A Word About Christians’ Posts Online

I am by no means perfect or even very good at representing the nature of Jesus Christ when I am posting online – let me just confess that at the very beginning of this item. And I hope to keep it short.

But let me ask something … what is it about the posts online by Christians that makes them persuasive to you and leaves a good taste in your mouth and fragrance in your nostrils (Psalm 34:8; 2 Corinthians 2:15)?

Is it the author’s seemingly perfect knowledge of scripture? His/her mastery of biblical languages and literature? Logic which, at least on the surface, appears inarguable? An unswaying confidence in her/his correctness of interpretation? A clever and witty writing style? The boldness with which the author excoriates others who don’t agree with him/her?

Or is it something else? Maybe some things like:

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ~ John 13:35

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” ~ 1 John 4:7-8

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” ~ Matthew 5:43-45

Suppose you are not a believer, and out of curiosity about Christ you are searching the ‘net and come across some posts ostensibly from His followers. What leaves the best impression with you now? About them? About Him?

I just removed one of my responses to a comment on this blog a few minutes ago. I felt that neither my response nor the comment to which it responded (which I also removed) met several key criteria in communication from Christians:

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” ~ Colossians 4:6

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Luke 14:11 / “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” ~ James 4:10 / “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” ~ Ephesians 4:31 (I don’t think Paul meant for us to get rid of it online.)

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ….” ~ 1 Peter 3:15

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” ~ James 1:5

And those quoted above, as well.

I am not proud of my response; in fact, I apologize for it whether you saw it for the brief time it was posted or not. It’s not the first time I’ve let myself get the best of me; there have been others when this blog was truly in my own eye. I have not always been faithful with my commitment to A Prayer Before Blogging.

Clearly, we all have a long journey ahead of us on the path to becoming more like Christ. Especially me.

I would like to erase my backward steps as easily as I removed those comments, so I can move forward with fellow believers. I can’t, though. Only Jesus can do that.

And it cost Him dearly.

Concealed Congregation; Revealed Reconciliation

I have been hesitant to explain why my blog no longer carries any overt references to my home congregation. It’s a long story, and although it has a satisfactory ending, it’s still difficult to tell.

And I have no interest in re-opening old wounds.

Almost eighteen months ago – possibly triggered by something fairly innocuous that I mentioned on this blog – there was a conflict at the church where I worship and work. It escalated into a confrontation between those who were unhappy with changes that had taken place over the previous few years and those who served as elders at that time. The elders agreed to meet with those who were unhappy and learned that many of their concerns were as much fear about future changes as they were about changes already made. The elders candidly addressed most of those concerns at that meeting.

But the dissatisfaction and suspicion did not go away. Almost a month later, the elders – and a couple of ministry staffers – received an e-mail from a young couple that I will call “Devon” and “Kara” because those are not their real names, nor similar to them, nor are they the names of anyone else at my church.

The e-mail was forwarded to me by one of the recipients with the simple comment, “You need to know about this.” It contained three other areas of concern (not your concerns or really even mine), but this blog was the fourth:

Keith Brenton’s Blog

I recently was provided Keith Brenton’s blog site. It is http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com. Each of you should read this blog if you have not already. This blog references Keith’s employment with our church. We are shocked and disappointed that the Elders at our church would support and allow a paid staff member to have such a blog site represent the Church at our church. On this blog site, Keith advocates instrumental music, women Deacons and Elders and questions the validity of laws against abortion and homosexual marriage. I have a very hard time supporting the salary of paid staff with ideology such as this. Keith represents Christ’s Church at our church and, in his job; he is in charge of representing our church to the rest of the world.

Quotes from the blog include:

Speaking on women’s roles – “I don’t think it’s a lack of courage that keeps me from splitting a church over this. It’s just a matter of timing.”

Speaking on abortion and homosexual marriage – “The One Where I Lose Friends” “Because I dare to ask the question: What good does it do to pass laws against abortion and homosexual marriage?”. “If you say, “It protects our marriages, our children, the unborn, and our culture,” my response is: how?”.

Right side of Blog page – Partners to Peek at references a link to “Gal328.Org” where the following is stated: “The purpose of this site is to promote gender justice in the Church of Christ by…”. “Concretely, gender justice in the Church of Christ includes opening traditionally masculine leadership roles and activities (deacon, elder, minister, worship leader, preacher, teacher, etc.) to women, and encouraging men to discover and cultivate their gifts for activities traditionally performed by women.”.

Can we as a Church support this type of representation?

