conspiracy theories abound!

Another conspiracy theory to whet your appetites! Listen on all you evil pastors and stupid lay people!:
Church officials assume that lay people who are illiterate in scriptural matters will continue (as long as they reamin in the church at all) to be placid, and that they will be satisfied with the often shallow interpretations of preselected scriptures they hear each Sunday… I sense that somewhere, hidden perhaps in the subconscious of church officials, is a fear that lay persons who are truly knowledgeable about the scripture and the history of their tradition will be less dependent upon the ordained leadership of the church. A laity that is well-informed might challenge entrenched bureaucratic priorities and denominational dogma” (Jack Good, The Dishonest Church p. 33).

Okay, I’m for critique, as some of you are painfully aware. And I am aware that with power comes abuse. And I’m aware that with ignorance comes bondage. I am fully aware of that. But can I put a couple of cents in here:

1. Of all the pastors I know (and I know many), almost all of them are genuine servants of the church and not even “subconsciously” hungry for power. They truly love and desire to serve their congregations. Even if they were subconsciously power-hungry, who is going to accuse them of that? And how, if they were so accused, do they defend themselves against such an accusation? “No, I don’t believe I’m power-hungry!” “Ah-hah! But you are, you just don’t realize it!”
2. I know many lay people too. Most of the ones of my congregation, as well as many others in many other congregations, are genuine seekers after truth. I don’t consider them, nor would they consider themselves, spoon-fed.

I’m not finished the book yet. But when I got to the above paragraph in his book, I again felt like I was in the middle of The DaVinci Code all over again!

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  • Fred

    Of all the pastors I know and have known (and I know a lot), I would have to say that their preference would be that their “lay people” would know MORE rather than LESS of the Bible. I would even say that the pastors I know are frustrated by their church-people’s ignorance of the Bible.

  • Interesting Fred. Come to think of it, I think you’re right!

  • Fred

    But in contrast, there are many pastors who are power-hungry. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with a pastor who planted a church almost a decade ago somewhere up in Canada. After two stints in subordinate roles in church and quite a bit more in sales, he remarked that churches can operate in funny ways compared to business.

    In the business world, you can work with people that you really don’t like as long as they produce because the bottom-line is what matters. In churches, however, a senior pastor may get rid of someone who is producing because it threatens his own position.

    It depends on the person in charge and his own mission (whether or not he recognizes it consciously). For some, it is the “mission of the church,” whether they consider that to be helping people, reaching people for Christ, showing love, or even more mercenary goals like building a bigger building or increasing bodies in pews. For some, however, it’s about consolidating their own position as “PASTOR” and all these other goals are simply a means to that end.

    There are some pastors who are emotionally unhealthy because they have virtually abandoned family, children, personal health, and even relationship with God for “the mission.” They can no longer find identity as a child of God, spouse, or parent, so their identity is found as pastor. God help the person who challenges their authority because that person is challenging the pastor’s core identity and he’ll do everything he can to protect it.

  • Fred: well said, and I agree, and I have met and even know such people. In fact, I’m sure, as a pastor, that I have fallen under one or more of those categories at some time or another. All our feet are swift to shed blood, I believe. I guess I react when someone makes a sweeping statement like, “Church officials assume…” Not all. Some. Maybe many.

  • sandy

    As no one considers themselves power hungry, so to, do few consider themselves spoon-fed on weak spiritual lessons, unless one is dissatisfied with the teachings.

    Some seekers no longer attend churches (or change churches) because the messages are considered narrow and discussion regarding intellectual discussion is discouraged amongst the congregation. i have heard this complaint from folks who have quit the church altogether.

    Personally, not from a superior attitude, but that encouraging questing and questioning was discouraged to the point of a request from a church to discontinue attendance.

  • Ya, well Sandy… there you have it! That’s why I resist sweeping generalizations. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Fred

    Are you saying that generalizations never need to be swept?

  • No, not swept… sweeping 8)

  • I should like to start a sentence with “Behind all generalizations there lies…” but alas, I wouldn’t know how to finish it. Whatever truth it might contain would be lost to the closet of deliberate oblivion where generalizations are so often swept.

    It is true that generalizations are often untrue, if they are taken literally (although generally they cannot be) and that they often put whomever they are directed at on the defensive, but if I could finish my statement about generalizations without incidentally creating one, it would be to say that there is often some sort of truth behind every generalization. (If there were not, it would not be a generalization, but merely a lie – are all generalizations lies?)

    There are two comments I would like to make on Good’s comment. Firstly, it must be remembered, that he disclaims very early in the book that he can only speak for the mainline denominations with which he is familiar, and although my memory may fail me, he implies that he can only speak for his observations of the churches/ leaders with whom he is familiar, and also that he may be wrong, and also, that he is only pointing out what he calls a possible cause for the problems he has seen, and hopes that his suggestions/ ideas, will be considered, researched, etc, and that time will tell if his thesis bears any truth or not. With this disclaimer in mind, one must remember to take all generalizations with a grain of salt, and look for the truth or spirit behind it. Also, also, if this is his attitude/ perspective than it bears no relation (in mind at least) to Dan Brown’s or the Da Vinci Code (who I doubt is either a scholar, or interested in bringing about a better future for the church).

