bible study head in a vice

head in a vice cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Head in a Vice” by nakedpastor David Hayward

I was talking with a man the other day who heads up an international ministry. He goes around the world encouraging pastors and congregations. He said that he is amazed at the level of political correctness that exists in the church. It is rampant. You not only have to believe a certain way, but speak and behave a certain way, in order to belong.

Some aren’t happy until every aspect of your life is controlled. Including how you read and comprehend. Especially the bible. Another person told me yesterday that he had a bible thrown at him by a pastor for asking too many questions.

Head in a vice! Some think that’s a good idea. But that’s the thinking of control. Thought control.

We know better.

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  • Gary

    “We know better.” Indeed.

    I was the chair of my church’s mission committee that oversaw the 5 or 6 mission congregations our church had started. I remember when we made the decision to remove a pastor from one congregation for teaching false doctrine. It all made sense at the time…after all we were fundamental baptist (SBC) and could not stand for heresy. Recognizing that we now had a congregation without a pastor the decision was made to license me to the ministry (I had already done a fair amount of lay preaching around the state) and send me in to repair the damage. The church was deeply divided as about half of the members strongly supported the teaching of the former pastor. In fact I had feuding parties from both sides of the divide approach me privately to ask me to have a family on the “other” side removed from our “fellowship”. How’s that for irony? Ultimately we were able to wade through the divide and I focused my preaching/teaching on both doctrine and love. It all made perfect sense to me at the time. The mission and structure of the SBC simply could not tolerate ANY variance on core beliefs. I now recognize that this is an inherent flaw within organized religion.

    As I reflect back on this period of my life from many years ago…I am struck by how similar many of my present views are to the views of the pastor we removed and sent packing. I share this to illustrate how powerful the control methods are as you describe David. The vice at the time seemed proper as I was younger and had not learned the value of thinking for myself. As I matured I felt the pressure become so overwhelming that I literally left the institution of man made religion all together. To paraphrase the sentiment of a poster from TLS, once a mind has been freed…there is no going back.

  • Gary,
    I’m still “younger” as you characterized in your post, and so maybe my opinions will change as I mature, as yours did; but it seems to me that there is a difference between thinking and believing certain things and teaching those same things. In other words, I definitely think that there should be a place for deep and thought that is constantly challenging the status quo of a denomination’s belief system, constantly re-evaluating it and comparing it to scripture (I do have a high view of scripture, as you no doubt have guessed). But maybe the place for that kind of experimentation is not the pulpit. I don’t think that people should be removed from the church for questioning or doubting their beliefs or the beliefs of the church; I don’t even think a pastor should be dismissed for what he thinks; but neither do I think that a pastor should be teaching beliefs that are contrary to the stated articles of belief of the denomination he or she has voluntarily joined. Again, I think it is good and healthy for people, including church leaders, to question, doubt, think, and re-think; but I’m not sure that the pulpit or classroom is the appropriate place for that to happen.

  • Gary

    Yeah Jonathan I agree with you. The pulpit of a denomination, which had very clear doctrinal views, was not the place to challenge the church on issues such as homosexuality, inerrancy of scripture, eternal damnation, etc. Within the larger context of the Christian faith as a whole all of these issues and more are openly debated and it is good. But to deliberately teach views contrary to the denomination voluntarily joined is not something I was ever willing to do even when we left the church almost 2 years ago. I found myself avoiding many topics I could not teach in good conscience, but found enough common ground to remain in the classroom. Eventually the discord became too great to continue to teach and so I left. Quietly, without any indication of my doubts or contradictory views with the pastor or the church. I taught my last lesson on love and simply said goodbye. We shared some tears with a few we felt were very close friends and moved on. Unfortunately the structure of organized religion makes it impossible for them to maintain friendships with us. And for many others…great stories of our backslidden state, manufactured to explain our leaving, gives them excuse to shun us publicly in chance meetings. That was one of the hardest parts. Pastors I had served with faithfully now explained our actions as simply sinful rebellion. We left with our honor intact. We were treated without honor once we left. This sounds bitter I know…and for a while we were bitter at being treated badly. But we have come to recognize this as part of the flaws of religion. The belief system must be propped up at all costs…the end literally justifies the means.

    I actually do not endorse the idea of joining a group only to attempt to change their beliefs. They are entitled to them so long as they are not hurting others as we have already discussed. I don’t think there is a good answer there. This is one of the reasons why I can no longer support the human institution of organized religion.