[closing summary paragraph deleted]

Sincerely,
Devon and Kara

You can imagine how my heart was pounding when I read this. As I recall, I was honestly too astonished to be angry at first. I was embarrassed. Someone had misunderstood at least part of what I was trying to communicate, and as an aspiring writer, I should have been concerned with communicating as clearly as possible. And I think those initial reactions may have been essential in keeping the situation from getting completely out of control.

I went to my knees. I asked for guidance. And the response I received was a very quick and complete recollection of a conflict management training series I attended at church in Abilene a few years before. The answer was clear: “Go to him.” It’s what Jesus calls me to do, whether I have sinned against a brother and he has something against me (Matthew 5:23-24) or whether he has sinned against me (Matthew 18:15). I needed to respond to him, and I needed to do so quickly. I e-mailed back:

Dear Devon, Kara, elders and fellow staff members,

[One of the original addressees] forwarded this letter to me, and it wouldn’t be honest of me to pretend that I have not read it or would not like to respond to it.

Devon and Kara, I can only address your points regarding my blog, and would have preferred that you had come to me privately first (as Jesus advised in Matthew 18) so that we might have had the opportunity to discuss them together, before proceeding to the next step of engaging witnesses. I would have hoped that if my blog URL was given to you by someone who had a problem with it, that he or she might have shown me the same courtesy.

I have tried to be careful not to identify my blog overtly with [name of our church], nor to leave the impression that it represents our church’s views. I do use it as a free forum to express both my beliefs and doubts, and to pose questions and invite answers and dialogue. I believe that to be an essential part of the process in heeding Paul’s instruction to “Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good.”

I do take issue with some of the conclusions you have reached about it, and feel that they were made in haste.

The lines you quote are certainly disturbing, as are many quotes when taken out of context.

Speaking on women’s roles – “I don’t think it’s a lack of courage that keeps me from splitting a church over this. It’s just a matter of timing.” This quote occurs in the comments to a post at http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2006/08/worship-gifts-and-women.html, and in the entire context of the comment you can see that I am aware that teaching these and some other questions at [name of our church] would be divisive, and that I have no intention of doing so. The word “timing” refers to the perceived urgency of the issue from the point of view of the commenter to whom I was responding; even indisputable changes take time to be evaluated and accepted. Later, you will also read that some of what I wrote was conjectural and therefore something to be discussed in a blog, not necessarily to be taught.

Speaking on abortion and homosexual marriage – “The One Where I Lose Friends” “Because I dare to ask the question: What good does it do to pass laws against abortion and homosexual marriage?”. “If you say, “It protects our marriages, our children, the unborn, and our culture,” my response is: how?”. Again, in the comments of this post at http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2005/01/one-where-i-lose-friends.html, I finally answered what I hoped other commenters would realize and answer: “People of our culture are plainly puzzled as to WHY Christians oppose homosexual marriage or unlimited abortion. To them: Unlike murder, they’re not perceived as wrong. Unlike murder, they’re not perceived as causing harm. Unlike murder, they’re practically untraceable and unenforceable. So what good does it do to pass such laws? None. IF WE AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST DON’T COMMUNICATE WHY.” And in my post at http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2006/02/our-right-to-choose.html, I tried to answer the question why it’s wrong. The point is, passing a law alone is not enough.

I feel I should mention that these comments are not something that can be edited or changed once posted; only deleted or left as is. Only the posts above them are editable later. My blog has always been open to anyone who wants to make comments, and I have only removed a couple because they were abusive – and many because they were spam.

I have on occasion posted at Gal328.org, and while I do not agree with every article nor post there (in fact, its editors have posted a couple of articles with which they disagree), it is another forum to discuss the question of women’s gifts used in worship. You should understand that I see Romans 12:1-2 as a call to worship 24/7, involving more than our worship together. I read Galatians 3:28 and see a principle that there is no division by lines of race, social class, nor gender in Christ. If we believe “silent” means “silent” in the absolute sense, then women should not be allowed to sing, to read scripture congregationally with men, nor even to lead in worship among other women only, nor to teach in their homes with their husbands as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos. I don’t think any of us reads that word absolutely. What forums like this do is seek what the meaning of words like “silence” really is, with respect to the principles that are clearly expressed in scripture.

My blog links to a lot of other blogs and sites where there are posts and articles with which I disagree, and sometimes do so in their comments. Linking to another blog or site is not an unconditional approval of everything on it; only an acknowledgment that it has driven me deeper into scripture, study, prayer and dialogue with others.

Often they do so by posting provocative questions; troubling questions that force me to re-examine my positions – and often to confess my guilt outright when convicted of wrong. I try to do the same in my own blog, and that’s why it is named “Blog in My Own Eye.”

