|The Burning of an Anabaptist by the Church of Rome|
A few years back, a friend of mine started digging around in his Bible, and he found something. This particular something flew directly in the face of everything he had been taught, and ran contrary to the position both of his denomination and of his church. But there it was. He couldn’t pretend he didn’t see it. He kept looking, and found out that he wasn’t the only person that believed this. But it still was an unpopular position among his immediate ministry circle. Some would even call it a heresy. So what is a guy supposed to do?
He talked to his pastor about the ‘something’, but was unsatisfied by the answer. The ‘something’ was so obvious; he couldn’t believe he had missed it so long. He kept looking, and kept digging. He didn’t want to make waves, so he was very select in who he spoke to regarding this ‘something’. I was one of the select few, and I disagreed with him. Sometimes loudly. We hashed the issue, and its various sub issues back and forth over the next couple of years, and the more he looked, the more convinced he became that there was ‘something’ there.
His pastor was concerned that this heresy, with it’s various implications, would get a foothold in the church and cause a great disruption. Such is the job of a shepherd. He promised his pastor that, although he would continue his own private investigations, he wouldn’t share his findings with anybody outside of the people that already knew. As far as I know, he stuck to that. His pastor recommended that he write his thoughts down. The pastoral intent , I believe, was that once it was all written down and out there for him to look at, the error in his ‘something’ would be obvious. My friend began to dutifully take notes and write.
From his continued research, he concluded that the common teaching regarding the ‘something’ was in error. To stand by what he now believed would put him at odds, at least privately, with virtually everybody he fellowshipped with, both home and abroad. My friend is an excitable guy by nature, and he began to be very excited about this. The implications of the ‘something’ began to cause him to rethink some of his other theological assumptions. That made him run even more contrary to his peers, and his long-suffering wife worried that his passion over this subject and its ancillaries would cause great division among the people they both knew and loved. One day, he looked down at his notes and realized he had the makings of a book. What’s a guy supposed to do?
He wrote his book, and self-published it after enduring the scourging of his manuscript by friends of his in the ministry from across the country. I was also part of this scourging, and bled red ink all over my paper copy before returning it to him. We continued to disagree, though I tried to be not so loud about it. I felt that eventually he would see his own error and I saw no point to make a return to his previous position any harder than it had to be. We all have goofy ideas now and then, and the less people know about them the better and easier it is to outlive them.
Unfortunately, it got ugly after that. The sentiment was while it was acceptable to have a doctrinal disagreement with your church leadership, it is open rebellion to publicize that disagreement. The sentiment was that such an open proclamation drew more attention to this issue than it deserved, and made it appear that he was disloyal to his pastor. People equated disagreement with disloyalty. I can honestly say that I don’t think he meant any of that. But now it was out there in the big bad world, and various people felt the need to confront him over it. Some esteemed ministry figures weighed in on the book. They wrote letters that were pointedly personal, and tried to make a connection between this book and some family issues that he was having. He was accused of being subversive and an enemy of the truth. Like I said, it was ugly. He spent his evenings with his stomach in knots and his wife in tears. Was the ‘something’ really that dangerous?
I watched all this from afar, and tried to learn something from it. What I had already learned was that it was very difficult to not get emotionally wrapped up in this issue. I learned that I am way more petty than I give myself credit for. I saw, revealed in myself, great chasms of immaturity. I found it difficult to disagree without being disagreeable and equally difficult to contend without being contentious. I backed away from the issue, and avoided the topic. I even told somebody that I wouldn’t discuss this topic until I could discuss it like a grown-up, and I wasn’t even sure if that would ever happen.
The end of the story was this; he pulled the book. Keep in mind that he hasn’t changed his mind about his position; he simply decided that it wasn’t worth his wife’s tears and his pastor's blood pressure to continue publicly in this position. I asked him if he had learned anything from all this, and his answer spoke volumes; “it’s better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
Let me tell you what I learned from all this. I learned that our ‘crowd’ who pride themselves on individuality and soul liberty are capable of just as much blind groupthink as anybody else. We count ourselves as being the independent crowd yet when somebody displayed independence, we turned on him. I learned that NOBODY handled this the way it should have been handled. I learned that personality is as much a factor in the ministry as truth, and those of us that claim we live by ‘faith not feelings’ get our feelings hurt surprisingly easy when somebody disagrees with us. I unfortunately, didn’t learn anything that made me happy, just things that made me very sad.
Knowing things like this, why would anybody in their right mind glory in their church or their pastor or their denomination when they could glory in the perfect Son of God and his perfect substitution death on the cross? Why put your faith in people who apparently don't even know how to handle themselves when you could put your faith in Jesus Christ who always handles everything correctly? Somebody once told me that they didn't think I could ever disappoint them. They said this despite the fact that I disappoint myself all time. The old songwriter was right when he said "The arm of flesh will fail you, you dare not trust your own". The smartest guy you know is a fleshly idiot if you catch him on the right day. The most spiritual man you know is a big bag of dirt who will not only do the unthinkable, but justify it under the right circumstances. We are as grass, and we need God's help more than we have any idea. Not just for the big things, or the big somethings; we need God's help not to devour each other with our reactions to things. Maybe that was the good that came out of all that. Maybe those of us that were willing to see it needed to be reminded what a bunch of chuckleheads we are. Maybe people like me needed to be reminded that we are still people like me.
Thank God for Jesus!
Thank God for Jesus!