Inappropriate

Some things are just inappropriate.

  • The use of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in the closing ceremony of the supposedly unifying, unified Olympics

This song contains patently offensive lyrics — in the ears of attentive Christians, that is.   You may think, “Oh, it’s just a popular song” or “What’s wrong with it?  It’s got a message of hope.”  Among some nice or at least neutral thoughts, though, two lyric lines spur the hearer toward the blasphemous conception of an eternity in which there is no heaven — no eternal home.  I don’t think the use of this song was very unifying or even smart.  It was inappropriate at best.  But then again, most people — Christians included — aren’t that discerning, and probably neither noticed nor cared much.

  • The phrase “rock the vote”

This catch-phrase has been applied, for 20 years, to the effort to get young people (presumably rock music fans) to vote.  It seems to me that the event organizers must find the political process more deeply significant than the trivializing phrase “rock the vote” implies.  Phrases such as “rock-n-roll,” “we’re rockin’,” “you rock,” “rock the vote,” etc., are so deeply mired in pop culture as to render themselves unworthy of any meaningful process, event, or concept.

Said another way:  if I were sitting on the fence between political activity and inactivity, the phrase “rock the vote” certainly would not move me to get involved.  The ineffectiveness of the phrase (to my ears) has something to do with my age bracket, I’ll admit.  Just as much, though, I perceive an inherent incongruity between the purportedly deep, broadly applicable political enterprise on one hand, and the immaturity of so many rock-related concepts, practices, and celebrities on the other.  (Please know, if you’re inclined to write off this whole item, that I like some classic and progressive rock music, stylistically speaking — namely, KANSAS, Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boston, ELO, and a few more.)

  • The title “Reverend” (used to address, or to refer to, a human)

Taking a descriptive word applied only to Deity in scripture and then applying it to a supposed “vicar” — really?  One who actually thinks about the title “Reverend” will surely realize what an affront it is to God.  (And if one doesn’t think about it . . . well, why tie an epithet to someone if you’re not thinking about it?!)  Would that Christians would consider that, if they use the title “Reverend” to refer to a human, 1) they are not on solid ground, 2) they could be found to be blaspheming, and 3) they may simply be pandering to societal scenaria.  Calling a human “Reverend” pushes far beyond impropriety.

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3 things

Thinking out loud here . . . should I call a person by a title because religious protocol tells me I should?

“Reverend”?
“Pastor”?
“Father”?

Me genoito!  (Rom. 6:2–yeah, I’m ripping this Greek from its context to support my agenda, but it’s just an interjection, after all.)  Those 3 labels are among those that I have resolved never to call any other human.  If I did call someone by one of these titles, the reality wouldn’t change, of course: the person would still not be reverend, for example.  Yet the use of such titles does suggest subservience to a non-biblical system.

The problem is twofold.  Foremost, it’s God’s will that is conceptually over all; He, through the eternal Son, has ruled that no one of us is lord over another — and, specifically, that we should not call each other “Father.”  This much is clear:  there are no hierarchical rankings in the Kingdom.  Even Peter referred to himself as a “fellow elder,” not setting himself up over others in terms of spiritual influence, so why should anyone today think he is over anyone else?

Even if the Father, in the “vertical” sphere, had expressed nothing along these lines, the problem of religious titles would still exist in another sphere — the horizontal one.  Churches would still need to deal decisively with the ramifications of setting one person or a group of persons above others. 

Church is really not about the clergyfolk.  Those in paid ministry positions (where such positions seem necessary!) should stop calling attention to themselves by the use of titles, by hogging corporate time, and by generally thinking they have rank in the Kingdom of God.  Some of the problem is not the fault of the clergyfolk per se; it’s the fault of the system that insists, by its very existence, that we all perpetuate the problem.

Where do you stand?  Will you pander to the persistent problem, or be about the Father’s business, in and through a better body life?

It ain’t necessarily so

Just because he says it doesn’t mean it’s so. Just because someone with a human title and a pedigree says something doesn’t mean it’s so.  I do so tire of religious drivel that am nearly driven to retitle my blog with a moniker from someone else’s:  “Losing My Religion.”

