What gives us the right to blog? I’ve wrestled with that question for at least a year now, but I’m finally fed up with letting it pin me.
September 1st, 2015 my cousins and I started this blog and called it On The Rocks, dismayed at how our country, the United States of America, has gone so terribly astray. America’s ship of state drifts ever closer with each passing week, month, and year towards a rocky and turbulent shore.
As Christians, Micah, Marshall, and I believe the words of Jesus. “The wise man built his house on the rock.” Anyone who hears those words of Jesus and doesn’t just pay lip service to them, but actually lives by them, that is a wise man who builds his house on the rock instead of building it on the sand.
No, none of us have been to seminary. To my knowledge, none of us intend to either. If a seminary education is critically important to you, this blog is not the resource for you.
If you’re looking for the stamp of approval of your favorite preacher or theologian, we don’t have that either. And, to be quite blunt, we’re not looking for it.
Yet we feel compelled to help anyway. We believe God has called us to this task, and so we want desperately to be faithful and productive in it. It is for that reason we launched this blog, to plead with our countrymen to change course and avoid dashing America’s ship on the rocks.
Or, seen another way, we’ve pleaded with our fellow man to heed the words of Jesus. Like the wise man who built his house on the rock, we know it will stand fast when rains come and winds push against the walls of that house.
What gives us the right to weigh in on the social and political issues of our day?
Before we’d even written much less published our first article, an esteemed Pastor we know asked us where we get our authority and credibility from. What trusted source of Biblical teaching signed our permission slip saying we babies of the faith could write about how our faith informs our opinions and political persuasions? Who would we be accountable to for our writings? Who had we submitted ourselves to for calling us out if we began spreading bad doctrine and false teachings?
I confess, this question stunned me when I first heard it second-hand. Whatever happened to “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”? Why would a Pastor devoted to sharing the gospel to a world of lost sinners who need Jesus, or sharing God’s Word with confused and misguided fools who need the truth, object to three young men lending their skills, time, and energy to aid that task?
By and large I sloughed off the criticism. Yet all the same, knowing there might be some truth to the caution, I approached certain trusted individuals. I contacted pastor friends of mine from Ohio and Montana in particular and invited them to read our material and weigh in if they ever see us producing something false or inappropriate.
And, as our intention was always for our articles to inspire robust dialog in the comment section of our posts, we felt we were inviting all the accountability anyone could ever hope for or encourage by creating an open forum for people to respond openly and honestly to what we publish.
Motives and safeguards considered, we proceeded.
About 9 months went by. We three writers at On The Rocks wrote about the presidential election, racism, the LGBT movement, environmentalism, socialism, abortion, and our personal lives. We poured hundreds of hours into studying, reading, writing first and second drafts for articles, collaborating over the phone and email and instant messenger, and scrutinizing both our articles and the feedback we got from readers regarding those articles.
It just so happened that an opportunity presented itself for me to ask the Pastor initially concerned – who’d objected and criticized our endeavor before we’d even launched the blog – if he’d had a chance to read any of the 70+ articles we’d published.
His response was evasive. Yes, he’d kind of sort of maybe read some of the articles, but he couldn’t remember the last one very well, nor could he tell me what he’d thought of it.
I asked if he could give me any of his general impressions of the blog. Yet to my profound disappointment, apparently nothing had changed. Yes, he’d liked one article we’d written, a certain I Wish I Could Be A Libertarian by Micah. Other than that, however, he still had grave doubts as to what we were doing.
The questions he’d voiced before we launched the blog were all still there. What gives us the right to do this? Which trusted authority figure signs off on what we’re writing? He was still clearly troubled we were treading on thin ice, lacking the theological bona fides to avoid making a fool of both ourselves personally and Christianity as a whole.
I’ll be blunt. This Pastor slammed our blog as hard as anyone could have while smiling and speaking so softly.
The only thing missing was a condescending pat on my head and a ruffling of my hair.
As I listened attentively for his answer to my question, he explained in very vague, general terms that there used to be safeguards against false teachers and kooks spreading bad doctrine and foolishness. Now, with the internet and social media and blogs, everyone thinks they can be a writer. Any Joe Schmo thinks that merely having opinions and being able to put them out there means they should. All sorts of absurd ideas and falsehoods are being promoted these days without college and church leaders having the final say over who gets published and who doesn’t. There’s no filter!
