The absolute worst example of discipleship is the angry Christian.
I am tempted to just leave that statement there and move along with the day. I won’t do that because it is too easy. I meet an angry Christian every week. This person usually comes in two kinds and both types justify their being angry and often abusive. The first type believes the world is going the wrong way. The other kind believes he or she is being shoved around (read: persecuted) by everyone else.
I see no justification for either point of view. The first kind who see the world going the wrong way should ask what he or she expected the world to be. If the world ever could go the right way, would we need a God-given vision that would help us set it right? Often, this believer has indulged in some self-serving nostalgia about the way the world and the church was some time in the past. It may have been in the believer’s lifetime. It may be some time before the believer was born. In either case, the believer looks back with rose-tinted view screens to a supposedly freer and simpler time. Why is life complicated? Because that is the way life is. Yet, this believer wishes to shout the negative. Life, he or she maintains, was better in the past. If we could go with the simple Biblical vision of what life should be and once was, we will have what we need. I sometimes blame this view on the long-running drama “Little House on the Prairie” or maybe “Bambi” with the idyllic pastoral or wilderness setting. “Don Quixote” is the story that should cure such a view. Or better yet “Ecclesiastes” can be a corrective. The biggest problem for the church with this kind of Angry Christian is that age will often reinforce the anger until it becomes bitterness. And a bitter Christian can be demonic.
The second kind of angry Christian is already crossing into bitterness. Therefore, he or she is in true mortal danger. This era where everyone claims to oppose bullying makes the angry Christian look for some one or some situation to justify his or her own personal failures as some one else’s fault. It is a narcissistic attitude where the believer thinks he or she did nothing wrong and is being singled out unjustly. It can be true the person did nothing wrong. But, we do not live with only the circumstances of human actions. There are a great number of processes at work that affect an individual life. One may argue that persecution comes in many forms. It is difficult to claim persecution at anytime where believers are suffering no ill effects and can be either fat or fit with no fear of losing life or limb. This person suffers from an unjustifiable anger that has already crossed into bitterness. The potential for lashing out in demonic violence has been witnessed too many times in the history of the faith to be discounted or not repented.
Christians must remember that the world ultimately belongs to God. We wait for its’ redemption as well as our own. “God so loved the world…” the creed of evangelicalism reads. The apostle warns, “Your anger does not work the justice of God.” Nor from the prophet to David, can a man (or woman) of blood build the house of God.
Christians are to seek the peace and the welfare of the people among whom we live. Why do we find anger so necessary to the lives of believers? Good question. Find an answer that fits the vision of Jesus. You can not do it. But, you can get the vision of the kingdom Jesus offers.
There is a true difference between Potestants and Fundamentalists. Control is the objective of all religious fundamentalisms. Whereas Protestantism is about freedom of Christian conscience before God. Fundamentalism defines Christians as only those who hold onto every point that is considered essential Christian doctrine. Protestants define Christians as those who wish to follow Jesus. One is open. One is not. It really is very simple.
Now I am ready to discuss what it means for a Protestant to call out heresy. This post comes about because of a mistake I made on social networking the other day. The discussion got me to thinking about this important distinction between how Protestants view heresy and how Fundamentalists view it. When a Protestant calls out heresy it is a very serious matter. It gets to the very root of Salvation. Heresy means “divides.” And it is an ironic accident to note that almost every major heresy has been borne as an attempt to correct corruption in the church to get to the original purity of gospel doctrine. And it has always been a challenge to salvation by grace through faith.
More than one occasion has presented itself in my time in ministry where a family from a church I served became interested in sending their children to a “christian” school. Usually, these schools asked on the application for a testimony from the Pastor. There would be a list of doctrines peculiar to the sponsoring church. I would be asked to attest that the family upheld these doctrines. While knowing that some of these tenets were definitely not United Methodist beliefs and teachings, I would often ask the parents, “is this what you believe?” Often the answer would be, “we guess so.” I would sign that this is what they said they believed.
