Why Can’t We Tell Right from Wrong? Part 2 (Fourth Avenue)

I’ve learned that when you have a serious problem, it’s best to talk about it.

And when you’ve done something very seriously wrong, it’s best to confess the sin rather than bury it and hope no one else notices. These things don’t just go away.

And the people who love you, if they really love you, will tell you exactly this.

It’s started on December 3, 2014. Wineskins obtain appropriate consents and posted a video of a preaching intern at the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, Tennessee on YouTube. This video was about a young woman, a student at Lipscomb University, and it was a very positive, encouraging production.

The video included interviews with her, with the pulpit minister, Patrick Mead, and showed her sharing the pulpit one Sunday morning with Patrick, fulfilling a course requirement for her to obtain her degree in ministry. And she came across as spectacularly gifted as a public speaker — indeed, as a pulpit minister. She seemed a natural.

Of course, in the Churches of Christ many consider this a violation of the scriptures. Others disagree. I disagree. I came out 20 years ago in favor of women in ministry when I wrote Buried Talents, which has been available here for 7  years and downloaded many thousands of times.

But this post is not about the rightness of women in ministry. (I’m sure there will be a future post or two where the merits can be debated.) It’s about morality. Right and wrong. I bring to your attention this post from Patrick Mead, “When Fish Form Committees, written shortly after the video appeared. Please read the whole thing, but pay particular attention to this part–

Side note: my wife is an interior designer of some note. At a recent meeting of similar high level designers in Nashville she was told that design websites are now closing their comment sections due to vicious attacks and hateful comments made on them. Other industries are doing the same. It is sad when Christians join in and do the same thing, with the same attitude that the world exhibits.

Our church’s Facebook page became a cesspool. Our wonderful secretary did as much as she could to scrub the hate/slander comments and block the writers but one man – a frequent offender who claims he is doing this for Jesus and our brotherhood – even posted instructions on how to get around her and get your comment posted anyway.

Wow. There’s no Jesus in that action or attitude at all. But I STILL won’t form a committee to toss him out of the net. That is the job of angels, not fish.

(paragraphing added to ease Internet reading.)

Let’s suppose that I was firmly convicted that it was doctrinal error — sin — for that young woman to speak to a mixed audience about Jesus. How does such a sin justify hacking a church’s website? Slandering the wife of the preacher in her business? Blackening the name of Jesus in multiple Nashville industries?

It may be the most shameful, sad thing I’ve ever heard about my beloved Churches of Christ. We should be in mourning. The very notion that someone’s doctrinal error justifies criminal activity — in the public eye, and intentionally so — is beyond my ability to understand.

I’ve conducted multiple searches and can find not a single instance of a conservative blogger or website condemning this activity. Plenty of people are happy to excoriate a woman for preaching Jesus to men, but slander, harassment, and criminal activity to protest her so doing? Not a word.

Again, this post is not about the role of women question. It’s about the loss of our sense of morality. Where is it? What is so wrong with us that we find this behavior acceptable? Even laudable. How could our moral standards have become so corrupted that we call evil “good”?

(Isa 5:20-21 ESV) 20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

Jesus spoke of those whose eyes see good where they should see evil–

(Mat 6:22-23 ESV) “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

And I’m afraid that this darkness affects not just a few over-zealous members. After all, if we had any moral center as a Christian fellowship at all, cries for repentance would have come from those closest to those committing these atrocities. I mean, doesn’t the immoral behavior of these people harm the image of the community they are a part of? Of the position they advocate?

Far more importantly, don’t the attacks and the slander reflect badly on Jesus himself?

So why no outcry?

It’s not complicated. Sin is sin and must be repented of. It must be confessed. And it should be confessed just as publicly as the sin was committed. This not just the path to forgiveness, it’s the path to removing a black mark on the reputation of the Churches of Christ, not to mention Jesus. After all, Jesus bears the shame of the misbehavior of all who wear his name.

