Thursday, January 24, 2008

sometimes I'm lazy, so here's a link to some stuff
A few notable excerpts:

Church discipline, however, is all too frequently viewed in an altogether
contrary way. Many pastors, who prove not to be truly pastoral at all, exploit
church discipline as a legitimate threat to hold over a congregation as a way to
manipulate and to control the people without any disagreement with him, however
small and legitimate disagreement may be.

Consequently, many evangelical churches are far more cultic than evangelicals are willing to admit. The origination of cults is not principally from errant doctrine but from errant behavior by charismatic leaders whose personal insecurities lead them, when their authority seems challenged even slightly (and usually legitimately), to
resort to desperate measures to maintain their grip upon their followers'
affections, if not blind allegiance and devotion.

... Only rarely have I witnessed an act of church discipline that led to
excommunication that actually followed the biblically authorized form and
pattern and was not incited by a pastor's animus springing from personal
insecurity toward a member who asked "the wrong question." Those legitimate
cases entailed actual, demonstrable, documentable cases of recalcitrant refusal
to repent for obvious sinful behavior.

Far more frequently, however, the church discipline cases that I have
witnessed entailed dismissal of godly Christians whose disagreements with the
pastor incited his personal insecurities, triggering his hostility and
revengeful and retaliatory campaign to purge the church of anyone who dared
disagree with him. ...

Seems straightforward, and is an interesting point. I'm not in a position to dispute the accuracy of the claim. I suppose for the sake of extending this observation it wouldn't surprise me if this sort of thing happened amongst pastors within denominational structures. In fact the Episcopalian church leadership has discussed disciplining priests who don't agree with them on a few things, a point I hardly think I need to refer to in any detail because if you do a tiny amount of on-line research the news virtually reaches you. This obviously doesn't mean church discipline can't be practiced.

My own view, for reasons I will not discuss as I find it too boring, is that this all reminds me of how the kingdom divided after the death of Solomon. His descendents had the opportunity to rule as servants and to rule in the way God advised but they didn't and they used the structures God provided as leverage for or against fellowship in either direction. The truth was that neither side of the divided kingdom was really the least bit godly or righteous but that has never, historically, stopped God's people from doing stupid things in the name of Yahweh or Jesus.

When the Wall Street Journal writes about church discipline you know it's an evangelical fad. :) I mean, really, that the WSJ covered this at all is sad. Never mind the questions about how biased it was. That a pastor called the cops on a little old lady who apparently objected that the pastor didn't see fit to install deacons according to the by-laws and the instruction of Scripture is sad. To claim that the woman was guilty of sinful divisiveness and discord for that is, well, even if I suppose the charge against the woman could even possibly be true (which I doubt) "church discipline" of that particular variety just shames Christ.

On the other hand, how one responds to such unfair discipline can be just as stupid. It sometimes comes to my attention that this or that case of church discipline is inequitable and the solution is in some rare cases to hit the secular world, as the case linked to above, whether because a pastor calls the cops or because someone decides to leak a story about a church issue to the press from within the community (I'm thinking here of situations like the Overlake scandal in the Puget Sound region years ago).

It's possible in the process of objecting to injustice to perpetrate injustice, even of the same kind and degree that one is objecting to. When the kingdom divided Israel forsook the house of David and in objecting to the injustice turned to idols. The kingdom of Judah also turned to idols and in both cases both kingdoms claimed to worship the living God and this was essentially nothing more than a sham. That Christ came to the entire divided people of Israel and revealed to Jew and Samaritan alike their lost state is what interests me.

The distinction between church discipline and pastoral discipline interests me because it raises the natural question of whether pastoral discipline has any meaning without church discipline. If the pastors urge the body not to ostracize someone but the body ostracizes the member anyway then in effect the body is enforcing a level of church discipline the pastors didn't endorse. Whether or not the pastors or the congregants err in that matter is obviously subject to debate based on circumstance but I have no reason to suppose it isn't possible that either the pastors or congregants may err in choosing one way or the other.

I will freely admit that I tend to identify myself as a Protestant of the evangelical stripe but it seems like church discipline is the fad of the 00's the way courtship was a fad in the 90s. Every church epoch has it's own fads. For some epochs of the Church it was Russian Orthodox people persecuting Poles (but then, really, it seems almost everyone ganged up on the poor Poles who hardly ever seemed to deserve it so far as I could tell). There were strange fads like the curse of Ham or something like that which attempted to rationalize racism on the basis of an obscure biblical text.

