jasonbwatson

November 4, 2014

What the Composer intended

The November/December issue of RELEVANT Magazine includes an essay by Michael Gungor entitled “Wrestling with Faith and Doubt.” If you read this blog regularly then you will recall that I took serious issue with Gungor back in September over comments he made about evolution and his suggestion in a Liturgist podcast that Jesus may have either been wrong or lied about Adam and Noah. I commend RELEVANT for giving Gungor the opportunity to explain himself and I commend Gungor for taking the opportunity to do so.

In his essay, he begins with the illustration of a symphony orchestra and the fact that some instruments, like the first chair violinist, may play hundreds of thousands of notes while a percussionist may play very few notes but must play them “at precisely the right time.” Gungor uses this to stress his point that “all effective groups contain both diversity and unity.” He even makes a thought provoking observation about the importance of diversity in obtaining unity, writing, “it is arguable that without diversity, there is no unity (only a much less effective uniformity).”

From here, Gungor proceeds into his observation that today “the Christendom that claims to follow Jesus is divided into tens of thousands of bickering sects and denominations, more splintered and fragmented than ever before.” In many ways this is true, and there are many issues over which Christians vehemently disagree which are not of eternal significance. There are many subjects on which the Bible is quiet, if not silent, providing only guiding principals to shape our beliefs and behaviors. When the Scripture is not explicit no one should hold dogmatically to the notion that their position is the right one; no one should claim or exert superiority over anyone else because they are convinced of their own right-ness on issues Christian liberty.

Gungor says that he thinks “a little healthy friction in a team is OK. … But friction and division are not the same thing. There is a big difference between ‘you’re not doing your job well enough!’ and ‘I’m not playing on the same team with him anymore!'” I agree with Gungor here, too. Friction can absolutely be a positive thing. I seek out differences of opinion and insights from others than I may not have ever considered. I believe that we reach the best decisions when we weigh a variety of options and possibilities in the process of deciding. I believe this, though, when there are not absolutes already provided. If we were to argue at the school where I serve that students did not need to learn geography or to take Algebra we may well be able to develop convincing arguments but it would not matter. We are an accredited school, required to ensure that students meet graduation requirements established by the state before we can grant a diploma. In other words, it matters not at all how strongly, passionately or convincingly we may be able to argue against geography or Algebra because it is not up for debate. It has already been decided for us.

Gungor transitions from his explanation on the merits of friction within a team to his argument that he has been unfairly treated, labeled and opposed since his comments on evolution and Jesus’ references to Adam and Noah. “In the last few months, I personally have been called a heretic, a blasphemer, a two-fold son of hell and a fool who is leading thousands to hell, in which I happen to have a special spot reserved for me.” His explanation of why he has been called these things is that he “like a lot of Christians” believes that God created humans by means of evolution. Gungor says that he has no problem with Christians disagreeing with him or even arguing passionately that he is wrong. His issue, he writes, is when those who disagree with him start using “words that are intended to break unity, loaded words like ‘apostate,’ ‘heretic,’ ‘false teacher,’ and so on.”

I’ll own it. I am one of those who referred to Gungor as a false teacher. Not only did I blog about it, I used his comments as the basis for an entire sermon I preached on the importance of contending for the faith, defending the inerrancy of Scripture and rejecting the subtle but deadly false teaching that can easily slip in when we open our hearts and minds to “differences of opinion.” I did not do any of that, however, because Gungor believes in evolution. I think evolution is wrong and is contrary to Scripture and I think teaching it as truth is false teaching. But I took issue with Gungor because he suggested that Jesus either was wrong or knowingly lied, and, on top of that, said he wouldn’t be “freaked out” if that were the case. The problem is, if Jesus was either wrong or knowingly lied then the entire foundation of Scripture and Christianity is demolished. If you want to read more on that, check out my blog post of September 10.

Gungor goes on to explain that the early church used words like “apostate” and “false teacher” to refer to those who preached things such as Christ never coming in the flesh, but not to refer to those who “merely had differing interpretations of Scripture.” “Even in disagreements about significant doctrinal issues such as ‘Should we follow the law anymore?’ the early Christians maintained unity,” Gungor writes. I am not sure what Bible Gungor is reading, though, because he must have somehow missed Galatians. Paul addresses those who were teaching a continued adherence to the Old Testament law is very harsh terms. There were those who were teaching that salvation required following the law, including circumcision. In Galatians 1:6 Paul calls this “a different gospel,” continuing in verse 7 with, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” In verse 8 Paul says that if anyone, even an angel from heaven, preached anything contrary to the gospel message being preached by Paul, that person should “be accursed.” So strongly does Paul feel about this, so important to is the identification and rejection of false teaching, that Paul reiterates this in verse 9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Paul reinforces throughout the letter that teaching adherence to the law is false teaching.

Gungor then reverts back to his orchestra illustration, suggesting that by dividing over things like Gungor’s statements on evolution and Jesus’ statements about Adam and Noah is akin to a situation in which “every single player in the orchestra has gone off into her own corner, playing her part to whatever tempo she deems best in the moment. And what we have as a result is a din of clamorous noise–a series of competing factions, each trying to prove they are more right about the musical score than the others.” While this is no doubt the case at times, it is not the case with the reaction of myself and others to Gungor’s position. When Gungor suggested that Jesus may have been wrong about Adam and Noah or may simply have lied because his audience believed something that was not true and it was more convenient for him to let them believe that he was the one insisting that he was “more right about the musical score than the others.” Indeed, he was creating his own score! To his original point, there is indeed a difference between saying someone in the orchestra is not playing their part right and saying you will not play with that person anymore. The reality is that Gungor’s position is the equivalent of demanding the orchestra allow him to play a different piece of music than the rest of the group is playing, to acknowledge that he has the freedom and liberty to do so and that his playing his piece while they play the score the composer wrote is both acceptable and harmonious. This is patently absurd.