I hope this clears up some misconceptions as I saw them in your letter. I don’t have any illusion that any of us will suddenly all agree as a result, but I am obviously a proponent of dialogue and I hope we will feel free to speak to each other about the truth in love on these matters.

Thank you for your kindness in reading this response.

Your brother,

– Keith Brenton

His response was swift, well-measured and gracious, also copied to all of the original recipients. In the meantime, another instruction of Jesus had been banging at the back of my head like a skillet – Matthew 5:41: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” No one was forcing me to do anything – or even suggesting a course of action – but I still felt compelled to make an offer. I offered to remove all references to the name of my home church and to anyone whom I had mentioned by name attending there from the posts on this blog – and all links on it that might lead one to the church’s Web site. As I explained in the offer, I could not change comments after those posts – and it made the phrasing of some of the touched-up posts a little awkward, but I was certainly willing to do so. I also posted a disclaimer for those not familiar with blogging which still appears at the bottom of the “Blogs to Behold” link at the right. I didn’t wait to hear if the offer was necessary. I just set to it.

Within an hour, I was done.

The next day, I received a phone call from the brother who had written the e-mail, asking about spending a lunch hour together. We agreed to meet as soon as possible – which happened to be a day that neither of us could really afford time to eat lunch. But we did get together at the church, and had an excellent conversation. I told him how much I valued him and his wife and their children; how important they were (and still are!) to our church. He explained that there were things he would have phrased differently, in retrospect. I asked him to pray for both of us right then and there, and he did so with a heartfelt wisdom that I still find a blessing.

I don’t imagine that either of us changed the other’s way of looking at scripture or worship or very many other issues … but we did significantly change the way we see each other that day.

I don’t know who provided the links to the excerpts from my blog, nor to how many people, nor even what might have been said with regard to them. I didn’t feel it was my place to ask … and I do feel that if there was a conflict that needed to be resolved, it should be the responsibility of those who perceive it to pursue reconciliation. It makes worship difficult at times, knowing that – all these months later – there could still be folks I love and respect that have something against me, trying to worship in the same place at the same time.

I believe that the ministry of reconciliation is what God calls us to put our heads, hands and hearts to doing; not just between ourselves and Him, but also among ourselves. I believe it is possible, with the help of God, His Son, and His Son’s unifying Spirit.

And I know from experience that it is a lot easier when it takes place between people who are willing to try.

So, that’s why I don’t post the name of my church here. Not because I am ashamed of it – quite the contrary; there are lots of times I would like to share wonderful things happening in the fellowship of my church family. Not because I believe my church is somehow ashamed of me, though it’s quite possible that some are.

But because I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.

The Preacher’s Column that Kinda Wasn’t

Well, this is just ridiculous.

My preaching minister wrote the column below for our church bulletin, and I printed and mailed that bulletin to our 325 out-of-county readers and e-mailed it to most of the rest of our members who live in-county Wednesday.

There were some who were upset at the candor of it. – In spite of the fact that the same column was used very effectively, I hear, as as the jumping-off point for a discussion in the Singles Class that Wednesday night.

Church With Benefits

We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. ~ J.B. Priestley

Too many Christians have the mindset of religious consumers instead of committed disciples. They attend when they want to, and demand that the church be all they expect it to be on a Sunday morning. Yet they are not committed to it.

A blogger named Marc Backes has noticed this rising trend. Under the blog titled “The Jonah Syndrome” he penned the following thoughts on Dec. 6, 2007:

After yesterday’s interaction with an article about friends with benefits (FWB), I wanted to take a moment today to show how our culture’s attitudes towards sex also manifest themselves in our attitudes about church.

In the same way that someone seeks the “booty call” with a FWB, I believe there are millions of people attending church today who are using a local church of their choosing for their “spiritual booty call.”

Let me explain.

Essentially, the one-night stand with the FWB is intended to produce a maximum amount of immediate pleasure with little to none ongoing commitment towards the other party. In the same vein, as I experience emotional or isolational lows, I can immediately begin looking through my iPhone for my next hookup to relieve me of my crisis and the great thing about the “booty call” is that it is on demand, when I want it, and there’s no expectation that I have to respond to anyone else’s expectations of me. It is 100% on my terms.

And millions are doing the same thing with church. I attend when I want to, and only for my benefit. I am there because I am experiencing a personal, spiritual, relational, or emotional crisis, and I want God to give me my “spiritual booty call” to make me feel better. But don’t ask me to make any ongoing investment in the church. Don’t have any expectations of me as someone who came to that church. Just allow me to come in, use your church as I would a prostitute (I might even pay you for your services), and then I can move on, go back to my life and I’ll get back to you if I need you again.

