Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Spiritual Attack on Language

Pastors can be roasted by manipulative words


Have a read of this recent church correspondence written by an "enthusiastic" bulletin writer:

It is likely that we are on the threshold of a pivotal time in "anonymous church name's" history, and we may find ourselves being distracted from Making a Kingdom Difference by what gets hurled at us from the other realm. Let’s not get distracted. This is also a matter for prayer, and we cannot emphasise enough that unless all of us are talking and listening to God, then what we attempt in ministry will not bear the fruit we anticipate.

Is it me? Doesn't this Battlestar Galactica language seem a little extreme? Shouldn't church notices go through an editor?

The story behind this notice is that the pastor is taking one month off due to fatigue. This seems quite reasonable. My work colleague just had a nervous breakdown so taking a month off due to fatigue is pretty mild in the scheme of things.

There are two issues that get me about the language people use when they discuss church or spiritual matters:

Firstly, someone's fatigue is nudge, nudge, wink, wink - MORE than fatigue: it's a full-blown spiritual attack. Well it might be. However I'm reluctant to use such extreme language when we don't really know the causes. Maybe the fatigue is caused by:
- a physical illness
- an emotional illness
- regret at becoming the senior pastor
- other contributing factors

So then why choose the most vivid "spiritual" description when more circumspect language would be closer to the truth of our ignorance?

Warning: Cylons cause fatigue

Secondly, I have an allergic reaction to the phrase "we are on the threshold of a pivotal time," this is classic ideology-speak, whether it's by a religious cult leader or spoken at a left-green political branch meeting. Keep the faithful tuning-in by using the language of revolution.

Anyone with a smattering of experience or historical perspective would know that "pivotal times" are generally bollocks.

What would life be like if the "threshold" was indeed crossed? Would your daily life be that much different: going to work, paying the bills, raising children, etc.?

Ronald Knox in his classic work "Enthusiasm" detailed without rancor, some of the "odd" spiritual movements which have disturbed Church history through the ages, including Montanists, Donatists, Anabaptists, Quakers, Jansenists, Quietists, and Methodists.

From his introduction:
There is, I would say, a recurrent situation in Church history - using the word 'church' in the widest sense - where an excess of charity threatens unity. You have a clique, an elite, of Christian men and (more importantly) women, who are trying to live a less worldly life than their neighbors; to be more attentive to the guidance (directly felt, they would tell you) of the Holy Spirit...The pattern is always repeating itself, not in outline merely but in detail. Almost always the enthusiastic movement is denounced as an innovation, yet claims to be preserving, or to be restoring, the primitive discipline of the Church... I would have called [this] tendancy 'ultrasupernaturalism'. For that is the real character of the enthusiast; he expects more evident results from the grace of God than we others. He sees what effects religion can have, does sometimes have, in transforming a man's whole life and outlook; these exceptional cases (so we are content to think them) are for him the average standard of religious achievement. He will have no 'almost-Christians', no weaker brethren who plod and stumble... the emphasis lies on a direct personal access to the Author of our salvation, with little of intellectual background or of liturgical expression... at the root of it lies a different theology of grace. Our traditional doctrine is that grace perfects nature but leaves it nature still. The assumption of the enthusiast is bolder and simpler; for him, grace has destroyed nature, and replaced it."

I'm genuinely sorry that the above-mentioned pastor is distressed to the point of requiring time off work. I will genuinely pray for his well-being. I won't however be drawn into the dubious metaphor of crossing thresholds of pivotal times. Taking advantage of someone's distress to make well-intentioned but manipulative statements is no way to respect the complexities of a man (or roast a pastor)!

"Words are born and die; they live only so long as they have an important errand to fulfill, by expressing what needs expression." (from Enthusiasm, 1950)


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