Dr Wryzek’s blog, So What’s the Point? provides a thought-provoking insight into the 21st century Church.

Dr Wryzek has studied theology and has also spent time as a pastor. One of his latest posts, ‘Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing … Really? (Part 1)’ followed the line of the Episcopalian Mockingbirds on legalism and ‘working’ for the church. The Mockingbirds posited that there were two classes of churchgoers: one which served and one that was served.

Although I wasn’t of this mindset until the last decade, I now believe that many pastors put to ‘work’ the middle and upper-middle class members of the congregation. The class ‘to be served’ is only on the receiving end of their gracious ministrations, as ordered by the pastor. It is another way — perhaps a ‘nudge’ — to get people to redistribute their wealth and time ‘for the church’. Meanwhile, they and their families get left behind.

One proponent of this perspective is a Baptist pastor, the Revd David Platt of the Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama. Dr Platt is firmly committed to overseas missions, which is laudable. However, from what I have read of his theology on other blogs, it seems that he wants wealthy Americans — I use the term advisedly — to finance his missionary ministry with large sums of money.  Hmm.

Yes, as Christians, we are all called to charity, however, as with fruits of faith, we do this in various ways. We are not cookie-cutters. Platt proposes a ‘Radical Experiment’  which involves, as one would expect, money and time, some of which should be spent in small groups — the ecclesiastical collective flavour of the month.  Small groups often involve public confession of sins which are in general no one else’s business except yours and God’s. In the small group — a pietist innovation from centuries ago — the congregant humbly confesses before the appointed leader. If you’re thinking Communist Party here, you would not be wrong; check out the late ex-Communist Bella Dodd’s story of public confession before the local Party Leader.

I can appreciate Platt’s enthusiasm for missions, but to apply emotional blackmail to faithful Christians who are no doubt are already giving to their church and various charities — free time included — is bang out of order. It is not Platt’s business to coerce people into the redistribution of their wealth, which is really what this is. The Holy Spirit and God’s grace will move Christians towards a decision which is right for them as individuals and families.

Anyway, what happens when the money runs out? People like Platt seem to think it is an endless resource when it is, in fact, as Baroness Thatcher pointed out, quite finite, especially where redistribution (socialism) is concerned.

I’m not saying that Platt is a socialist by any means, but he seems to have fallen into a trap. Jesus’s advice to the rich young man was situation-specific. The young man said that he was faithful to all the commandments. This then begged the question: what was the only thing left which was required of him? Jesus tested him; in today’s parlance: ‘Well, if you’re that good a person, then, please, join My apostles and Me. The only prerequisite is for you to sell your possessions and donate the proceeds to the poor’. In other words, Jesus called the young man out.

It is unlikely that Platt’s congregation and adherents are self-proclaimed keepers of all the Ten Commandments. I certainly am not, even though I keep praying for the grace for increasing sanctification. We are all sinners, and almost all of us would fully admit that. So, why should Platt  feel he is authorised to develop a Radical Experiment for wealth redistribution? In any case, the first word — ‘radical’ — should start ringing alarm bells.

Seriously, if one’s ministry is that compelling — to use language which Platt’s generation would understand — then, money should just come flowing in naturally. Platt shouldn’t even need to hammer on this topic. However, as it is, his move comes across as arrogant and unbiblical — even if he doesn’t intend it to be that way.

I don’t think that Platt, as well meaning as he probably is, is using actual force or cruelty, just emotional blackmail. ‘Look at how much you have and how little they have’.

The Revd Wade Burleson, also a Baptist, has a balanced appraisal of both sides of Platt’s radical idea, accompanied by helpful Bible verses — the best I’ve read yet.

However, there is another aspect to this subject, which might come as news to Platt:

There are many European states which take in many people from the developing world every year. Not just a few dozen, but tens of thousands per Western European nation annually. These migrants do not want Platt’s sort of 19th century missionary charity in their own lands, even if they happily accept it as a stopgap measure; many are looking for economic opportunity in the West.  We European taxpayers provide every assistance to those coming to our countries — at the expense of our own — believe it.

To my American readers: In all sincerity, donate money and time as you wish, but do not give up your holiday homes or bulk savings for the missions unless you can afford to and really want to. We Europeans are redistributing our ‘wealth’ — via taxes — to those arriving from former colonies as well as in tens of billions of euros (pounds, etc.) in foreign aid to their homelands. Therefore, today’s taxes address the material problems the missions once did. This is the truth. So, relax, enjoy your families and contemplate your retirement. May it be an easy and happy one in this time of economic crisis.

But, I digress.

Back to Dr Wryzek, who writes of pastors employing emotional blackmail in more malign ways (emphases mine):

Because once a pastor always a pastor, I’m disturbed (probably in more ways than one!) at the condition many churches and their leaders are in these daysBut, this is nothing new; similar leadership degradation happened to Israel and Ezekiel 34 … describes what Israel’s shepherds did that brought them under God’s judgment and how the problem was solved.

You’ll notice the very first indictment is they used material and monetary resources reserved for the flock, and from the flock, to insure their own personal security and plenty; they became exceedingly fat while the sheep became skinny. Making this number one suggests it is particularly irritating to God (putting it mildly). Next, because of this inordinate self-preoccupation they lost track of the sheep and didn’t bother to go after those who either wandered away (the Hebrew word suggests ‘scared off’) or seek after those who became lost altogether (literally ‘perishing’). Furthermore, they failed to take care of the weak (malnourished), provide healing to the sick and bind up the broken (alludes to treating wounds caused by wolves). Finally, they ruled the remaining sheep (the ones not scared off or not yet dead from neglect) with force and cruelty ...

The ‘force and cruelty’ is a bit more subtle and is very often disguised by ecclesiastical authority (the minister/laity distinction or the so-called ‘Moses’ model of ministry are examples) and tricking the sheep into thinking they exist for the sake of the shepherd instead of the other way around. Using the force of guilt to manipulate a flock into supporting dubious, self-serving programs is one quite effective example. This works by appealing to loyalty for the shepherd (“I’m your loyal pastor so help me out here”), or by using the Bible to coerce some kind of behavior, usually about giving money (“…give to this ministry and God will give back to you even more”). The sheep feel bad if they don’t respond as directed or, much worse, might even feel they’re letting God down and this is just plain cruel.

If any of the above is happening to you or the flock you’re part of at least consider confronting the leadership or find a safe haven somewhere else. Blind loyalty to a person, persons or denomination just because of some ‘past’ good old days or long-standing history isn’t going to cut it because we are in the last days and the kind of ecclesiastical disintegration we are witnessing is a precursor, and contributor, to the great apostasy I think is already beginning (2 Thess. 2:1-3).

Pray for guidance when receiving pastoral requests for time and money. Avoid feeling pressured. Focus on your families’ needs first, then those of others.  Charity begins at home.

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