Arrogance

Over the weekend, I came across an article whose subject was comments from Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, comments in which Mohler stated that it is his position that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is not truly a church due to the Southwest California Synod’s decision to elect, for the first time, an openly gay man, as bishop.

According to the article, in the podcast of his comments, he made the following statements: “It is by this act and by many prior acts distancing itself by light years from the actual faith and conviction of Martin Luther,” that the ELCA has “demonstrated itself to be neither Evangelical nor Lutheran and, as G.K. Chesterton might say, not a church either. That just leaves them in America.”

I can honestly find no other word to describe these remarks than arrogance.  What I hear in these comments is that, in order for a church to truly be a church by Mohler’s definition of such, a church must adhere to Mohler’s own doctrinal beliefs and the Southern Baptist Convention in order to be considered truly a part of the church of Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, one thing that I perceived being taught was that all other churches in my hometown were heretical and those attending these churches were going straight to hell.  To my recollection, the only interaction we had with any other congregations was restricted to church league athletics such as softball and floor hockey.  I don’t ever recall any other collaboration with other churches.

I remember receiving an arrogant attitude that what was taught by the leadership of that church was correct and proper.  Anything that disagreed in the slightest went against God and His written word.  Even the American Baptist Church in town was lumped into that group.  And who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?  I have been an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches, USA for almost 7 years now.  =0D

One thing I have discovered in my spiritual journey, much of which has occurred as a pastor: not everything taught theologically as dogmatic isn’t as dogmatic as some make it out to be.  There is much room for debate and discussion.  And because of this, there is an extreme need for humility, which is exactly what I don’t see in Mohler’s comments.

In my opinion, in Christian fundamentalism and even into Christian evangelicalism, there is an attitude that states the following: what our interpretation of the Bible is is the norm and the standard by which you will be judged Christian or heretical.

In my years of indepth study of Scripture, I have found that there is often sloppy work done in interpretation and application of Scripture.  That is why I continuously commit myself to be a biblical theologian, always seeking deeper understanding because I realize just how much I don’t know.  

And that realization causes humility.  Arrogance has no place in the family of God.

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7 thoughts on “Arrogance

  1. I was unable to perceive how PastorJim extracted from the theological opinion of Albert Mohler an evaluation of his self-image: that he is arrogant.

    It seems that what PastorJim is saying is that the author of passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, and Ephesians 5:3-5 was arrogant. There Paul says that none of those who practice immorality of any kind (fornication, adultery, homosexuality, etc.) will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

    I am thankful that forgiveness is free, and that transformation and sanctification is available and effective for all. But I do not believe that a single unrepentant person who engages in immoral activities (or who gives approval of such behavior) will be in the Messianic Empire or heaven — regardless of whether that person claims to have trusted Christ as his Savior or is a “Christian.” I accept the fact that most all of my FBC friends disagree with me on this. But I fail to understand how my theological position on what is to me the explicit, clear teaching of Scripture categorizes me as arrogant.

    “Argumentum ad hominem” is an argument made against the opponent’s person instead of against the opponent’s reasoning. And I think that is the fallacy in which PastorJim has engaged. And even though I am used to having my person, rather than my arguments, attacked, it still grieves me for their sakes (not for my sake because I am impervious to such things). So, color me arrogant, PastorJim, but argue against the points, not against the people.

    1. This blog post spoke to the character of the statement, not the individual making the statement. At the foundation of my critique of the statement made by Mohler is this: what makes a church a church and what makes a church not a church?

      Does the decision which this particular synod of the ELCA make it no longer a church? According to Mohler’s own words, that is his position. My conclusion from his own statement is that this decision is one that would cause a church to cease being a church. Mohler’s statement concerning this is based upon his own doctrinal stances and his interpretations.

      An additional question which comes to my mind is this: what makes a Christian a Christian? According to Paul’s words in Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” this is what makes a Christian a Christian.

      What has been my experience growing up in a very, very conservative Baptist church, as well as with others whom could be described as conservative theologically with whom I’ve had interaction through many years of ministry, is that there are other requirements added onto this definition of what it means to truly be saved.

      When I read Mohler’s statement, this is exactly what comes to my mind. And, for me, I find that arrogant.

      1. Does a church cease being a church if there are sinful people in it, even those who are unrepentant and continue in a lifestyle of sin? No. Yes, the sin must be dealt with properly, but even Jesus in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) spoke of both true believers and unbelievers being present together at that it would at the time of the harvest when the two would be separated. Mohler’s assertion is that the presence of this person and this decision has caused the ELCA to cease being a church. I don’t believe that position can be backed by Scripture, other than gleaning principles from this passage and that passage in order to prove a position. That is dangerous ground to tread.

      2. Pastor Jim, thank you for replying. I was directed to this post of yours by someone from Grand Rapids who said that you had been the youth pastor of her children. I went to Bible college with her, and to seminary with her husband.

