2 Timothy 1:7 God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
I realize that at times, I can be exceedingly dense. Ill use as my excuse the fact that I was reared in Missouri home of the famous Missouri Muleas hard-headed a creature as has ever walked the earth. Or if that one doesnt work for you, my mom did drop me on my head when I was a baby. Thats always been a convenient excuse for me. (Sorry mom, for letting out that family secret.)
Im not a particularly brave person on some things. For example, a snake (anything that slithers and is longer than a small fishing worm) will make me scream like a six-year-old girl. Seriously. I lived in South Florida for nearly seventeen years and there are more snakes there than orange trees. EVERY time I saw one, I nearly had a stroke. My wife was forced to kill several of them in our pool, on our porch, even in our house while I bravely sat in the car waiting for her to get the job done. Im not afraid of a 1,200 pound Hereford bull, but when my kid puts a rubber snake on my shoulder for kicks, its enough to require a change of clothes for me.
But, that part of my brain that deals with asking questions, thinking out loud, challenging sacred cows or just asking what if apparently never developed the fear button. Thus, I dont understand why people are afraid of ideas, questions and the occasionally politically incorrect inquiry. So maybe its because Im dense rather than fearless that I am the way that I am.
In the last week, Ive received quite a few emails telling me I have guts for publishing some of the things that I do in my blog. For years, Ive had members of both churches Ive pastored occasionally mention to me that they are often taken back by my willingness to speak plainly about Biblical issues from the pulpit. Im often mystified by the comments of others which often go something like, Id really to speak out on this subject, but Im afraid of what others might think. Ive never been overly encumbered with that particular concern. Perhaps thats a character deficiency on my part, if not an intellectual one.
So with those introductory paragraphs in place, I guess I want to ask today, What are we afraid of in Funda-mentalism and Conservative Christianity these days? Why is there such a spirit of fear even intimidation, in so many peoples lives, churches and ministries?
As I look at what I view to be an oppressive fear that permeates the circles in which I run, I believe it has several dangerous consequences. (And if not dangerous, then they are just sad.)
1. Fear produces inauthenticity. We try to perform to the expectations of others rather than to enjoy the freedom we have in Christs grace. We worry more about whether we are pleasing man than we are about pleasing God.
2. Fear spawns duplicity and hypocrisy. Most people cant sustain a fear-driven life, thus they learn to compartmentalize and can end up being someone different in private than they are in public and sadly, because they arent honest about their own struggles, they become quite good at living the duplicitous life rife with hypocrisy.
3. Fear squelches personal worship. In many cases, fear is little more than idolatry. We let the expectations and intimidations of man to mean more to us than the expectation of God. Thus, we conform to that which is un- or non-Biblical while ignoring that which God has expressly encouraged.
4. Fear is contagious. Recently, my wife was vacuuming happily in our home when I needed to ask her a question. I walked up behind her and she jumped and shrieked like a banshee. I, in turn, jumped (though I DID NOT shriek and Im sticking by that.) Our fear of being criticized, ostracized or marginalized often keeps us from speaking up, joining in or participating and not only that, it keeps others from asking questions or speaking up.
5. Fear is discouraging. Who, in their right mind, wants to remain forever squelched? Eventually, many good people just throw in the towel because they want answers but are too afraid to ask the questions.
6. Fear is over-rated. Most of the time, exaggeration feeds our fears. Seriously, whats the worst that can happen to you? So you ask a politically-incorrect question? You express some doubt. You voice an opinion. Whats going to happen to you? Somebody says something unkind to you? (Have you ever worn the wrong colors to a professional football game? Unkind words happen and youll live through them.) So you dont get invited to something? (If thats the price of admission, I dont want to be there.) You get fired? (What, God wont give you another job or take care of you?) You lose a friend? (Were they ever really a friend if theyll cut you off for not sharing their exact same opinion on every matter?) In the end, most of our fears are exaggerated reactions that will never pan out and if they do, they arent really that big of a deal.
7. Fear is unbiblical. Check out 2 Timothy 1:7
8. Fear breeds ignorance. If you are too afraid to ask the question, you arent going to get the answer. Asking questions invites responses and encouraged discussion and we learn in the process.
9. Fear impedes healthy relationships. Who wants to be held hostage by fear? If you cant be honest in your marriage, in your faith, in your church, in your friendshipsthen you have an healthy relationship.
