There are three things in the Bible Belt that are verboten for those of us in para-church ministry to do: drink alcohol, smoke, or be a Calvinist. Not only do I do the first things I am the third as well. As a result what you read here is something of a risk, both to my employment and ministry. Lately this has gotten stuck in my craw a little more irritatingly, as such this post will be a bit more stream of conscious than usual.
Apologetics only Go so Far
A few weeks ago the Youtube algorithm threw up some dueling sermons one by R.C. Sproul called The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother and the other by John MacArthur titled Christians and Alcohol. If you have a passing acquaintance with both these men you can guess how these sermons went, which was filled with more grace, and which trotted out the same old arguments. Ultimately the weaker brother always tries to rule from ignorance. The J. Mac sermon was heavy on historical research and reasoning from it, but ironically he had no idea what he was talking about because by his own admission he has never had a drink. And this is what I am up against. I live in the city from whence Adrien Rogers lead the charge that smoking is a sin. And his people still hold sway. One of my board members recently was in the office expressing outrage that a character in one of his Pure Flix movies had a glass of wine with dinner.
I appreciate that the guys over at Doctrine and Devotion have tried to lay out good arguments for cigars. And Sproul’s sermon on drinking is just excellent. Obviously Calvinism is just inarguable. But in all of these cases the facts are ignored in favor of ignorance simply because the other side is based out of emotion. Which can range from an upsetting experience to they simply heard it when they were a kid and it became part of who they are. At this point I have found it best to quietly do what Piper did in the early days of Bethlehem when he faced opposition, “I will out live you, and I will out rejoice you.”
The Pew Controlling the Pastor’s Life
In Preaching and Preachers Martyn Lloyd Jones talks about the pew controlling the pulpit. The idea being that what is preached is dictated by the whims of a congregation and not by the text of scripture. This can happen in requiring topical sermons over exegetical series, or even the controlling of application because the clear meaning of the text is offensive to the sensibilities of the pews. But there is another dimension to this that runs from churches to para-church. And that is the controlling of the life of a minister to meet the specific standards of the weakest brother, or that brother takes his ball and goes home. Now I will grant that yes, ministers of the gospel are called to set an example, there are qualifications for elders, not everyone should want to teach because there is an extra measure of judgement. But if those texts are interpreted in the narrowest way possible by the arbitrary whims of a small majority they are actually robbed of their power. Instead of the law of God being the standard by which everything is held against, instead the fencing of the worst pharisee is given the terrible power of law.
Bryan Loritts once pointed out that our church was perfectly happy with him as the pastor so long as he kept coming to work in a used Toyota. But if he rolled up one Sunday in a Bentley…Now Bryan never did that, but his point was that suddenly there would be gossip and probably a reduction in salary because in the south there is an understanding that pastors are supposed to be poor, middle class at best*. But this extends into other parts of their lives as well. Church members should have access to church financial records, but not the pastors personal ones. The problem comes from the fact that most people who give to their church or a ministry think that somehow the money is still theirs. They want to know what the ministry did with it in paying the minister, and also how the minister spent it, and if they would approve. Or to put it another way. I have met some people who genuinely considered lowering the amount of how much they give when my wife mentioned that she had bought ground beef at a store fancier than Aldi. I had to quickly reassure them that the beef was on sale and they calmed down.
The this becomes especially vexing in para-church ministry because by our very nature we have no authority, Biblically speaking. Unfortunately that means we are subject to the whims of donors, volunteers, and board members, and often all three think they have a right to micro-manage the private lives of employees.
In general what you read here is something of a risk to me for writing. The question becomes, should I just keep my head down and stay quiet, or is this flamboyant behavior? Or worse am I rebellious and poking people in the eye? In my assessment the answer to both is no. Basically on the grounds that I am not breaking from centuries of Christian tradition in what I drink or smoke, and the developments against it are relatively new. Secondly, as regards my theology, again I have history on my side at a minimum, and the free will crowd are actually more in line with the Vicar of Satan housed in Rome than they do with Paul and Augustine. Thirdly, I am not exactly advertising, more shouting into the void. As I see it, I am more in line with Biblical Theology, the problem is I am quietly resisting the Tyranny of the Weaker Brother. And in my context the weaker brother holds the reigns of power. And if there is one thing tyrants hate, it is to be resisted, quietly or otherwise. So accept my poorly spelled and grammatically half hazarded posts because there is a real chance that being honest will get me in serious trouble one day.
*Ok all this stuff has to be caveated because obviously Joel Osteen is cruising around the Gulf of Mexico between inspirational Sunday talks in the S.S. Blessed. Yes, wolves can bilk sheep to line their Armani pockets. But if Prosperity gospel is damnable then so is poverty gospel.