Sunday, July 5, 2009

First Baptist Church: We Put Up With Each Other

The title of this blog post is probably not the kind of slogan that anyone on Madison Avenue would ever recommend for a church. I do not expect to see it on a billboard in the Metroplex anytime soon. In the hallways at the various state conventions this Autumn, I would be surprised to hear any pastor, when he is asked how things are going at his church, to utter the sincere sentiment, "Well, they're putting up with me, and I'm putting up with them."

We like to indulge in and sell the fantasy that church is a place where you don't have to put up with people. We like to tell people to come to church where they'll get along with everyone and everyone will get along with them. We like to create genetically screened and modified congregations, demographically controlled to lessen the likelihood of their having to put up with anybody too different from them.

We pastors speak of our church having no problems that "a few good funerals" couldn't solve. We aspire to a more frequent practice of church discipline, sometimes because we wish to return to a biblical ideal, but if we will be honest with ourselves, sometimes because there are some people we'd rather ship off to somebody else. (Do not misconstrue: I'm working toward a better practice of biblical restorative church discipline here at FBC Farmersville, and I think that most of our SBC churches are in disobedience to the Lord if we are not doing so. I'm just saying that we pastors ought to check our own motives while we do so. More on that in several coming posts.)

But putting up with one another is a good and biblical idea. This morning I am preaching from the first two verses of Ephesians 4, in the first steps of a journey that will take us through that entire chapter. In the second verse, we find the powerful command (in Greek) that we should be “ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων ἐν ἀγάπῃ” unfortunately rendered in English in the NASB as "showing tolerance for one another in love." I say "unfortunately" not because of any defect in the NASB translators, but simply because the language of "toleration" in twenty-first-century English has come to carry so much baggage. We have come to associate with "toleration" a sort of attitude in which another person's behavior doesn't bother us. Often, in this age, the apex of toleration has come to be characterized by laissez-faire at the best and amorality at the worst.

The meaning in Ephesians, in contrast, conveys expressly the state of being bothered terribly by something or someone, yet patiently enduring the offense and putting up with the offender. The church that puts up with each other—that's a high biblical ideal to which we ought to aspire.

Ultimately, as I said in this morning's sermon, these attitudes arise out of our gospel calling. Each of us should pose two questions to ourselves as churchmen and churchwomen: (1) Do I really believe the gospel? (2) Do I really believe that the other members of this church are in the gospel?

If I really believe the gospel, including what it says about what I was and about what it took to remove me from what I was and to move me toward what I will be, then I will be humble in the church. And if I really believe that the gospel is at work in my fellow believers, then I will patiently put up with them in love, confident that whatever unChristlike thing I am enduring at their hands, it will not last forever in them as the Spirit has His gospel way with them.

27 comments:

Dave Miller said...

I'm going to suggest that as the new slogan for our church. I'll let you know how it goes.

By the way, a long time ago you wrote a post about an advertisement/mission statement for you church. I tried to go back and find that and never could.

Do you remember that?
Would it be too time-consuming to post a link to it?

I have gone through every post of yours that I could find and did not find that.

Of course, my wife says I can never find anything.

Baptist Theology said...

Good word. Thank you.

Bart Barber said...

Dave Miller,

The post for which you are searching was entitled "The Wrong Way?" The highest compliment you can pay is that, after all of this time, you're still wanting to read it again.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Malcolm.

Dave Miller said...

Actually, Bart, I am wanting to plaigarize it!

From the Middle East said...

Brother Bart,

Thank you for that message. Nailed it bro!

Peace to you brother,
From the Middle East

BristolPastor said...

Great word for all pastors to read on a monday morning.

Todd Benkert said...

Good word. I might add that "putting up with each other" applies not only to enduring un-Christlike actions of fellow believers, but also personality, sociological, and cultural differences which tend to be morally neutral. One of the hindrances to ethnic diversity in a church body has to do with our own ethnocentrism and unwillingness to "put up with" other's cultural norms and preferences that are different from our own. In the context of the Gentile-Jew relations addressed in the book of Ephesians, such might be a fitting application of the verse.