I acted this way for conscience’s sake. Take for instance the Awana Clubs that have been used in various churches. At one time the program refused to charter a club at any church affiliated with either the National Council of Churches of Christ or the World Council of Churches. Such a position left out mainline Protestant Churches including The United Methodist Church. Some UM churches altered their church name in order to get a charter. I considered that practice dishonest. Now the prohibition from Awana has been removed. There is still a Statement of Faith that is required. And it still goes beyond what the United Methodist doctrinal standards state. Christians with a fundamentalist background (like me) have found it strange that our new denomination does not have an actual doctrine of last things. No standard statement regarding the “end times” are involved. We have no doctrine that defines what exactly happens to the soul after death. There is no need for rebaptism to become a part of our fellowship. Holy Communion is not restricted to members only, etc.
Fundamentalists often make approval on such positions tests for Christian fellowship. To be in “error” on such points as ordaining women, holding an uncompromising view on the Right to Life, “scientific creationism,” or scriptural inerrancy (or many others) is to be a heretic – a disrupter of the body of Christ. There is no fellowship with such “unfruitful works of darkness.” And there can be no discussion. The feeling is to pull out one thread would unravel the sweater.
Protestants – those who do not claim the Fundamentalist mantle – accepts a person as a Christian based on that person’ response to the light God provides him or her. We believe that one is saved by grace through faith. This doctrine of salvation was not invented by Martin Luther, John Calvin, or even St. Paul. It is attested to by the whole Bible. Salvation is tied to grace which has to do with the Sovereign Divine knowledge and practice of Justice and Mercy. Sacraments, worship, prayers, and good deeds flow from this knowledge of grace and faith (even when we doubt a little…or a lot). Grace is the only basis for Christian fellowship. Denial of it is the only basis for withdrawal from it. Denial of grace is the heresy that blasphemes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing salvation to humanity.
It is the shame of the churches of the Protestant movement that we have not understood this point better and based our fellowship on Grace rather a fear of that some beliefs might not be true. The only way to overcome this shame is to trust God’s forgiveness and love and start letting the Divine Son lead us back together.
Pastor’s grieve. It is the least acknowledged aspect of pastoral ministry. Neither the clergy nor the laity really say much about it. Our training leads us to deny our own grief even while we help others through their own. It is the hardest aspect of pastoral ministry. It can be a beloved church member who dies. The pastor grieves for a partner in ministry in the church. Or the pastor may grieve over the death of someone whom he or she helped through the crisis of terminal illness. Either way someone who the pastor has loved and cared for has died. Everyone grieves publicly except the pastor. The pastor comforts, organizes the memorial services, liases with the funeral home staff, leads the worship and leads the saying of goodbye at the grave. And the pastor keeps a “stiff upper lip” in the process.
There is more to clergy grief than the deaths of church members. There are family and friends losses which everyone struggles through. Personally, I have been through the loss of family members at the same time I have helped families say goodbye and begin their grieving period over a church member. There is not time to deal with the kind of stress such situations produce in us.
There is also the grief of changing ministry situations. These processes are something for which our training lacks. Why? Because of how we define success in ministry. Once while sitting on the district committee on ministry an older pastor told about his grief and how unprepared he felt over the time one church he was serving closed. Our training provides us with a view of ministry that begins and grows indefinitely. Yet, the demographics of the churches in th United States today show us that even the so-called mega-churches are doomed to decline and to close once the Lead Pastors retire or move on. Growth for a limited amount of time is what we should be preparing for. And we should be preparing for the times when a church’s pastoral leadership model must change. In such a situation, like this writer is in now, the whole process feels like failure. And it is. Our anxiety during such a time leads us to want to cast blame on someone. The most logical target may be the pastor who really does not know what to have done to avoid the situation. He or she may have tried everything they knew to do. I know I have.
So like grieving over other losses there are periods of despair and anger. Yet, the pastor must lead through such a process. More clergy grief without any real time to struggle through it because of the need aid the grief of others. What to do? Perhaps, it is right to take time away from the situation to get one’s bearings before beginning. I literally don’t know what else to do.