Every Church Needs Defenders of the Faith

I’m reminded of an Elder’s Quorum class I once attended in Seaside, California.

The leadership had appointed a man named Roger, a controversial but very well-read biblical scholar whose spirituality was not disputed, to be the teacher. He was controversial in that his classes were taught from that 4-legged stool of: scripture, prayer, tradition and reason.

In his very first class he offended those whom I now describe as literalists with a view of scripture as literal and inerrant.

What was Roger’s sin that very first Sunday?

Well, he suggested that the brevity of the Genesis story tended to cause Adam to look like a buffoon and then he proceeded to make a case that restricting ourselves to a literal understanding was like eating the carrot sticks at a banquet but nothing more.

But in talking like that he aroused the defensive ire of four men in the class who, the following Sunday, had all placed themselves at the front of the classroom seated with their Bibles open –literally laying in wait to catch Roger at an offending word or phrase.

Roger continued each week to teach marvelous and thoughtful lessons for which he was roundly thanked and complimented by the majority of us – but not the four “orthodoxy sheriffs” who spent more class time flipping Bible pages than listening to and pondering what Roger had to say.

Roger’s classes, for the four guardians of what they considered the “true faith”, went clear over their heads while they strained at gnats, having swallowed the camel of an idea that there was a strict way to read and interpret scripture and an even narrower-gate by which one could gain entrance into heaven.

This is not unlike the two camps of elders in the mission field, one of which believed that you had to teach the lesson plans word for word with no deviation while the other believed that you taught the subject of the lesson itself, using the lesson plan script as a framework or prompter.

Because Roger’s presentation demanded spiritual thinking and not mindless citing of verses, these four lost an opportunity to work with what he presented. They were stuck in a very narrow and dark passage.

The sad part to me seemed that they also seemed to fortify and encourage each other to interrupt the discussions with attempts to make mountains of orthodoxy out of molehills of doctrinal ambiguity.

In Omaha, Nebraska, I witnessed another similar circumstance in which a recently baptized young father was asked to teach the Elder’s Quorum classes. I saw him act in that role a single time and was repeatedly interrupted by another man, only slightly older (they were both medical students) but self-defined as having more years of “experience” and “scriptural study” under his belt.

Another sheriff personality – a self-appointed guardian of doctrine and orthodoxy whose responses were not only limited to points of disagreement, but were also unnecessarily critical and given to slick put-downs as he casually filled his self-appointed role as Defender of the Faith.

What is it about the language or what I call now “God talk” that serves more to disrupt than to unify? And I don’t mean unify in a set of exact same beliefs, rather in a teambuilding of the spirit of compassion as it seems to me Jesus attempted to teach?

If we were to learn that the Christ Story is myth, would that make the Sermon on the Mount, The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan less valuable?

If so, why?

This act of sacrifice Jesus gave for redemption of mankind (women too?) is a message lost on us when we still continue to insist on a “correct” dogma before we can benefit by the Jesus sacrifice.

If that is what is taught, does it make sense that the Divine, having insisted on Divine righteousness in the Sacrifice of his only Son would be righteously satisfied that all was again well with the flawed world He, the Creator, created?

Does it not It surely serve to diminish the act of Jesus if, in fact, nothing was learned in his sacrifice except that there is a correct way to believe and only in so doing can one be a correct Christian?

A genuine defender of the faith is not a scripture-quoting theology-knowing absolute-truth-owning steward of a God who needs such mortals to defend Him and His Kingdom. A genuine defender of the faith is a missionary who teaches religious principles as means of “how to be” rather than “what to do,” “what to believe” and “what to attack while defending a misunderstood faith”.

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