Archive for August, 2011

Beware the Obsessed

Have you ever noticed how unreasonable people become when they are obsessed with some narrow idea or issue? Back in the 1980s business writer Tom Peters made the phrase “maniac on a mission” popular to describe people who were obsessed with something that would help their business. Over the years I’ve encountered a number of maniacs on mission that weren’t very helpful to life in the church!

In God’s kindness, He put it in my heart to do my best to keep such people from joining our congregation. I found the easiest way to do that was just to be very open upfront with anybody that seemed to be obsessed with something that could prove detrimental to the body. In the early years of my pastorate, the big two for me were the King James Only and Gothard crowds. I had seen a number of churches split by such people, so I determined to put a screen door on our congregation that would filter them out. The KJVO issue really was never a challenge since our church was known as very open on that issue for years—Peter Ruckman had branded us as part of the Alexandrian Cult long before I came back! My guess is that the first time a hardcore KJVO person sat down in a Sunday school class and heard someone read from the NASB or NIV, they were gone. But, just in case, I would point out during the membership process that causing division in our congregation over this issue was not acceptable. Since I switched to using the NASB in the pulpit back in 1995, I don’t think I’ve ever even been asked about this issue by a prospective member.

The other obsession area that concerned me was Gothardism. Somewhere back in the 1970s somebody from our church must have taken some folks downtown to the Gothard seminar at Cobo Arena because my older sister had one of those big red notebooks they used. I remember looking though it, but don’t recall much about it. In the mid-80s, when I was an assistant pastor across town, one of the men on staff went to a one day meeting with Gothard and came back all pumped up about how the feast cycle of Israel paralleled the gestation period of babies in the womb. It was the classic “look what Bill found in the Bible that everybody else has missed” kind of stuff that seemed so prevalent among his followers. That pretty much made me a non-Gothardite on the spot!

Sure enough, when I became the senior pastor here, I faced a few Gothard recruiting efforts. I can still see the looks on the faces of two particular people who were shocked by my response to their efforts. One lady from another church was visiting family members here and encouraged me to promote the upcoming Gothard seminar downtown. She looked stunned when I politely informed her that we wouldn’t and won’t ever be doing that. That was the first time I was approached.

The last time I was approached, a man visited our church on a Sunday morning and I noticed during the message that he was right with me, nodding his head regularly in agreement (or falling asleep, but I think it was agreement). After the service, when we met he offered profuse praise and thanks for the service and the sermon. He seemed genuinely excited about finding a church where the Word was preached. He proceeded to tell me that he was leaving his former church because of problems with the pastor. He offered that he and his family were looking for two things in a church—exposition of the Word and commitment to Gothard’s training seminars. I can almost remember my words exactly as I said them to him. “Sir, I hope we will always be a church which is committed to the exposition of God’s Word, but we will never be a church that promotes the ministry of Bill Gothard because it does not handle the Word accurately and always seems to build more loyalty to itself than the local church.” The man’s excitement for our church immediately drained and I never saw him again. I don’t say that gladly, but I am glad I have never had to deal with the fallout that happens when the assembly gets infected with their teachings.

My funniest, strangest Gothard story involves Bill himself. Back in the early 90s, our annual pastors’ conference was held in March and one year it happened to be at the same time as his Detroit ministers meeting. During the conference I was handed a message that said Bill Gothard had called and wanted me to call him. I’d never talked to the man before, but I figured I would give him a call during a break. I tried once, but wasn’t able to get through to him, so we never talked. I found out later, from some folks who were close to him at the time, but pulling away, that he called to offer to come over and speak to the pastors who were at our conference. I cracked up over his boldness and thinking about how that conversation would have gone. Bill: Dave, I’d be glad to come over this evening to speak to the men. Dave: Bill, I need to consult my chain of command, but I am pretty sure that the answer is “not in my lifetime!”

Well, as it turned out, before long I didn’t have to do much screening because big Bill identified me as one of “the strongholds of resistance” to his ministry in the Detroit area. I actually liked the ring of that and considered putting it on our church letterhead, but decided against it.

I’m treating this all lightheartedly, but it really is a serious point that I’m trying to make. Obsessed people inevitably put their obsessions ahead of the church’s health and end up hurting believers and the church. If you don’t share their obsession it is a clear clue to them that something is wrong with you. They are crusaders and consider those who don’t share their obsession to be cowards or traitors. I’ve highlighted two older strands, but there are way more out there. Beware the obsessed!

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Pearls before Swine?

Okay, so I may sound a little clueless here, but my first exposure to Michael and Debbie Pearl came this week courtesy of Anderson Cooper 360 (of all places). Sure, I’ve seen their names tossed around in some discussions online, but I do not own and have not read any of their materials so I’ve generally not paid attention since I have nothing to contribute. And, frankly, most of the discussions have seemed like people shouting at each other about spanking or not spanking.

