Nurturing Dependence or Spiritual Empowerment

Nurturing Dependence or Spiritual Empowerment

This post is a reply to an inquiry from a reader.

Hedging your Flock

IFB pastors assure us that other churches don’t ‘preach it’ as they do. How they know that isn’t 100 % clear since they’re in their own pulpit Sunday mornings. But most fundies aren’t that deep. And why would IBF pastors want it otherwise?

Openly defaming other pastors and churches, reminding us that many other preachers get this wrong, telling us how tricky this passage is, or warning of the importance to be under faithful preaching, IFB pastors have many means to teach hearers to distrust their spiritual and biblical instincts. There are stories of shipwrecked faith and spiritual seduction.

The picture of a dark, scary world freshly impressed on their minds, IFB congregations are now thoroughly prepped to lean heavily on the superior wisdom of the IFB pastor. Ignore the other voices and perspectives. They are the winds and waves Peter ought to have ignored outside the boat.

Things to Note

There is some truth in this. Not all preaching is equal [and some IFB preaching is very unequal]. Christians are well advised to hear better preaching than not. Spiritual dangers do exist [including IFB sects].

If no real, spiritual dangers existed, no credible case could be made for hedging the flock. So how does one distinguish IFB pastoral efforts at manipulation from the call to grow into genuine maturity where our spiritual instincts develop as God would have them?

Nurturing Dependence

Answering this question begins with understanding why IFB pastors do what IFB pastors do.

IFB pastors may speak of ‘guarding the flock of God,’ or of their charge to ‘protect’ sheep entrusted them. And those tasks are mandated. But often, their concern is not to ‘guard’ or ‘protect’ sheep, but to guard and protect their standing in the flock that pays the pastor’s salary. Controlling and insecure pastors isolate and insulate followers from other believers as a means of job security. And the easiest way to do it is to invalidate the faith commitments of other pastors, churches and faith traditions.

Fear is extremely debilitating for believers. But that weakened condition is very empowering for IFB pastors. Why would they want it otherwise?

Nurturing Empowerment

There is a another way to approach this question, and it is this: healthy churches/pastors/faith_traditions develop parishioners’ spiritual and biblical instincts. Instead of keeping members pastor-dependent, every effort is made to liberate and empower the laity for ministry.

When believers want to develop their spiritual instincts, leaders in healthy churches do not tremble. They rejoice. This is not a thing to be avoided. Church leaders delight to assist them in this development.

To be continued…

Friday Challenge: Provide Examples!


Example is Important!

We’ve all heard that sermon! Set a good example, be a good example, etc.

Remember those picture puzzles? Two pictures are presented. They are very similar, but as you study them carefully, you begin to notice subtle differences. The ‘challenge’ was to find as many ‘differences’ as you could.

Today’s ‘challenge’ has but one picture. But in it are both Christ and the church. They are SUPPOSED to look the same. In reality, they seem to have very little in common.

Today’s challenge is to illustrate differences between Jesus and church. Examples:

Justice or No?

Jesus’ ministry manifesto proclaimed release to captives, restored sight to the blind and freed the oppressed, etc. That is, justice!

But church is often reactionary and is an obstacle to justice. Some churches opposed slavery, but others supported it. Ditto on civil rights in the 60s.

We’ve heard, ‘all [or the best thing] we can do is save souls and hope people act better. The pictures of Jesus and the church are more than a ‘little’ different … Jesus says ‘yes’ to justice. The church … well …

Here is another example of differing pictures.

Church and Kingdom

Church:  Kingdom is future and Jesus will bring it when he comes. Your concern is the build the church. So get busy!

Jesus: I will build my church, but to YOU I give the keys of the kingdom.

See the difference? Somebody gets church and kingdom backwards! Anyway, this challenge is to provide examples of the cartoon’s point.

Have fun!

On Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling

An earlier post used the title, Working Out Your Salvation with Fear and Trembling as that motif seems to capture the fundamentalist spirit. But it also raised a reader question on the subject. By the time I finished a reply, it was too late to make another post. So that reply is today’s post. The tone is somewhat different, but this is offered affectionately none the less.

Fear gets plenty of traction in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. We put the fear of the Lord [or at least fear of their fathers] into our children.

We don’t hear good old fashioned hell-fire and brimstone preaching as much now, but we know that we need to hear good old fashioned hell-fire and brimstone sermons. We need ‘remember Lot’s wife’ sermons. We need ground opening up and earthquakes swallowing people sermons. We need sermons like 500 pound stones sitting on the rafters, that make us feel the flames of hell licking the soles of our feet, and smell the stench of sulfur in our nostrils. OK maybe that’s the roast burning at home…

It’s in the Bible!

…work out your salvation with fear and trembling [Phil 2:12].

Because Phi 2:12 says what it says, some IFBs have the idea that ‘fear and trembling’ theology is well vindicated. In fact, ‘fear and trembling’ is an idiom. It is a figure of speech. We know this because the expression ‘fear and trembling’ is used several times in both the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, and the NT. In question is the meaning of the words ‘phobos’ [from which we get ‘phobia’ or ‘fear’], and tromos [trembling].

