Good Evangelicals, Bad Evangelicals

When soreheads charge that Jehovah's Witnessses are mean, they offer as proof that JW congregations tell their people what to do. As proof of that, they point out that congregations impose discipline upon members ranging from mild reproof to strong reproof to even expulsion for individuals who persistantly and purposefully deviate from core beliefs and practices. Doesn't that prove JWs are mean? Doesn't that prove they are a manmade organization of rules, not love? Doesn't that prove members are slaves to a governing body comprised of old men on a power trip?

No, it does not. The discipline now practiced by Jehovah's Witnesses was practiced in most Protestant denominations until less than 100 years ago - and was based on the same scriptures upon which we base ours. But when it became unpopular, they gave it up. As a result, the morals and lifestyle of today's evangelical church members are indistinguishable from that of the general population. That might be okay if the general population was a storehouse of virtue, but newspapers remind us daily that it's not. And scripture is clear that the Christian congregation is not supposed to be a mirror image of today's morally bankrupt society. It is supposed to be an oasis.

Such is the conclusion of Ronald Sider, author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience - Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? (2005) Mr. Sider is well respected within evangelical circles. He publishes PRISM magazine and serves as contributing editor to Christianity Today and Sojourners. He is professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy, as well as director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and some other accolades. He is not happy to reach his conclusion, and you cannot but admire the man for his frankness. One doesn't readily air one's dirty laundry in public, yet Sider does so out of moral outrage and shame for the evangelical community. He points to attitudes on sex, money, racsim, and personal self-fulfillment. Evangelicals live no differently than the rest of the world, he laments.

I vividly recall circuit overseers and their ilk pointing out that "50 years ago the difference between Jehovah's Witnesses and churchgoers in general was doctrinal, not moral." Time was when there was little difference between the two groups as regards conduct. Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

"Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, whether Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist," Sider writes. ".....In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared." He then quotes Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls consumerism:

"Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches we have a consumer mentality."

They do. And because the church promotes it, caters to it, does whatever it must to swell its ranks, its people cannot be told apart from general society. Of course, some can. I personally know ones who, like Mr Sider himself, take living by Bible standards seriously. But the evangelical label apparantly means nothing as regards lifestyle. It points to a people who can argue Trinity and hellfire till your ears fall off, but who otherwise live no differently than anyone else. The ones who actually apply Christianity are left unreinforced, in some ways even challenged, by their own church.

Doesn't it remind you of that endless list of negative qualities that people are said to have in the "last days?" Paul writes "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God..."

As Paul winds down his list, he observes that such people, far from being atheist or agnostics, are "having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."   2 Tim 3:1-5   (NIV)

What to make of Sider's book? I don't really know. A few upright evangelicals I know, such as in my own family (or are they just born-agains?) make me skeptical of the book's conclusions. Can it really be that all churches have sold out? But if I think of those evangelicals who picket our conventions, I believe every word. Such an unruly looking bunch you've never seen.

Only one other group comes to mind that has not forsaken church discipline: Mormons. Is it just coincidence that they, like Jehovah's Witnesses, carry a reputation for both honesty and family values and maintain a policy of internal discipline? Evangelicals, though, at least those on the web, deride both them and us as "cults," and rail against both for imposing rules of conduct on members. Yet discipline, even imperfectly applied (which is all you can expect of imperfect humans) has succeeded in preserving a people who can be identified by their conduct - a conduct which stands apart from the world at large.

God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.     Heb 12:7-11   (NIV)

 

More here, here, and I suppose even here

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Don't Worry, I'm in Charge and What About 911?

Many churches post out front some sappy slogan, such as “What is missing: C H _ _ C H.” The church down the street does that. A lot of them do.

A few years ago one of them read: Don’t Worry, I’m in charge….signed, God.

This stuff is embarrassing. It’s nothing more than feel-good fluff. Days later, terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Both buildings collapsed. 3000 people died.

I wondered if that silly sign was still there, so I drove past the church. It had been changed! “God Bless America!” it now said. I saw the priest in my mind’s eye hurriedly swapping letters at 3 AM, hoping no one would see him. What once seemed cutesy was now obscene.

Immediately after 911, for once, the clergy had nothing to say. Many were wondering how they could possibly explain things come Sunday. Falwell had the answer. God was mad about pagans and abortionists and feminists and gays and lesbians, but the outspoken clergyman later backed away. But as long as you maintain that God’s in charge, it does seem that you have some explaining to do.

Only Jehovah’s Witnesses had answers that day. The truth is that God is not in charge. The slogan is wrong. The patchwork of sovereign powers all pushing and shoving each other, as if in some adult version of King of the Mountain, is not God’s idea. He doesn’t bless it. It’s not his arrangement for governing earth, but is a consequence of rebellion at mankind’s beginning.

In the year 29CE, just after Jesus was baptized, he was led off into the “wilderness,” where he fasted 40 days. During that time he was temped by the Devil. The second temptation is instructive:

So he brought him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time; and the Devil said to him: “I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it. You, therefore, if you do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours.” In reply Jesus said to him: “It is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’”    Luke 4:5-8

Jesus refused the offer, but he didn’t deny the premise…that the Devil is in charge of all kingdoms, and that he can deliver it to whomever he wishes. Just like if I offer you a watch, it’s understood that the watch is mine to give. At any rate, Jesus said nothing to the contrary. So the Devil, not God, is the one in charge of this present mess of manmade governments.

How earth’s rulership got to be this way, and what are the implications, is the subject of another post….this one, for example.

I was one of many in the ministry the next day. People were mellow, easy to talk to,more open than usual to the Bible’s promise of God’s Kingdom rule, which will accomplish for earth what no human government can even dream of.    

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Tom Irregardless and Me        No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’