What I saw on AC360, though, was disturbing. Per the usual mode, shows like this choose a horrible, sensational case to grab attention and this was no different. My immediate thought was something like, “Great, some morons beat their kid to death and because they read the Pearls’ book it is the Pearls fault. Another pile of post hoc ergo propter hoc nonsense.” Then they began to interview the Pearls.

Now, I’ll admit that I have not yet read their book, but I plan to do so soon—a free copy is on its way to me. Listening to Michael’s explanations of his view of spanking caused me great concern, though. One example—when asked about a seven year old that slugged his sister, Michael responds by saying that the child should receive 10-15 “licks” for this, then lands on the 15 number as he explains the process to the reporter. Michael offers some good general instruction to the reporter about staying under control, etc., but seriously—15 “licks” with a belt or wooden spoon for slugging your sibling? Perhaps I’m jaded by the fact that I slugged my sibling and all of my four sons have done a fair amount of slugging each other, but having what seems like a set fine for this infraction is disconcerting.

If my father or I gave out 15 licks with a belt or spoon, I don’t see how that could not have been excessive. Maybe the Pearls teach some kind of soft swat technique, but that doesn’t mesh with their clear statements that a spanking must cause pain. If each lick must cause pain, then prescribing 15 of them that easily is a dangerous thing to do. Anybody who knows me knows that I am anything but an anti-spanker, but this seriously concerns me. In an effort, no doubt, to be helpful by giving specific advice to parents, it seems that the Pearls have gone beyond what they have biblical warrant for teaching. Spankings should not be handed out like traffic tickets—you were X amount over the speed limit, so your fine is Y.

Mechanical, standard application approaches to discipline are dangerous because life doesn’t fit into molds. Each child is different and every circumstance varies. More serious, every parent is different and also depraved. A swat from me is a lot different than a swat from my wife! Parents who are not blowing up can still be sick and tired of dealing with problems and that can translate into sinful actions. Inside a culture which emphasizes perfectly obedient kids, some insecure parents slide from genuine concern about their children’s obedience to preserving their own appearance. Being given justification for giving your kid 15 licks for slugging his sibling comes very close to enabling sinful abuse.

In other words, there are morons out there like the ones that killed their daughter and put another child in the hospital. Casually telling people to give their child 15 licks with a belt or spoon for fairly common misbehavior is like handing that moron a gas can and a lighter. This is terribly unwise and incredibly dangerous.

Sadly, this new exposure for the Pearls on CNN may just add to their multi-level marketing plan to distribute their goods. I’m sure they and their defenders will claim that they are being unfairly targeted, so maybe it should be multi-leveling marketing and martyr plan. Save your money (and your kids).

Addendum: In our church staff meeting this afternoon I asked the other pastors, pastoral assistants, and interns if they were familiar with the Pearls’ writings. One of the pastoral assistants and one of the interns had some knowledge of them, but that was it. I also asked if the men thought any of our folks were following their teachings and, thankfully, they all did not think so. I told them that my goal in writing this, as well as mentioning this post on my Facebook page, was to raise the issue in case it was circulating in our church. So, if any IC members are reading this and want to let me know what they think, please do.

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So much for the seatbelt…

Mark Driscoll has described himself as “a Charismatic with a seatbelt on” in order to distance himself from the craziness sometimes associated with Charismaticism (I’d probably debate the use of sometimes there). Phil Johnson has a post today that pretty clear shows that Mark seems to be driving sans seatbelt. Phil makes a passing reference to Jack Deere’s book in his post and I’d add that Driscoll is advocating here the kind of thing that Deere promoted quite heavily as a word of knowledge with the unique twist of living color TV screens.

I appreciated the fact that Phil extended his concerns to the toleration, almost fascination, of these things by some well known evangelicals. While sympathetic to their desire to see God active and working for His glory in our day, it is a dangerous thing to neglect the warnings in the NT about satanic manipulation. Perhaps he does it somewhere else in the larger video, but Driscoll does not say anything about testing the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). The fact that he admits that he isn’t always right joined to the presumption that it is Jesus who is telling or showing him these things is alarming. Certainly Jesus is never wrong, so where did the wrong vision come from?

Beyond that, if we even need to go beyond that, if you’re wrongly accusing people of molesting their grandkids or of committing adultery, that is a sin against both God and man. You’ve falsely represented God and you’ve dropped a bomb on innocent people.

One last word (of a non-prophetic sort), I find it very odd that Driscoll is pinning current spiritual problems on actions that happened to infants of which they have no memory. He seems to draw a causal connection to what happened in his vision and their current struggles, as well as finding the solution in confronting someone based on the vision. I find that odd both for its psychologized view of sancification and that Driscoll has been a keynote speaker for CCEF, an organization that I would think (hope) takes a different view than this. Of course, Driscoll was probably there to draw a crowd, so maybe they weren’t concerned about his counseling theory and methods.

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