I mentioned in an earlier post today (see below) that I am not privy to all the news reports from Fort Lauderdale nor am I able to be on the ground forming solid opinions based on personal interviews. I am thus trying to hear both sides and to continue to offer constructive commentary, a goal of this blog site for over four years. My goal remains: insightful commentary that might used to encourage both sides to sue for peace. This goal is rooted in a lifetime of experience in seeking to resolve church conflict through Scripture and biblical wisdom.
To this end I want to add to my three-day commentary another account that appears in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Reading this account is actually painful but having read it this morning I still think that my commentary, at least in all the broad strokes I painted, is correct.
Reading this story further underscores my initial concern that the opponents of the pastor and elders have not generally expressed their opposition well. If I only had these news accounts to go on I would suggest to them that they have made their case very badly, assuming they have a case to make. (I think I indicated that it is wise to always attempt to hear both sides as much as humanly possible. When I consult churches this is always my first goal.) The actual statements of the opposition to Pastor Tchividjian (made in the context of a congregational business meeting as the story indicates) lack the kind of clarity that would make a case that might compel outsiders to hear the opposition's points. If the pastor and elders have created a "culture of intimidation," as I quoted one former member saying to me by email, then there is a far better way to express this concern than the way it was presented. I wonder how these folks formed their case. I wonder what process they followed. I wonder what counsel that got and how much they spent time in prayer and fasting before they acted. Their grievances, according to this news report (which again I have to assume is fairly accurate), lack the kind of solid content that would impress an outsider who tracks church tensions over the United States as I do. Granted, it would be hard to make a case for proving "a culture of intimidation" but the facts would have to be made central, not opinions and emotions.
Do churches and leaders actually build ministries where a "culture of intimidation" is a very real problem? You bet. I have seen this again and again. But the truth of the matter is something I think both sides will tend to miss in 99 out of a 100 times. Why do churches have such battles and schism? Answer: God is graciously sending judgment to wake up both sides to the sins that plague their church. Such sins are almost always ignored when a church is highly successful. The outward marks all seem sound but then a debate arises and people talk, and they talk and they talk. Accusations are made and a defense is formally offered. Debates rage some more and then meetings are held to try to solve the problem. Outsiders come to moderate the meeting but little is done to get on our knees before God an done another. These meetings almost never address the "real" issues since "our struggle is not with flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12). Could it be that Christ allows the enemy to actually stir up a specific church in order to get that church to see ingrained patterns of sin in people and leaders so they will repent and "open the door" to him (cf. Rev. 3:20, an oft misused text that I would suggest might be applied to CRPC and thousands of other conflicted local churches all over America). Could it be that people and leaders at Coral Ridge would hear the gentle "knock" of the Savior at the door of CRPC and someone might take a truly radical step and get up to intentionally open the door of this church to the Lord Jesus Christ? If Jesus came to CRPC there would be powerful healing. There would be incredible blessing. There would be real miracles that would astound both Christians and the Sun-Sentinel. But this can only begin when God's people humble themselves and pray.
Dr. Kennedy often made reference to 2 Chronicles 7:14 over the years of his ministry. I heard him speak of this text myself. My problem is underscores by how this text was, and still is, widely used. It does not refer to America or our "Christian" culture. It refers to Israel in the historical context and the church in the large biblical Christian context. The church needs to seek God. The church needs to be awakened. Could it be that what Dr. Kennedy believed, in his heart of hearts, was right and the church now needs to go back to this text and hear it again? Could it be that the pastor and elders need to go back to this text and really hear it? My guess is every side in this debate thinks that they've already done this in their hearts. If they think this and now do little or nothing about it then this only proves my point. I am watching and praying. I would love to hear of "mercy showers" falling in Fort Lauderdale.
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It seems the last quote of the S-S article is really the heart of this – that the two groups were there before Tullian came. Seems, then, that he is just the point at which these two groups are going to battle. It doesn’t really appear to be about him. They would be going through this regardless of who was in the pulpit.
Excellent!!!! So true, John. You nailed it as usual.
Doing a very good job with this tricky and heart-breaking situation.
Tullian is involved, as this is about the leadership as a whole. From the reports I have heard, there has been a spirit of intimidation for quite some time – “either you’re for us or you can leave” mentality. And we’re not talking about politics or wearing a robe; we’re talking about simple questions of doctrine and practice that could be easily communicated better in a town hall meeting or even from the pulpit on Sunday morning. But I think John hit the nail on the head – the opposition has not made its case very clear.
Interview about this in Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/septemberweb-only/138-41.0.html
I have no reason to doubt that Pastor Tullian is a good man who rarely makes an error in judgment.
However, I wondered from the beginning about the church merger idea. It’s understandable why it was conceived. I’m sure choosing between the churches was hard to bear. But I think a choice should have been made rather than avoid the choice with the merger plan.
I could be wrong, but I have to wonder that much of this would have gone better without the merger. Of course, maybe the opposition would have been just as strong. We’ll never know.
What really matters now is that Pastor Tullian has a long and blessed relationship with CRPC. I pray that it is so.