Blessings,
Todd

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Thank you for putting up with me. I count it an honor to put up with you. It is a double honor to put up with your wife. It is a triple honor to put up with your children. Of course I know that I am not part of your local church fellowship so you do not have to put up with as much from me. :)

You are a blessing to me and my family.

Blessings,
Tim

bapticus hereticus said...

Bart: "We put up with each other."

bapticus hereticus: but that only applies at the church level, and does not apply to within heritage, inter-church relations?

Bart Barber said...

FTME,

Thanks.


BristolPastor,

Does my memory serve correctly that this is your first comment here? If so, then a warm welcome to you and an invitation to come back any time.

Bart Barber said...

Todd,

I agree that the concept of putting up with one another extends not only to matters of actual Christlikeness / unChristlikeness, but all the more so to more mundane and trivial matters.

I do not agree that personality, sociological, and cultural matters "tend to be morally neutral." There are some matters of personality, sociology, and culture that appear to be morally neutral, to be sure, but I believe that most items of personality, sociology, and culture are morally significant. These items are merely fancy names that we have attached to human behavior, and human behavior frequently boils down to sinning or not sinning.

That having been said, I am thankful to you for correcting an impression given in my original post that I did not mean to give—that this "putting up with one another" deals merely, or even primarily, with enduring sin with one another. I was hoping that the weightier matter would encompass the lesser, and that if we would endure that which is actually sinful, we would certainly endure that which is not.

Bart Barber said...

Doggone it, Todd, someone came in and interrupted me while I was commenting (I almost never get to compose and entire paragraph uninterrupted, it seems), and I left out my exegetical evidence for our one small area of disagreement: It seems to me that verses 17-19 are nothing if not a condemnation of Gentile culture.

Bart Barber said...

BH,

What we cannot practice at close range, we cannot truly practice at a distance. I believe that we should learn the discipline of practicing our Christian faith first of all in our local congregations. These are the fellowships into which God has called us.

Yes, we must practice them not only within the church but also among the churches. But I am very dubious of the person who is a part of a disunified local congregation while being an advocate of global Christian unity.

bapticus hereticus said...

Bart: But I am very dubious of the person who is a part of a disunified local congregation while being an advocate of global Christian unity.

bapticus hereticus: within tradition, interchurch cooperation is global? secondly, if it is thus given the local body is presently unable to unify itself (thus the "we put up with each other"), why then the rush to create greater disunity between bodies within the same tradition?

Anonymous said...

Bart
It would have been interesting to see or hear how you interpreted Ephesians 1: 4-5

NASB 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we
would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,


ESV Eph 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
Eph 1:5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Bart Barber said...

BH: I guess, first of all, I'm going to need to know what you are talking about when you indicate a "rush to create greater disunity between bodies within the same tradition"?

At that point, I'll be more than happy to try to comment intelligently.

Bart Barber said...

Anonymous,

That would indeed be interesting, wouldn't it?—so interesting as to constitute an entirely different topic than the topic of this post.

bapticus hereticus said...

Bart: I guess, first of all, I'm going to need to know what you are talking about ....

bapticus hereticus: is within tradition, interchurch cooperation a global concept?

second, are you suggesting your church is less unified than the typical church in the SBC? if so, what is the basis for your church's cooperation among other churches in the SBC? but if such falleness (thus a need for the emphasis " we put up with each other") does not preclude your leadership and your church's cooperation among extant SBC churches, why does the supposed falleness of some SBC churches (e.g., Broadway, moderate congregations that do not hold to inerrancy, youth mission group told they are not welcomed) deem them unworthy of the full fellowship you and your church enjoy?

Bart Barber said...

BH,

OK. Now I understand what you are saying. Thanks for clearing that up.

First of all, I would say that FBC Farmersville is the most unified congregation that I have ever served. They have put up with me for 10 years, so they're really good at that. Perfect? No. Good at it? Yes. Above the SBC average? By far.

Second, the topic of inter-congregational cooperation is far too complex to address in a comment thread, IMHO. The absence of cooperation in joint projects does not, in and of itself, necessarily indicate any lack of unity among congregations. We have no cooperative affiliation with Second Baptist Church in Guantanamo, Cuba, for example, yet I perceive our congregation to be very unified with them. The nuances of inter-congregational relations is a topic unto itself, and I would rather not attempt to address it in a haphazard manner in a comment thread, although I acknowledge that there are points of connection between that topic and this one. IOW, I think that you had every justification for bringing the topic up, but I think that I have every justification for concluding that we cannot do the topic justice in this format at this time.

