The Journal website, recently carried a story of how Bruce Porteous, apparently a member of the Living Church of God in Auckland, New Zealand, has been ordered by his pastor to stop distributing The Journal or stop attending services. If I were confronted with a similar ultimatum, my response would be instant and certain: I would stop attending. I would shake the dust of that church from my feet and never look back; and my conscience would be utterly clear in so doing.
Who wants to attend a church that operates in such a primitive and repressive way? This kind of censorship bears the acrid smell of the Dark Ages during which “subversive” books were torched, and those who distributed them were burned at the stake.
This kind of thinking is a toxic residue from the worst years of the old Worldwide Church of God. When will we finally mature out of it for good? For some, it seems to be a “default mode” into which they readily snap back. They are drawn to the authoritarian, ecclesiastical police state mentality.
Apparently such autocratic pastors do not believe in Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Paul wrote, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm” (II Corinthians 1:24, NIV).
The apostle Peter also set forth Christ’s standard on the issue of ministerial authority when he wrote: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder…Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:1-3, NIV, excerpts). The Lord does not approve of spiritual control freaks in the pastorate.
Both Paul and Peter were simply echoing the teachings of Jesus himself: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28, NIV).
Censoring church member’s reading matter is a violation of their rights, and an invasion of privacy. It is a symptom of authoritarianism. It is a tactic common in the communist world, and in other forms of tyranny. As I earlier alluded, it was a tactic of the repressive Church of the Dark Ages; a time during which even the Bible found its way onto a banned book list.
Christians everywhere should be as free as anyone to explore the marketplace of ideas. If we learn to be intellectually honest, objective, and hungry for truth, it will emerge triumphant; and truth never brings people into bondage; it always sets them free (John 8:32).
No Christian should ever feel intimidated by, or live in fear of, his or her pastor. Pastors are not called to be spiritual policemen, but rather loving shepherds, facilitating our joyful relationship with God in Christ.
The Journal, no matter how some pea-brained autocrats characterize it, is not a subversive publication. It is an open market of ideas in print. We are free to take or leave what we read in The Journal. To tell the truth, I prefer to leave more than I prefer to take.
Speaking for myself, my motive in writing this column is to liberate fellow Christians from toxic and erroneous ideas where possible, and to encourage them to think outside of the box. It is my desire to be a faith builder, not a faith buster. If I didn’t care about people’s spiritual well-being, I wouldn’t waste my time and energy.
The apostle Paul considered himself to be free of the tyranny of men (I Corinthians 9:19). Me too! It’s a wonderful feeling not to have some policing pastor breathing down my neck. I am free to live in good conscience before the Lord, and to seek access to those teachers in the larger Church who seem most well-grounded in Biblical understanding. I am also free to write for The Journal, and to read those parts of it that I find to be informative or edifying. The rest I simply ignore.
(The Journal — News of the Churches of God is a monthly tabloid edited by Dixon Cartwright and available for subscription by writing to: The Journal, PO Box 1020, Big Sandy, TX 75755)