What do Peter and the Apostles, Patrick, Marjory Kempe, Gladys Aylward, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Scot, McKnight, Rachel Donhollander, Sheila Grégoire, Kristin Du Mez and Beth Allison Barr all have in common? I am glad you asked.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
Boldness is defined by: “willingness to take risks and act innovatively; confidence or courage.” and it is a common theme when you study the people who have had the greatest impact on the thought and life of Western history. Whether they’re legacies are good or bad, they have were either forced into situations or willingly took stands against injustice, heresy and for the truth of the Word of God. They are the ones that history ends up remembering.
We remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer because he stood up against both the growing Christian Nationalism in the German church and the Nazi regime. It cost him his life. We remember Marjorie Kempe because she preached the Gospel fervently in a time when the Catholic Church was working hard to keep women out of any type of ministry besides the cloistered life of a nun. We know Gladys Aylward because she stood up against the oppressive practice of foot binding in China. Martin Luther stood up against the oppression of the laity by the Roman Catholic Church. Mother Theresa stood up for the sick and poor in Calcutta. They are remembered for their boldness, but not just them, many others who I just do not have the website memory space to highlight.
If you talk to Christians my age, one of the laments you will hear is the lack of boldness and the lack of voices speaking prophetically among the mainstream leadership of the Church today. I concur with this assessment, not because I am a millennial, but because as a church historian and pastor I am not blind to the way that the most influential voices in Christianity in America have not only failed to push back against the crazy in our world, have even joined in with it, including the sin of Christian Nationalism or actual, very real, racism. As we have said before on the God’s Heart Podcast, it’s become culture wars all the way down, and the Gospel and the people who attend churches and live day-to-day in the real world are paying the price. Similarly, when one along their ranks is caught in the sin of adultery, pride, heresy or whatever, instead of speaking against the sin and calling on the person to resign, they close ranks and defend them. There is a lack of boldness among the popular leaders within evangelicalism and I lament that fact. As I have written many times before, it is about defending their power, not about shepherding the flock of God. Because of this, the masses that have been led astray by them are going to face a reckoning of historic proportions, like it or not, it is already happening in some parts of the nation. The little guys are now being fed to the wolves, and if you disagree with the leaders of evangelicalism, then you too will likely be fed to the wolves who will come for you via twitter direct messages.
Enter the group that will likely be remembered by the history books for pushing back against the devolution of the church into secularism and culture wars. Those who standing up for actual people in actual real life scenarios, the ones who are speaking for the little people and the victims. They have become the Churches Prophetic Voice, people that the Holy Spirit has raised up to speak truth to power as they advocate for biblical truth and spirit led wisdom.
They are Scot McKnight and his co-author Laura Barringer, Sheila Wray Gregiore of the “To Love, Honor and Vacuum” blog and Scholars Kirsten Du Mez and Beth Allison Barr. Over the next months I will be recommending all their works to you, but for the time being, go and search each and every one of their names and ministry. I would also add Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani of the Holy Post Podcast to this list. Each of these men and women have taken a stand in a specific area and worked to push back against the crazy. There are others out there, but I want to focus on this list because as they do, they are facing a backlash from people from both the right and left and it is devastating to see how they are treated on twitter and in comment sections on Facebook. Actually, it makes me angry, especially because it continues the trend of Christians acting like bullies on social media towards people whom they disagree with.
If we are Christians, why do threads like this even exist?
We have lost the ability to have winsome and loving conversations as believers where we actually exchange ideas and then let scripture decide if it is true or not. We have become a people more focused on maintaining a system than the word of God, while we couch it in the language of “biblical” when it most defiantly is not, or we make our interpretations, unchecked by church history, govern what we believe and we demand people fall in line behind us. This is what I was talking about in this article about what it looks like when we fight with each other while Jesus heals the broken and saves the lost. The mission of Jesus, which should be primary, has become secondary to our ideas and interpretations. This is not playing well, as public trust of the Church and pastors in general tanks. Ironically, we were told we would never be that popular, but one of the things that caused the early Church to grow rapidly was the fact that these unpopular Christians were nothing like the terrible rumors being spread about them. Today the rumors are just the surface of the sin of abused women, physically, emotionally and sexually, abusive husbands, abused children, failure to even acknowledge our sin and how it has affected the people around us. We are known for what we are against (the culture wars) than what we are for, and if you read Jesus, we are for a lot.
What people like McKnight and Gregoire, Du Mez and Barr are doing is speaking truth to power and they are actually doing it pretty respectfully, whether you believe it or not. But because of this they have been torn down, disinvited and canceled because they would not tow the party line on purity culture or sex abuse in the church. Instead, they have exposed the maliciousness and sinfulness behind a lot of the attitudes in our culture and asked the Church to do better, asked the Church to be like Jesus.
