Pastor's Pastor: Believers behaving badly

Pastor's Pastor: Believers behaving badly - Part 2

Pastor's Pastor: Believers behaving badly - Part 2

In addition to "abuse of platform," in which we noted how some misguided believers think that publicly broadcasting their opinion guarantees virtue regardless of their behavior, other types of believers also behave badly.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Last month we bemoaned our tendency to disconnect belief from behavior, noting that some of our worst moments as believers occur when we mistakenly believe we are performing our best service.

Our orthodoxy (correct belief) is only as valuable as our orthopraxy (correct behavior). Remember, Jesus’ description of the judgment (Matthew 25) rejects many outwardly orthodox believers.

In addition to “abuse of platform,” in which we noted how some misguided believers think that publicly broadcasting their opinion guarantees virtue regardless of their behavior, other types of believers also behave badly.

Abuse of advantage. The note that the church organist delivered delineated her demands in a “take no hostages” stance that could have tutored a terrorist. “I’d rather that kid not come to church than to endure another instance of today’s trashy music. If you permit a repeat, I’ll leave this church and never return. What will you do then?”

 In fairness to the organist’s outrage, the youngster who had assaulted the special music was untrained, unkempt, and unaccomplished. The choice of music was poor and the delivery was worse. The only positive aspect I could muster from the whole ordeal was that the youngster’s parents, rarely in attendance, were both present and blessed by their child’s participation.

From a pastor’s perspective, enduring a less than satisfactory rendition was compensated by the whole family having worshiped and the youngster having felt good about making a contribution to the service.

True to her threats, our organist marched her outstanding talents to another congregation, which she also held hostage to her own superior musical training and taste. Of course, we suffered from her loss, but we gained a number of families who were grateful that their mediocre talents now had opportunity for worship participation.

Abuse of position. Then there was the administrator who commanded compliance with his personal counterinterpretation of polity procedures. When a subordinate leader demurred, citing page and paragraph of established denominational policy, discussion turned to demand and the administrator threatened revenge at the next constituency nominating committee.

Phrases such as “I am in charge,” “you don’t comprehend authority,” and “because I said so” did little to change either mind while the role of the leader was belittled to that of a bully.

Abuse of influence. “Kick him out,” an elder demanded of the church board about a relatively new member (carefully distinguish this designation from “relative church member” whom almost no church board will discipline, regardless of infraction) who had been spotted using tobacco just a few weeks after baptism. As the board was about to vote, another elder requested a delay. “Please, permit me time to get close to this individual. I’m a former smoker, myself, and I’m embarrassed that none of us have become close to this new member. I would like to help.”

Within a couple of months, our church had three new converts—the smoker who had reformed, the helping elder who learned to mentor new believers, and even the elder who had previously rushed to removal.

We began stop-smoking clinics, offered Alcoholics Anonymous in our facility, and started new small-group ministries for those who needed fellowship in other twelve-step programs.

Abuse of knowledge. Imagine the tragedy if that one leader’s abuse of influence had not been countermanded by the elder who determined to aid a weaker brother! And speaking of such, I’m neither impressed nor intimidated by those who demand compliance by resorting to misinterpretation of “weaker brother” terminology.

If I have sufficient knowledge to make the claim for myself, I am ineligible for the appellation. Superior knowledge that claims spurious position as “weaker brother” removes me from such status and places me in need of a constant reminder of Jesus’ story about the prodigal’s “stronger sibling.”

Abuse of legality. Jesus constantly strove to distinguish between law’s demands and love’s constraints without compromising either.

For example, Jesus validated legal technicalities concerning divorce while narrowing the terminology of sufficient grounds. He said, “because of your hard hearts, Moses permitted you to divorce, but I affirm that even if you lust in your heart, you have committed adultery” (cf., Matthew 19:8; 5:28).

Likewise, Jesus never compromised the claims of justice while He encouraged ongoing virtue in new life. He told badly behaving believers, “If you are without sin, cast the first stone to implement the deserved death penalty.” But to the guilty sinner, he affirmed, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more!” (cf., John 7:7, 11).

Now that’s a believer behaving boldly!


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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

March 2006

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