Pastor asks: Who has the right to speak for God?
Thursday, Mar 13, 2014 10:33 am
“There is perhaps no better proof for the existence of God than the way year after year he survives the way his professional friends promote him.” - Frederick Buechner, in Whistling in the Dark
A couple of Sundays ago when I was out of town, our church had the largest single financial offering of my 11-year tenure. At the same worship service on March 2, the congregation also received a substantial donation for the Airdrie Food Bank.
Church Council has respectfully asked that I go away more often. As some of you know, I’ve never been inclined to take myself too seriously, which served as part of the motivation for an address I gave while away titled: Who Speaks for God? It was a discourse partly fuelled by certain curious events that have recently transpired within “religious circles” or “church groups.” You may have heard of some.
A Kentucky preacher at what insiders call “one of those snake-handling churches” died after an annoyed rattler he was attempting to charm affixed its venomous fangs to his wrist. “Snake handling” is a long-standing tradition in certain Christian churches that take a particular statement of the Bible quite literally. The deceased pastor’s son reportedly cradled the same snake during worship the following weekend as proof his faith was intact.
Years ago, thousands of Calgary-area church-goers periodically trekked to the Stampede Corral to attend a conference called Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts that featured the teachings of an authoritarian gentleman. Word emerged last week while I was in Chicago – where that organization is based – that this man had been summarily dismissed following verification of his consistent sexual harassment of female employees over the years.
Within the past month, a Christian university in the U.S. garnered ominous headlines in the New York Times related to allegations of its toleration of various forms of abuse of students including sexual and emotional.
Incidents such as these deeply sadden me for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is the very idea so capably articulated above by Pastor Buechner. When those who claim to speak for God conduct themselves inappropriately, many observers are either unable or unwilling to refrain from equally discrediting God or the church. I deeply regret when I see that happen because God is vastly superior to what any one person or any one church/tradition represents.
Tim is pastor at Faith Community Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org