Let me make a few points that should be obvious.

1. Two wrongs don’t make a right. If the Fourth Avenue congregation was wrong to allow a woman to speak in their assembly, that would not justify sin in retaliation. The Scriptures are clear —

(Rom 12:16-21 ESV) 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

2. We are commanded to correct each other gently.

(2Ti 2:24-26 ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Occasionally, someone asks me how to reconcile this with Jesus’ very harsh language regarding the Pharisees. Well, we’re not Jesus.

Jesus has the benefit of being exactly right every time he speaks. The rest of us sometimes make mistakes. We’re not perfect. And so we need to come from a place of humility — and hence gentleness.

3. It is wrong to blame the victims. It’s sophistry to suggest that the Fourth Avenue church should have seen this coming, and somehow it’s their fault. No, it’s not. No one should expect fellow Christians to stoop to such tactics.

Last point. This is not about my side versus your side. It’s about the souls of our brothers and sisters who are sinning in rebellion against the will of God, souls so darkened by a deep, sad misunderstanding of scripture that they can’t tell right from wrong. I fear for their salvation.

Other than pleading for repentance, there is nothing I can do but pray. Which I am doing. But if any of these people were within my circle of friends, I’d be on the phone or in their faces begging them to repent. Not because Jesus and the church can’t survive this. They will. God will see to that. No, this about the souls of those whose zeal for God has become so misdirected that they can no longer distinguish moral from immoral.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to Why Can’t We Tell Right from Wrong? Part 2 (Fourth Avenue)

  1. Mark says:

    So much for congregational autonomy and non-denominationalism. The selections of a female chaplain at Pepperdine and the hiring of Naomi Walters in Stamford, Conencticut, did not cause this much outrage. I guess when it occurred it Tennessee it became too close for comfort.

    This is starting to look like radicalism when crimes are committed in protest. These actions will not help any cofC with growth. I was told for too long “but we don’t do that.” When you share the same name on the sign out front, you get grouped together for better or worse.

  2. Gary says:

    A former minister of Madison Church of Christ actually received death threats a decade ago over changes being made at Madison. I wouldn’t have believed it if I had not heard him tell about them. Another minister at a Chatanooga area Church of Christ around the turn of the century would go home to find his porch furniture moved out into the yard and all the outdoor water spigots turned on. That church was also making some changes that were controversial at the time.

  3. Royce Ogle says:

    There was a rime when I would have been on the wrong side of this. I don’t think I would have been ugly about it.

  4. Price Futrell says:

    It reminds me of Ferguson, MO… Even if one wishes to protest, they don’t have to burn down the down and steal from others to do that. If I was a non-believer…I would not be impressed with the reaction of some to this event… not at all… If that’s what Jesus does for you.. You can keep Him… is how I’d see it if I was a non-believer.

  5. Dwight says:

    While we think we are autonomous we are not in that Christ is the head of the church, which is the people. When people join together to do things that are wrong, they will be judged by God…not us. In regards to judgments we are to make judgments on people we come into contact with and not with those we don’t if there is an offense. All of the “disfellowshipping” was done on a personal basis and not a church or group think basis. John never told any of the churches in Asia to isolate or separate out any of the other churches in Asia even though they weren’t doing as good as them and some of themm doing wrong. If a wrong practice we teach against it…that is all.

  6. Ray Downen says:

    One of my “favorite” preachers is Patrick Mead. I’ve long preferred that churches not hire a woman as their preacher. I still observe that often churches who do hire a woman as their preacher often lose much more than they hoped to gain by doing so. But the women I’ve known who speak publicly almost always have good things to say and say those good things well. I sorrow for anyone who would think giving a congregation a black eye if they differ over any matter of opinion was a good thing or an acceptable thing to do.