Among the recent moments which seemed physically to force my head to commence shaking in disgust was the reading of a letter from missionaries in which the opening sentence was “Hi … I’m Reverend Thomas Smith.”  The uninhibited pretentiousness of labeling oneself with a descriptor reserved in scripture for God is superseded only by the unmitigated stupidity of starting a letter this way when it’s supposed to influence others to send him money.  He followed quickly with the line “My wife, Reverend Jane Smith, and I …”  Why not a simple “Jane and I”?  I suppose there are some who would say to themselves, subconsciously, “Oh, since he’s a ‘reverend,’ he is worthy of my writing out a check, so here I go.”  I, on the other hand, was driven deep–not into my pocket, but into despair for the condition of religion.

Later came this exhortation:  “We believe that God is calling our church to support a faith-pledge of $3,000”  Well, what if I believe that God “called” me to ignore such a faith-pledge?  Or what if He “told” me the faith-pledge was to be $2,842?  I wondered just how ignorant this church was of charlatans like Herbert W. Armstrong, Joseph Smith, present-day ones like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and many other televangelists who claim to receive such specific (self-serving) messages from on high.  Pardon me, but what horsehockey….

“Tithes and offerings” are Old Covenant things.  They were instituted to support the special-class priesthood, which is not in existence under the New Covenant (except in under-informed or deluded minds).  I would never argue with someone who gives 10% or 11% or 23% of his income to Christian charities.  I do resist anyone who claims that financial percentages are currently enjoined by scripture.  They are not.

Ubiquitous “God is teaching me” and “what God is doing in my life” phrases may stem from desperation or from a sincere desire to seem spiritual.  It’s one thing to presume some inclination or guilt-feeling or desire is the call of God for an individual.  But when such “calling” theology extends to a corporate body through its leadership, a relatively innocuous baselessness can become fraudulence that plays on the gullibility of the masses.

I’m glad I looked up the lyrics to the Gershwin song “It Ain’t Necessarily so” from Porgy and Bess before finishing this post.  I had no idea how irreverent the words are.  (The song seems to suggest that things in the Bible aren’t necessarily so.)  1.  Just because it’s a pastor or preacher sayin’ sumpin’ don’t mean it’s so, no matter whether he’s tellin’ ya to drop a nickel in the plate or to listen to him ‘cuz he has heard from God on high.  2.  On the other hand, if it’s the message of the Bible, it is necessarily so.

The conceptual problem comes in the tension between the two, and the practical problem comes in the repeated alignment of religious people with #1 over #2.

Follow-up on “The end of a system”

My post on “The End of a System” was probably on the edge of palatability for some. Sometimes I write things that I strongly believe, almost hoping no one will read what I write, because I know it will be difficult to swallow. Other times, I’m desperate for people to read. I’m not sure which this was . . . maybe both!

In response to a sincere comment from a devoted disciple, I want to expand. This is long—perhaps my longest essay on this blog. Rather than separate it into a series, though, I am opting for one, lengthy treatment, and then I intend to leave this topical area alone for a while. (Sabbatical here will be difficult for me, because there are so many regular inputs and stimuli!)

First, on biblical foundations: I want to reiterate that I do respect scholarship in the area of biblical studies. But not all seminaries seem overly interested in sound biblical scholarship . . . so, what we have, it seems to me, is a network of “ordained,” clergified teachers who may or may not be good students of the canonical documents. I have no first-hand experience in a seminary of any sort, but based on reports, I have come to suspect that it is quite possible to get a seminary degree that emphasizes ministry and/or church history and/or church “doctrine” (together, all these may constitute an emphasis in “religion”) without having any training (or interest!) in biblical exegesis. Moreover, various denominational prejudices can often lead to slanted views of this text or that.

For me, a teaching minister — whether paid or not — who doesn’t have a strong foundation in biblical studies is no servant of the church at all. A paid minister without foundation in biblical exegesis and hermeneutics should be ministering in some area other than public teaching and preaching. And again: public teaching and preaching must come precisely from solid training in how to interpret and teach scripture. I hope this helps to allay any fear about my commitment to avoidance of false teaching!

Next, on the clergy as a distinct layer or class of “extra-spiritual” people, perhaps perceived to have special, intercessionary powers between the “laity” and God. I had quoted the conservative scholar John Yoder, in reference to the 4th century A.D.: “A monarchical sacerdotal class was reintroduced in a community that had begun with the affirmation that Jesus had put an end to the priesthood.” So what can we say about the Middle Ages that followed? While I would not choose to assert that God’s church was dormant, exactly, I would surmise that most Protestant thinkers would agree that the years from Constantine through Luther were, in a sense (warning: non-P.C. term ensues), Dark Ages in terms of scriptural enlightenment. The abuses and corruptions of the papacy were perhaps not universal, but they were common. Just as with Israelite kings, there were a few good guys! My conclusion, though, is that while the 20th and 21st centuries can’t be compared, apples to apples, with the Roman-dominated Dark Ages, the existence of a “sacerdotal class” (Yoder) is certainly to be challenged in any epoch, including ours.

A parallel problem appears, as well: in addition to the elevation of a special class of clergy, an issue may be seen in the lack of attention to the priesthood of all New Covenant believers. One might well argue that if the saints would all accept their roles as priests of God Most High, there would be no hole for a special “clergy” class to fill! As has been pointed out to me, a sound, biblical model of church leadership is servant-involvement within the people’s lives, not separation from the group.

The two main issues outlined above — the possibility of religion without thoroughgoing biblical foundation, and the problems inherent in the clergified priesthood — lead me to observe/opine that the lack of an official clergy is not necessarily what leads to apostasy. It is a lack of biblical foundation … or, to put it as Paul did,

But as for you (Timothy), continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Now, it was a specially inspired person that Timothy learned from; I think it is patently dangerous today to assume that pedigrees obtained from seminaries are equivalent to directly transferred apostolic authority. In other words, academic rigors and traditionally guided ordination ceremonies do not sound Bible teachers make (necessarily). Moreover, I would take special caution when a church’s sign warns that one man is “pastor and founder.” Way too presumptuous and likely to be monarchical!

But to further Paul’s emphasis . . . he continues his exhortation to Timothy with the familiar “All scripture is God-breathed and is profitable. . . .” I take from this apostolic admonition that apparently

  • there would be apostasy (please see all of 2 Tim. 3, as well as becoming aware of the definition of the Greek word apostasis–”apart from standing”)
  • there was a need to remind Timothy what the foundation must be: 1) what he had heard from Paul the Apostle, and 2) what he had studied in the Old Covenant scriptures.

So, I would respond to the query about what happens when we don’t have a system of professional, specially delegated pastors with this, which admittedly will sound glib when taken by itself: Let’s try it, and see if the biblical, spiritual moorings are worse, or better. Let’s see whether there are more, or fewer, false teachings. We have centuries of history of what happens with this clergy system that often leads people astray. And the many denominational offshoots in the past two or three centuries bear witness to the fact that people tend to follow other people and not truth. It’s possible that the clergy system contributes more to the proliferation of errant offshoots than meets the eye. Again, it’s not the special Bible schooling that is the problem – far from it! – it’s the system that grants special privilege and deference to one class of Christians over another. Humans so readily stop “guiding center,” to use a marching band concept, and/or they are too prone to corruption. To have a human personality at the center of a system is not just asking for trouble; it’s guaranteeing it.

In my more cautious, timid moments, I might admit that the aggregate potential for off-the-wall, erroneous teaching could be greater if there were less organizational structure to reign in rogue preachers. Let me try that again. The sum total of false teaching could be even worse if there were no accountability system. I’m just not sure whether that is potentially worse than the false practice that transpires within the current structure.

As I think briefly about the formation of new Christian movements, sects, and, ultimately, denominations, a correlation appears: more often than not, perhaps, a new guy was followed for relatively good reasons that related to reforming things and/or rooting out corruptions. But the fact that there are so many guys to follow should give us all pause before we follow any guy now. If one man, or one system, leads people down a wrong path, and if it’s just another man who seeks to correct that path by saying, “Hey! No! Come this way instead!” then it stands to reason that there’s not necessarily a better reason to follow one than the other. They’re both merely human.  The new one may be more right than the old, or he may not. Following one, or following the other . . . clergyman or non . . . people will likely be led astray. But having no clergy class would in my estimation eliminate other problems.

The historically well-attested notion of reformation warrants mention, but I am not equal to the task. Wycliffe, Tischendorf, Luther, Calvin, Menno, Wesley, Campbell, Stone, and more . . . these are men who, to some extent, were saying things that were necessary to effect reform, in one specific spirito-historical milieu or another. It is clearly sometimes well advised to follow a new strand of Christianity. Had I lived in those centuries, I hope I would have been courageous enough to have been counted on the right side. These men all said valuable things, but not one, as far as I know, was 100% right.

