Thinking Out Loud

March 25, 2013

When Your Pastor is a Jerk

Defective PastorThe title of this has probably raised some eyebrows, but relax, it’s more of a Bible study than anything, and it had a much more refined title when it appeared last week at C201. Still, a couple of times in my life I have found myself in a position of being under the leadership of a pastor who in many different degrees I did not respect, and I know some of you have as well. Believing him to be placed there in the sovereignty of God, I have made a statement like, “I don’t respect the decision he made [or direction he is taking] but I will support him [it] because I respect the office” that is to say, the position he holds. In other words, I didn’t want to undermine the general support I think a pastor should have once they occupy that position.

Some of you have been in the position of knowing a Christian leader or author or pastor intimately enough that you are aware of some severe flaws in their character, and yet their preaching or writing was solid; their teaching of God’s word was able to penetrate your heart or move people to a place of repentance.

Ideally of course, this type of situation — or character double standard — shouldn’t exist. It’s really at the heart of hypocrisy.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus addresses this issue. In Matthew 21: 1-3 we read:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

In Matthew Henry’s commentary he looks at this. The language is older English than we speak today, so read slowly and unlike at C201, where you can read the original I’ll try to paraphrase some of this:

Christ allows them their office as expositors of the law; The scribes and Pharisees (that is, the whole Sanhedrim, who sat at the helm of church government, who were all called scribes, and were some of them Pharisees), they sit in Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2), as public teachers and interpreters of the law…

First: Many a good place is filled with bad men; this is nothing new; sometimes the vilest men are promoted even to, in this verse, Moses’s seat (Ps. 12:8) When that happens the men are not so much honored by the job as the job is dishonored by the men…

Second: Good and useful positions and responsibilities are not automatically to be condemned and abolished, just because they fall sometimes into the hands of bad men, who abuse them. We must not overreact and pull down Moses’s seat, because scribes and Pharisees have are in control of it; rather than so, let both grow together until the harvest, Matt. 13:30

…As far as they sit in Moses’s seat, that is, read and preach the law that was given by Moses” (which, as yet, continued in full force, power, and virtue), “and judge according to that law, so far you must listen to them, as conveyers to you of the written word.”

The scribes and Pharisees made it their business to study the scripture, and were well acquainted with the language, history, and customs of it, and its style and phraseology. Now Christ desires the people to make use of the helps they gave them for the understanding of the scripture, and do accordingly. As long as their comments illustrate the text and don’t pervert it;  as long as they make plain, and don’t make void, the commandment of God; to that extent they must be observed and obeyed, but all the while exercising caution and a judgment of discretion. Note, We must not think the worse of good truths for their being preached by bad ministers; nor of good laws for their being executed by bad magistrates. Though it is best to have our food brought by angels, yet, if God sends it to us by ravens, if it is good and wholesome, we must take it, and thank God for it.

Our Lord Jesus promises this, to prevent the nitpicking which some would want to make in this situation; as if, by condemning the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus intended to bring the law of Moses into contempt, and to dismiss it; whereas actually he came not to destroy, but to fulfil…  Sometimes, we need to carefully fine tune the difference between the office-holder and their offices, so that the ministry isn’t blamed when the ministers are.

emphasis added

I looked at Matthew 23: 1-3 after reading a chapter in a recently released book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma (Zondervan). In Chapter 6, he looks at this from the point of view of our behavior and reminds us of our responsibility not to be jerks, and thereby hypocrites. 

Pursuing Justice - Ken WytsmaIt’s deceptively easy to believe a lot of good things about God but fail to live out those good things. It’s been said what we do is actually what we believe. It’s easier than we think to have the spiritual exteriors without the spiritual heart. It’s easy to mistake the packaging for authentic living, to confuse the décor of religion with genuinely loving our neighbor.

Think of James 4:17, where we are reminded of this truth: “Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Or Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold the good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Sometimes trying not to do the wrong thing is the surest way to do the wrong thing.