    In my opinion, Patrick can do no wrong. And any church so blessed as to have him as their preacher is a fortunate congregation. We do well to form opinions and not seek to force anyone else to agree with our opinion. I like Jay Guin. He’s another who can do no wrong in my opinion, even if I may disagree with him. I regret the necessity of opposing the false teaching of a New Mexico preacher who has many things right and one critical matter exactly wrong. Anyone who promises salvation based on faith alone is seriously in error. Acts 2:38 tells us what seekers MUST do in order to enter the kingdom of Jesus Christ (and be saved).

    Good for Patrick Mead to do what is right for the kingdom! Any brother/sister who opposes him needs to pray for forgiveness, for Patrick is serving the Lord JESUS and serving Him well. Some work in our congregations is done by men by apostolic order. Elders are to be HUSBANDS of one wife, so our local leaders are of necessity men. But even in the very first church, women had important tasks to do for Jesus. Some early prophets were female. The early church is not known to have professional preachers, so there’s no record of women preachers–or of MEN preachers hired by a local congregation. But there’s record of women who served Jesus well. And who taught men. We do not do well to object when women speak up for Jesus.

  7. Dwight says:

    Ray, I wish we wouldn’t hire men as our preachers. They become the “church pulpit preacher” and not a preacher to the world. I would rather we support a preacher to preach to the world of God. They then are not bound to the church, but to the work. The elders are supposd to watch over the flock or the people, not the preacher. The only limitation was of a “woman speaking” over men or speaking in the congregation when gathered, but the work of the women should be limitless in word and deed.

  8. David W says:

    Dwight, my definition of radicalism owes far more to al Qaeha, ISIS and North Korea, reactionary conservatives who are prepared to use violence, or the threats of violence to impose their views on those who disagree with them.

  9. Dwight says:

    David, these groups are called radical by the mainstream in the thought that they are are doing crazy things, but they are mainly fundamental or radical in the sense that they are working more off the original idealogical thought. Take ISIS they are attempting to form a caliphate and put anyone to death who opposes their religion, but this is how Mohammad operated and why the Quran is written like it is. It is actually much of the Muslim world that has departed from the basic tenants of Islam. This is also true of Christianity to a large part…many people making of Christiantiy what they wish and not looking at the scriptures and following them. Radical basically means root or from the root. The term radius means a line extending from the center. So radical isn’t neccessarily a bad term in that it is keeping the center or root in mind, even though it might deviate from the mainstream. I would encourage all saints to become more Christ center focused. Much of Christianity that has veered from the “mainstream efforts ” are called radical in a bad way, but in reality it is a compliment if the verring gets us closer to what God wants.

  10. David W says:

    Dwight, you asked me how I defined “radicalism”. I’ve told you my definition, these groups are radical in the sense that they defy the norms of civilized behavior to achieve their aims. I would argue that those threatening 4th Street Church and others are radicals in that same sense, though maybe less extreme.

    I agree completely that we should become more Christ focused. In your sense, I would argue that Patrick Mead, Jay, and Al Maxey, for example, are radical. (If they are wrong, then your other definition, one attempting to redefine Christianity in their own image would also apply.) From everything I’ve read I believe, to the best of their abilities they appear to be trying to return to what Christ taught and escape the 2,000 years of traditions and interpretations that have been added to the message.(The traditions and accretions started very early, compare 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 [the oldest creed found in the NT, dating to no more than 3 years after the cross] to all 4 of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection. What’s missing from 1 Corinthians? The women! Within 3 years of the cross, the church was already trying to exorcise the women from the resurrection story.)

    While I think there is some truth to your statement “many people making of Christianity what they wish and not looking at the scriptures and following them.” It is difficult to make that accusation against Patrick, Jay or Al (or N.T. Wright for that matter), if there is one thing they are all guilty of it is basing their arguments of Scripture, though not normally a single passage without context, linguistic, historical, sociological, philosophical, and theological analysis etc. I may not agree with the conclusion

    (Finally, If I use the term “radical” it is almost always a carries a negative connotation – I think there are terms that carry less pejorative weight that can mean being “radically good”.)

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