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We Talk Past Each Other

If you’ve spent any time reading Religious Affections, whether for personal edification or to exercise your spleen, you’ve probably noticed that not all of the individuals who comment here seem to agree with us. That’s okay: we don’t always agree with each other either. Sometimes we end up disagreeing with ourselves just for fun.

The first legitimate question that leaps nimbly to the inquiring mind, and one that I may return to at a later time, is “how in the world did the people on RA end up with such draconian notions?” Are we misanthropes? Is it beyond our grasp that if we’d just stop kicking the beehive we’d stop getting stung? Do we hate having a good time at church nearly as much as we hate the idea of other people having a good time at church? Have we all schemed together to repel visitors from churches because we consider Matthew 28:19-20 to be merely the Great Suggestion? These and other helpful correctives have been offered, with various levels of charitableness.

Sometime in the near future I hope to document my own journey from the word-of-faith charismatic movement to wherever it is that I am today, but for the moment, I’d rather explore why dialogue is so difficult in the first place.

One reason it’s so tough to talk about practical application of conservatism is, as a favorite author said, “sentiment is anterior to reason.” We talk a lot about love around here at RA because love involves a higher and more basic commitment at the anthropological level than reason does. It’s important because what you love controls you at some level. As a noble example, you might believe that you’re going to die in that foxhole, but for love of your country and/or love of your fellow soldiers, you stay in it and fight to the end. As an ignoble example, how many pastors who are defrocked for marital unfaithfulness did what they did because they either were unaware of, or did not understand Biblical prohibitions of adultery?

Our various loves weight heavily upon our thinking when discussing matters of liturgy as well. When someone seems to be undermining or blatantly attacking a cherished position, it is in our nature to react very strongly. If, for example, someone tried to get me to stop making Psalm singing a part of our church service, whether by making fun of my backwardness or by saying it was not edifying or whatever, I would probably quote Scripture (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). But they would not be dispassionate citations: I can guarantee that there would be some steam behind my recitation of those verses.

Why? Because I love the singing of Psalms congregationally. And it’s Biblical. But I’d get upset because I love singing Psalms. And because it’s Biblical. And I love it. And it’s Biblical. And I may or may not realize that I have a hard time distinguishing where my Biblical argument ends and my love for the experience begins. And neither commitment is necessarily wrong, but you can perhaps see where this could lead to a frustrating conflict if I were speaking exclusively from my gut reaction to this yowling barbarian who wants to abolish a Biblically mandated portion of my liturgy.

It is difficult to be reasonable in the face of strong sentiment. Many have left it untried. I have not always been successful, even though, intellectually, I know what 2 Timothy 2:24 says.

Am I suggesting that we forego robust discussion and strong disagreement for unctuous, whey-faced, fawning, pseudo-debates? Probably not, though I’ll have to run it by the gatekeepers before I express an “official” opinion.

Are there other reasons why dialogue is difficult? Certainly.

And perhaps we will explore some of them in the near future.

About Christopher Ames

Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Boyceville, Wisconsin. Bicycle owner and operator. I used to play in a Campus Crusade band.