal Means of Judging
By looking at revenue versus expenses, the standard for judging faithfulness is shifted away from the Bible to the apparent prosperity (or lack of it) a ministry is experiencing. Increased numbers are assumed to be evidence of God’s blessing. Decreased numbers are assumed to signal the removal of God’s blessing.
The shallowness of this approach should be obvious. Many unbiblical, even heretical, ministries show abundant evidence of financial and numerical growth–something which God is allowing, but I hope we would never call it a sign of His blessing! Many solidly biblical, enduringly faithful ministries find themselves caught in a vice of demographic shifts and/or economic downturns, so their “numbers” are down–are we to assume that God is acting against these faithful brothers?
I wish the blog post which triggered this response were an anomaly, but the fact is that evangelicalism and fundamentalism have a long tradition of using visible results as a means of judging spirituality and fidelity. And we have almost as long a track record of terrible misjudgments based on such carnal standards–from J. Frank Norris to Jack Hyles it was too often assumed that a big church means some special endorsement of “God’s man” and his ministry. And it is not just Fundies who have erred like this. How many times was Mark Driscoll’s crudeness and arrogance defended because of how God was blessing the work out there?
To turn it around and critique the faithfulness of ministries based on shrinking numbers is still the same carnal approach. It assumes that it can read God’s mind and treats prosperity as the litmus test of fidelity. That mindset reveals an ignorance of the Scriptures. Isaiah and Jeremiah stand as examples of faithfulness called by God to serve Him in a dark, seemingly fruitless day. Jonah stands as a example of self-centeredness, yet saw the hand of God do something incredible. Faithfulness sometimes does not meet with great visible fruitfulness. Sometimes God blesses His Word in spite of the instruments who proclaim it. The only true test of faithfulness is the Word itself, not the visible results which accompany its ministry.
A Faulty Means of Judging
A second problem with the approach used in that blog post is that it is an incomplete picture of reality. Revenue versus expenses simply does not tell the full story of health for any organization, especially ministries. I’ll grant that nobody wants to have the numbers be negative, but the real questions have to do with what that negative number means and why it is there.
I’ll illustrate from our church and its ministries. Several years ago, the Lord graciously provided us with a very significant influx of money due to the sale of some property. In an effort to be good stewards of that gift from God, our congregation decided to set two million dollars aside in a fund designed to advance missions around the world. We call it the Next Step fund because its purpose is to help a few mission fields where we are heavily involved to take the next step toward full indigenization. The fund was set up as a 10 year project, so we are spending principal and interest from it.
Practically, that means that we incur more expenses annually from that project than we do revenue to pay for it–it’s like we’re spending from our savings account. That also means that the bottom line for our church doesn’t look too good unless you know what is happening. In fact, it makes for fun at most of our business meetings as we explain that we really didn’t overspend by that much money! Our revenue, thankfully, continues to meet and exceed the need of our regular operating budget expenses, but it doesn’t match all of our expenses (which include a six figure number each year connected to the Next Step program). To the uninformed eye it looks like we’re in bad shape, but to the informed eye there is a very easy answer for that.
Now, I don’t now the details of the ministries which the blog author had declared losers because their revenue was short of their expenses, but I do know that a couple of them have reserve funds like we do. That means that there is a good possibility that simply showing revenue versus expenses misrepresents the true state of their financial condition. They, like us, may have temporary expenses which are already paid for by reserve monies. In other words, the author has used a very inaccurate means to draw very dogmatic and potentially deceptive conclusions.
A Sinful Means of Judging
My third problem is that the whole tenor of the blog’s argument is innuendo and serves functionally as spreading rumors about the ministries which he targets. That became apparent when he insinuated that students and parents should think twice before enrolling at one of the schools that he targeted. Of course, when you only “suggest” that there might be problem or that the school might not be able to continue, you can always run to hide behind the fact that it was only a suggestion.