10. Fear prevents depth. Shallow people are fearful people. The are happy with the status quo. They are more concerned with personalities than principles. They end up talking about people and their responses rather than ideas and their implications. As a result, we turn into dried up, shrewish, embittered, shriveled shadows of what could have been.
It breaks my heart that so many Christians fundamentalists, conservatives, evangelicals are so afraid within their own families of believers.
I see it in our own church. I admit that Im a bit free-spirited on a lot of things even though people might be very surprised at how reserved and conservative I am on a personal level. When I first came to Northside, I found it interesting that people were afraid to clap when they enjoyed something or agreed with something or it was appropriate in keeping rhythm during a particular song. Some might say Amen (though not a lot). Others would offer a few tepid hand strikes on occasion, but Id see a look ranging from discomfort to terror cross their faces as they looked furtively around them to see if anyone was going to join in with them. More often than not, it petered out with an embarrassing smattering that left some vowing to never connect their hands in public again. It was deemed appropriate to tap ones toe or nod ones head to a song that was rhythmic. It was even considered acceptable to tap one hand (ONE only), on the Bible in keeping beat, but heaven help that some poor soul who was new or Latin or something and would really want to clap along and get with it. (EXCEPTION: anything Southern Gospel was considered clappable. But only that.)
Now, Im not intending to mock (well, maybe tease a little) but seriously, there was at times a fear permeating the room that was almost palpable. And lets not even consider what happened on the occasions we would sing a song that spoke of lifting ones hands. Even the ol Gaither song, Lets Just Praise the Lord that had a line in it that said Lets just lift our hands toward heaven had to be edited to now say, Lets just lift our HEARTS toward heaven for fear that someone might walk in, see a bunch of Baptists with their hands in the air and jump to the immediate conclusion that Benny Hinn was our guest speaker that day. (PLUS, I always have this really weird picture in my mind with people lifting their physical hearts upwards when we sing it that way.)
If I havent been specific enough, let me give you some more examples of fear and intimidation keeping us from saying things that might need to be said to the right AND to the left.
Billy Graham once gave a squishy answer on Salvation through Christ alone and I addressed it publicly as a disappointment right from my pulpit in the hometown of the renowned evangelist. Someone asked me if I wasnt being indiscrete due to the fact that I have a weekly radio broadcast on WMIT 106.9 (Sundays at 6:30 p.m. for those in the Carolinas). My thought was, it was an issue that needed to be raised. Would Billy Graham really want to leave an impression that people can go to heaven by some other means than the blood of Jesus Christ alone? If he did, Id rather get kicked off the station (which I wasnt) than be silent on such an important issue. And if I were to ever be unclear on something of such great importance, I hope theyd call on me to clarify myself as well.
When the liberal Democrats and homosexual activists teamed up to introduce gay-friendly changes in our ciys discrimination policies, I lead the opposition to it from the conservative Christian communitys perspective. I was asked if I was afraid there would be ramifications that could happen including losing our tax-exempt status. I responded by getting in the pulpit and saying they could have our tax-exempt certificate if that was the price for being silent on moral issues in Charlotte. (We didnt lose our 501c3 certificate either.)
Several folks have implied that I might be committing professional harikari by writing the articles Ive written in the last few weeks regarding some things in Christian colleges about which Im concerned. I asked them, What should I fear? That they wont invite me to speak at their chapels? OK. I wont speak there. That I wont be asked to serve on their boards? OK. Ive got other things to do. That I wont be invited to speak at a national meeting somewhere? Whatever. Ive got a church where I love to preach as often as theyll let me, so Im really quite content. Why should I be afraid of asking questions? Isnt God still Sovereign?
Maybe its because Im getting ready to turn 45 in a few weeks. Maybe its because I spent a LOT of my life worrying about what others thought about me and decided enough was enough and that I was tired of feeling dishonest? Maybe its because I bought into the politically-correct intimidation often whispered to me within the fundamentalist bureaucracy that warned against rocking the boat for too many years and I vowed Id never sell out to that again. Maybe its because when I speak out so many others are now saying Amen and finding the courage to start asking those questions out loud themselves.
You see, Ive heard a lot of people gossip and whisper and discuss in hushed voices with furtive glances their views on a plethora of issues in evangelicalism, fundamentalism, Independent Baptist-ism and a lot of other areas. I just think its time that we cast off the spirit of fear and start talking about stuff.