“But, but, but” you say “what about Matthew 18?”
First of all, lets stipulate that Matthew 18:15-20 is part of the authoritative word of God. It is the Jesus-approved method for handling conflict between one believer and another. If you read Scot McKnight’s A Church Called Tov then you have read that in most cases there was originally an attempt to go one on one or address the matter with Church Leadership, especially at Willow Creek. It was only after real action and correction for the sin was taken, when the victims were silenced internally, that they blew the whistle. If you’re brother or sister comes to you with a sin against them and you cover it up and then get the two or three who go with you to cover it and blame the victim, then what other recourse does the person have? Put others at risk by just leaving so the sinning can continue? And don’t “But evidence” me here. There is more than enough evidence in almost all the high profile allegations to prove sexual harassment and or assault in a court of law.
But we must remember that Matthew 18 is not the only verse dealing with conflict and with leadership in the Church, there is more for dealing with a wayward leader. Especially if the accusation is credible and collaborated “on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim 5:19). In a vast majority of these cases we are beyond two or three witnesses and onto two or three victims. Yet, unlike David who wept bitter tears when confronted by Nathan the Prophet, most leaders in the Church today engage in a cover up that hurts the victims and keeps them in positions of influence, when word gets out, as it always will, the church and the reputation of Jesus take another hit.
Each of the people these bold men and women are speaking up about has made their thoughts and actions on many of these matters public. They have forgotten what James 3:1-12 lays out for us as leaders. That we should be careful when we seek positions of leadership because our tongue can set a whole forest ablaze. Yet, when they surveyed people for their book “The Great Sex Rescue” Sheila Gregoire and her team discovered that the words of certain authors of certain Christian bestsellers on sex and marriage had indeed lit a forest ablaze and left a lot of women and men burning to the ground with no hope of restoration. Instead of seeking the wisdom of Christ, wisdom that comes from Heaven, they chose earthly, post-enlightenment wisdom that is neither wise or godly and has done a great deal of damage. I know, from listening to The Bare Marriage Podcast, that Sheila and her daughter Rebecca would love to talk about the better way they have long spoke of, but if something or someone is burning down a forest with their tongue, they need to be confronted. if someone is hurting image bearers of God, they need to be called to repentance as forcefully as Jesus called the Pharisees to repent in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If the Holy Spirit is meant to make us into the image of the son, that means like the son we have the duty to speak up when we see evil and oppression.
So instead of ostracizing and tearing down in mean-tweets and Facebook comments. Maybe we should take a step back and evaluate, That includes listening to the stories of the victims of abuse and not dismissing them but calling their leaders to account. Those who can should come to the aid of these amazing people, not so they too can be remembered in History, but because the Body of Christ is meant to speak truth together and live as Jesus together. This line in the sand was not drawn by anyone, the Word of God laid it out, and we should expect and even demand our leaders in the Church live as we are all biblically commanded. Right now, most of the national, celebrity leaders are disqualified from ministry not based on 1 Timothy 3 (though they are) but by their failure to live out the Kingdom values Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount. That has to be said, and if it isn’t, then we will continue this downward trajectory.
Now, before I conclude, let me answer preemptively the charged of “wokeness” that will likely come from my detractors. As Christians we should be tuned into the oppression and pain of others, as a people who follow a suffering Savior, we should be the first to be “awake” to the trials and tribulations of this world and we should do what we can to ease the pain and hardship. The early Church did this so well they fulfilled Deuteronomy 14, ensuring that no one went hungry or without shelter. They were so aware of needs in their communities that it caught the ire of Julian the Apostate in the 5th century. So the Church should be aware of the issues and hurts and pains in our communities and world and be a stop gap to mitigate the effects of evil. If we are not doing that, then we are not doing the ministry of Jesus who did the same for us on the Cross. As a Christian I am to the point where I have little patience for performative Christianity. It is time for us to start living out the Gospel as imitators of Jesus or be spit out of the mouth of God.
So let our sisters preach and let our brothers preach and let us all stand up to the darkness that has invaded the Church. We already find ourselves under the winnowing fork of God, we are already facing his judgment more than His blessing. Three generations are missing almost entirely from the Church, that is not a recipe for continuing the tradition. A remnant will remain, but it is going to be a hurting, exhausted and rejected one, pushed to the margins because we refused to listen to the voices which God empowered by His Spirit to speak through His word for the sake of His Kingdom and the people who dwell there.
So go out and buy these books, read them, and let’s work together by the Spirit to turn this ship around through Christ who has called us out of this world, not to look or be like it.
Books you should read:
Sheila Rae Gregiore: The Great Sex Rescue
Scot McKnight: A Church Called Tov
Kristin Du Mez: Jesus and John Wayne
Beth Allison Barr: The Making of Biblical Womanhood
Aimee Byrd: Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood