Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Letter on Unbelieving Ministers

Recently, the Layman had an article on ministers currently serving in various denominations who either aren't sure they affirm the basic tenets of the Christian faith, or who outright deny such tenets but are allowed to continue their 'ministry' without church discipline or accountability. The article, which draws upon a study conducted by the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, cites various motivations behind why such ministers continue to vocationally identify themselves with Christianity without being personally Christian (paycheck, nice community, advocating for a non-supernatural, non-miraculous Christianity, etc).

The following is a Letter I wrote to the Layman in response:

The Layman’s recent article on clergy who deny basic tenets of the historic Christian faith was on my mind as I attended Easter service this past Sunday. As we recited the Apostle’s Creed, sang triumphant songs of Christ’s resurrection and victory, prayed to this living God of power, and heard passage after passage in Scripture proclaim the reality of Christ’s resurrection and why it matters, I was saddened at the thought that clergy and perhaps whole churches have abandoned this great faith in favor of the world’s unfounded skepticism. At times during the Easter service, I wondered how I would feel if I knew my pastors didn’t believe what they were preaching, or if the singers didn’t really believe what they were singing, or if those on my right and left in the pews looked upon the empty cross at the front of our sanctuary and didn’t really believe that Christ is risen. I was filled with a mixture of sadness and anger at the hopeless sham and false worship such skepticism would render any church service, and especially an Easter service.

For clergy to uncritically adopt the criticism of the world ironically betrays a lack of critical thinking ability. For clergy to keep such a perspective to themselves and not indoctrinate their congregations with it may sound noble, but it is both self-delusional and self-defeating, since it perpetuates a basic dishonesty that is at root, a corrosive issue of ethics as well as an issue of belief. For clergy to openly preach such skepticism to their people in the attempt to “wise them up” is hardly the sophisticated outlook they seem to think it is, but is instead merely a replacement of one set of faith beliefs with another more precarious set of faith beliefs, made all the more precarious by the oft-heard but delusional boast that skepticism isn’t rooted in a set of faith assumptions. There is no easier or more anti-intellectual road to take than the road of broad skepticism and cynicism. This is why monuments generally aren’t erected to celebrate the achievements of cynics; because their contributions are few.

I choose the road of belief, and am thankful to be part of a faith community that has chosen the same through the work of the Spirit to build His church. I am proud to stand with Paul in affirming the physical resurrection of Christ. And because of this, I am overjoyed that in contrast to the skeptic, my faith is not useless, the preaching I hear is not in vain, I am not a false witness, and I am not to be pitied above all men because I am not still dead in my sins. Praise to be the one true God who has made this possible, and pity to those clergy who have rejected this God and are either living a lie or openly propagating a hoax to their great shame.

Unfortunately, many ministers are all too comfortable embracing modern reinventions of historic orthodoxy that allow them to be their own kingmakers, while still being able to look themselves in the mirror and claim to be Christian. But the phenomenon described above is different. There is retreat, and then there is out and out denial. Neither are good; both are perilous. But denial entails a certain brazenness that's frankly a bit hard to fathom in terms of how it is allowed to take place openly with no denominational insistence for even the most minimal level of conformity to what has been true 'from the beginning' (1J 2.7-24; 2J 5-6). It's a reminder that too many liberal Christians genuinely believe that Christianity is almost entirely about getting people to 'do good' (whatever that means) without having to really believe the basic facts of the Christian story of creation, fall, and redemption as articulated in Scripture. Trying to make God's Kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven is great and necessary. But don't we think such a goal is just a little problematic and compromised when we're not sure there's a heaven, we're unclear about the nature of God's Kingdom, we're uncomfortable with Jesus being the King of this Kingdom, and we're questioning whether God the Father really exists? Just wondering...