Thursday, August 09, 2012

Wisdom before piling on

Guest post by Jason Kanz

I read a lot. I follow more than a hundred blogs on a daily basis, most loosely related to theology, but some related to other topics such as weight loss or humor or weight loss and humor. Every morning, after my quiet time, I skim through about 40 articles. I do that again over my lunch hour and in the evening. All told, I probably read (i.e., skim) between 150 and 200 articles every day. Perhaps 5-10% of them I read in greater depth. I also read a book or two a week and listen to a few hours of lectures/podcasts most weeks. On the whole, I believe these resources serve for my edification. Yet, I have discovered dangers as well. I have learned that I need to not inappropriately elevate the status of someone I am reading and also to take with a grain of of salt what they share.

One of the dangers is a tendency to put writers on a pedestal whom I do not really know. I may be edified by their seemingly fine teaching, but I know nothing of their lives. Though the qualifications for an overseer mandate the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3), there are also several requirements that I could not know about without knowing these teachers personally. For example, overseers are not to be quarrelsome. They are not to be puffed up with conceit. I could not truly know these things only from reading their blog posts or books. I spend a lot of time with the elders in my church. I know in a much richer way how their lives match up with these qualifications.

A tangentially related danger is that some leaders and churches come under attack on these blogs. These publicly aired criticisms then lead to a pile on effect with people who have no knowledge of the person or situation adding fuel to the flame. Doubtless, I have participated in the criticisms. At least two fairly visible churches that I know of on the national level have, in the past year, been accused by former members of abusive practices. I honestly don't know the truth of what happened in either of these situations. What I do know is that in at least one case, a former member of a well known church was facing discipline and used his blog as a pulpit. The story was picked up by the national media and the church has come under attack as fundamentalist and abusive. From what I know of the church, they are most assuredly not fundamentalist, but that is a defense they will need to mount.

I don't know the details of what happened in these situations. I also don't know what happens in countless others around the country who do not hit the national spot light. I do know that I need to confess my tendency to jump on the bandwagon in the past. Too often, when I read these stories, I develop a critical spirit. The typical pattern that will happen is as follows: 1) I read something on a blog about some Christian leader who may have said something off base or seemingly heretical, 2) I ask my pastors what they make of said questionable behavior, 3) my pastors respond with "it is really hard to know what Accused Pastor really meant or said without talking to him", and finally 4) I feel foolish. Why do I feel foolish? Because I don't personally know the men who are being accused of some thing or another. Nor do I know the writer who brought the concern to light.

There are so many details that take place in cases of church discipline or disagreements within local bodies that people on the outside know nothing about. As I have reflected on this, I have wondered how often I have judged church leaders and pastors that I do not know based on a handful of unconfirmed facts. How often have I judged those who may have been abused by churches where I do not know the details?

I think we can learn a lot from writers outside of our local church bodies. I think teachers we will never meet this side of heaven can edify us and encourage us with their writings. But we always need to remember that we don't know them in the same way that we know the people we go to church with. It is akin to thinking you are actually close friends with everybody who follows you on Twitter or Facebook. When individuals we don't know offer criticisms of others, we need to be especially careful because we do not have all of the facts. Proverbs 18:17 says, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." In other words, when people or groups share directly or indirectly all of the wrong perpetuated upon them by others, do not rush to judgment. In fact, if you do not know the accused, it is best to stay judgment indefinitely.

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