Third, congregational "putting up with one another" is not to the exclusion of redemptive church discipline. If we would attempt to scale up the intra-congregational workings to an inter-congregational scale, then I would suggest to you that the fate of Broadway Baptist Church is merely a matter of redemptive biblical church discipline. The very text of the SBC's action made mention of Broadway's ability to take a clear stand regarding the abomination of homosexual sex, and thereby return to friendly cooperation with the SBC. There was a clear and fair process followed, there was a dispassionate investigation of the facts, there was an exclusion in the biblical pattern for violation of biblical teachings, and there is a clear path for biblical restoration.

We have practiced the same pattern with regard to individuals within our congregation, and we hope to do so more consistently and faithfully in the future. In the long run, both our church and the churches must be unified around something bigger than just unity itself.

If verses 1 and 2 were the entirety of Ephesians 4, and if Ephesians 4 were the entirety of the New Testament, then we would be led to believe that we should put up with everything without dividing over anything. But the New Testament consists of much more than that, as does even this chapter. And therefore, although the pattern of inter-congregational cooperation is a matter too complex to treat amply in this space and this format, I do thank you for giving me an opportunity to elaborate that even within the local congregation, we have New Testament limits imposed as to that with which we should and with which we should not put up.

Todd Benkert said...

Bart,

Perhaps we are thinking of different aspects of personality and culture. Just to clarify, I was referring only to those qualities or personality and culture that do not deal with morality per se, of which there are many.

Blessings,
Todd

Bart Barber said...

Yeah, Todd. We're saying the same thing. I was reacting less to what you wrote and more to the general assertion flying around these days at times to the effect that culture is this generally morally neutral "house" in which people live. It just gave me an opportunity to clarify with regard to that.

Have a blessed day!

Todd Benkert said...

Speaking of the "Gentiles" in vss. 17-19 is indeed interesting since he previously referred to the Ephesian believers as "you Gentiles" (3:1, cf. 2:11) in regard to such ethnic distinctions being no longer significant in the body of Christ.

Indeed, you are correct. My phrase "tend to be" overstates the point I was trying to make. Thus, while on the one hand, Gentiles do not need to become Jews culturally in order to become Christians, they are also to abandon the corruption of the Gentile culture as well.

Thus, in America, we ought to give up the corruption of the world around us and all the negative aspects of our culture. At the same time, we realize that there are indeed cultural differences/preferences in regard to how we view time, space, etiquette, rites of passage, etc. that we may have to "put up with" when they clash with our own.

The same goes for personality type (e.g. Meyers/Briggs types -- there is no moral significance to the fact that I am ENTJ, but I do find I at times clash with and have to "put up with" some of the ISFP's among us and they have to put up with me :-) While there are negative aspects or tendencies of certain personality types that one must give up or avoid, there are many aspects of personality that, though different from each other, are not morally significant in and of themselves.

Blessings,
Todd

Todd Benkert said...

Sorry, looks like we crossed posts :)

bapticus hereticus said...

bapticus hereticus: thus, then you acknowledge that there are many SBC churches that by far experience less unity than your church, thus action taken at the macro-level of SBC is, then, action that is not merited given the stated belief that global integrity assumes local integrity? if this is the case, why especially single out a church founded on one Lord, one faith, one baptism, but perceived to be fallen, to dismiss it and end a long-standing relationship, while at the same time acknowledging the fallen nature and behavior of those asked to sit in judgment, but dismissing said reality of said people? Have all the congregations that these people represent done what was asked of Broadway?

bapticus hereticus: is SBCGC an SBC church? if so, are you not united by the Cooperative Program? is it proper for churches that lack the level of unity of which you speak to perceive unity with said church, notwithstanding SBC membership?

bapticus hereticus: is within heritage, inter-church cooperation a global concept? is it too much to ask you to define your terms?

bapticus hereticus: is it redemptive for a group to ask another to take an "official" stand for what it perceives as sin, but said group does not ask others to take official stands against other things it perceives as sin and knows is operative?

