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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sacrifices and Trade-offs

Nathan Abdy says some churches pay insufficient attention to what’s currently being taught in the larger evangelical community. I have argued that, at least in my experience, lack of elder awareness about the big picture isn’t a problem.

But then I also happen to know some exceptionally well-studied, highly intelligent older Christian men. I hope they represent the larger trends, but I could be wrong.

If so, that’s an issue. After all, elders keep watch over both the flock and themselves. That’s their job. “Pay careful attention,” said the apostle Paul. So they should, and so should we all.

Iron Sharpens Iron

But awareness of the trends and doctrines out there in the evangelical world is only one part of the picture. Nathan would also like to see leading men from his own church background engage in ongoing dialogue with their counterparts in other churches.
“I mentioned in my previous article, by coming together we can sharpen and strengthen our doctrine. As we all study and examine the Bible, the truth in the Bible will become more clear. And as we cross denominational lines, we see if our interpretations of the Bible hold up, or if they need to be revised or even abandoned, as we continue to examine the Bible together.

Iron sharpens iron as the Proverb goes, so as we interpret, study, and discuss together not only will our fellowship become stronger, but also our doctrine. Will there be disagreement and hard arguments along the away? Of course. But that should not stop us from pursuing church unity.”
Okay. Let’s cogitate on that one a bit.

Don’t Rain on My Parade

Nobody likes to rain on a young man’s parade or dampen youthful optimism, so I’ll try to tread carefully here. But when a particular trend has been observed among the people of God for going-on two millennia, there’s a good chance the reasons for it are substantial, both practically and theologically.

In today’s world, the biggest practical reason is TIME.

Now, it’s certainly true that “as we cross denominational lines, we see if our interpretations of the Bible hold up.” Who can argue? I’ve benefited tremendously over the years from discussions with fellow believers from other church traditions who have a different understanding of the word of God. Often they inadvertently confirm that I have solid reasons to believe the things I do. Other times I learn something new. That’s all good. But the opportunities for such exchanges have been few and far between, and not for lack of effort on my part.

A Real-World Example

Years ago my family was introduced to a Baptist full-time worker who was new in town. He and I quickly became good friends and often discussed the word of God. One of the areas we disagreed about regularly was Ezekiel’s millennial temple. My new friend was confident it was an allegory. I was equally confident it wasn’t. And millennial sacrifices? You’ve got to be kidding. His Baptist upbringing wouldn’t allow him even to entertain the notion.

Over a period of almost thirty years we came back to those chapters of Ezekiel on and off. The discussions were always amicable, but my friend remained adamant in his views until just before going to be with the Lord a few years ago, when one day he happened to mention that he had “come around”. It was a great experience to see someone change his mind because the scriptures led him in that direction. I was very happy for him. But my point is that it took a huge investment of time on both our parts, and much more of it by others in our church that had also spent hours with him.

That was one guy, and one comparatively minor difference of opinion about doctrine. Single men may well have these hours. Married men generally don’t.

Divided Interests

As Nathan will surely discover shortly, once young men leave school and begin working for our living, our available time takes a major hit. Once we marry, it takes a further pounding. The apostle Paul warns of this, so it will come to most of us as no surprise: “The married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.” Once we have children, our free time is pared down even more. Then our parents age and we begin to have more time-obligations toward them. To top it off, assuming we are also interested in serving the Lord in our own local churches and communities, our availability tapers even further: that Sunday School class takes at least an hour or two to prepare for properly, the church building doesn’t clean itself, and both hospitality and witnessing are time- and labor-intensive activities.

At this point, we begin to choose how we spend our few precious free moments very carefully. This is not news to elders and Bible teachers, but I point it out because as a young man I was entirely ignorant of how busy married life as a serious Christian would be. It never occurred to me that every moment I would later spend working or teaching or preparing to teach was not only a moment I couldn’t spend with my wife or kids, and it was also a moment that I could not possibly spend serving the Lord in other ways.

Redeem the Time

We all make sacrifices and trade-offs, but it should be evident that elders and full-time workers have to make a bucketloads more of them, and that these are the very LAST people our churches can afford to see heading down the street for weekly marathon discussions with local Baptist and Pentecostal pastors about the New Perspective on Paul or subordination within the Trinity. Because every moment they spend chatting in an effort to undo centuries of denominationalism is a moment they do not spend visiting the sick, counseling that couple with marital problems, preparing for Sunday’s sermon, loving their wives and kids in a practical way, and so on.

Where you and I agree about most things spiritual, minor differences of opinion can be resolved fairly speedily because we have such a large common basis to work from. But where we have serious disagreements about the great themes of scripture, having a profitable ongoing dialogue (by which I mean one in which the scriptures are seriously consulted all along the way) often requires hundreds of hours. Elders and full-time workers spend their lives effectively triaging; prioritizing one good, profitable activity at the cost of others. At some point we have to ask ourselves where the Lord would have them devote those hours.

Time is of the essence.

A final thought or two about ecumenicalism tomorrow.

1 comment :

  1. Some really great points to consider here, well said!

    ReplyDelete