The Subtle Deception and Danger of Unanimity

 Greg Austin

 We humans love to know that others are in agreement with us, and we with them.

 Several years ago, along with two friends I attended the season opener of the Seattle Mariners. The game was significant to me, because the Mariners were facing the New York Yankees. I was a huge fan of Reggie Jackson, the Yankee Left Fielder known as “Mr. October.”

 Jackson's crowning achievement had come in game six of the 1977 World Series. In that game, Reggie hit three home runs, each on the first pitch, off three different Dodger pitchers. That’s immortalizing stuff, Mr. Ruth, Mr. Clemente and Mr. DiMaggio notwithstanding.

 Jackson didn’t have a stellar performance the day I watched him in Seattle, but sitting just above the Left Field Fence, we had a great view of the future Hall-of-Famer in action. From the first inning, Reggie noticed us and talked with us during warm-ups between innings. Jackson was the essence of the term “gentleman” during our conversation.

I was certainly no fan of the Yankees. In fact, because I’ve been a life-long Dodger fan, the Yankee organization was my enemy, but Reggie, oh, that’s another story.

It wasn’t until the game was well under way and the Yanks took a lead over the Mariners that I discovered that one of the three of us friends had broken out a Yankees hat and was proudly wearing it.

This led to some good-natured booing by nearby M’s fans and culminated when one rowdy fan challenged my Yankee-supporting friend to a fist fight.  “We don’t allow no stupid Yankees fans up here!” the (probably drunken) man shouted.

Oh, how we love to be with the “in crowd.” How we love the feeling of sweet harmony. How we need both the reinforcement and the security of knowing that “those guys” think like “we guys.”

It’s that sense of belonging, of agreeing, of thinking and believing alike that promotes the variety of denominations that crowd the landscape of the Christian faith.

Somebody, along time ago noticed: “Birds of a feather flock together,” and that’s an understated truism of life.

The natural tendency to gather, to relate with those of “like mind” or of the same opinions, views and beliefs is common to all cultures, all people everywhere.

So when buzzwords appear among the legion followers of Christ, believers quickly codify individuals associated with those catchphrases.

Consider words like “shepherd” morphed to “shepherding,” “discipleship” or “renewal,” “revival,” “emergent,” “emerging” for starters. We could get into the rising “open theism” or “postmodernism” or a host of potential box labels used to describe various camps or tribes within (and potentially without) the Christian faith. 

The tendency is to quickly categorize, to box those “Emergents,” those “Toronto people,” the almost subliminal need is there, to create neat and tidy labels, categories so that we can either attach ourselves or steer clear of those “heretics” (heretic defined as anybody who doesn’t think or believe the way I do).

“He’s an Emergent” (and is therefore to be avoided). “She’s a Renewal junkie” (and therefore to be emulated, chastised or shunned according to our own personal and likely prejudiced view of the Christian faith and our understanding (misunderstanding?) of the word of God.

I have friends, lovers of Jesus who have determined that in order for God to bless them, they must learn to conduct all the Jewish feasts, sing only Jewish melodies in their worship, learn to speak Hebrew phrases, wear Hebrew clothing, and eat Kosher foods.

Oh, the poor multitudes who have yet to don a Yamika or to wear the “mantle” of the Tallit. If only they knew the true “way” into the presence of God.

A recent op-ed asked the intriguing question, “Does it Matter What Glenn Beck Believes?” The writer assures us that “as a member of the non-Christian Mormon "cult," Beck "promotes a false gospel.” And that charge may well be true. I can’t verify the accuracy of the statement however, because I don’t know Glenn Beck, nor do I know even who made this assertion, because the writer of the piece neglected to include his or her name. Knowing neither Beck nor an anonymous writer, I can’t make an educated decision about where Beck stands spiritually.[1]

Oh, I’ve seen Beck on television; I’ve read his material and listened to his radio program. But I don’t know him. I don’t presume to know what Beck believes about Jesus, salvation, eternity, the word of God – or Mormonism.

The way it works is this: “Beck is a Mormon, therefore, Beck believes A, B, C, D tenets of the Mormon faith.” But that’s categorizing, boxing, labeling with little if any supportive information.

I’d like to hereby grant you full permission to crucify me for my next statement, but I have Roman Catholic friends that I am fully convinced will share God’s heaven with me. I think that God is big enough to allow even a Mormon into heaven if that soul is trusting solely in the finished work of the Cross of Jesus and His resurrection as the basis of his faith and future life.

The simple truth is that everybody does not need to meet my personally crafted criteria for obtaining a ticket to heaven in order to know that they are “saved,” born again,” “redeemed” or whatever language one might assign to the product of “knowing God.’

The inclination is not new: Following Paul’s brief salutation to the Corinthians in a letter that would deal with such serious issues as fornication between a man and his step-mother, taking one another to court, unrestrained sexual practices, eating meat offered to idols, involving themselves with pagans and with idolatrous feasts and temple worshippers. These all are serious matters to be sure. But before Paul can address these grievous situations, he must first address the problem of division – of categorizing – of believers moving into isolated camps, “tribes,” factions.

 

But the answer was and is not for the church of Jesus to move in lock-step, it is not a matter of producing carbon-copy disciples who all look alike, act alike, speak alike.

 

The answer is for every believer to find his or her freedom in the Lord and not in the dictates of religious councils or well-meaning “local fellowships.”