And so the Pastor explained that anyone who thinks they can be a writer just because they have a computer and a website and an internet connection should closely question their own motives for writing. Are they just trying to be important and get a following for themselves? Are they just trying to get attention to flatter their selfish ambitions and vanity? If so, that’s very dangerous. Don’t encourage those people to blog. And if they blog anyway without encouragement, such people shouldn’t have a readership for their blogs.
And what does their personal life look like? The Apostle Paul wrote that not many should be teachers. We hold teachers to a higher standard than everyone else. So if someone’s life is messy or controversial, or if they don’t have a spotless testimony, they’re actually doing more harm than good to present themselves as authorities by blogging. By blogging about social and political issues, especially when they bring the Bible into it, novices are actually setting themselves up as teachers, thereby usurping the rightful domain of pastors and elders in the church.
When I pressed this Pastor for specifics, our conversation quickly collapsed on itself.
This felt like a clear case of someone speaking generally when their thoughts and feelings are actually very specific and personal, not least because our conversation started with my asking for his thoughts about this blog specifically.
“Some people shouldn’t write for a blog because they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
I heard that as “I disapprove of you guys specifically writing this blog, but I’m not going to just say that because I’m not prepared to explain myself.”
Yes, it’s all well and good to keep an eye on our motivations for what we’re doing. Sometimes advice reminding us to do a gut-check is exactly what we need. Yet sometimes people who advise others to question their own motives should question their own motives for giving such advice.
Like in the case of a certain Pastor who devoted years obtaining credentials from a seminary he respected, then probably spent several more years pastoring small congregations where his weekly sermon’s audience was quite small, knowing it might require decades of painstakingly building and protecting his credibility, skills, and character to see his church grow in size to a few hundred people.
Contrasted with a trio of young Christian laymen relying on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and a broadband connection, who in the span of a year or two might have hundreds or even thousands of subscribers getting their articles a couple times a week. That could be a recipe for envy and resentment, vices to which pastors are not immune.
Yet a Pastor advising three young men to back off because practical theology is his turf sounds anything but spiritual and mature. So rather than come right out and say such a thing, one could reasonably expect the internal conflict to resign such a critic to vague platitudes.
What gives anyone the right to do anything?
I mean, really. Think about it. What gives you and I the right to do anything at all in this life? And which is our default assumption as Christians, that we’re forbidden from or free to do what we please?
Yes, America has traditionally placed a very high importance – arguably too much importance sometimes – on individual freedom and autonomy. But now the pendulum is swinging dangerously far the other direction.
But for voter fraud and the rigging of the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders – an avowed Socialist – would probably have won his party’s presidential nomination.
That is to say that America is now openly courting Socialism. Socialism – a social and political system which makes every individual a slave to the collective will, represented by and embodied in the all-powerful State.
We tend to think of countries in which the State is the solution to every problem at a very high level. Communist propaganda posters and Nazi flags and statues of Chairman Mao come to mind. Or we think about Auschwitz and firing squads and Siberian labor camps. We bandy about figures in the millions to refer to those killed and imprisoned. That, to those of us who study and oppose Statism, is what real Statism looks like.
Yet as we see America creep closer and closer to openly embracing a totalitarian system like those infamous evil empires of the 20th century, we’re going to become more personally acquainted with the impacts these systems have on individuals. Specifically, we’re going to see more and more that the individual is not presumed to have any natural rights. Rather, the individual is only free to do what the community or the State explicitly grants him permission to. The default position is an extreme shortage rather than surplus of freedom.
The tyranny of consensus and political correctness is to silence and stifle individual thought and action in favor of group-think.
Please understand, I’m not saying the Pastor who criticized our blog is a Statist. All indications I’ve seen prove he isn’t one, and it would be absurd to suggest otherwise.
Yet there are unfortunate similarities between the assumptions at the heart of his advice and the direction Statists would like to take America. Principally, both the Statist and our friend the Pastor are contending that only that which is expressly authorized is good and praiseworthy. Personal initiative and an independent exercise of discernment are to be strongly discouraged.
