Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room.

Preaching through Mark has been an eye opening exercise for me, as I face familiar texts and learn so much more than I anticipated.  As I let the text speak to me (and then, prayerfully, to all of us), I find Jesus such a desirable and yet convicting King. 

Over the last few Sunday mornings, as I have shared my sadness over instances of God’s people not treating each other as family (the way Jesus viewed His followers and views us), or about the danger of professed faith without fruit, I know that some may have thought about the university controversies that currently surround us.  Some even asked if I was addressing the conflict generally or one of the “sides” more directly.  It seems like the difficulties have become the “elephant in the room” here in Cedarville that either we avoid talking about, or we can’t stop talking about. 

I want to make a few points clear.  First, in my preaching and in my ministry here, I am not trying to “take sides” in a dispute over words such as truth, certainty, and assurance.  When I use one of these words, I’m not trumpeting a position.  I’ve made my understandings of these words clear when asked in the past, and I do not want to join arguments over what seem to be nuances related to whether we use these words in their “common language” meaning, within philosophical speech, or as part of the vocabulary of an epistemological school of thought.  Here is my position, in case you have not heard me state it in other venues.  Truth exists–objectively, outside our perception.  It is an attribute of God, and because he is a communicating God, He has made us able to receive and know truth.  Our finiteness means we never comprehend the truth of God exhaustively.  Our fallenness in sin means our perceptions of truth are sometimes twisted and prone to error.  By His Spirit, God allows all sinners some comprehension of truth (within common grace), and He gives redeemed sinners sufficient comprehension through the Spirit of spiritual truth (through special, saving grace).  He has spoken through the Word, and we, as redeemed people with new natures and the indwelling Spirit, can achieve and have assurance, certainty, trust, confidence, and any other such word you want to use in its message.  In my conversations with various parties, no one disagrees with the heart of what I have said, even if they might choose different words to express it.

Second, I am not trying to tell people how to administer a ministry over which God has given them oversight (after all, it is God who raises up and takes down, who appoints and removes, according to numerous Scriptures).  I am the Pastor of Grace, and that is more than enough leadership responsibility for me.  My understanding of Scripture leads me to the conclusion that constituted authority is to be submitted to joyfully, as Paul did to Nero, and as he urged slaves to do to masters who may or may not be kind.  I need not be in agreement with my leaders, but I do need to recognize and submit to their authority.  In a democracy, I carry the dual role of citizen and authority (as a voter).  In the church, we submit to the authorities God places over us, and in the world of business and organizations, we submit to those over us and lead in godly fashion those under us.  Trying to undermine our bosses, stirring discord among peers,  and mistreating our subordinates are equally sinful behaviors.

It is my conviction that Christians can and will disagree (Paul and Barnabas), and sometimes be wronged by other believers (Paul, by those in Philippi who sought his harm–Phil. 1:15-17), but our responses must reflect the values of a Christian family–we do not return evil for evil, we do not let one side’s actions determine our reactions, and we do not use worldly weaponry to accomplish spiritual goals.  If we disagree, we must talk, then talk some more, taking witnesses and mediators, and do everything we can to arrive at clarity about the issues and then seek resolution that honors God.  His honor is more important than our own, and he is most definitely NOT honored by the use of the media, the internet, and publicly released statements that escalate conflict, cast aspersions on people’s character or motives, broaden the circles involved in private disputes, and take these issues far beyond their proper spheres.  Paul’s clear words to Christians at Corinth who thought about suing fellow Christians was, “why not rather be wronged” than create the kind of spectacle that is already a defeat for us all? 

I have seen and heard enough during these past months (and years) to become convinced that no one side can rightfully claim the moral or spiritual high ground for itself.  While I can understand, and sometimes sympathize with, concerns of both sides (if there are only two), I do not think that either side has always acted and spoken in ways that honor Christ and show Christian charity toward those who disagree.

I am praying that we will see the current conflicts resolved and peace restored.  In the meantime, I ask the people of Grace to do all we can to be peacemakers, forebearing with one another, forgiving one another, speaking gracious words to one another, slow to take offense and quick to deal with any hurt that we have caused.  As we listen to Jesus through Mark, let’s take it to heart.  And let’s be careful that we don’t hear His words and find ourselves most concerned that someone else listen.  The hearing that pleases Jesus is the hearing that applies to ourselves. Perhaps if each of us can apply His words to our own hearts and actions first, we can keep from degenerating into camps with separate agendas, begin and maintain reconciliation between family members, and show elephants in the room the extra large exit door.

Published in: on May 22, 2008 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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