In a recognition of the human penchant to agree and align, Paul pleads for “that you all speak the same thing,” “that there be no divisions among you.”[2]

Already, the infant church was fracturing and aligning with this hero or that. Some had become “Paulites” while others were “Apollosarians” or “Cephasites.” Some had formed yet another sect, the “Christians.”

Buzzwords. Nametags, Tribal identities that made these early believers feel comfortable, warm and fuzzy and happy . . . so long as everybody thought, believed, acted the way they did. Paul called them “contentions.”[3]

What Paul is pleading for is not unanimity, but unity. Unanimity assumes full agreement: within the full definition of the word is the state of being unanimous. What a bland and colorless world we would know if not for variety of texture, substance, sound or temperature.

I was recently contacted by a man I lost contact with about fifteen years ago. He had perused my website and surmised (wrongly), “So, you’ve gone Emergent!”

My friend doubtlessly hadn’t read everything contained on our site. I don’t think he read my article, “Hijacked by Hi-jinks: The Stealing of the Emerging Church.”

Please allow me to quote from that article, written now a number of years ago. While I’m discussing “Emerging Church” specifically, one could insert any buzzword to discuss any classification desired:

 “There are buzzwords inclusive to every stratum of society, every organization, movement and conclave of man. There always have been. Sadly, buzzwords and catchphrases seldom define anything with clarity and accuracy.

 

Perhaps nowhere is there as much potential abuse of “words” than in the arena of spiritual life, eternity, “the church” and religion.

 

Over the years I have developed what I call “Austin’s Laws of Ministry.” These are not exclusive to myself, but they are the important “laws” I have observed over 40 years of walking with Jesus and of ministering to people.

 

I only have two laws on my list. When I get smarter, I’ll add more, but for now, these work for me. Law Number One is this: “People Aren’t Stupid.” Law Number Two is: “Words Mean Things.”

 

It’s Law Number Two that I want to bring into focus here. When I was a pointy-headed theology student back in prehistoric times, my professors were fond of repeating a sort of “mantra” to we students. Over and over again until it was drilled into our mushy brains we heard the command: “Define your terms.” In other words, “words mean things” and we must be clear about how we use words and what definition or meaning is assigned to them.

 

A case in point: Talk about “church” to any large group of people and ask for individual meanings and understandings of the word. I’ve done this exercise. It’s enlightening to discover how many disparate and varied meanings a simple, single-syllable word can have.

 

So when we hear or use the term “Emerging Church”, we might rightly expect to find a wide variation of meanings and understandings.

 

I want to be clear: When I personally speak of “Emerging Church” I am not in any way, form, manner or fashion identifying with any certain, tangible group of people. I am a follower of Jesus, not of any organization, movement, fad, group, or classification of people.

 

I don’t care about vogue and popularity. I could care less about “jumping on the bandwagon” of this movement or that movement. I refuse to be categorized as “this” or “that” kind of Christian.

 

When I speak about “Emerging Church” I'm simply referring to the reality that much of what we've been taught, much of what we do, much of our church “practice” has been polluted, tainted, mutated from the original template as revealed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, and recorded in the Word of God.

 

When I speak of “Emerging Church” I’m not talking about a departure from classical, biblical, evangelical thought or doctrine. I’m talking about a departure from the religious traditions that man has laid on the skeleton of the church to create (in some instances) the monster of religion that looms in our current society.”

In the conclusion of that same article, I wrote,

I have determined not to become a spiritual moth attracted to some false light, but to be a lover of God and a friend of Jesus and of Publicans and Sinners alike, and to point as many souls as possible to the heaven God has prepared for all those “who love His appearing.”[4]

The same resolve ought to guide us all, to be aware of the “false light” of the one who appears as an “angel of light” and to “be a lover of God and a friend of Jesus and of Publicans and Sinners alike . . .”

Making everybody just like us is both the height of arrogance and the futility of trying to catch the wind.

Years ago I sensed the Lord directing me to find and to embrace “those of like heart.” Significantly, the Father did not say “of like mind.” We’re famous for that one – looking for somebody to agree with our theology or theopraxy. “The candles must be of this color and must be lighted in that manner.” But who said there must be candles?

“I want to find a real church,” the unspoken meaning is I want to find a church where somebody prophesies, somebody has a vision; a church where everybody falls on the floor.

The well-proven “the former generation typically criticizes the move of the current generation”

In Swansea, Wales, I listened to the present pastor of Moriah Chapel where Evan Roberts was once used of God and a revival was sparked that swept the world. The pastor explained that there is no revival in the earth today because every so-called movement of God was only a fleshly, man-engendered attempt at revival. Only and exclusively was the Welsh revival and the events that took place at Moriah Chapel true revival, he carefully explained. Until the exact and same events, conditions and preaching takes place once again, there will be, there can be no revival.

We must have unanimity if we are to experience any touch from heaven. We’ve established the form, the place, the conditions of our desire and now we only wait for God to serve us, to fulfill our wishes, to respond to our demands.

And the God of endless variety, the God of unceasing creativity moves forward, touching here and blessing there, doing what He has always done, in His way, searching for hearts emptied of self-desire and self-centeredness; hearts waiting only to be filled by Yahweh. Hearts only desiring to know what Yahweh desires and to do what Yahweh wills.


[1] http://theweek.com/article/index/206644/does-it-matter-that-glenn-beck-is-a-mormon

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:10-14

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:11

[4] http://www.gregaustin.org/hijackedbyhijinks.htm

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