In Dt 2:25, YH says that Israel’s enemies will dread [tromos] with fear. In Dt 20:3, Israel is told, ‘do NOT fear or tremble.’ Eliphaz’ speech references dread and trembling [Job 4:14]. Ps 2:11 is interesting – worship YHWH with fear and rejoice with trembling. Clearly, that is no call to cravenness in worship. Moreover, Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel also use phobos/tromos in combination. Verdict? This is an idiom.

The NT uses the expression ‘fear and trembling’ in Mk 5:33; 1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15; Ep 6:5, and Phil 2:12. In Mk 5:33, [the woman with the bleeding ulcer] MAY [quite literally] have trembled in fear. But we can hardly say that God’s affection for us is granted in exchange for our fear and trembling [as 2Co 7:15 says, cf. Ps 2:11].

Again, there is no question that ‘fear and trembling’ is an ‘idiom.’ And that takes nothing from the language or authority of the text. What it does do is call for a little care in what meaning we invest IN those two words in each case. So context matters wherever this idiom occurs.

But What’s in a Word?

In Philippians 2:12, both ‘phobos’ and ‘tromos’ are translated correctly. However other readings are equally plausible and may be more appropriate in context of Philippians 2:12.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines phobos under two categories:

‘fear, dread, terror [followed by various examples].’
‘reverence, respect [for authority, rank, dignity].’

Friberg’s Greek Lexicon does the same. It handles ‘phobos’ …

‘in a negative sense fear, dread, alarm.’
‘in a positive sense respect, reverence, awe, … respect for those in authority’ (Ep 6.5).

‘Tromos’ [trembling] is not so clear cut, although the hint of distinction is there. For example, Friberg says:

‘trembling, shaking, as an outward sign of fear or of being seized with great awe.’

Thayer says that tromos is…

‘used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfil his duty.’

Fear and Trembling in Phi 2:12

In context of Phi 2:12, Paul writes of Christ’s humiliation [a theological term to describe his incarnation, suffering and death] and of his exaltation [a theological term to describe his resurrection, ascension, session to God’s throne, and eventual return]. In effect…

So – remember what he did … remember who he is … and have a care people … as he humbled himself, you be ready to humble YOUR selves, you esteem others of more import than yourself, you look out for their interests as well as your own. Remember that he who became a servant to suffer and die on a cross is also the one who is elevated to highest honor and glory …

That ‘reverence of person’ and respect for Jesus’ rank and dignity well suit ‘phobos’ [fear] in context of Phi 2:12. The willingness of the Son to come down, to serve, to suffer and to die fits a response of ‘great awe’ as a rendering of ‘tromos’ even if minus the ‘outward sign’ of shaking.

Despite Eph 6:5, owners didn’t expect slaves to cower before them. Even if Paul says, ‘with fear and trembling,’ he adds immediately ‘in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.’ That is the ‘heart’ of the matter.

Do we REALLY Need Multiple Meanings?

In 1Pe 3:2, the ‘respectful’ behavior expected of wives toward husbands is ‘phobos.’ Presumably, wives are not expected to cower before their men. Although one or two IFB ‘pastors’ might convince us that they DO think that way, this would be an horrid way to conceive either marriage or our relationship with God. So we really do need to honor the fact that words have multiple meaning, and to determine what fits each context best.

What’s Wrong with ‘Fear?’

Such a conception of God violates several Biblical norms. The spirit of fear is contrary to the spirit of adoption [Ro 8:15]. We do not have the spirit of timidity but of power, love and discipline [2Ti 1:7]. We have been freed from the fear of death [He 2:15]. There is no fear in love and the one who fears is not perfected in love [1Jo 4:8]. We are told do ‘not fear’ scores of times in references that run from Genesis to Revelation.

Exactly Who Is God Anyway?

Behind all this is the question of whether God is a vengeful, hateful tyrant who loves to drop the house on us if a toe goes out of line, or whether God is a loving, heavenly Father who sends his Spirit continually and strives tirelessly with people in all times and places.

Fundamentalism has little choice but to depict God as a cosmic grouch. Every time people are illuminated by the Spirit and drawn into the stream of grace that flows from the throne in Glory, another potential supporter is lost to Fundamentalism.

If we want to make a case for ‘fear and trembling,’ we should base it on Galatians 2. If Peter can be carried off by works-based theology, we must recognize that we are all apt to wander into aberrant thinking however much we deny it and may pay lip service to grace.

Glory to Christ!

Working Out Your Salvation with Fear and Trembling

Lazy Christians

It is said that nothing moves the heart of God like the prayers of his people. But then we can’t pray sincerely for what we won’t work fervently. Truth be known, it’s likely that few work harder at salvation than IFBs. Could that be because grace is in short supply?

There are church activities and school activities. Kids must be driven everywhere. There are services, events, meetings, drives, programs, committees and more. All demand time, attention and resources. IFBs have plenty to do. When they have the chance, they may perchance pray.