bapticus hereticus: does the process for dismissing brothers and sisters in Christ from fellowship merit less time in an annual meeting than is given to an agency report? goodness, less time that it takes to read a resolution thanking the host city? those that make the rules usually think the process is fair, even when they exclude many voices in their development.

bapticus hereticus: but dividing over anything is exactly what the SBC does (and later realizes, oops, that was a dumb thing to make such a fuss over), and it is the basis for Burleson's (et al.) complaint, which i find interesting, as well; that is, as long as he apparently perceived self to be influential, he apparently was fine with the exclusionary character of SBC … until he was excluded. but let's not assume he would ever favor a non-inerrantist to hold office or teach (and I wonder if all SBC seminary profs really give much credence to inerrancy), which given a number of years from now will likely also be perceived as a nothing issue (i.e., inerrancy, really, we made a fuss over … that!?).

bapticus hereticus: well, let's see: Charles Stanley is divorced. continues to be a divorcee. continues to pastor. is his church next? why not?

Bart Barber said...

BH:

1. I never said that intra-congregational cooperation must be mastered before one could cooperate beyond the congregation. I merely said that it is a false thing to pursue inter-congregational cooperation as a greater priority than intra-congregational cooperation.

2. By using the word "global" earlier I merely meant to indicate something along the lines of "universal church" sorts of ecumenism. Not all inter-congregational cooperation rises to that level, but some forms would. Nevertheless, all forms of inter-congregational cooperation would be something different from intra-congregational cooperation.

3. As to the time spent in dealing with the Broadway matter on the floor in Louisville, the reason why it went so quickly was simply because nobody rose to speak to the issue. I take that as evidence of how weak BBC's case was.

We've drifted a long way away from the original post. No further, please.

bapticus hereticus said...

Bart: 1. I never said that intra-congregational cooperation must be mastered before one could cooperate beyond the congregation. I merely said that it is a false thing to pursue inter-congregational cooperation as a greater priority than intra-congregational cooperation.

bapticus hereticus: What you stated was "What we cannot practice at close range, we cannot truly practice at a distance." Are you softening your prior comment?

Bart: 2. By using the word "global" earlier I merely meant to indicate something along the lines of "universal church" sorts of ecumenism. Not all inter-congregational cooperation rises to that level, but some forms would. Nevertheless, all forms of inter-congregational cooperation would be something different from intra-congregational cooperation.

bapticus hereticus: Do you, however, consider within tradition, inter-church cooperation as global? You continue to ignore the "within tradition" aspect of the question.

Bart: 3. As to the time spent in dealing with the Broadway matter on the floor in Louisville, the reason why it went so quickly was simply because nobody rose to speak to the issue. I take that as evidence of how weak BBC's case was.

bapticus hereticus: As I understand it, from a fundamentalist who was present, there was not even time to find the recommendation in the convention material (not that he likely cared to look). Given the importance of this vote and its character to further define SBC, why not allow the church to present its case directly to the messengers? The Ex Comm could still speak to it and make its recommendation. To call something redemptive implies something extraordinary. But given the lock-step manner in which most things are approved at conventions, likely only few would have been persuaded otherwise, but the coldness and efficiency of the action would have been mitigated to some degree and the claim of redemptive would have greater face validity. Second, your response totally ignores the fact that Broadway was asked to do what no church has ever been asked to do: make a formal declaration on a particular issue. It does not follow that if homosexuals are involved in a church that the church approves of homosexuality. That may in fact be the case, but the convention failed to prove this point. The convention's case, instead, rests on on the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Bart: We've drifted a long way away from the original post. No further, please.

bapticus hereticus: Sorry, Bart, that is not the case; the emphasis of your statement "we put up with each other" lacks credibility absent working with these issues. Jesus shares with us that loving the "family" is not that difficult, but loving those "out" of the "family," well, that is what truly tests the notion that we put up with one another. I would assume the Stanley issue is off the table as it is something you are willing to put up with. But Stanley is in the camp, apparently even if his church seldom provides those warming themselves around the fire with anything significant to keep it going. But for scriptural literalists, if Broadway is out, then action is merited against Stanley's church, as well. I hope such action is not taken, however, for two wrongs serves no redemptive purpose.