[This type of sin*] is subtle. We’re often one step away from becoming the Pharisee. And the minute we care more about avoiding the bad than doing the good is the moment we’re in deep trouble. Our spiritual pride blinds us to our own imperfections, causing us to become “lukewarm” from a Biblical standpoint — good only to be spit out.

True morality — true righteousness and justice and love — can never lead to external legalism because we cannot be fully righteous and just and loving. For that we need God’s grace, every moment of every day, and grace is the stake through the heart of legalism.

pp. 93-94 [* eusebeigenic sin, term coined by Eugene Peterson; a sin picked up in a place of righteousness; a type of sin only available to those within the church]

So it may be at times in our lives we are called to follow less-than-perfect leaders; times our food will be brought by ravens and not by angels. Nonetheless, we are to follow genuine teaching from God’s word, and also to look in the mirror to make sure that our leadership or place of influence in someone else’s life is free of anything that would be hypocritical.

August 23, 2011

Students ‘Fess Up To Teacher 15 Years Later

Summer re-runs; what can I say? But a great link list tomorrow, I promise!

A decade and a half ago I was just finishing a one-year part-time contract at the local Christian school, teaching Bible, art, music, language and spelling.

Split grade seven and eight spelling to be precise. A weekly list. A weekly test. The one piece of the job I could farm out to my wife, whose spelling is dead-on accurate. (And proofreading, if you have anything that needs doing.)

This morning we visited the church where, at the time, half of the students in the Christian school attended; and one of them, who was not in my class, informed me that both my wife and I had been had.

Turns out, if they didn’t know how to spell a word, they would simply write down some other correctly spelled word. My wife would mark the word as correct, never suspecting that they were up to something. (And not noticing the variation in words, since she was doing two grades at once.)

Isn’t church like that. We give right answers, not so much to direct questions, but insofar as we say the right things and use the right words and phrases. Even if we’re giving the answer to a question that’s not being asked. (“It sure sounds like a “squirrel” but I think I’m supposed to say “Jesus.” *)

As long as we’re providing responses that are not stained by the messiness of misspellings, we’re given the proverbial red check mark by our church peers. Nobody ever suspects the possibility that they are being had.

We’ve lost the ability to say, “I’m not sure;” or “I don’t know;” or “That’s an issue I’m wrestling with in my own spiritual life.” We’re too proud to say, when we don’t know a particular ‘word,’ something like, “That’s a part of the Bible I’ve never studied;” or “That’s an area of theology I’ve never considered;” or “That’s a particular spiritual discipline that isn’t part of my personal experience.”

So we just give the so-called “right” answers that will get us by. Or we change the subject. Or we say something incredibly complex that has an air of depth to it.

Today I read an article in a newspaper, The Christian Courier which quotes Rob Bell as saying, in reference to his church and preaching style, “…We want to embrace mystery rather than conquer it.” In many churches they want the latter. And if someone does “conquer” all things spiritual, we give them some letters after their name which mean Master of Theology, or Master of Divinity.

Years ago, when our youngest son didn’t know the answer to a question I would ask at our family Bible study, he would just say, “Love?” It was a good guess. (One night it was the right answer.) He figured he couldn’t go wrong with “Love” as the possible answer, though he always raised his voice at the end admitting he wasn’t quite sure.

Well guess what? I haven’t mastered it. I’m working on it. I don’t know.

And I have one more thing to say to all of you: Love?

* One Sunday a pastor was using squirrels for an object lesson for the children. He started, “I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.” The children nodded eagerly.

“This thing lives in trees (pause) and eats nuts (pause)…” No hands went up. “And it is gray (pause) and has a long bushy tail (pause)…” The children were looking at each other nervously, but still no hands raised. “It jumps from branch to branch (pause) and chatters and flips its tail when it’s excited (pause)…”

Finally one little boy tentatively raised his hand. The pastor quickly called on him. “Well,” said the boy, “I know the answer must be ‘Jesus’ … but it sure sounds like a squirrel!”


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