The Reins of Authority

If you grant someone authority that they should not have, do not be surprised when they abuse that authority.

For example, the rightful place of authority in a family rests with the parents (especially the father).  If you join a commune and give another man the right to decide what is best for your family, do not be surprised when that man abuses your child or sleeps with your wife.  It is harder for the victims to defend themselves when they have already given over authority to the wrong person.  It is easier for the perpetrator to abuse his authority when he has already assumed authority that should not belong to him.  The lines have already been blurred.

The rightful place of authority in a local church rests in a plurality of elders who satisfy the requirements given in Scripture.  If a church gives all the authority to one man, do not be surprised when he misuses funds, engages in nepotism, and sleeps with someone he is supposed to be counseling.  If a church gives the authority to a board selected for their business acumen and popularity, do not be surprised when they bicker and divide the church into factions.  If a church hands over authority to the civil government, do not be surprised when the government says the church can no longer follow the mandates of Scripture.

In the public square, it is the role of government to punish wrongdoing.  Hand that authority over to the people, and you get lynch mobs and vigilantes.

Of course, this does not mean that those in places of improper authority will always abuse that authority.  Neither does it mean that those who are given authority properly will not succumb to sin and misuse their authority.  One does not cause the other, and there are other causes for the same effects.  It also does not mean that authority cannot sometimes be properly delegated to someone who would not normally wield that authority.  However, delegation of authority should be done carefully, with limited scope and well-defined boundaries.

Don’t Label Me, Bro!

Human beings are finite, limited creatures.  This is a good thing, because this is the way God created us.  Currently, humans are marred by sin, but even after God perfects and glorifies us, we will always be finite, limited human beings.  Yet some people chafe at being limited.  They want to be independent; free to be, think, and act completely on their own terms.  They don’t want anyone else defining who they are.  They don’t want to be confined by the limits of someone else’s definition.  They don’t want to be labeled.

Labels are limiting, because labels define something.  If one direction is labeled “North,” then walking in the opposite direction cannot be considered heading North.

Some people eschew labels because they don’t want to be defined as being an evangelical, a fundamentalist, a conservative, a liberal, a Calvinist, an Arminian, a charismatic, an egalitarian, or even a Christian in some cases. They assert their independence and autonomy by refusing to identify with a particular “camp.”  They might use “un-labels” like post-evangelical, post-conservative, and post-liberal to reinforce their independence.

Rather than doing away with labels, we would do better to embrace the clarity that a label can bring.  Labels aren’t perfect, because labels can only summarize; a single label can’t communicate the variety that may be encompassed within that label.  Labels can be misunderstood and misappropriated, so a label by itself is often inadequate, but a label can still serve to improve clarity.  When something is labeled, you know something about what it is and what it isn’t.

To allow yourself to be accurately labeled requires two things: understanding yourself and understanding the meaning of the label.  It is easier to avoid labels, but there is great benefit to the personal reflection and research that is required to determine which labels apply to you.  First you have to understand what a label means.  Am I a supralapsarian or an infralapsarian?  Before I can decide if I am one, the other, or neither, I first have to understand what they each mean.  Secondly, I have to decide what I believe.  Once I understand the meaning of a label, I am confronted with a decision; do I believe this or not?  This challenges me to think and clarify what I believe to be true.  It’s not enough to just say, “I believe in Jesus” or “I believe the Bible.”  If I’m serious about being a disciple of Jesus, I need to understand what things are true about Jesus and what things aren’t; I need to understand what teaching is consistent with the Word of God and what teaching isn’t.

As for me, I am a human, not an animal.
I am an adult, not a child.
I am male, not female.
I am a heterosexual, not a homosexual.
I am married, not single.
I am a monogamist, not a polygamist.
I am a monotheist, not a polytheist.
I am a Christian, not an atheist, deist, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, secular humanist, or adherent of any other religion.
I am a trinitarian, not a unitarian, modalist, Arian, etc.
I am a protestant, not a Roman Catholic.
I am an Evangelical, not a mainliner.
I am a conservative, not a progressive, liberal, or moderate.
I am a complementarian, not an egalitarian.
I am a credobaptist, not a paedobaptist.
I am a creationist, not an evolutionist.
I am an Augustinian, not a Pelegian (or semi-pelagian).
I am a Calvinist, not an Arminian.
I am a monergist, not a synergist.
I am a compatibilist, not a libertarian.
I am a Republican, not a Democrat.
I am a capitalist, not a socialist or communist.
I am an American, not a citizen of any other country.
I am an introvert, not an extrovert.
I am supportive, not dominant.
I am a thinker, not a feeler.
I am a realist, not an idealist.
I am an optimist, not a pessimist.
I am a Cardinal’s fan, not a Cub’s fan.