Gungor ends his essay by suggesting that the ultimate goal of the Christian is found in Matthew 26–which is true. What he fails to understand is that we are neither loving God nor our neighbor when we allow false teaching to go unchallenged. To suggest that we show love to Gungor by letting him hold to–and spread–his false interpretations of Scripture is the equivalent of suggesting that it would be loving for a parent to allow a toddler to stick a fork into an electrical socket simply because the child thinks it would be fun. The parent knows the danger involved and the damage that would result, meaning that the only loving course of action is to stop the child from his intended action and to teach him, sternly if necessary, not to pursue such behavior in the future. We are not loving Michael Gungor to suggest that his beliefs on this matter are acceptable or merely a difference of interpretation on an issue of liberty. We are not loving anyone else by allowing them to be exposed to Gungor’s position without warning them that it is wrong and dangerous. I hope and pray that Michael Gungor comes to see the error of his ways. Until then, however, I will continue to call his position what it is–false teaching. Because, contrary to what Gungor thinks, that is what the Composer intended.

April 9, 2014

Do Not Grow Weary

It’s fairly common for teachers to begin to feel weary around this time of the year. The end of the school year is in sight, the weather is getting warmer, the students are ready to be done, all of the year-end activities are piling up…these are the ingredients for weariness! Christian school teachers are by no means exempt from this feeling. The Bible, however, has something to say about that. Specifically, Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (ESV). This instruction/admonition is not targeted at Christian school teachers. The thoughts I am going to share here were originally shared with the faculty and staff of a Christian school, but I trust it will be encouraging to anyone who is tempted to let weariness creep in.

This verse contains a promise – we will reap if we do not give up. But it also contains a warning – it is possible to grow weary in the work of the Lord and possibly even give up and stop our ministry if we allow weariness to overtake us. Why might we grow weary? After giving it some thought and reading a few messages and commentaries on the subject I came up with a list of several possible reasons…

Sometimes it could be caused by a lack of devotion to the Lord. If you look at Revelation 2:2-5, you see that the church at Ephesus was commended for its work, its labor and its patience – but its passion and fervor for Christ had become cold. They were doing all the right things but it was just mechanical – they were just going through the motions. It is possible for us to be doing things for the Lord but to let our motivation die.

It could be a lack of prayer – Luke 18:1 says, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” If we neglect our prayer lives we are ignoring a vital ingredient of the successful Christian life.

It could a physical matter – a lack of proper nutrition and rest. Our physical well-being is essential to effective Christian service. We are not going to be able to serve the Lord effectively if we are too tired to see clearly or if our diet is unhealthy. Many individuals in Christian service just keep giving and doing. None of us, though, are the Energizer bunny and we cannot keep “going and going and going….” Eventually we will become exhausted if we do not maintain proper diet and get enough rest.

It could be the apathy and/or idleness of others. Sometimes it seems like we’re doing more than our fair share and we grow tired of it – especially when it seems like others are not pulling their weight or are simply sitting around doing nothing.

It could be criticism. That can certainly make anyone weary. No one likes to be criticized. I find that effective servants and leaders are receptive to constructive criticism, but if all we ever hear about are the things we are doing wrong or the areas we need to work on we will surely become discouraged.

It could certainly be our own expectations. I cannot tell you how many times I have had my own idea of how something should go or how something should turn out. More often than not those are probably purely a result of my own selfishness, of wanting things done my own way. When they do not go according to my plan I might get miffed. I might be tempted to “take my ball and go home,” so to speak.

Finally – and I think this may be the biggest challenge of all – it could the lack of observable results. In almost any endeavor in life we can see how we’re doing. In sports you have the scoreboard. In painting you can see what you’ve put on the canvas. In cooking you can smell, see, touch and taste what you’ve made. You get the point. When it comes to working with people, though, there are not always evident results of our efforts, and that can be frustrating.

The reality is that we are called to sow the seed; eventually we will reap, but we do not know when. Only the Lord knows. Our task is to remain faithful to His call and to continue doing what He has asked us to do.

On that note, by the way, I do not consider it coincidental that Galatians 6:9 comes very shortly after the list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Those fruits are what we are to be living out and demonstrating in our lives; they are no small part of the good that we are to be doing. It is not enough for us to do good when things are easy, when others are also doing good to us or when we “feel like” doing good. That would, quite frankly, make us no different from most of the rest of the world. Instead, we must persevere and continue to do good always.

Persevere means “to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement; to continue steadfastly.” That does not happen by accident. It takes intentionality and persistence. We live in a day of instant gratification; we want what we want and we want it now. As a result, very few people persevere when the going really gets tough. Farming is a great example. At the risk of sounding like I am criticizing the Bible, though, I do not think farming is a perfect example because even in farming the farmer has an idea of when the harvest will come. He may not know how bountiful the harvest will be, but he is not left wondering, “Will it be this year or next year when we see results?” With people, though, you truly have no idea. The observable results may be years down the road – or they may never been seen this side of heaven.

I actually like the way The Message presents the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart…. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

That is exactly what we need to be doing. That is how we can avoid growing weary in doing good. Let us seek to develop that willingness to stick with things and to direct our energies wisely in a way that honors the Lord.

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