As the school year ends and church education programs wind down for the summer months, you may be tempted to breathe a deep sigh of relief.

That would be ill advised.

Work Harder!

VBS, summer missions across town or across state, community projects, annual church cleaning, church camp and [of course] youth conferences stand ready to spring into the place of regular programs! Now add BBQ cookouts and salad suppers, day trips, ice cream parties, church garage sales, bike rides, field trips, skit night, outdoor tournaments [volleyball, horseshoes, softball, 3-on-3 basketball, bocce ball]. And don’t forget your fund-raisers and summer outreach. Oh, and the weekend retreat!

Thank God for summer programs!

While regular activity is good on general principle; it may not make wise practice perpetually. But then, your fundie pastor knows better than you.

You can never work people too hard. If you get to relax, you may come to enjoy it. Then workers may be reluctant to restart the fall programs. Best to keep folk working all the time. People can’t be worked too hard! It can never hurt to make sins against laziness a homiletical staple.

Does God take a sabbatical during summer months? No. Neither should you. Bottom line — there is no rest for the wicked. Now get moving!

Sunday Morning Stick-Up

Sunday Morning Stick-Up Money
Racket, Merriam-Webster
Money is an integral part of life. Well … not your life perhaps. But money certainly is integral in the life of the church. Money can be a perplexing subject. You need God’s perspective on your money and what to do with it. But you’re blessed to know that we’re here to help you figure out what to do with your money.

In fact, in the Bible, Jesus spoke more about money than He did about heaven or hell. Nothing is more important than heaven or hell…unless [of course] it is money. That makes money pretty darned important. No doubt that’s why Jesus said so much about it. And since we’re so much like Jesus, we have plenty to say about it also. When you come right down to it, money is pretty darned important. Not to you, perhaps, but to God and also to us.

Yet, the average Christian is misinformed about the real purpose of money. We know this because we are so well informed about the real purpose of money. This means that we DO understand the purpose of YOUR money. Wouldn’t you agree that someone who really doesn’t know the purpose of your money can’t be trusted to do what's right with it? Doesn't it make sense that decisions concerning your money should be made by those who do? The thing for you to remember is that we better than you know what God wants done with your money.

Many feel that money is the solution to life's problems. Do life problems keep you from giving up your money? Know that clutching your money won’t fix those problems. Wealthy people have problems. OK, not economic problems perhaps, but problems. Have you considered that right now, your biggest problem may be that you simply don’t know what to do with your money? God has an easy solution to that problem.

In Principles of Stewardship the reader is presented with a plan of Biblical stewardship, but also the pitfalls of a life dedicated to the pursuit of riches. Biblical stewardship ... pitfalls of life. Biblical stewardship ... pitfalls of life. Biblical stewardship ... pitfalls of life. It's your choice.

This  spoof is based on a title, Principles of Stewardship, once sold by North Valley Publications which peddles Jack Trieber’s material — for money, of course.

Money Matters

Since one of the seven deadly sins became a national virtue, religious quacks have offered somewhat contradictory ideas about money. Biblical stewardship means you work hard to make and save money. But you may not keep it lest you turn to greed. So instead, give that money to us … er … the church. This is called ‘stewardship.’ Rest assured that plenty of plans already exist to do all kinds of good things with your money!

‘Sunday Morning Stick-Up’ is the title of David Lee’s book. If not written in polished, theological language, the Amazon description sums today’s ecclesial milieu, appearance, habits, identity, calling, failures and perhaps some successes with insight that is nothing short of prophetic. And these are exactly the kinds of things which Lee needs to address.

When Jesus Messes our Theology

In context of his summary of our church existence, two remarks struck home to this reader like thunderclaps:

  • My house shall be called a house of prayer.
  • You have made it a den of thieves.

One of the reviewers at the Amazon page states:

The author takes a theological position that Christ became the last final perfect tithe for us on the cross.

I don’t know how to argue against this. Why? For years, I have said:

  • Christ is our circumcision.
  • Christ is our Passover.
  • Christ is our Sabbath.
  • Christ is the law and prophets.
  • Christ is our High Priest.
  • Christ is our altar.
  • Christ is our sacrifice.
  • Christ is our temple.
  • Christ is the land.
  • Christ is the New Israel.
  • Christ is the promise.
  • Christ is the fulfillment.

The list could go on and on. But here I add,

  • Christ is our tithe.

Dumping the Guilt

People have sacrificed and sacrificed and sacrificed and STILL been manipulated into feeling guilty by sermons on robbing God. For them, ‘Sunday Morning Stick-Up’ may be a much needed remedy. But if this is a blessing to you, it may prove just as much a blessing to a church which seriously needs to rediscover the meaning of an economy of grace.

Jesus gave himself on the cross as a living tithe. We still give, and giving is a central norm to Christian existence. We do not tithe. And we ought not to consent to guilt trips because of that. A better church will emerge when believers oblige her to renounce her unseemly attachment to Mammon.