Some of these labels I hold to more strongly than others.  Some may even change over time.  There are labels I may drop, and labels I may pick up as I learn more about them.

What about you?  What labels help define your beliefs and the type of person you are?  What labels have you heard that you are unsure about whether they might fit you or not?

Misplaced Shame

The Church has at times been accused (and rightfully so) of shooting our wounded. The wounded being those who have stumbled or fallen in sin.  In those instances, we say to them, in effect, “We are so ashamed of you, that we cannot bear to be associated with you.  The presence of sin in your life brings shame upon us.  To spare our own shame, we need to put you down.”

 If perhaps our eyes have been opened to this wrongful tendency, we no longer take the mantle of shame upon ourselves, but we place it on them instead.  “We accept you and love you, and we will stand by you and help you through this.  But, boy, should you be ashamed of yourself!  Shame on you!”  As we stand in judgement over them, making sure they’re sufficiently contrite, we preach about a God who forgives them and accepts them exactly as they are, no matter what they’ve done.  It’s all very confusing for them, and they’re not likely to respond the way we had hoped, so after a while we put them out of their misery, shuffling them off to a farm in the country.

While these serious problems continue to plague the Church, it seems to me that it has become more prevalent these days to discard shame altogether.  “Hey, don’t worry about it,” we say.  “So you sinned; no big deal.  To be honest, we’re not even sure anymore if that’s actually even a sin.”  We’ve come a long way from the barbaric days when we’d kick someone out of the church for getting a DUI, or ship a pregnant teen off to a girl’s home.  There is no longer any shame associated with sin.  It’s practically a badge of our humanness.  Having an affair?  Go ahead and make it public knowledge; no one’s going to call you on it.  And if they do, they’re just being judgmental.  Have a bit too much to drink last night?  That’s okay, go ahead and upload those pictures to Facebook; it’d be hypocritical to act like it didn’t happen.  There is no shame in just being who you are; no reason to keep anything hidden from view.

Rather than placing shame on the community around the sinner, rather than heaping shame on the sinner themselves, and rather than throwing shame out the window, we should place the shame where it belongs: on the sin.  Sin is shameful.  We obviously should not sweep sin under the rug so we don’t have to look at it, but we shouldn’t drag it out into public view either.  Ephesians 5:12 says, “It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.” (NLT)  Those ungodly deeds are shameful, and shining a spotlight on them is shameful also.  They should be acknowledged in the proper circles, and dealt with discretely.  Shame should be removed by dealing with the sin, but not ignoring the shame, increasing the shame, or pretending it isn’t there.

The Boundary of Community: White Picket Fence or Razor Wire?

One of the topics that I think about fairly regularly is the struggle to resist the constant allure of “greener grass.”  We live in a culture that is highly mobile, presented with myriad options, and, generally speaking, the affluence to pursue those different options.  While it’s true that what’s billed as contentment may actually be complacency, I think the greater danger is confusing restlessness with the pursuit of excellence.

With this in mind, I have great appreciation for a recent 9Marks blog post that highlights the writing of Wendell Berry as “portray[ing] the beauty of a bounded life, a death to the options of Elsewhere, the embrace of a concrete place and its people.”

The author of the post explains that true community is “more than the welcome and affirmation typically communicated by the word today. To belong to a community is to be at its disposal, to have given over all you have to be used for whatever your community needs. … It is a submission of yourself—your identity, your interests, your ambitions—to the needs of those to whom you’re bound.”

This self-sacrifice for the sake of the community is a good thing, a biblical thing, especially when the community in view is the local church.  However, this absolute submission for the benefit of the community is also at the very heart of the scandal surrounding the potential cover-up of sexual abuse within churches associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Like other stories of high-control groups, the allegations are that members were expected to submit to the wishes of their leaders, ostensibly for the protection of their community.

There are those who would have you believe that calls for submission to a community, such as those expressed in the 9Marks blog above, are major red flags, indicators of abusive leaders who demand total obedience from their followers.  However, the lesson we should learn from SGM (whether the allegations are true or not), is not the avoidance of commitment to a community, but the importance of the community as a whole (not just the individuals who make up the community) laying down its self-protectiveness.  In the same way that unchecked personal ambition is incompatible with true community, a church body that is overly worried about protecting their image, their identity, their ministry, is incompatible with the true Church.

Dear Dave – Part 4

Laurance W. LongIn 1982, my grandfather responded to a letter from “Dave,” asking him to dispense some of his knowledge on monetary matters (Part 1Part 2, Part 3).  After wrapping up his discussion on life insurance, he concluded with some advice on helping children with college expenses.

