I am part of a national denomination that is broken down into smaller geographic regions called synods. The word synod is interesting because it came sometimes be rendered “together with”. The idea is that the congregations in our area are “together with” each other in a common ministry. Often it feels to me that we are together in name and heritage but not in reality. I think one of the reasons for this is shown in a recent newsletter article that our synod published.
In this article one of the pastors wrote an unintelligent attack on one of the fundamental doctrines or teachings of the Church. He attacked the notion that Jesus died to save us from the consequences (punishment) of our sin. He attacked one particular thinker (Anselm of Canterbury) and claimed the idea to be unbiblical. At first it would seem that this post should seek to defend his attack but it is so clear he is wrong that a defense is unnecessary. One simply has to read Hebrews 9 and 10, Romans 3:23-26 to know how mistaken he is. Those are only two passages among dozens that show his error.
I was dismayed at his apparent lack of biblical understanding and his willingness to write something so clearly in error but I was even more struck by the tone and nature of his article. He basically said that to hold a position different than his was satanic. I am shocked that a pastor in my synod would condemn anyone who disagrees with him. His article was filled with anger, arrogance and judgment. This is the antithesis of what it means to be a Christian. We are to be a people who are humble, kind and who refrain from judgment and condemnation. This type of approach was distressing to say the least.
Some of my follow on conversation with our staff were similarly disheartening. Our youth director told me that when she goes to youth director meetings in our synod the youth directors are clear whose pastor hates whose pastor. I asked her if the word hate is accurate and she said that there is deep enmity between the various pastors and it feels like hate. I have to wonder what the heck is going on.
I did a little calculation to figure out how much time a pastor might spend in prayer and bible study in order to prepare for a sermon and or a bible study. I figure that ten hours a week is a good estimate. I know some spend more and others less but ten seems reasonable. I was taught to spend one hour of prayer and study for every minute I preach so ten seems to be a good conservative figure. I also estimate that a solo pastor will preach about 40 sermons a year. That gives us 400 hours a year in bible study and prayer. After a decade of ministry a pastor will likely have spent 4000 hours in prayer and study and after 25 years in ministry that would be 10,000 hours of study.
The result of thousands of hours of study by our synod’s pastors is that they are known for who they dislike (hate) and who they are against. Sometimes I wonder why we wonder at the decline in the vitality of our synod’s congregations. If after so much study and prayer our leaders don’t seem to be more loving it could make one wonder what the point or value is to reading the bible. Clearly something is wrong with this picture. The result of that kind of time spent in the bible study and prayer should be the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). We need to repent and seriously rethink who we are and where we are going. If enmity is the fruit we are bearing maybe it would be better to pack up, sleep in on Sunday or go somewhere where the gospel is being lived and changing lives.
It seems clear somewhere along the line we missed something and unless we can rediscover what it means to be saved, live by the Spirit, and experience resurrection power we have nothing left to offer the world anymore. My hope is that we will no longer be known by hate but be known by love as Christians once were.