I am continuing the series on Civility in discourse written by Dr. Charles Wood. To learn more about Dr. Wood, read my post from 2 days ago. DLB
In my post yesterday I dealt with the subject: of the decline of courtesy in American life in general and its parallel decline among Christians, especially the fundamentalists variety of Christians. The following is a continuation of that article.
Having been writing and publishing a newsletter for more than 25 years (The Woodchuck’s Den is a reworking of my previous A Pastoral Epistle), I have had my share of experience with the “decline of courtesy.” The vast majority of responses I have received to my writing over the years have been positive or have expressed disagreement in polite and courteous terms. There have been more than enough, however, that were quite otherwise.
Old Harry Truman said, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen,” and there have been more than a few times I headed for the door only to have the Lord stop me and send me back to the table to scribble some more.
Several times I have been chided for not being more specific, for not naming names. Those criticisms I have taken as compliments because I have tried to avoid getting involved in names and personalities. Although I have not been perfect on this (or anything else for that matter), I have tried to separate issues from individuals and problems from personalities.
Yes, there have been times when it was inevitable that the content of a story or article would leave little doubt about the person(s) involved, but I have studiously tried to keep things as impersonal as possible. The vast majority of the people with whom I disagree I consider to be good people. I have no interest whatever in trashing them or dragging their names through the mud. I am primarily interested in stimulating thought and dealing with issues. It is a rare situation were naming a name would contribute substantively to that purpose.
Along the same line, I have little patience with those who find it necessary to call others names simply because they happen to be in disagreement with the name-caller. When we are dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ, it would seem both Biblical and prudent to lay off the name calling and stick to the issues at hand.
Closely related to the last paragraph is the tendency to explore and assail the motives of others. I have been accused of writing out of spite, anger, frustration, hatred, bitterness, desire for vengeance, a sense of intellectual arrogance, etc. Actually, other than my wife (who knows exactly why I write) and three or four trusted friends with whom I have talked at length, no one on earth has even a clue as to why I write what I do and as I do.
There is a bit more here, however, than a mere, “You don’t know what I am thinking.” A careful exegesis of Matthew 7:1 (”Judge not that ye be not judged.”) appears to condemn seeking to determine or declare the motives of others. We are sometimes very short on Biblically-required discernment and very long on Biblically-condemned judgment. I have no problem with criticism of what I write or how I write, but why I write appears to be off limits. Romans 14:4 says, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up for God is able to make him stand.” Again, exegesis of the passage brings me to the conclusion that Paul is adding his condemnation to what Jesus has already said, “Leave other people’s motives alone.”
On another subject: much of what I write is an expression of my own personal opinion. I try to use that “in my opinion” and similar phrases frequently in my writing, but the fact that I may have forgotten to use it in a particular place doesn’t change the fact that what I am writing is probably opinion. In the “game of opinions,” all men are equal (that is, your opinion is as good as mine, and my opinion is as good as yours).
The real problem appears to me to lie in the fact that some men are unable to distinguish between their opinions and the very voice of God speaking through them. I hold my opinions pretty strongly, but I am also quite sure God doesn’t share at least a few of them (if I knew which ones, I wouldn’t express them or even hold them). Just because you or I think it - or even are convinced of it - doesn’t necessarily make it so.
We still hold truth in vessels of clay, and those vessels sometimes muddy the waters. You have a right to express your opinions, but I also do, and I have gone to the trouble of building a mailing list, etc. as a vehicle for that freedom. [A side bar: many of the opinions expressed in response to my opinions leave me somewhat cold. They are often the very arguments, viewpoints, etc., that I expressed twenty years ago and have since abandoned because they didn’t satisfy or were not subject to sufficient Biblical support as to make me comfortable with them. Remember, I was once in the very place now occupied by many of my critics.]
Then there is the matter of my purpose in writing, which is to stimulate thought and engender careful Biblical study of positions. I try to be up-front and honest about where I am and what I believe. I started out a traditional fundamentalist (I have never held the KJO position or accepted secondary separation, and the music wars had not yet begun back then).
At 39 years of age (well old enough to know better). I allowed myself to be drawn into what I now consider a very extreme form of fundamentalism. I fully accepted it and was immersed in it for the next 18 years. When I was 59, the whole thing began to unravel, and I sensed I was not where I should have been. I began studying the Scriptures on my own rather than allowing someone - or thing (like a school) - else to do so for me. The conclusions I reached from that study started me on the path that has led to where I am now by the grace of God.
My purpose is to share some of the questions, reservations, etc., that led me to conclude I was on the wrong path. You are under no obligation to answer me, to defend your position to me or to try and convince me of how wrong I am Just think about what I have written. If it is piffle, ignore it. If it drives you to hold your differing position more strongly, I have still accomplished my purpose in making you think it through. If it undermines something you hold, take the time to study it out on your own. I don’t want to change your opinion nearly as much as I want to encourage you to think it through and support it Biblically.
In my opinion, many of the positions held by modern-day fundamentalism have only the most shaky Biblical support.
[Another side bar: I am not interested in being the moderator of a debating society. One of the reasons I shied away from doing a blog was to avoid that very thing. I read extensively in a wide variety of forms (books, blogs, web-sites, magazines, newspapers, etc.). I probably run into well more than a dozen things a day that I strongly disagree with. I rarely ever respond to those things, however. I simply make mental note of them and keep moving on. Even in retirement, I simply don’t have time to respond to everything.]
Don’t feel obligated to waste precious time answering an old man that you think is crocked anyway. It isn’t worth it. Invest the time saved in active ministry while you have the strength (and before you are limited by the passing years and the infirmities that accompany such).
Tomorrow, I will post Dr. Wood’s final chapter on this topic. DLB