Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Separatist Spirit

1. Family is a funny thing. I don't have any sisters that annoy me (no doubt I was an annoying child). But I do know families where some of the siblings love each other but don't really enjoy being around each other very much.

I say that to make it clear that, although I was only eight when he died, I loved my grandfather. He was a bit scary to me--I knew better than to go into his office in the back of his house. But he let me shoot his B-B gun (I shot out a light rather than hitting the target), and I believe he loved his grandchildren.

2. As I've learned more about him, there is much that I admire about him. He was a church planter, an entrepreneur of sorts. At various times he owned a grocery store. He worked as a butcher sometimes. He could fix cars.

As I said, he was also a little rough. He came from the old school where you preached against stuff. You preached against hellovision, going to the moving picture theater, and you made sure that people knew that they were to dress a certain way. You preached against wedding rings and buying on Sunday.

He was an "against" kind of guy. He believed in shunning and shaming, in giving people a "good letting alone." As Freud would have it, one of my aunts married someone very similar who once told my father that he would pray for his soul if he stayed with the Wesleyan Church when it was merging in 1968. Even my Dad once asked me what I was against--a revealing artifact of his upbringing.

3. My grandfather was thus a "come-outer." I've blogged through a book on the holiness movement at the turn of the twentieth century. There were a lot of come-outers in that gang. There's a certain personality that gets an adrenaline rush from shouting at what's wrong with, whatever, and then walking out of the room. Although I hate to say it, there were LOTS of those types in the holiness movement of early twentieth century.

Mind you, they weren't the part of the holiness movement that grew. They were the part that split and split and frequently died. One thing I learned from that book was that the more even-tempered Nazarenes--often a target of the separatists--were the part of the holiness movement that really grew. It is the largest holiness denomination still today.

I have some of that fire in my veins. I can feel it. I'm channeling a little of my grandfather in this post. But it's not the part of me that "grows Ken."

I loved my grandfather. But I have little admiration for splitters as splitters. We all like to think ourselves prophets, but how many of us really are? The Prophets preached more for people than against sin as a violation of the rules. Could it be that a certain kind of person hides behind the prophets as an excuse to express anger at... whatever they can justify being angry at?

I have little admiration for those with a separatist spirit. The spirit of Christ is more a spirit of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5), at least until the very end when it's clear there will be no reconciliation. The Wesley way is to see mercy as the primary over judgment (Jas. 2:13). The Wesley way seeks for points of agreement to build on far more than excuses to rent their clothes over the disagreements.

4. Aren't there verses about separating? Of course there are. I'm sure my grandfather knew them all. He liked them. Separatists love them. They hide behind them. Did you know that you can use the Bible as an excuse to kick against Christ?

If you put all the verses on reconciling and separating on the scales, which has the greater weight in God's eyes? I fear that some people are delighted when they have an excuse to excommunicate. I have little respect for such people. I had no respect for the Evangelical Theological Society in those years that they seemed to delight in figuring out who they could vote out next year. College presidents that delight in kicking faculty out leave most people with a bitter taste in their mouths.

Worst of all is the grandstander, the person who isn't even condemning primarily for cause but as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves. Clever politicians do that from time to time. They use a moment of protest to shove themselves into the spotlight and gain attention and power. Many would say that MacCarthy did that with regard to communism, that he saw the issue as a way to thrust himself into the spotlight. The best thing to do is to ignore them. That type feeds off conflict.

The most noble separations I know of--Luther and Wesley--happened because the parent body they were trying to reform kicked them out. Even with regard to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, I've always respected the fact that Luther Lee went back into the Methodist Episcopal Church, after the Civil War was over and the issue of slavery was over. I'm proud of the fact that the Pilgrim Holiness Church resulted from a series of mergers, as did the Wesleyan Church.

5. This is the spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of reconciliation. In the new covenant, we don't get unclean by touching a sinner. There's a fair amount of old covenant thinking involved here, the same traditions that led the old separatists to fight over new moons and sabbaths, over women wearing that which pertaineth to a man or trimming the edges of a beard. We're not touching the unclean thing. We're stoning Achan's children and livestock because Achan has touched them.

Are there times when we need to separate ourselves? Absolutely. We need to separate ourselves when we need to protect ourselves from bad influences. There is also a point where two parties disagree so much that they are hindering each other's mission and work. That is a good time to part company as Paul and Barnabas did, to agree to disagree and part amicably. But that's different from renting our clothes and putting ashes on our heads. "I thank God that I'm not like other men."

I doubt there will be a split in the Methodist church at this point. I suspect at this point we will more see individual churches leave. But if there had been a separation, I hope it would have happened by the one side simply saying that they believed the disagreement was just too significant for the two to work profitably together. Not storming from the room in "righteous indignation," but separating in peace because it had become clear that the two parts just had significantly different missions that worked against each other. I hope the churches that end up leaving will do it that way. We agree to disagree and withdraw to better accomplish our sense of the mission.

Hindsight will tell, but I actually respect the fact that there wasn't a split. That's the side I believe Christ would err on, if he could err. If they had split, I would have had to think long and hard about whether I favored my church joining with them. You can believe the same things and yet be of a different spirit, a different flavor. I want to be with the unifiers, not the come-outers.

The peaceful departer is not what I mean by the separatist spirit. I have in mind the church splitter, who didn't get his or her way. There's the Zwingli, who will not be satisfied unless Luther sees every last thing his way. There's the grandstander and the Pharisee, who is purer than other men. And of course there's the ignoramus who thinks he or she has a new revelation from God and is upset that no one agrees with him. Nothing new to see here. 1 Corinthians has a few words to say about the divisive in heart.

6. I'm convinced that most Christians agree with me. The problem, I believe, is that those who don't are usually the most vocal. May the fight in my blood be of some service to the more Christ-like souls who hold their tongues--the peacemakers, the meek, and the pure in heart. Blessed are they... at least Jesus thought so.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

When it comes to how things are understood there will always be distinctions and disagreement. Should the State be run by religious rules or theological opinion?

The Kim Davis case is a case in point. Should Mrs. Davis submit to the governing powers, as scripture commends, the right thing to do in carrying out the responsibilities of her job, and doing her duty to her employer? Or is she suffering martyrdom for a righteous cause that is greater than the governing authority, our courts? Why didn't she just resign or seek to be placed in job where the description didn't ask her to go against her conscience? Does every American have an equal right to conscience or are separatists always going to see the "world" as evil and make problems, for their need to feel or be special?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

America was founded on the separatist mentality, as there was a separation between Church and State. The Reformers sought asylum in America. And the Founders granted the right to conscience in our Constitution, but also protecting the State from Establishing religion.