Even a fool will be considered wise if he is silent; when he seals his lips [he will be considered] understanding.
–Proverbs 17:28 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
There are instances when it takes courage to remain silent. It would be easier to speak up, but the right thing to do is to be silent.
Someone insults you. You can easily say something in return that would be the equivalent of a devastating knockout punch. You don’t say a word. Your silence is an expression of courage.
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #463 “Courageous Silence”
After a short absence, Pastor Randy picked up his sermons on the Book of Acts today and Sunday School resumed its usual schedule. The sermon and topic in Sunday School was on Acts 19:23-41. You wouldn’t think a riot in Ephesus (the featured image above is supposed to be a riot) over the teachings of Paul and his associates on “the Way” and how the result of those teachings were cutting into the prophets of the idol-making silversmiths would provide me with much theological or doctrinal angst. Really, it should all be pretty straightforward stuff.
But there’s always something.
I provided the quotes above to illustrate how often I choose being silent rather than actually speaking my mind in Sunday School, because I might end up starting a small riot of my own. Not that I really want to, but because my opinions are so at odds sometimes with the people around me in church.
There was actually quite a lot I agreed with in how Pastor Randy framed his sermon. I think people of faith are at their best when the society around them/us challenges us, and we are often at our worst in a culture or nation that completely accepts us (we tend to get lazy and assimilate into the politically correct realm). Christians aren’t really persecuted in the United States. Try being a Christian in an African nation dominated by Muslims and then you’ll see what persecution is really like. Just because someone disagrees with you and calls you names doesn’t mean you’re being persecuted. That’s the limit of “persecution” most Christians in America experience today.
But then as Pastor was speaking and later on in Sunday School, I got to thinking about who I am in the midst of the local church. Pastor Randy and I had lunch about a week and a half ago, and in the course of discussing my recent blog posts, he asked me how I can call him “my Pastor” when I disagree with just about everything he says.
Actually, I’d been thinking about that, too. I don’t really disagree with 100% of what he says and I really do learn a lot, especially about Christian history, in what he says and teaches. But it is true that even my understanding of the core of the gospel message isn’t exactly the same as how it is taught by most Pastors, including Randy (To learn more, see my review of FFOZ TV’s episode The Gospel Message, as well as what I have to say about Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited).
Of course, during a sermon, one keeps quiet by definition but in Sunday School, I have to work on it. I know I’m risking being seen as a fool (and who knows, maybe I am) by even writing this when I should just keep my hands off the keyboard, but I don’t know if anyone else like me is recording their own Tent of David experience, and I figure someone should. So here I am.
There were a lot of good things that came out of both the sermon and the Sunday School teaching. But I did catch the Sunday School teacher engaging in what I might call “Christian Midrash” by his applying the phrase “the way” as recorded in Genesis 3:24 and Psalm 1:6 to how it’s used to formally describe the community of disciples of the Master in Acts 19:23. After all, the term “the Way” used to describe followers of Christ didn’t appear in the Bible until Acts 9:2. I spoke to the teacher before class to ask about his method of constructing his lessons and he gave me permission to bring the matter up during class. Not really sure it was worthwhile, but if we are to be critical of people in Messianic Judaism inserting meaning on one part of scripture based on earlier texts where it might not really fit, shouldn’t we extend the same “courtesy” inside the local church?
But the really big deal was the discussion on idolatry. Of course there would be tension between the ever-growing body of believers in and around Ephesus and the community that was supported by the worship of the goddess Artemus (Diana), and of course it makes sense to apply this topic to modern times and discuss the idols (anything we have in our lives that is more important than God) that we let rule our lives, but having just finished reading and reviewing Dr. Roy Blizzard’s book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus, I naturally thought of the following quote which I’ve previously cited:
Jesus has become an idol, if you will, our focus of attention, our focus of worship, and it seems that very few think of God anymore. Seldom do we hear anyone speak of the glory of God, his grandeur and mercy, the holiness of God, and the other many attributes and characteristics of God.
But remember, Blizzard also said this:
Please understand that I am not trying to lessen the importance of Jesus. What I am trying to do is emphasize that, in all the teachings of Jesus recorded for us in the gospels, his focus is not upon himself, what he is, what he is doing, or what he is to become. Additionally, Jesus has very little to say about God and, in particular, the Worship of God.
My point is that, in the teachings of Jesus, there is not all that much emphasis upward.
It seems in the process of promoting devotion to God through the Messiah, we’ve focused our entire attention on the Messiah, the doorway (“no one comes to the Father but through Me,” from John 14:6) and forgotten that the object was to “come to the Father.”
However, can we really say there are any other “idols” in the church? That seems like an odd question to ask. I suppose you might think of the Catholic Church or the Greek Orthodox Church, both of which use iconic symbols in their worship, but as Pastor Randy pointed out, anything that we put ahead of God in our lives can be considered an idol. Can Jesus be considered an idol if we focus exclusively on him and ignore God the Father? I don’t know. Some Christian songs that focus only on Jesus kind of bother me. The exclusive focus of some churches on the gospel as a plan of personal salvation without any thought to what else the gospel message says about what you are supposed to do with a “saved” life (the focus on Dr. Blizzard’s book relative to tzedakah) or the roles of Jewish and Gentile believers in preparing the world for the coming Messianic Age (often taught by the ministry First Fruits of Zion)…can any of that be considered an “idol?” Could “getting saved” and “getting other people saved” as our sole purpose in life actually result in our missing out of serving God in the other ways He actually intends?
The church I’m at right now is very study and very service oriented, but a lot of other churches aren’t. Am I supposed to bring stuff like that up in Sunday School? If I chose to introduce Blizzard’s or McKnight’s or Boaz Michael’s perspectives (as I understand them) to the discussion at hand, what would actually happen? Probably nothing good. And so, I keep silent, except in the one place I can claim any sort of ownership over which is this blog.
One of the questions in today’s Sunday School study notes asked:
How can God’s Word have a similar irritating effect on you or me, when the Holy Spirit uses it to affect us materially, or in our religious beliefs, or our pride?
The intended answer is “when the Holy Spirit uses the scriptures to convict us of our sins,” but my immediate response (which I never uttered) was, “when we find out the Bible says something different about God and people that church doctrine never teaches.”
No, I won’t be giving that answer. I only write about it here.
But doesn’t that defeat the entire purpose of having a Tent of David experience? Probably, but offending people isn’t going to be very helpful in convincing people of an alternative point of view, so I suppose keeping quiet is the better part of valor. Pastor Randy reads my blogs so he’s quite familiar with my beliefs. I don’t doubt that I frustrate him terribly. I’m not trying to go out of my way to do so, but am I supposed to surrender my personal convictions on what I believe the Bible is saying or at least never write about them in a public forum such as the blogosphere?
I admit not knowing what to do. This form of communication helps me process the stuff that’s going through my head. I did allow myself to make one minor comment on exegesis and eisegesis in Sunday School (not calling it that, of course) and otherwise kept my mouth shut for the majority of class.
My opinion is that Pastor Randy is frustrated with me, in part, because he believes I’m an intelligent person but that I still don’t agree with how he teaches what the Bible is saying on a number of important subjects.
I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not trying to be a troublemaker. That’s why I have to remind myself of what the Proverbs say about silence and wisdom and how that’s reinforced in the comments of Rabbi Pliskin. I also have to remind myself that being considered intelligent by someone is a far cry from being considered wise. It might be better to practice silence in order to learn wisdom (a lesson I desperately need to apprehend). It would be ironic if that were my sole purpose in the local church, but then who knows what really goes on in the mind of God when He directs His attention to your life or mine?