  • mike h

    So, at what point does a pastor have a responsibility to lead the church under her/his care into what that pastor perceives as a better way? Do we shepherd for the denomination? Do we attempt to make disciples who can stand live under God’s reign true to their, (and our), conscience? If not the pulpit, then where?

  • Our pastor tells us to throw the Bible at him, if he goes off the message of the great love of Jesus for real sinners…the kind we know we all are.

  • I’m Catholic, but I am a convert. I know several people who were raised Catholic and aren’t anymore, because the Church was so controlling. What I try to tell them is that it really isn’t. Yeah they beat you over the head with doctrine and dogma, they do tell you what you are supposed to do, and there really is Catholic guilt. That’s sort of where you have to start though. You have to have that constraint at first. Many have written that the stages you go through spiritually are the purgative, illumative, and union. You start with the harsh do this, don’t do that phase then move into the next. Another way of putting it is the way the Hebrew scriptures used to be laid out: law, prophets, and wisdom. You start with law. You have to know where the lines are. The next phase, the prophet phase, is about questioning those lines. It is at this phase that you start to really ask why? And when you start asking hard questions it makes people angry. Especially people still in the law phase. That’s why the prophets got killed. I have found that the Catholic Church doesn’t always appreciate people who ask questions and push at those lines, but there is still room for us there. We had a priest who used to ask those questions from the pulpit. It was ok. He made some people mad. They would complain to the bishop, but he never taught in absolutes. He might question the Church’s stance on women in ministry or homosexuality, but he wouldn’t just say they were wrong. He would ask the question and let us ponder on it. As Catholics we love Mary, we use her as a symbol for the whole Church, and Mary was always pondering on these things in her heart.

  • Mike, it took me a bit to formulate a response because I think you’re right. Each person must act in accordance with his or her own conscience; and if your conscience is telling you that your denominations beliefs are wrong or even harmful then I don’t think you should preach them. I think Gary’s example is instructive though.
    So, what should you do? Let’s assume we live in 1857 Georgia, and you preach in a White Baptist church that holds slavery to be a righteous and natural, divinely imposed order. You, however, have begun to side more with abolitionists. What should you do? You should preach abolition. To me, though, the question is where. If you preach abolition from the pulpit of a white Baptist church in 1857 Georgia, then neither your message (nor your head) will get very far. You would do better to follow the example of William Wilberforce, who campaigned for abolition throughout Great Britian by finding a small group of like minded Christians, and then publishing media and speaking to groups that voluntarily and knowingly brought him in to speak. I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to force feed your beliefs (even if they are absolutely correct) to a group that is hostile to them. It can cause divisions, as in Gary’s example, or your absolute anathematization, but very rarely results in the adoption of your ideas.
    If you are a pastor and you are unsure about your denomination’s doctrine; to the point that you don’t feel that you can teach it anymore, I would suggest that you use other pastors, educated lay-persons, online forums, and other informal methods to really think through your doubts (choose your sound-boards carefully, though); in the pulpit, simply preach Scripture. If you are so in the throws of doubt that you can’t even preach Scripture, or if you have come to believe in such contradiction to your denomination that you can’t preach at all, then I suggest you follow Gary’s example from above. If you are absolutely positive that your beliefs are correct and that the world needs to hear them, then find a forum in which you can do that, maybe a different denomination, maybe start your own church, maybe just share with those you’re close to, maybe start a blog; but preaching that homosexuality is not a sin to a fundamentalist Southern Baptist Congregation will get you nowhere but fired.
    Of course, I think that it should give us pause if our beliefs are not in line with tradition, and those around us. That is not to say that we are wrong (look at Luther, Wilberforce, and Galileo); but it should give us pause (look at Harold Camping). You may be a genius, but you may be crazy, and history shows that there was a whole lot more of the one than the other. I’m not telling you what to believe, or that your beliefs are wrong (I don’t even know what you believe!); I’m just urging you to proceed with caution, especially when you’re leading others.
    Beliefs matter because beliefs are the seed from which action blossoms; teaching matters because teaching sows the seeds of belief; approach the pulpit with humility and care.

  • Douglas Asbury

    I assume you intentionally used the British spelling “vice” rather than the preferred American spelling of the instrument you pictured, “vise,” since it certainly is one of the vices of the church to seek to practice mind control in an attempt to keep people’s thoughts in a vise. Very thought-provoking!