The Dissenters

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you . . .”

~ Matthew 23:37

I want to talk about dissenters today. Those who disagree with and challenge the status quo.

The word “dissenter” comes from the Latin dissentire, which means to disagree.

In the 17th century, those who broke away from the established Church were called the Dissenters. There were both Catholic and Protestant Dissenters.

Throughout history, there have been two main types of dissenters. I call them . . .

1) The disgruntled dissenters. These are angry, bitter, disgruntled people with their own personal agendas. Some of them aren’t mentally stable, being delusional or egomaniacle. They live their whole lives on the fringe, not because of their wisdom or prophetic insight, but because they’re just fringe personalities. These people are easily dismissed because they usually mix their dissent with “bizzaro,” even if they happen to stumble on some things that are based in reality. Think Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory.

2) The sober-minded dissenters. These are stable people with good judgment and extraordinary prophetic insight. They have great wisdom that exceeds their peers and they are able to predict outcomes. They may not be gifted in all areas (in fact, they are usually less gifted in many areas). But when it comes to discerning roots and offering solutions, they excel. Because of this, they are often regarded as radicals.

In 1965, Under Secretary of State George Ball broke with the conventional wisdom and all the other advisers to President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ).

A lone voice, Ball said to Johnson,

“Look, you’re going to lose in Vietnam. You’re going to end up with a protracted war that will divide America. At the end of three or four or five years, you’re going to be in Vietnam with 500,000 American troops and you’re not going to accomplish your political objective.”

Ball advised Johnson to walk away from the war and let the government of South Vietnam fall.

To his credit, Johnson took Ball’s concerns seriously. Because Ball was a sober-minded person with good judgment, Johnson was up all night contemplating his ominous warning.

But in the final analysis, Johnson decided to listen to his other advisors instead.

All told, the war in Vietnam ended up destroying Johnson’s presidency, casting a dark shadow on his “great society” to the point of nullifying it in the public consciousness, and it eventually broke his own spirit.

Had Johnson listened to Ball, history would have been different. And so would his legacy.

Out of all Johnson’s advisers, only one was ready to be a “troublemaker” and challenge the conventional wisdom.

George Ball was a sober-minded dissenter.

Note that Ball gave his dissenting counsel at the risk of being laughed to scorn by his peers. And his predication, though ignored, turned out to be true.

This same narrative has played out in politics and religion for thousands of years.

There have always been sober-minded dissenters in both realms.

In the former, they were usually executed. Just ask John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul of Tarsus, John Huss, and scores of others. In the modern West, they are usually ignored.

There’s no good reason to expect this narrative to change. It seems to be written in the bloodstream of the universe.

As one philosopher rightly said, “What history teaches us more than anything is that men never learn anything from it.”

It is for this reason that sober-minded dissenters are relatively rare in our time. They aren’t willing to risk the shunning, the loneliness, or the exclusion. It’s easier to support the status quo and be part of the good ole’ boy network. The price for dissenting is just too high.

But what does the Lord think? 

We’d all be wise to remember George Ball and LBJ.

P.S. A few people will read this post and apply it to a “lay-person” (probably them) trying to urge their pastor or elder board to make a change about something in their local assembly. While this has some application of course, I don’t have this in mind nor am I speaking to such things. I rather have in mind large scale changes that affect the entire nation (politics/government) or the entire body of Christ (in the Christian world). So I wish to keep the conversation focused on those arenas.

Also, the best book that unfolds the act of God-inspired, sober-minded dissent is T. Austin-Sparks’ Prophetic Ministry. There’s nothing like it in print. I wish every Christian would read it.

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  • wesschoel

    Great article, Frank. I have been a sober-minded dissenter for a while. Its reassuring to hear someone give this condition clarity.
    Having been in “Christian leadership” for more than 30 years, I have certainly run across many dissenters. It seems there have always been a disproportionate number of disgruntled dissenters in the Christian world. But, in recent years, I am finding more and more sober-minded dissenters in our ranks. It is becoming obvious to many sober-minded Christ-followers that Christianity, as it is expressed in the modern institution, is missing the mark. in fact, some would say we are not just missing the mark, we are missing the entire target. Be that as it may, what excites me is that I am hearing so many stable people with prophetic insight declaring the need for change. What will be the end result? Reform? Revival? Revolution? Restoration? I, for one, hope we don’t experience any of these. I don’t want to re-do or re-hash what has been. I want the fullness of Christ to fill His church in such a way that there is no room for our human ways.
    I believe we are on track toward God’s greatest desire for His Church. The question is this: Can sober-minded people with prophetic insight influence the Church in such a way as to help her learn from history and not repeat her mistakes? I believe we can. The difference I see between the present and the past in regards to this shift is that the number of sober-minded dissenters is growing so rapidly. The dissenters are not led by any one person at this point. This means this movement cannot be easily be stopped using the “smite the shepherd and scatter the sheep” method. If the movement continues to gain momentum as it has for the last 20 years or so, their number may soon be so strong as to become irresistible. Its likely that a number of significant human leaders will emerge in the coming years, but I don’t see a single person becoming the leader in this movement. Perhaps, with God’s help, we are about to witness another great demarcation in human history.