    Secondly, suggesting clergy may hold a subconscious fear of weakness or not having all the answers, etc, is not the same as saying they are “hungry for power.” I do not personally believe in the existence of of a subconscious mind, only deep emotions which influence many of our decisions whether we want them to or not, which function for all intents and purposes like the subconscious suggest by many people.

    Good proposes that clergy/ those educated in seminary, etc. have discovered that they do not know everything. That there are holes in ideas, doctrines, beliefs, that do not have clean answers yet. Although many of these people understand or believe that they can have a living and vital faith, belief in God, etc, even though they do not know the answers, they also may sometimes fear that if admit to their congregations that they do not know all the answers, that the people will leave and look for some one who does “have the answers.” That even though they respect other’s ability to find truth on their own, they are well aware that if given that power completely and unlimitedly, many will come to radically different conclusions, and answers that are, many times, at fundamental odds with their own conclusions.

    Take, for example, 1 John 2:27
    “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

    1 Thessalonians 4:9
    Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;

    and perhaps, Jesus’ statements about the Spirit of Truth, that apparently, will lead us into “all truth” (John 16:13, John 14:26)

    Where would we be if these statements where taken to their logical conclusions? Where does this leave anyone who leads, teaches, etc, when we are told that “we don’t need anyone to teach us.” It would seem if truth were accessible directly to anyone who had a sincere and pure desire to find it, then we might not have any need for teachers. In fact, it rather seems like Jesus forbids us to call anyone a “teacher” (Matt 23:10). And if the spirit truly has the power to lead us into “all truth” then are teachers, sermons, doctrines, and bibles, also necessary. The interpretation that is commonly accepted is that the spirit is necessary but not sufficient to lead us into truth. Alone, it or he can lead “some” of us into “some” truth, but most people need these other things.

    Dave mentioned that he believed many (almost all) of those he knew to be in leadership where not even subconsciously hungry for power. I would like to suggest the opposite, that not only in leadership, but in the people inside the church, outside of the church, and in the majority of all humanity, secular and religious, there lies a profound and deep fear of powerlessness. A fear of being helpless, lost, not knowing the answers, alone, weak, and destitute. Since it is a strong fear, and associated with pain, we all will do anything we can to avoid those feelings. This may not seem the same as power-hunger, but in affect, it accomplishes the same thing.

    We do not want to admit (emotionally) the possibility that many of the things that we believe are wrong. If we give up everything we know that is not certain or proved beyond doubt where does that leave us? If we no longer find ourselves with the keys to truth, how will find it? It is too difficult to give up everything, and so we take the easy way out, and leave things the way they are, or at least sift through the hay-stack of our beliefs with a needle, when we need a pitch-fork or a fork-lift. In the case of religious teachers, the easy way out is often to teach things of which we have no idea, to give answers which do not satisfy ourselves, speak of things we have not heard, show things we have not seen. (If this seems harsh, read Matthew 23 again)

    I take myself as a case study. I believe that truth can and will be found by a sincere seeker and knocker. I know (it goes without saying) that I don’t know all truth, I also know that not everything I do know is true, but I also know that what I believe myself to have discovered so far is not exactly conducive to the goals and aspirations of most supposedly well-meaning pastors. For example, I no longer believe any of the five fundamentals of fundamentalist christianity (as per, I don’t feel or believe that there is any need for the church in its current form (or in any of the forms that I have heard proposed in said churches), and of course, on these points I don’t feel particularly wrong or deceived, but merely believe what seems to be natural based on my current evidence, experience, and probably, biases.

    So, let me give a possible paraphrase of the last part of Good’s statement above, as it appears to me.
    “A laity that is well-informed might challenge entrenched bureaucratic priorities and denominational dogma”

    “A laity that is well-informed might not want to support church structures or even go to church and may not believe any of the things that they are ‘supposed’ to believe.”

    If this is true, and it seems to be in my case, than is it not a valid fear and something which leaders may want to work against, given that they have motivation to defend the church and/or some of said beliefs?

  • Nate: I am aware that he is referring mainly to mainline denominations. And when I think of many of the pastors I know, I am also thinking of pastors in mainline denominations, many of whom are my friends. I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, along with friends, and I sincerely, believe that, all things considered (their humanness, etc.), that they have the best interest of their congregants in mind. I also agree with you that we face a new challenge as clergy: the day when it was assumed you were a participating member of a parish is gone. People have choices, one of which is to not be involved at all in church life. We must recognize this choice and the freedom to act on it. I realize, as a pastor, that this is a new reality. However, I do not take this to mean that it is necessarily a healthy choice, nor that I should no longer advocate being a part of a local congregation. Just some thoughts.