In Statism, apparently much like our Pastor’s ideal vision of the Church, authority is heavily centralized under a few carefully selected experts. Leave the management and administration of the community to the scientists and intellectuals, with their graphs and polls and centralized plans and projections, or all their flowcharts and degrees.
In both Statism and this Pastor’s view, individuals operating independently of the centralized authority are presumed as mostly mucking things up. After all, what else could they do without official certifications, permits, or degrees from elite figures and institutions?
Yet tragically, this is why Statists in Germany, Russia, China, and elsewhere have been able to justify rounding up political dissidents to Socialist rule and having them either shot or imprisoned. Not asking for permission to feel, think, speak, or act independently is tantamount to open rebellion. And, as rebels, independents are seen as infections in the body politic.
In Socialism, not waiting on permission to do things is seen as a crime in itself because it presumes that individuals don’t need the State. For this reason, all notions of personal freedom are stamped out as completely and ruthlessly as possible. Therefore, people lose their will and reason to live and become mindless slaves in every way.
Yet God created man in His image to fill the Earth and subdue it.
If I buy a field to plant a vegetable garden in it, what gives me the right to? Perhaps our Pastor friend would say I should check my motives and make sure they’re sufficiently selfless first. The Socialist would say I should make sure I’ve received a degree in agriculture from an accredited college first and secured all the necessary permits. A board of certified gardening experts should evaluate and approve my plans for the tomatoes and watermelons to make sure I’m pure-hearted and know what I’m doing before I start indiscriminately seeding the ground.
Yet I happen to believe it was authorization enough when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to work it. When God said, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the Earth and subdue it,” did He add a conditional phrase explaining the first man and woman needed to submit the proper paperwork before they started migrating and procreating?
My wife Lauren and I celebrate 10 years of marriage on November 25th. In that time, we’ve had six children. Some voiced disapproval of our getting married as young as we did. Many didn’t approve our having so many children as quickly as we did. I’m sorry, did we miss a step? Were we supposed to conduct a poll and take a vote or ask an expert’s permission before living our lives?
Where did this notion of needing other people’s permission for everything come from? I’ve read and studied the Bible for over two decades now; I can’t for the life of me remember seeing anything in the text to support that view.
“We must obey God rather than men.”
Read both the Old Testament and New Testament and you will quickly see a recurring theme. God commands His people to do this or that even when obedience conflicts with human authority figures or communities. Sometimes He commands this or that precisely because it confounds the human authority figures. It pleases God to periodically reassert His preeminent authority in the affairs of the lives of His people.
And not only do the recurring conflicts which result always presume God is the one who calls the shots and either gives or withholds permission, but very often the authority figures and communities who disagree silence dissent by imprisonment and execution.
For just one of the many examples, consider Acts 5.
“But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.”
So God sent an angel to release the apostles from prison in the night, and the Lord commanded them to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
What did the apostles do? No, they didn’t go and ask permission from the high priest and those with him. They didn’t apply for a preaching and teaching permit. They didn’t rush off to seminary first. The Lord commanded and the apostles obeyed. Godly authority ultimately comes from God.
So the high priest had the apostles arrested again and brought to him to question them.
“We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
How did Peter and the apostles respond to this rebuke?
“We must obey God rather than men.”
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.”
In the chapter immediately before this, we see Peter and John questioned by the rulers, elders, scribes, and both the high priest and his family. All these were “greatly annoyed” at Jesus being preached and a sick man being healed by these spiritual ragamuffins.
“And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Or, paraphrasing: “What gives you the right to preach and teach and heal sick people? Who do you think you are coming in here and presuming to do good works on our turf? You’re getting the respect and admiration that rightfully belongs to us!”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, explained very bluntly that Jesus was their authority. It was he who commanded them to do these things. Furthermore, it was these religious leaders who had put Jesus to death. They were the ones needing to answer from whom they derived their authority and permission.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
As an uneducated, common man who’s never attended seminary, perhaps I don’t understand what this means in the original Greek. But weren’t Peter and John chosen by God Himself to spearhead the preaching of His gospel? Yes, they were. And in choosing them, didn’t God snub the formally trained religious leaders of their day? Yes, he did.
What that should tell us is that formal education, training, and certifications aren’t of chief importance in God’s economy. God often chooses the foolish things to shame the wise, the weak things to shame the strong, and the low things to bring to nothing all our prideful boasts.