Well, I'm off to bed soon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

family legacy, Christians, and mediocrity

Something that strikes me about Frank's almost agnostic tone in Crazy for God is that it at some point it doesn't matter who your parents were, it does not necessarily follow that a hero of the Christian faith will raise a child who is also a hero of the faith, too. Samson's parents raised a stupid horny brute of a man and while it may be tempting for people to say they dropped the ball in raising Samson this is reading into biblical text more than can possibly be warranted. Samuel was a man of God who raised horrible sons. Saul was an insecure, insane king who turned from the Lord who somehow managed to raise a son who was a great ally to David. David was said to be a man after God's own heart and yet many of his children were foul. Solomon had wisdom like no other and yet his kids were apostates of a peculiarly pathetic kind. As Paul put it, fleshly descent from Abraham hardly meant one is a child of the promise.

While some would see this as bad reasoning it's not unbiblical and more to the point, if children choose a path of sin after parents have done the best they can it's wrong to blame the parents. This doesn't excuse sin in the parents, of course, but as the Lord told Ezekiel, He will punish sons for their own sins and fathers for their own sins. Of course if the mystery of lawlessness weren't so mysterious we wouldn't need the greater mystery of Christ to save us from it, which is to say I'm not going to pretend to know much more than what I have learned studying Scripture and the lives of others around me, to say nothing of my own life.

Now, supposing for the sake of argument, Frank Schaeffer does not live up to his father's legacy this is a modern reminder that it doesn't matter how good a Christian you may seem to be or have been, it's no insurance policy on the faith (or lack thereof) in your children. As Ecclesiastes framed the matter so starkly, there is wisdom but the wisdom literature itself has limits. Job is a corrective to the idea that the Christian faith is based on what amounts to sympathetic magic. A Christian upbringing can increase the odds but is no substitute for the work of the Spirit.

So even if I suppose that Frank is not a chip off the old block or a disgrace to his father's name. Well, in a sense my response is "So what? This is what we see in Scripture." In Christ our family is not necessarily flesh and blood but those whom Christ provides us. Ideally it's awfully nice to have it both ways and to have flesh and blood family and family in Christ all at the same time but life and death are what they are and not everyone has the beenfit of Christian biological family.

Obviously Christians can and should raise their children to love the Lord but one doesn't even have to be a parent to observe that this an act of faith, not of certainty. I can't help but wonder since I am not a parent where the line is between really trusting the Lord that your kids will follow Christ and a form of religious inculcation that is essentially Pavlovian. Raising your kids to believe in Scripture, love Jesus, and avoid sin doesn't mean they won't end up becoming atheists or homosexuals or drug addicts. The world is just too mysterious and God's ways too mysterious. Raise up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it but sapiential sayings have their limit. Wisdom from the Lord is not necessarily the same as a promise from the Lord. Job and his comforters discovered this, as did the Preacher. For Francis Schaeffer's legacy, not everyone who imbibed worldview discussions came out the end of it a Christan and Francis Schaeffer was always honest enough to admit that this was a real risk in that approach, a risk that some others may not have taken to heart.

Something that has been on my mind lately is to compare Crazy for God to Addicted to Mediocrity. I'm not going to beat around the bush, AtM was essentially an earnest mediocrity indicting mediocrity. It's not as though there is no place for that but I wonder if at some level the problem is in indicting mediocrity itself. How do we define mediocrity? Every Lutheran named Bach is a mediocrity in the wake of Johann Sebastian, after all. Is this why you could search high and low across Germany and possibly not find a single person named Bach who is a professional musician?

What did Frank actually accomplish writing Addicted to Mediocrity? I don't really know. Did converting to Orthodoxy change anything? Somehow I don't think that's likely. For that matter is the charge that mediocrity is bad entirely valid? If we are to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought what if some of us are mediocrities? Wouldn't it be fairer to have a realistic view of ourselves than to suppose we are more than mediocrities? If Frank thought evangelicals were not living up to the legacy of his father what was he doing? It might well have been the pot calling the kettle black. It might also have been the nose deciding it was not a part of the body because it was not an ear. Tough to say, but Frank's earlier book left me thinking that the objections against mediocrity were too passionate and repetitive to leave me thinking Frank had the actual answer.

So in a way Crazy for God is a relief to read. If Frank has come through the other side of Addicted to Mediocrity able to admit he has had at best a middling career is that bad? Since I haven't paid attention to anything he's done since Addicted to Mediocrity up until now I don't feel particularly bad saying that if Frank had done more I might have paid any attention. Now, to be fair, I have spent a lot more time watching anime, collecting Miyazaki films, importing chamber music for classical guitar from Europe, and collecting old blues recordings to pay much attention to Frank. At the risk of belittling him by taking his earlier argument seriously, I was too busy finding what was excellent to be distracted by a mediocrity (which is not to say I'm not a mediocrity myself, I'm probably less than that). But perhaps in that respect I did Frank Schaeffer the favor of ignoring him in favor of all the great music and literature I discovered that he had nothing to do with.

thoughts on Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, chapter 15

This chapter, particularly, interests me because it encapsulates one of the most important themes that comes across in the book, that those we revere as saints were just crazy, fallible people corrupted by sin. This does not, however, lessen their humanity or their capacity to influence people for good.

