Friday, January 30, 2009

Sacrificing pure doctrine?

In another forum, I recently saw it said regarding changes made in congregations by the pastor, "sometimes we have to sacrifice our pure doctine (in letter) to embrace and live it [in] spirit."

Now, I have known guys entering their first call to the parish, who have made the mistake of hastily moving liturgical furniture or forcing changes on a congregation with negative results for the church as a whole. I myself did ask my congregation to modify a celebrant's chair when I arrived, but it was because I couldn't fit my 330 lb. frame between its arms, so I don't think that is part of this category, and nobody seemed to be offended.

However, it doesn't seem to me that a pastor should avoid guiding his congregation toward change. It seems it would be inadvisable to ever "sacrifice" pure doctrine, especially in light of the many admonitions in the pastoral epistles against doing so. It seems a dangerous framework to place pure doctrine and life in the Spirit in opposition to one another. However, there is certainly something to be said for wisdom and patience when promoting change.

Live where the people live. Get to know them, their church, their culture. Understand why they have the practice they currently have. Learn the history. Go to people's homes. Meet them for coffee. Ask them questions. Show them respect. Spend time brushing up on the topics that they care deeply about. Inspire them. Show them they can trust you as a man and as a pastor. Teach them the Word. Know the difference between a practice which detracts from Jesus versus one that is just eccentric. Talk to them about what you see, "not lording it over them," but as a fellow Christian. Then, the desired changes will come by consensus rather than conflict.

It's not a sacrifice of doctrine, but a sacrifice of the arrogance and selfish pride that expects people to change just because the pastor said so, even though they haven't a clue about why he objects. If we neglect to lead our people toward purer understanding and a practice which clearly reflects pure doctrine, we have failed to do our full duty as pastors. On the other hand, if we recklessly drive them like cattle rather than carefully shepherding them, we will learn that sheep too can stampede!

"Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you, but do so with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15) It's not spirit or doctrine, it's spirit and doctrine; not mission versus purity, but a mission which prolaims purely and a purity which inspires mission. Our task as pastors is not to tilt the scales toward one or the other, but to lead and be an example to our people in fully embracing both.

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