Let’s be honest here. “Suggestions” like that are innuendos intended to harm the reputation of their object. It is a coward’s device used to spread negative news while acting like you’re not. It happens in our culture all the time, but it shouldn’t happen among God’s people. The people and ministries that are being targeted by these suggestions deserve better. They deserve to be evaluated squarely on the Scriptures and their continued existence should be left in God’s hands, not be influenced by the dirty tricks of people who don’t agree with or like them.
The specific occasion for my post is the illegitimate criticism of ministries found in one blog post, but the fact is that I have seen this same kind of thing done for years. Men and ministries too often suffer marginalization by innuendo and unbiblical means of evaluation. The idea seems to be that if you can’t make the case from the Bible definitively, then whisper a few tidbits that will raise doubts about the integrity or validity of their ministry. Brothers and sisters, that approach should not be acceptable or tolerated.
I was daydreaming the other day about how people today might respond to the Apostle Paul for how he handled the situation at Antioch (described in Galatians 2) where he confronted Peter and Barnabas for turning away from table fellowship with the Gentiles. Remember, I said I was daydreaming.
I am pretty sure the “I am of Matthew” crowd would have severely chastised him for not confronting his brothers privately before making a public fuss about things. And it’s doubtful that they would have chastised him privately.
The folks from Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show would no doubt have complained that Paul’s actions were unloving and that instead of making a public spectacle, the loving thing to do would have been to cover this mistake by Peter and Barnabas.
Members of The Coalition of the Inside Scoop probably would agree with Paul’s concerns, but scold him for not allowing behind the scenes conversations to work things out so as to maximize the greatest good for unity and truth. Public challenges, in their mind, are for very rare situations and those are best identified by the executive council.
Those who drive cars with fine Corinthian leather seats would be sure to accuse Paul of personal ambition since they are sure they know the motives of his heart even better than Paul does.
The sons of Apollo Creed would focus on the fact that Peter and Barnabas did not change their message, finding fault with Paul that he would put so much stock in their actions. “Paul, if you start making actions a test of gospel faithfulness then it will destroy Christian unity. Their doctrinal statement is right. End of story.”
The Freundschaft Uber Alles crowd would be devastated by Paul’s betrayal of his mentor, friend, and co-worker Barnabas. “How can you stab Barnabas in the back like that? Have you forgotten that he took you under his wing when nobody else would come near you? Is that the way you repay someone who risked his life for and with you? You might be right, but that’s not how you deal with friends.”
The Nice Guys of Nuance ad Nauseum would take fault with Paul’s quick and dogmatic decisiveness. “Are you sure why Peter and Barnabas backed away? Is it possible that there was more at stake than encroaching legalism? Maybe Peter was worried about the fallout for the church back in Jerusalem? Maybe there was some uncertainty about how a believing Jew should handle the food laws? Maybe…maybe…maybe…”
Of course, the Never Quite Far Enough gang would accuse Paul of being a little soft because he didn’t break completely from Barnabas over this issue. “Yeah, he made the right call and said the right things, but he still kept working with those compromisers.”
It would take years to come out, but the Critics Who Cry “You Too!” would have jumped all over Paul down the road when he paid the expenses for some guys who shaved their heads as part of a vow, then went to the temple with them. That their criticism doesn’t refute Paul’s point with Peter and Barnabas doesn’t matter; crying “you too” just feels so good.
End of daydreaming.
Fully awake ruminations. I know that Paul was an Apostle and we are not (unless I have some Sovereign Grace readers), but were his actions at Antioch so apostolic that they serve no exemplary purpose for us? Is it not true that both creed and conduct must be square with the gospel, especially for those who serve as leaders among God’s people? Is it not true that standing for the gospel requires challenging departures from the gospel whether in creed or conduct? Is it not true that the gospel is more important than friendships? Is it not true that some folks will equivocate and redefine and nuance discussions so finely that almost nothing would merit the rebuke which Paul issued?