        Although I of course cannot speak for Mohler, I think he might say that your reference to Romans 10:9 substantiates his argument. I’m sure we would agree that just mouthing words without any heart or mental agreement is useless. Just because someone mouths the words, “Jesus is Lord,” that does not mean they are saved. (I assume you agree with that.) And it is at that point that many of us would argue that the ELCA has demonstrated that they are merely ritualistically mouthing the words, but do not have Jesus as their Lord, their Master. Jesus rebukes those who call Him, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do the things He says. Such people, He says, do not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but instead He will tell them to depart from Him.

        So, no, on the basis of direct Biblical statements, I do not consider any unrepentant adulterer, homosexual, thief, liar, etc. to be saved. As Jesus said, if God is your spiritual Father, then you will love Him (Jesus); and if you love Him, you will keep His commands. Ergo, if someone is not keeping His commandments, he does not love Jesus, and God is not his Father: he is not saved.

        While I agree with you that if someone knowingly adds to the Biblical requirements for salvation (knowingly going beyond what the Bible says), that would indeed by arrogant. But I honestly think that Mohler believes he is not adding to it. And I would also say that if someone knowingly subtracts from the Biblical statements regarding who are saved, that would indeed be arrogant. I do not think that you believe you are subtracting from the Biblical statements (even though I think you have). So it would be as unfair of me to accuse you of arrogance as I believe it is for you to accuse Mohler of arrogance simply on the basis of his theological statement.

        So as far as Mohler’s heart motivation, I believe the counsel of 1 Cor. 4:5 is most apropos: “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts.”

      3. I am curious as to how you define or describe someone as being truly repentant. How would you do so? Is there only a certain number of times that the sin can be repeated before someone is described as unrepentant? The word translated “repentant” in English means “a change of mind.” If the person commits the sin again, would that person be considered as truly repentant since committing the sin again demonstrates that a “change of mind” truly didn’t happen? And if that is the case, aren’t all of us in some way guilty of this and therefore unrepentant sinners? I’m not sure this is what you believe, but that is the end I see.

        Regarding Mohler’s comment as being arrogant or not, that is something about which we will disagree and I’m okay with that. I find it interesting that this subject and a denomination’s stance concerning it is deemed as something that can cause someone to make the determination that a differing position on this issue rises to the level of saying that it causes a church to cease being a church. It was for many years that the Catholic Church deemed Protestant churches as not real churches for they had departed from the true church, the Catholic Church. When my Baptist forebears broke away from the Church of England in the early 1600’s, they were persecuted and deemed to not be a true church because of the beliefs and freedoms to which they vigorously held: soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom and religious freedom. It was these beliefs and how they differed from those of the established church which caused those in the established church to declare them as not real and true churches.

        It has been my experience, both personal and in general, that more theological conservative Baptists often forget their beginnings and roots and, because of it, repeat the actions of those of the established church of that time period against my Baptist forebears.

        This saddens me and causes me to comment against it when I see it.

        Yes, there are things that can legitimately be used to do what Mohler did in his statement. Denial of the deity of Christ would be an example. The danger of now using every aspect of doctrine as legitimate in making a determination such as Mohler did now begins a slide into legalism where any disagreement doctrinally would be reason for making this statement. I will not go there.

  2. Just for argument’s sake, what about someone who is unrepentantly gluttonous? Or an unrepentant gossip? How about a man who does not love his wife or a woman who does not respect her husband? Let’s be honest – gluttony and gossip are standard behaviors in many churches – just attend any gathering of people sharing thinly veiled gossip under the guise of “prayer requests” or a church potluck where people eat to the point of being sick. And good church-going couples are sadly adept at bashing their spouses publicly and they try to blow it off as “just joking”. All of the things I have mentioned are violations of scripture which makes them sin. Since God does not see any one sin as more severe than another, are we prepared to hold churches that hire overweight ministers – which could be seen by some as the result of gluttony – to the same standard? Sin is sin and it is time for the church to stop singling out one or two to rail against while allowing others to run rampant in their midst.

    1. Good point. I am one who argues that churches have no Biblical right to build walls of separation where Scripture does not say to separate over the issue. I knew a man, for example, who was kicked out of his denominational annual meeting back in the early 1900s (Church of the Brethren) because he didn’t part his hair in the middle. I once attended another church which required you in order to be a member to believe that the sons of God in Genesis 6 were fallen angels. I contend that no Christian organization has the authority to legislate beyond what Scripture says.

      The Bible does, however, tell us to separate over certain doctrines, as well as over certain behaviors. Not all sinful behaviors or false doctrines call for separation. In fact, very few do. I do believe that the kinds of sexual immoralities in discussion here are among them.

      As for flip-flops on repentance (which I used to define as “change of mind,” but now understand as being closer to “change of heart”), Luke 17 is clear that God takes us as we are at the moment: He forgives us when we truly repent even if we have already fallen back into the sin many times before, and even when He knows we’ll fall back into again.

      While all sin is sin, the Bible differentiates between lesser sins and greater sins (for example, John 19:11, “he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin”). There is the category of sin unto death, and other sins not unto death. But regardless, you are correct that we should not give people passes on any sins. Yet, how we deal with sins varies. While gluttony is a terrible, inexcusable sin, we do not “deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” But we do when that person is a fornicator or adulterer or a homosexual.

      I’ve enjoyed our discussions. I wish you well.

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