I should probably also mention “ordination” specifically. Not knowing much about it first-hand, and not finding any official ordaining ceremony or the equivalent in the NC scriptures (OK, Acts 13 seems to mention an ordination ceremony for “apostling” a missionary, as it were, but no official tradition seems to have been laid out), though, I don’t think I will say much! Suffice it to say that ordination is largely a human, abiblical development in church polity, and ordination itself would appear to have an unsubstantiated relationship to one’s ability to preach true things from scripture. Formal ordination (as I understand it) is certainly not necessary, scripturally speaking, and there is therefore no scripturally based requirement to be ordained in order to “administer the sacraments.” I hasten to add that having been ordained is different, in my mind, from having had training in biblical studies. The former is an official protocol (think “Roberts Rules of Order” and parliamentary procedure) and is neither here nor there; the latter is essential, if one is to teach.

With all this said (I should really promise not to write about this topic for a month or more — I get too wrapped up in it!), I would now attempt to delineate as follows, separating the problems I see:

  1. Paying ministers can be a big problem, but this is not always so. There are loads of good staff ministers out there who are doing great things and who are not abusing power or teaching obviously false things.
  2. Having a separate class of clergy is a problem. No two ways about it. The clergy-laity distinction should be abolished. Religious titles that separate one class from another is an abomination. God, help us.
  3. Training teachers, preachers, and pastors (remember that, biblically speaking, pastors appear to be a plural phenomenon in most, if not all congregations, which is quite different from the model we see almost everywhere in Christendom today … please see the section on the term pastor in this post) in biblical studies is quite a good thing. The more a public teacher knows about hermeneutics, and the more he is trained in how to exegete and communicate scripture’s truths, the better. It is not necessary to be trained, and one doesn’t have to know Greek or Hebrew to get God’s point, but it can help immeasurably to be taught by one who is somehow trained.

In sum, distinguishing among the above items . . . is it possible to have a pastor who is (3) sound, biblically well trained, and not viewed as (2) “clergy”? Well, there’s the rub. Whether he’s (1) paid isn’t really the issue. It’s biblical to support good work financially. The issues are (2), which constitutes my main protestation, and (3), scriptural soundness — which, if not in place, can lead to all sorts of apostasy, regardless of (1) and (2).

I’m almost embarrassed to look back and find how much I’ve written in the past year about this kind of thing, but I do believe it is important to root out wispy doctrines and unfounded practices in favor of a biblical model of church. Whether you’re mad by now, or just curious . . . for more, please see this post (in which I moved point-by-point through an appeal letter from a Roman Catholic abbot, picking apart assumptions and doctrines) or this one, in which I asserted things about a few titles in use today.

Dear Father – You Who love every one, desiring all to come ultimately to You, if I have been erroneous in any of the above, please remove the offending lines from the eyes and understanding of anyone who reads. May my words be used to further Your truth and Your reign. May we all know Your will increasingly, and may that be the only thing that matters.

So much to say … so little fingerpower

Arthritis in my fingers and hands is already flaring up today, but I must say a few more things about the so-called Trinity, having read the closing editorial perspective in the May Worship Leader magazine. (This is an issue devoted to trinitarian theology and its ramifications in worship.)

But first, a comment on religious titles. In this patently well-intentioned article by Scotty Smith, he is referred to as “Pastor Scotty Smith.” (See previous entries: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/category/clergy-laity-system/ and especially https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/isnt-he-just-a-brother/):

Not only is Scotty Smith not a pastor of mine (their names happen to be Steve, John, and Ron), but … get this … he is apparently not anyone’s pastor right now. According to the bio-blurb at the bottom, Mr. Smith “served as Senior Pastor at Christ Community Church.” That’s *past tense.* Folks, “pastor”–whatever your view of using Bible names for Bible things–is a functional description, not an earned, permanent title. If one is not pastoring, he is not a pastor. If one had at one time served as a pastor, well, then he could have been called “Pastor” then. Anyhoo. . . .

Personally, I’d rather be energized by honest, scriptural inquiry than safely ensconced in adherence to orthodoxy. I’m just not interested in belonging to the group of the orthodox, inasmuch as “orthodoxy” means kowtowing to historical creedal positions under the weight of centuries of oft-misguided, sometimes corrupt religion. Some orthodox positions are on-target, but some are patently not. Scotty Smith, though he seems pretty eloquent, is passionate about orthodoxy where I am not. Smith says, among other things:

The doctrine of the Trinity is the central dogma of Christian theology, the fundamental grammar of the knowledge of God. . . .

Since worship is declaring God’s worth, then to present Him as less than Trinitarian or other than Trinitarian would represent the greatest sabotaging and miscarriage of our calling as worship leaders. . . .

