Kim and I live just over a mile from Oklahoma Christian University. We have several staff members who graduated from this fine university. We are eager to provide internships to their ministry-minded students. We enjoy the friendship and leadership of many of their graduates who serve in various capacities within our church.
You may be surprised to know this university is affiliated with the Church of Christ. If you are not, nor have ever been a member of a Church of Christ church, you may not know that one of their key doctrinal principles is no musical instruments in the church; their worship is led by voices only. And if you’ve never heard a Church of Christ congregation at worship, I’d suggest you visit one soon. These people can sing! Those who have grown up in this tradition have learned how to harmonize and sing in ways you’ve not experienced unless you’ve been there.
It is my privilege to consider their president a friend. He’s an incredible leader and an inspiring man of God. One of their deans is a very close friend and confidant. Just think what I would be missing if I had resisted any contact due to their stance on worship without instruments. Just imagine what I would be missing had they kept me at arm’s length because my church uses musical instruments in worship.
This week, a prominent writer and blogger interviewed Dr. Eugene Peterson. You probably know him or have heard of him because he is the writer of a paraphrase of the Bible known as The Message. The interview created quite a stir on social media and in conservative evangelical circles because Peterson made comments on two subjects that incited heated responses.
First, he said “megachurches are not churches.” His basis for this statement, in his own words, was, “I don’t think you can be a pastor with just a bunch of anonymous people out there. In the megachurch, well--there’s no relationship with anybody.” His second--and more controversial--comments were related to his view on same-sex relationships and marriage.
In a forthcoming post, I will share my personal thoughts on those two issues. But for now, I will come back to a theme shared in a previous blog. It was no surprise that Peterson's book publisher, the publisher of The Message and most of his books, began to consider pulling his books from their shelves. While I was embarrassed, I was not surprised.
Why embarrassed? Because the world saw us acting like the rest of the world. Believe what we believe, the way we believe it, and we will not only read your books, we will gladly sell and profit from them. But disagree with us, and we will erase any memory of your presence on our shelves.
So, I ask again: can we not value the writings of a brilliant theological mind if he has personal views (of which he has not written nor made the focus of any of his public writings) that differ from mine? Are his many books--books that have been like a deep well full of cold, refreshing water to me and millions of others--now considered to be of no value?
Must I agree with someone’s personal views on issues before I consider hearing his or her thoughts on other things?
My Church of Christ friends had every reason to not meet with me. They had deep theological reasons to suggest their students steer clear of Crossings. They had more reasons to ignore me rather than invite me to lunch with the president or ask me to speak in chapel. And while I can assure you it is not a sore spot with me, I have not been asked to speak in chapel at any of our Church of God educational institutions in quite a while, and I’ve only been asked to speak one time at the university from which I graduated. Oklahoma Christian University not only invited me to speak to their student body, but made clear they’d like for me to come back again and share with their students.
The point I make has nothing to do with being invited to speak in chapel at our Church of God universities. Oklahoma Christian is in my backyard. It is a three-minute drive from my house. My alma mater is a fourteen-hour drive to Indiana. And our local university here in Oklahoma City has students who listen to me speak each week. They’ve invited me many times and schedules have not made it possible. This is not the point of this blog entry.
Maybe I’m weird, maybe I’m just spiritually shallow, but I cannot find a biblical example that allows me to have no contact with Christ followers who may see things differently than I do. I cannot find a reason to now disregard the writings of Eugene Peterson, to clear my shelves of every book he has written, and never again quote The Message during a weekend talk to my congregation.
I have great respect for those on both sides of the issues. My greatest heartbreak this week was a world watching us that already sees us as narrow, hypocritical, judgmental, and unkind to each other and to those among us who see things differently than we do. If I was not a Christian, I'd be very intrigued by how those Christians treat each other and assume they'd treat me even worse.
As I said in a previous blog post, I wish these things could be discussed in the privacy of our church and Christian “holy huddles.” Those of us on the “inside” of Christianity fully understand the nature of our disagreements and discussions. But having these debates in front of the world continues to close doors that could have once opened their lives to the name above all names, Jesus.
These thoughts reflect my reason for leading a Christ-centered church. These thoughts reflect my passion to be known as a follower of Christ--not Jesus the Pharisee, but Jesus the savior of the world.