I had come across people complaining that this b0oks is poorly written and slags Francis Schaeffer. Since Francis Schaeffer is dead at any rate anyway I don't see how he would feel he has suffered any indignity through his son writing a memoir, even a memoir that mentions that his father was hot-tempered and abusive to his wife, or that his mother was often a self-righteous grandstanding woman and that the whole family was apt to judge people for not having the right doctrinal beliefs.

This can sound suspiciously familiar to someone who grew up in a background like that. What I find striking that is not borne out in Schaeffer's memoir yet (but suspect I will) is that children who grow up in such a setting tend to carry on that sort of legacy of a spiritual superiority complex that masks a virtually innate uncertainty about the reality of Christ. Doctrinal and political purity are necessary to ensure that one's faith is actually real, or one must search for that church which is the most real and apostolic and authentic and authoritative because the reality that there is no tangible evidence apart from the witness of the Spirit in one's own life is too disturbing a foundation for the reality of Christ. Not to say that there is no evidence whatsoever but a professor who was also a minister once explained to me that Christians can be tempted to explain faith in Christ on the basis of statistical rather than convergent probability. It is by faith we even accept that God created the worlds.

Schaeffer's most interesting comment is also patently obvious, every human has a dark side. In our desperation to have a hero, someone to look up to, we settle on amazingly fallible people, people who have grave and even terrible flaws. And we look to these people to be the voice of God to us within this life.

That we make the most important decisions of our lives with a paucity of information, decisions like where to go to college, who to marry, what our beliefs about the universe itself will be, that people hold up a man like Francis Schaeffer who had an honorary doctorate in theology that in itself was basically not worth very much as a hero of the Christian faith can't be avoided. That decisions that make the least sense rationally can work out the best could be chalked up to intuition, and some statistical studies have suggested that simple guesswork can be best--it may be that the brain can handle complex decisions more readily through hunches and guesswork than conscious thought because the brain cannot handle all of the mess of information in sequential order but can respond to, as it were, the gestalt presented.

What is most intriguing is how Schaeffer writes about the mysteriy of human need, how religious leaders must become in the mind of their devotees more than the sum of their fallible and even awful parts. What he writes is that this is not a sign of hypocrisy in the person who is made a saint, it is a sign of the sheer desperation of those who appointed them saints.

I am not at a point where I find much value in treating Christians of any kind as heroes to be looked up to. It simply isn't necessary in the sense of, say, a child looking up to his parents or wanting to be like Superman. That's not necessarily wrong to do and Scripture says in the Psalms that it is good to make the godly men and women of the land your heroes. But that is not the same as trusting in Christ himself. If we cannot love our neighbor who we have seen we most certainly cannot love Christ, whom we have not seen. If we cannot see Christ in our neighbor then will we see Christ? If we appoint fallible people as saints whether in our own hearts or at the acceptance of those who have come before us it is hardly a bad thing, but it does not benefit it us in any way to forget that the saints are no better than us. Their example is not in who they really were but in that they sought Christ.

I still respect the influence and legacy of Francis Schaeffer not because I would have wanted to meet the man (I basically wouldn't and would consider meeting him unnecessary); and not even because I agree with that much of what he had to say any more; but because of his eagerness to follow the Lord and to continue doing so. I think Frank Schaeffer's book is a necessary antidote to the kind of veneration of saints that Protestants pretend they don't do.

I don't think paying respects to the influence of godly men and women is in any way problematic but I don't think any saint's reputation suffers by pointing out that they dragged themselves through the mud. It is Christ's goodness imparted to the saint that makes them a saint, not the frequently corrupted and sinful desires of the saint himself. Even Scripture itself reveals that it is possible to become important in God's people simply for killing the right person at the right time but most people these days would not suppose you attain memorable status in the people of God these days just by killing the right uncircumcised Phillistine. A mudering philanderer who covers his tracks and brings disaster on his people be disobeying God is, nevertheless, described as a man after God's own heart.

So far Crazy for God is a bit sloppy but I don't expect precision in a memoir from the son of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer's own books were not really all that precise in the way that someone like Bonhoeffer or Stott or Augustine were precise, all in drastically different ways. What has interested me in the book is the fracas about how Frank, as described by reviewers, feels culpable for turning his father toward the Christian Right and having a disproportionally large contribution to the Christian rightwing evangelicalism he now detests. I can't help but wonder if a lot of clucking done about Frank Schaeffer's book comes from people who don't think he's theologically or politically conservative in the right ways. That Frank thinks the current war is stupid and illegal probably won't be welcome to any soldiers who support the cause but then this underlines my observation that saints (and I do not suppose Frank Schaeffer isn't one just because people have claimed he has disgraced his family legacy) are severely messed up people.