As for the first thought there, well … no. I’m no trained theologian, and I’m only beginning to get the distinctions academics make between studies in religion and theology and Bible and ministry. But I tend to see the holes in false theological assumptions when I see them. One could make a case for the fundamental Christian doctrine’s being vicarious atonement, or incarnation.  Although insofar as “Trinity” means “Jesus is God,” OK, but adherence to Trinitarian thought is not necessary in order to be thoroughly Christian.

As for the second Smith thought, I certainly respect his passion. Given his conviction on this, the statement makes sense. But I would alter the statement to something like this: “Since worship is declaring God’s worth, then to present Him as a boxed-in something that His Mystery may or may not be would represent an irreverent, albeit unintentional, miscarriage of our calling as worship leaders.”

As an aside, I would suggest that, grammatically speaking, it is humans who are trinitarian or not trinitarian. God is three, or He is not, but the “-ian” suffix, not unlike “-ology,” seems to imply thought about a thing, not the identity of the thing itself.

I do agree with Scotty that “it behooves us to invest time and energy to deal honestly with this matter.” What about the “Godhead” term, which he also uses in the essay? Does anybody realize that it’s concocted out of thin air? It’s sort of Greekly mythological and downright weird–in my head, anyway. Why would I want to think of God as a sort of head with three heads?

Footnote: I appreciate so much that Leroy Garrett (one whose theologically, philosophically trained mind and devoted heart I admire) originally freed me to think “outside the box” on the concept of Trinity. As Leroy has well said, I don’t like to claim for God something the scriptures don’t claim about Him.

And now, in a desperate attempt to move on to other things in life, in God, and in work, I will mention now, in an already chock-full posting, another article that may deserve your attention: Sally Morgenthaler’s essay “Which Trinity?” from this same May Worship Leader, pp. 38-39. Though I don’t support all of Morgenthaler’s assumptions or her raison d’etre, she offers some historical information worth being aware of.

Religious titles

The following quote is taken from James Gardner’s The Christians in New England (available online at http://www.therestorationmovement.com/newengland.htm):

A symbol of the change in church (in the movement known as “Christians” in early-19C New England -bc) leadership was the introduction of the term “reverend” as a title for Christian preachers. Early Christians in New England had indignantly rejected the term as being both vain and unscriptural. In 1813, Frederick Plummer refused to address his Methodist adversary in a debate as “Reverend,” not, as he explained to his opponent, out of disrespect to him, but out of proper respect for God. Elias Smith scornfully referred to “the Reverend D.D.s” who regarded themselves as the guardians of other men’s consciences. (78)

That probably needs no more comment (except to add my general agreement, and perhaps a little wistfulness or a wry grin or something, because I’m called “Dr. Casey” at work … but I always hated hearing my professors called “Dr.” when we were at church meetings).  I guess I’m for professionalism in the workplace, but not in the churchplace.

Isn’t he just a brother?

I was just mindlessly scanning a list from a church (not our own, which did, incidentally, have its “annual corporation meeting” last Sunday … 90 seconds of required formality is enough for the year, but hey, it was well-done, Steve!). This was a list of newly elected elders, delegates, etc. There was Terry, Debbie, Calvin, John, Carl, etc., and Pastor ____.

This online lists brought to mind a church softball league I played in about 12 years ago. In this other case, the lineup was being announced. Jerry’s at second base, Rick’s in center, John in left, Mark on 1st, and Pastor pitching. Aarrgh!

Everyone else is just called by his first name. Why not the “pastor”? He is, after all, just another brother … who happens to have a specially designated, and usually paid, teaching role. Why does he need a title, in order to set him apart from his siblings?

I also question the use of functional titles outside of the realm of the supposed function … e.g., referring in a magazine to someone as “Pastor Tom Jones” when the readership is not the congregation the man is supposed to be pastoring. Assuming Tom is in Christ, you could call him Christian Tom or Saint Tom, because those titles have to do with his identity, which is what it is, regardless of social context. But don’t tell me “Pastor Rick Warren” from California is coming to speak in western New York, because “Pastor” is a functional label, and his function does not include pastoring in western New York. Just call him Rick, or Mr. Warren–or, if you prefer, the more affected, yet respectful “brother Warren.”

“Holy and reverend is his name” (Psalm 111:9 … note that the names of men who preach and teach are NOT the ones that are seen as holy and reverend … men are just men)

“Call no man on earth your father” (Jesus, Matthew 23:9)