Regardless your level of education or station, to say you have the right to trust God and obey His commands is an understatement.
Yes, formal training has some value. God using the Apostle Paul to write the lion’s share of the New Testament gives us some clue about this because Paul was, after all, very well educated.
Yet God has demonstrated time and again through the centuries a remarkably simple principle. He wants His people to trust in Him rather than their own cleverness, abilities, and processes. And yes, that can and very often does include degrees and certificates from colleges, universities, and seminaries.
Otherwise what will we say? Is God not enough? Is Christ not sufficient to save us? Do we need to place our trust in a human authority as well? It’s all well and good to have the degrees and the highly esteemed human authority to look to, but let’s remember to keep first things first here.
Read history and you’ll see that’s where the Roman Catholic Church went astray. Christ not only wasn’t enough, he wasn’t pre-eminent. Instead the masses demanded a visible Vicar to be the object of their worship and devotion. Christ wasn’t a sufficient intermediary between us and the Father. Faithful Roman Catholics were told instead they needed a priest to absolve them and forgive their sins.
The clergy balked when the Bible was translated into the native tongues of Europeans. What right do you have to read the Bible in English? Again, the presumption was that you have no natural rights. Permission must be stingily granted from the central authority.
The formally trained leaders of the Roman Catholic Church tried to stop this because placing God’s Word in the hands of “common, uneducated men” is dangerous. The Bible tells of what happens when common, uneducated men boldly advance the gospel. Content to begin with only God’s command, they just don’t know when to quit.
“Get behind me, Satan!”
Consider the tradition of the Catholics that Peter was the rock on which Jesus would build his church. How are we to understand Jesus rebuking Peter with the rhetorical backhand of “Get behind me, Satan”?
I know of no other explanation but that sometimes even the most well-intentioned Christian leaders forget their place. Sometimes even the best presume to tell the Lord what He will and won’t do. Rather than humbly petitioning Him in prayer and submitting to His reply, we imagine we’re the ones in charge. We’re the ones with the plan, and God’s going to march to the beat of our drum.
When we do this, no matter how well-intentioned we think ourselves, we’re following the example of Satan rather than Jesus.
Consider how Satan is God’s adversary. Consider how Lucifer rebelled and waged war against God’s angels. He wanted to set his throne above the Most High. In effect, Satan’s original sin was pride; he forgot his rightful place and was putting himself above God. He fully intended to set himself up in God’s place as ruler of the universe and all created things.
And this is why Jesus rebuked Peter, saying “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter had forgotten himself. He was presuming to correct God and order him around, as if he had a throne above God’s throne. “The rock” was inadvertently following in Satan’s footsteps.
So also the Roman Catholic Church when it forbade the printing, study, and teaching of the Bible in native tongues.
What gives us the right to blog?
What gives Micah, Marshall, and me the right to weigh in and comment on controversial subjects? What qualifies us to write open, honest, and thoughtful articles about the social and political issues plaguing America? Quite simply, God’s Word equips us and the Holy Spirit gives us the right by calling us to it.
Or do only seminarians have these things? Are we second-rate Christians who must keep silent, resigning ourselves to tithing to pay pastors’ salaries?
I cannot believe that’s how it works, and I see nothing in the text which validates such an attitude. If God has called and equipped us, that must be sufficient.
What gives us the right to blog? I’ve been grappling with that question for the past year. And especially for the last three months, thinking I might be causing trouble or spreading error has paralyzed me. Was I being presumptuous before to study, ponder, and write without an official title or permit from the church? No, I wasn’t.
“We must obey God rather than men.”
God forbid some pastors would give such cautions as we received for reasons of their own selfish pride and vanity. The role of pastors is not only to protect the flock from false teaching and erroneous doctrine. Their job isn’t just to play defense, but to equip God’s people to be productive in their faith. Their job is to encourage Christians to be fruitful, not sit on the sidelines.
Whatever the motives for the advice and cautions we received, Satan tied them around my neck. He used them to bind me and make me unfruitful for a time. Unfortunate as that is, by God’s grace I’ve finally untied myself.
Now it’s time to get back to work, and there’s a lot to do.