Principles vs. People

I always thought this question was easy.  Choose your principles.  If you can’t stick to your principles, then what good are they to begin with?

Lately, I have been reconsidering.  A good friend of mine is going through a difficult breakup with his church (it really is like a relationship for him).  He’s standing up for his principles by leaving, but few people in the church really understand that.  His underlying position while leaving is that he wants to keep all the relationships that he has on good terms.  That’s certainly admirable.  In doing so, he hasn’t really talked about why he’s leaving to anyone other than the leadership of the church.  I’ve always had the opinion that if I thought something was really screwed up in the church, I would make it clear to everyone what I thought, even if I left.  My friend isn’t doing that.

I’m beginning to see the fallout that would come if he did fight the church’s viewpoints publicly.  Many, especially younger people, in the church could become disappointed with the church entirely and give up trying to walk with God in a church setting.  “It’s just a bunch of bickering Christians.  If they really had God’s love in them, they wouldn’t fight like that.”  I don’t necessarily think their attitude is correct, but it is definitely a possible response.  Regardless, it would certainly divide the church, probably extremely so, to the point that it could well destroy the church altogether.

The biggest challenge to all of this is that the reasons my friend has are behind the scenes.  Publicly, the church is fine… even great.  So it would be on my friend to explain what’s going on, and then why it’s not good.  It also means that the church’s teaching is generally ok, but it explains a lot about why the church has made decisions it’s made over the past few years.

So that leaves the question… is standing up for and defending our principles more  important than the people that will affect?  If the people will generally be ok in the church (at least for the foreseeable future), then why not let them be?  People is ultimately what God cares about.  We definitely hold to incorrect doctrines, but God is patient with us.  He wants us to share his love with people.  We don’t want to be stumbling blocks for other people and cause them to give up on God.  But at the same time, we don’t want to let them walk down a path that may (will?) ultimately lead them away from the Cross and the core of Christianity.

Ever since this began, I’ve hoped my friend would speak out and bring this into the light rather than letting it hide in the shadows.  I’ve even been tempted to bring these things out myself even though I’m not directly connected to the church, though I’m fully aware it is not my place to do so.  That’s why it is a temptation.  😉

The worst part is that I can’t think of anything in the Bible that directly relates to this.  Every time a story in the Bible describes a screwed up situation, one of the prophets or apostles spoke out vehemently against whatever that thing was.  There is Jesus’ parable of the tares and the wheat, but that is pretty generic and can be interpreted in many ways (and even has been used to defend what is going on in the church).  The ordeal has felt similar to David refusing to destroy Saul even though he had the opportunity and God’s promise that one day he would be king.  My friend has chosen a similar path on the basis that he must submit to authority, similar to David’s principle that he would not lay a hand on God’s anointed.

Does anyone have any ideas of anything else in the Bible that wrestles with situations like this?

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3 thoughts on “Principles vs. People

  1. I’m mostly just glad to know we aren’t the only ones who have dealt with this. You may have noticed we haven’t been around the past few weeks, and there are certainly reasons for that. We chose to take the same path as your friend, because, I guess, ultimately, we feel that the responsibility for dealing with the problems lies with the leadership. Unfortunately, in our case, we were never really afforded the opportunity to discuss the issues we had.

    As far as what the Bible says about it, I’m not really sure, either, but I can’t really think of any time when the Bible provides the model of causing a lot of drama over something. I think it’s somewhat destructive to go around spreading information about what’s wrong with a particular church fellowship, especially because, in our case, we are leaving a place that is still doing good work for a fair number of people.

    I’ve also been asking a lot of questions about church practices in general, and for the time being we are involved with a home church community. I think the overall model of the church in the U.S. is pretty flawed.

  2. There is the passage of Scripture where Jesus is being questioned during his trial–Mark 15:55-62. The leading priests and the high council were trying to find people to testify against Jesus in his trial. False witnesses spoke and contradicted each other. Some men testified against him with a lie. Jesus apparently did not reply to these witnesses, because in verse 60 it says the high priest stood up and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges?” And Jesus still didn’t reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the blessed God?” To this, Jesus did reply! He said, “I am, and you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God’s right hand in the place of the power and coming back on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 15:62).

    This might mean that in some (maybe many) situations, it is not necessary or helpful to speak out in opposition. But when it comes to the most important issues, you do need to speak up and take your stand.

    I would also present a counterargument to the idea that the people at this church are generally safe. They may be, but there is also the danger that the church’s silence on the central Gospel message, along with their refusal to address major cultural issues facing our society today, can gradually influence the congregation without their even being aware of it until they perhaps no longer find the Gospel as important as they once did, and because Scripture is no longer emphasized in the church, it is no longer emphasized in the congregational people’s own lives as well. Isn’t this very dangerous? Maybe even more so because the people aren’t aware of it to begin with? They don’t even know they are treading dangerous waters.

    I guess my point is that a church can be harmful not only by what it teaches but also by what it refuses to teach.

  3. QUOTE: “His underlying position while leaving is that he wants to keep all the relationships that he has on good terms.”

    I think that when someone leaves a church over disagreements, you can’t expect “good terms” to mean that the relationships will continue as they always have. There will undoubtedly be fallout. But I do think it’s important to try to leave in a way where both parties still respect each other as decent, human beings even in the midst of disagreement. That being said, you do all you can, but you can’t control the other party.

    I think the problem is magnified when the disagreement is over issues that don’t deal with disagreements over interpretation of the Bible, but instead deal with whether the Bible should be our final authority on the Christian life and what it says about Jesus being the only way for salvation. If a church refuses to teach these things (but isn’t teaching the congregation otherwise), it may very well be that the people are generally “safe,” but I would be worried to death that many there would not be.

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