The book of Hosea pretty clearly describes us as playing the role of the prostitute. It pretty clearly draws the analogy that how we tend to act sexually with one another, is also the way we tend to interact with God. And if you’ll look closely enough, you’ll see that it’s absolutely true. We’ve all seen those people who attend church every few months or so. We’ve all seen those people who want the church to be everything they want on a Sunday morning but have no intention in making an investment into the life of the church community.

We’ve seen people who want a pastor or God for that matter to be a genie of spiritual fix-all, but want to do nothing to discipline themselves to keep “stupid” to a minimum in their life. We’ve seen people who show up, want the spiritual “orgasm” so to speak, and then retreat to their life with no change until the next time they want their ecstasy.

So here’s the question to consider: Are you using your local church for a “booty call,” or are you gonna quit dating the church and marry it?

That is a question all of us need to answer.

What’s ridiculous about this, to me, is that the people who were offended by this are the very people who should not be offended by it. They’ve made their commitment to Christ and are carrying it out – to an extreme, complaining about the worldliness and explicit subject matter of the metaphor. The people who should be offended by it are the ones who refuse to commit to Christ – the ones about whom the column is written, and to whom it is written.

So, reluctantly, my preaching minister and I agreed to replace this column with one that will hopefully be less offensive to the wrong people in the printed bulletin distributed at church tomorrow morning.

Just for the record, I was the one who shared Marc Backe’s blog post with him, feeling that it had a powerful message expressed in a powerful and scriptural way. It doesn’t offend me.

It convicts me.

Folks, there’s a lot of scripture – several prophets – which speak far more explicitly than this blog post or the quotes from it in the preacher’s-column-in-the-bulletin-that-kinda-wasn’t.

Misquoted by Omission

A couple of weeks ago, the editor of a church bulletin that we receive quoted (and attributed to me) a couple of lines from an article I had written for the bulletin of the church I attend … but only a couple of lines.

Long-time or overly-thorough readers of my blog would have recognized it as a better-organized rewrite of one of my posts here.

Since it was only the first couple of lines of the paragraph, he used that partial quote to say that my position was “oppositional” to God’s word; implying that I did not value what God wanted in worship.

This brother and I disagree on many things, but the importance of what God wants in worship is not one of them.

I felt maligned, and after waiting a day or so to cool down and meditate and pray on the matter, I wrote him a private letter on plain white paper sent in a plain white envelope, which said (in part, so that no identity is disclosed herein):

Dear ________ ,

I couldn’t help but note that you quoted me in your bulletin article in the series on the contextual study of John 4:
“Some ways that you worship God are probably really different than some ways I do. A few of mine wouldn’t make sense to you or ‘speak’ to you at all; and vice-versa. My guess is that I don’t have a right to require you to adopt mine any more than you should expect me to adopt yours.”

But the quote stopped there, and did not include the next lines:
“The final arbiter on any given point would be God, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t pleasing Him be the goal? Wouldn’t it please Him for me to feed you by participating in the ways that nourish your spirit, and for you to reciprocate for my hunger? Could that be why He calls us to dine together in the first place?”

So it appears that what I wrote was “oppositional” to what God wants; pointing out only the social aspect of our corporate worship at the expense of God’s will.

If there were truly something that you have against me and/or what I have written, I would have preferred the courtesy of being approached privately before the matter went public, as Jesus advises in Matthew 18:15-20. (I hope I am following the spirit of that instruction in this letter – at 2:08 a.m., I am also trying to resolve this in my heart before worshiping with my church family later this morning.) I am a reasonable person and would have been glad to try to illuminate any misunderstanding you might have had.

What I wrote, I had hoped my church family would read in light of the golden rule applied even in our worship together, as well as Paul’s observation that “love does not insist on its own way.”

Doubtless we see many things differently, you and I, but I do try to be fair and portray both the love and righteousness of God in what I write; His justice and His mercy.

We are all creatures gifted with different tastes, you see; even in what speaks to us in worship. I frequently kneel when I pray, because it speaks powerfully to me of the servant relationship I should have with my Master and King when I worship and petition in prayer. I would not dream of requiring it for everyone, because scripture does not. However, it does often exemplify it as a natural reaction of people who – sometimes suddenly – recognize the majesty of the Almighty.

His power and sovereignty humble me.

They force me to be honest about the possibility that yet someone else may have supplied you with that partial quote and may have been less than honest with you about its context.

So I hope that, if that is the case, you will pray for that person and his/her intentions, just as I pray for you and your congregation – and I sincerely hope that you will pray for me and be forgiving if I have done, said or written something to have prompted this friction. If I have, and have become callous enough that I cannot call it to mind, I am truly sorry.

