Go ahead, dis­agree with pas­tor

Putting be­liefs in per­spec­tive

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - Robb Ryerse is the lead pas­tor of Vin­tage Fel­low­ship in Fayet­teville. You can reach him at robb@vin­tage­fel­low­ship.org.

Grow­ing up in church, I was al­ways con­scious of what con­sti­tuted a “good Chris­tian.” The fun­da­men­tal­ist churches I grew up in had a lot of rules against which we could judge our­selves (and oth­ers). We couldn’t go to movies or drink al­co­hol or wear jeans to wor­ship ser­vices. And we were taught that good Chris­tians con­formed. We were not to con­form to the world, but we were sup­posed to con­form to each other.

The fun­da­men­tal­ism of my youth al­ways seemed to push us to­ward ho­mogeny. Peo­ple were ex­pected to dress in sim­i­lar ways, to have sim­i­lar hair­cuts, to talk the same way, to use the same ver­sion of the Bible. And this push for ho­mogeny went deeper. We all had the same world­view, voted for the same can­di­dates and be­lieved the same things about God, hu­man­ity, and life.

But I don’t nec­es­sary think it should be that way.

Many churches — es­pe­cially fun­da­men­tal­ist churches, but cer­tainly not lim­ited to them — are held to­gether by the sheer force of the pas­tor’s per­son­al­ity. He (And it’s al­ways a “he.”) stands as the me­di­a­tor be­tween God and church peo­ple. So many peo­ple choose a church — or choose to leave a church — on the ba­sis of whether or not they agree with the pas­tor.

Stand­ing at the cen­ter of this ho­moge­nous uni­verse was the pas­tor of the church. His pref­er­ences, his con­vic­tions, his be­liefs dic­tat­ing life for his con­gre­ga­tion. We were taught, that be­cause the Bible says to “touch not God’s anointed,” we were not to dis­agree with our pas­tor.

In fact, I have come to be­lieve that dis­agree­ment is a Chris­tian virtue.

I think one of the best signs of health in my own church is when peo­ple dis­agree with me and each other.

Ev­ery once in a while, we do a short ser­mon se­ries at our church that we call “Mi­nor Here­sies.” Some­one will speak about some­thing they be­lieve that is out­side of the box for most Chris­tians. We’re not talk­ing about the big stuff like the Trin­ity or the Res­ur­rec­tion of Je­sus. Th­ese here­sies are mi­nor, like how Old Tes­ta­ment law gets ap­plied to­day or who wrote a par­tic­u­lar book of the Bible.

We all know phrases like “mak­ing a moun­tain out of a mole­hill” and “ma­jor­ing on the mi­nors.” When we ad­mit we don’t all agree on ev­ery­thing, we have the op­por­tu­nity to ac­tu­ally put smaller be­liefs in their proper per­spec­tive and not make too much out of them. We’re all mi­nor heretics who dis­agree about stuff.

Granted, dis­agree­ment is a scary thing be­cause it can ex­pose pos­si­ble fis­sures and put re­la­tion­ships in jeop­ardy. If a friend and I dis­agree about some­thing, there arises the pos­si­bil­ity that our dis­agree­ment could bal­loon into some­thing big that drives us apart. When we don’t dis­agree, our re­la­tion­ship is less vul­ner­a­ble.

But vul­ner­a­bil­ity is one of the hall­marks of au­then­tic re­la­tion­ships. Be­cause it in­tro­duces vul­ner­a­bil­ity into a re­la­tion­ship, dis­agree­ment is one of the best things for re­la­tion­ships. There is some­thing beau­ti­ful about a friend­ship that crosses the bound­aries of what is con­ven­tional, that broad­ens our per­spec­tives, that drives us to some­thing deeper than what we have al­ways known.

Dis­agree­ment also makes Chris­tian unity pos­si­ble. Many churches sub­sti­tute var­i­ous kinds of unity for truly Chris­tian unity. Unity based on shared po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions or com­mon eth­nic and

so­cio-eco­nomic ex­pe­ri­ences or even the­o­log­i­cal agree­ment is not Chris­tian unity. Chris­tian unity is based on a com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence with Je­sus. The apos­tle Paul taught

that the Chris­tian vi­sion of unity is not about gen­der, eth­nic­ity or cul­tural stand­ing. It is unity that is rooted in the Trin­ity, unity in the midst of diversity.

All of this has me dream­ing.

What if we started to cel­e­brate dis­agree­ment and what has been called the plu­ral­ity

of truth? What if our churches were full of peo­ple from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum? What if we had folks from vastly dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tional back­grounds and the­o­log­i­cal presents do­ing life to­gether? When it comes to com­merce, ed­u­ca­tion, fam­ily and just about ev­ery­thing else, what if we em­braced the

fact we value much dif­fer­ent things? What if we dis­agreed on so much, and yet couldn’t be more uni­fied?

So, go ahead, be a good Chris­tian. Dis­agree with your pas­tor.

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