For the last six or seven years, I have had the challenging situation of dealing with/living with/dialoguing with a special interest group in the global Church. This group swears allegiance to Biblical orthodoxy, uses the name Jesus frequently, and gives passionate appeals to the fact that they are creating a new and helpful paradigm-shifting way of doing things. At first flush this should be a welcome sight, but on closer look their strategies of introducing their agenda, which is now becoming less and less accepted by the global Church, are anything but helpful. The second and third generation "fruit" of the special interest group, for the most part have either left the Church, are confused as to their identity, or are openly hostile to the Church.
[Purposely I have left the identification of this group anonymous in order that we might identify similar strategies from other such groups.]
Ten strategies of this special interest group:
- Out-publish all other voices, with the effective use of all kinds of media, including journals, books, and seminars. This creates the illusion that this point of view is a majority point of view.
- Create "dialogue" situations that are called "conversations" that appear neutral at first glance. This method of "friendly-engagement" appears winsome at first, but is calculated to move the conversation towards the point of view of the conversation creators.
- Create the impression that the special interest group is on the side of history, on the side of those who struggle and that it is both welcoming and understanding. However, when such a group receives any kind of substantial push-back, another face is shown to those who are "resistant" to the agenda
- Use revisionist scripture interpretations to advance the agenda. That is to say, the scriptures are used and the case for being "Biblical" is there, but the Bible is read through the lenses of the surrounding culture. This results in a re-reading of the Bible texts.
- Where "inconvenient" Scriptures come up, then employ the perspectives of a hand-picked group of experts with appeals to the cultures or word usages of the Bible times to influence the meaning of the text. For instance, the special interest group above found that the word 'conversion' was problematic and a compelling — at first — argument was made to revise its standard usage. Closer examination revealed a lack of academic integrity, however.
- Select personalities of note are enlisted to give credence to the agenda of the special interest group. As well the special interest group had its retinue of gurus, conferences, and publications. At all of these the use of anecdotal evidence, or stories, was effectively employed. Testimonials of how the program of the special interest group were helpful and needed were widely propagated, with the underlying message "I was blind, but now I see." When voices of objection from the larger global Church were voiced, however, they were sidelined as being of lesser importance than the Western experts. The irony of a group who said they were advocating for the "struggling" and then turning around and marginalizing those who had theological "struggles" with the agenda was painfully felt by many of the global Church.
- The apparatus of the church and its resources are used to advance the agenda. Key pastors, key meetings and key publications, and its costly time, energy and money were employed. Frequently the agenda was veiled behind fairly innocuous appearing material, but on closer observation it was seen that "out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks." In the above case, during a time of budget restraints, money was miraculously found to host a key conference to promote the agenda of the special interest group.
- When the special interest group ran into opposition from the global Church they used both emotional and spiritual appeals. The first came with the words, "You will do such and such if you truly love___________." The second came with appeals to the fact that "this is a new work of God" and you will be "quenching the Holy Spirit" if you do not ascribe to our ideas. As well appeals to the Gamaliel's words that "you might be opposing God" were employed. Added to that, phrases such as "God told us that...," "Jesus is leading us...," and "we prayed about it and..." were employed to give the overall example that this was an agenda that came directly from the throne-room of God and should not be argued with.
- If the emotional and spiritual appeals failed to convince those who were now dubbed "the resistant" the process of further labeling began. In the case of the above, they were labeled as "wicked people" "judgmental" "________-haters" and "insensitive."
- If the labeling process was ineffective then tactics to put gag orders on the ones asking hard questions or impeding the process of the special interest group were employed. In the case above an employee was told that if he/she continued to be vocal about such, then their employment situation might be reviewed, and a non-profit organization had the threat of a termination of funding used to quiet them down.
A few observations:
It is hoped that this case study of a special interest group will give any church within the global Church pause to have truly spiritual eyes to see what might be going on in its area of influence. The special interest group above clearly exploited and is exploiting the church for its own agenda. It employs multiple strategies, some of which are innocuous at first glance. The bottom line, however, is that the "special interest" of this group is not the wholesome spiritual growth of the global Church as it obeys the "whole counsel of God" but rather its special interest is advancing itself. Does this mean that every group that has an area of specialty or is interested in a particular aspect of ministry is necessarily evil? Not at all. But the example above, shows what can happen when something is taken to an extreme. Does it mean that absolutely nothing good came out of this special interest group? Not at all. In fact it caused many to dig more deeply into the presuppositions behind ministry, to study the Scriptures with even more diligence, and to help more people to speak the truth in love.
Every wise customer knows the term "buyer beware." What appears to be useful at first glance may prove to be otherwise. The Bible tells us to "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1) and that there are such things as deceptive and seductive spirits, false prophets, and angels of light, Jezebels tolerated by the church, and wolves in sheep's clothing. None of us want to ascribe such dark descriptions to anyone inside of the walls of the church, and especially not to those people who are passionate about a certain subject. Still, the Apostle Paul who "did not shrink from giving the whole counsel of God" gave the tearful injunction to the Ephesian elders to:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears …" (Acts 20:28-31 ESV)
This leads to a few final questions.
- Is there spiritual leadership within the Church willing to identify when it is being exploited?
- Are these spiritual leaders willing to do something about it?
- Are they willing to be pleasers of God at all cost, rather than pleasers of humans at all cost?