I decided that if I want to clap along with a praise chorus, Im going to do it. David did it in fact, he got naked and danced while he clapped. Im not ABOUT to do that. So Im thinking Im safe to clap along with What Mighty God We Serve.
I took it a step further. I found all these verses in the Bible wherein the ancient saints of Scripture would raise their hands in submission and praise as they sang or prayed. I know the Charismatics have turned hyper-emotionalism into an art form, but Im SO not charismatic and why should I let them steal a Biblical expression of surrender from my worship. So when I pray or sing a song that humbles me, Im not afraid any longer to raise my hands. If it bothers you dont do it. I dont care. Im not even paying attention to you. Im just yielding myself personally to Truth. Its between me and God. I dont think it makes me more spiritual than you. Ill be a humdinger if Im going to allow some Islamic terrorist show a greater demonstration of personal humility to his phony-baloney god than Im willing to show to the Great I AM.
I decided that if I see something unbiblical in our church, were going to use Church Discipline. We recently had to church two of our young people. I LOVE those kids. It broke my heart. They come from great families. Someone asked me if it didnt make me nervous to use church discipline in our family. My reply is it would make me MORE nervous to not use (excuse my split infinitive there) something so Biblically clear as church discipline than it would be to use it as a loving method for upholding our doctrinal and practical orthodoxy.
I think racism is wrong and I think theres a lot of latent racism in fundamentalist churches and colleges. Im going to write about it. I think the average youth director thinks hes more of an activities director on a cruise ship than he is a minister of the gospel and Im going to write about that too. I think the KJVO controversy and the Music/Worship wars have done more to damage fundamental churches in the last twenty years than all the liberals in Wheaton, Illinois and Colorado Springs, CO combined have done and Im not afraid to say it. I think weve done a lousy job of teaching worldview, philosophy and discernment to our Christian school students and wed better get with it or close the schools. I think the whole Repeat this magic prayer for me so that you can have fire insurance and then party on mentality of evangelism has created a generation of lost church members in America and its reprehensible. I think our lack of discipleship in the typical fundamental church is a crime against the Great Commission and tantamount to spiritual child abuse and I plan on poking on that point again in the future. I dont think fundamental and conservative pastors are doing enough to counter the pragmatic industry (and I use that term purposefully with no pun attended) of the Church Growth Movement and we should be writing about it and discussing/debating it.
And Im just getting started on topics Id like to see aired and you havent even had a chance to float your pet balloons and pet peeves as well.
I want to challenge my fundamental and conservative brethren (and sisters) to get rid of the fear and start talking. Here are a few ground rules I try to keep to help keep me accountable.
First, I also make sure people understand, my views are just one mans opinions. I dont have a corner on truth, Im still learning every day and I enjoy the dialogue. But in the end, apart from what is clearly defined in Scripture, its all just opinion.
Next, it doesnt have to be personal even if it is direct. If we start taking unfair swipes or begin mischaracterizing things, then we should point it out to each other like grown-ups and then stop it. We should be able to be specific without being mean.
Also, I try to be accountable. I have a very wise pastor friend who is old enough to be my father that has been very influential in my intellectual development as a fundamentalist. I have other experts who know me fairly well that I can reach with a flick of the send button. So before I post something that has the potential to be misunderstood, I have one or more of them vet it for me to make sure its appropriate.
I want to use some manner of journalistic standard when I write. For example, it is something that happened to me personally, I want to make sure the reader understands that Im the source. If someone shares information with me, I verify it with someone else to make sure that the double check standard of journalistic integrity is kept. If I mess up a detail or need to retract something, I will as soon as I become aware of it. Thats only fair.
Finally, I want to keep a good attitude myself. When my pet peeves become vendettas, its time for me to stop typing for a while. When I start taking criticism to heart in that it discourages me or reveals a pride issue in my own life, then I need to back off and regain my perspective. If I should start being more of a distraction than a help, then Ill need to sign off.
But, I simply refuse to be afraid of what others might think if I ask questions of those in positions of influence, if I challenge group think, if I dont stay on the fundamentalist plantation or if I might lose an opportunity for asking things out loud that Im thinking about in my heart. When I know my heart is sincere, it gives me the freedom of conscience to ask things without malice hoping that my own thinking will be challenged and hopefully that my heart will always be transformed to become that which is the good and perfect and acceptable will of God.