Don’t buy burial insurance, for your wife, your children or yourself. Invest the money instead. Don’t buy insurance on the life of your children. They’re going to live. Gamble on it. Invest the money instead. Why share the profit with the insurance company? Don’t buy an endowment policy to cover college expenses. Invest the money instead.

Here is as good a place as any to cover the matter of sending your children to college. Don’t. Let them go on their own. And be sure they pay their own way. Does that sound cruel? It isn’t. It’s for their own good. And yours. The college expense of children is not a proper expense for parents.

Most anyone will accept a dole, whether they need it or not. Young people need the discipline, the rigor and the experience of working for what they want . . . and to be willing to pay the price. The Biblical principle is, “no work, no eat . . . no work, no get.” If a young person is to go to college he needs to know the purpose for which he is going, the conviction that he needs what he’s after, and the gumption to work for it. To have a college education handed to one on a platter is a misuse of funds. If the young person is truly purposeful in his desire to go to college and is willing to work for it he is then entitled to a little help along the way, if necessary. Just make sure that ANY assistance he gets always comes as a surprise. He should never get help if he expects it.


Dear Dave – Part 3

Laurance W. LongIn 1982, my grandfather responded to a letter from “Dave,” asking him to dispense some of his knowledge on monetary matters (Part 1, Part 2).  Here is a portion of his response dealing with living frugally in order to save for the future.

As a matter of biblical principle, sacrifice precedes blessing, always. There can be no blessing without sacrifice, on the part of you or someone else or thing. And usually, it is you who must make the sacrifice. You cannot expect to have a home in the future unless you sacrifice for it now. If you spend all your income for rent, furniture, food, clothes, recreation, automobiles, necessities and vacations, you will never buy a home.

Must you live high on the hog? Must your abode be all you can afford? Must you start out married life with complete new and expensive furniture and furnishings? If you have children they’ll ruin them. Must you eat the expensive foods? There’s no better breakfast than oatmeal, toast and tomato juice. Though some can be more tasty and expensive. Try orange juice for a change occasionally as a luxury. Restaurants are expensive luxuries. Tipping is a racket. Vacations need not be expensive. Nor recreation. When you’re trying to save money, one of the best places to buy is at garage sales, or moving sales. Be willing to live in humble circumstances, for a cause. Your reward will come. Let the world go by. I wouldn’t want to go where most of them are headed anyway. And it’s fun to live conservatively, for a cause.

For an evening snack, Grandpa would have recommended milksop (a glass of milk and a piece of bread, with the bread torn up into pieces and tossed in with the milk).

At restaurants, some in our family have been known to surreptitiously leave some additional cash on the table after Grandpa or those influenced by him (aka “Dad”) left a paltry tip.

Dear Dave – Part 2

In 1982, my grandfather responded to a letter from “Dave,” asking him to dispense some of his knowledge on monetary matters (Dear Dave – Part 1).  The following discourse on life insurance is a portion of his response.

Life insurance should be put in the same category as appendectomies and borrowing money. Really. There can come a time in a man’s life when there is nothing more important than an appendectomy. And he’d better get it, pronto. But that being true doesn’t mean you should go digging about in the same spot over and over again. Borrowing money also can be the very thing to do in some certain circumstances. But it doesn’t follow therefore that one should borrow as much and as often as possible.

An appendectomy is not intended for the man who is without ailment. It is a sick man’s solution to a very real problem. And borrowing money is not intended for all men on any occasion. It is sometimes the right solution for the man who lacks funds for an important transaction.

So insurance. The American public has been sold down the river on insurance. We’ve been led to believe that all men should have as much life insurance as they can afford . . . the more, the better. Not so. Life insurance is the poor man’s way of solving a problem. And poor men have poor ways, as do some men who are not so poor. When you buy life insurance you’re gambling on death. You’re gambling you will die before the actuarial tables say you will. And the insurance company is gambling you will die on that date (on the average). The insurance company has the best gamble.

Just as we should restrict appendectomies to absolute necessities and the borrowing of money to justifiable needs, so we should keep life insurance to a minimum. If you need an appendectomy, get it. If borrowing money is really the best solution, by proper means, borrow. If life insurance is the right answer (and sometimes it is) don’t buy the wrong kind. And don’t go hog wild. There’s a better way to invest money, Just like buying coffins . . . that’s the last thing I want to do. But there does come a time when a man must do that which is less than the best.

And remember this . . . whatever you do in the matter of life insurance should always be done in light of what you are doing in the areas of savings and investments. Each has a bearing on the other. Note that I said “savings and investments.” They are not the same. They are two different animals. Both are important. And all men (almost without exception) should have both.