I am no good at fighting. There have been a few times in my life where I have had to fight and I was terrible. Being bullied was not an unusual experience for me when I was growing up. Memories come to the surface even now of the people, not too many of them really, who were unkind enough towards me to actually harm me physically.
In the above paragraph there was a great little two-word phrase though.
You see, when I was younger I was short and a little on the pudgy side. In my early teenage years I was not physically imposing. Rather, I was physically laughable. I could play sports – just not very well. I could run – just not very fast. If chess was ever a sport which involved bullying I might have been champion. Alas, it was, and is, not.
But then I grew up. Very quickly, in fact. Between my first and second years of high school I put on quite a few inches in height. Some people did not even recognise me when I returned to school! I discovered a cool thing about being big. Being big scares other people. Even now, when I am fully grown, I am not really, really big – only about six feet and three or four inches. Yet I am big enough to make most people think twice about trying to pick a fight with me.
Can I make an awkwardly fast jump to my topic?
Has the church grown up to be big enough not to be trifled with? Is it possible the church has actually exceeded its mature stage and is now shrinking in size and power like a wrinkled old man?
Roll On Black Gospel Churches
Just this week a bill to normalise same-sex marriages was defeated in Maryland. Great news! Of course, this was a total shock to everyone involved because Maryland is quite a liberal state in its politics. In fact, one delegate to the Maryland legislature, Mary Washington, said, “Your courageousness in continuing Maryland’s tradition of righting social injustice is before you right now.”
No one thought there would be much opposition to the bill’s acceptance. Except they overlooked the large number of black gospel churches in Maryland. These churches mobilised their members. These members, and sometimes the pastors, lobbied their legislators. These legislators then defeated the bill.
One pastor, Reverend Franklin Lance, said, “From my perspective just in talking to my congregants, we have simply been saying that we believe marriage should be defined as man and woman. This is not to be negative towards or restricted toward or biased toward anyone else. We do believe that [marriage] is sacred. We believe it’s holy.”
Of course, here is what I find it interesting. Another legislator, Del. Cheryl Glenn, said this during the debate:
“Black churches have never asked us for anything. They are asking us now, “Don’t use the word marriage.””
Why do churches ask for so little? Have we grown up or have we shriveled up?
We The Warriors
Paul, the apostle and constant warrior for the Christian message, wrote to a young man he was mentoring and said this: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” What can we do in the face of this War In The World? We can watch our life and our doctrine closely. Let me address these in reverse order:
- How do we watch our doctrine? What we can do is to look for areas where our doctrines, the things we believe, come under pressure and attack. We can then reinforce those areas and strengthen our understanding and commitment to those doctrines. For example, the Christian beliefs about the sacredness of sexuality are constantly under attack these days. What can we do to watch our doctrine closely? We can clarify what the Bible says about sexuality. We can learn how to speak persuasively about the positive aspects of commitment which marriage brings to the realm of sexuality. We can defend the historic practice of abstinence until monogamy. We can hold to this doctrine and not be shifted by attempts to train children in unhelpful or sinful ways from early ages.
- How do we watch our lifestyle? We can live the way God intended us to live. On the one hand, there is a negative aspect to this of simply eliminating sinful practices in our lives. We can do this bit by bit with the help of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, there is a positive aspect to this of trying to live by the Spirit so we manifest faith in God in every area of our lives. Maintaining a Christian lifestyle – showing repentance which reveals faith – is the more difficult of these two areas (life and doctrine) at the personal level. Doctrine primarily involves the intellect while lifestyle primarily involves the will. While doctrine involves the head, lifestyle involves the heart. Rather than allowing for the two to be separated, we can live out the truth passionately. If our doctrine is correct then we need to passionately defend and practice the beliefs which grow out of our doctrine.
In the area of doctrine, the global church does not help itself with its lack of discipline. While it seems much easier to rebuke someone over a corrupt lifestyle – and this has been done in the case of a number of Christian leaders – we find it much more difficult to deal with aberrant doctrine. What do we have to say to T.D. Jakes when he refuses to believe in the Trinity? What do we have to say to Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer when they change the Gospel into a self-help method? What do we have to say to Rob Bell when he eliminates eternal damnation from the Christian message? What do we have to say to Archbishop Rowan Williams when he fails to consistently defend the historic Christian faith? Perhaps I have just mentioned a few things or people which immediately seem unmentionable. Why do they seem unmentionable? Every example could be easily verified.
The church’s problem seems to be a lack of submission to the Bible for our doctrine and to the Holy Spirit for our lifestyle. When we can submit to God we can see the Kingdom of God advance in every location through a powerful message of faith, salvation and healing and we can see a lifestyle which honours God become the standard towards which people work.
This is where our real fight is.