Your brother,

Keith Brenton

I don’t know if I handled the situation well or even correctly. I did pray for the fellow that night, and it gave me peace to be able to worship the next morning with my church family.

If you have read both my article and his, I just wanted you to know that his words did not escape my attention, nor did I choose to do the convenient thing and ignore them. If not, I regret having wasted a few moments of your time with this post.

I respect a zeal for God’s word and God’s house. I believe that Jesus had such, and that it consumed Him. I like to believe that I have a good measure of it, too – but that I also have a good measure of love for God’s children, too. And that they are supposed to balance each other.

I have no respect for reading into anyone’s words a meaning and agenda that are not expressly there, and portraying them as such by conveniently omitting the controverting evidence when quoting. I hope that was not the intent. I hope it was an honest mistake; a quick scan rather than a thorough reading, or a torn page, or poor wording on my part that was easily misunderstood.

But I have received no reply to my letter.

The ‘Sin’ of Conflict

Confession time. I am a long-time, certified, card-carrying conflict avoider.

It’s the way I was brought up. It’s the way I believed. It’s the result of seeing second-hand the major conflicts in my church and first-hand the minor conflicts in my family as I grew up. (My dad was an elder. I couldn’t help but overhear. My mom and sisters were, and are, strong-willed. I couldn’t help but witness.)

And while “conflict-avoider” has become an integral part of my nature, I have come to the conclusion that it is just plain wrong.

As in “sinful.”

Moses was not a conflict avoider. Nor was any good judge nor any good king nor any prophet who followed him.

Jesus was not a conflict avoider. Nor was any apostle nor any missionary who followed Him, in scripture.

Conflict is an unavoidable aspect of the human condition.

God’s word shares all kinds of ways to resolve it. Some are obviously better than others. And a few are absolutely priceless.

Some “for-instances”: Matthew 5:23-26. Matthew 18:15-35. All of John 17. Romans 12:17-19. I Corinthians 6:6-8. Philippians 4:2-9. I Peter 1:22, and 4:8 for emphasis. I Timothy 5:1-2.

Just a sampling.

None of which has anything to do with avoiding conflict. All of which deal with conflict in an imperative, urgent manner.

I know that resolving conflict can have the look of sin. It can tempt sin. It can involve sin. But, handled as advised by God, it doesn’t have to – and not dealing with conflict can lead to even worse problems.

No two people are ever going to agree on everything – you can bank on it.

But God – who is perfect harmony among three Beings as One – can help resolve conflict between and among us, if we are willing to be the instruments of His peace.

This Goes Against My Nature, But …

… I am going to post a link to a page of last week’s online bulletin of a church in my city which, at the very bottom, features a mention of the Arkansas Shepherding Conference to be hosted at my home church July 27-29:

Bulletin 6-4-06

I am going to take an opportunity like this to thank the minister there, who edits the linked bulletin, to take the time and space in his publication to let others know about the conference.

I am going to express my appreciation to him for naming my church, rather than simply referring to it as a large metro church on the westside (as he has occasionally done before) so that people who read his article will know where the conference is taking place, as well as when, and who will be speaking there.

I am going to compliment him on his zeal for the Word, his protective oversight of the flock he serves, and his utter honesty in expressing his anticipation of the event.

I am going to do so because I have come to believe that for him – and many other people of similar persuasion – to do otherwise would be to violate conscience, and that violating conscience is a serious offense before God even when the matter is not an issue to the Creator of the universe.

I will not urge him to attend, and to invite his three elders and their wives to attend, because – though it might confirm what he anticipates – for them to do so after reading his article could be construed as an act of defiance on their part, or a violation of their own consciences.

I will not try to persuade him or them that the only subject that the speakers have been asked to address is the pursuit of a more Christ-like model of shepherding.

I will not seek to argue about the value of change, or of the agents who propose it, or of the absolute necessity of ongoing change – repentance – in the life of a follower of Christ.

I will not comment about fellowship and eternal consequences, nor quote a lot of scripture that I feel is relevant. Nor will I presume what any group of elders supports. Nor will I pronounce anyone doctrinally healthy or unhealthy, since I do not hold a doctoral degree in medicine or theology.

I am simply going to post the link, with my gratitude and compliments.

I am going to do all of this.

Some day.

But not today. Because I am not yet that loving; not yet sufficiently conformed to the nature and image of Christ; not yet convinced that I am perfectly qualified to be the perfect judge of the efforts of imperfect people who are trying to serve God.

Some day – when it does not go against my nature – I will do these things.