Saturday, 26 April 2008

Success is Holiness - Review of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

Success is holiness is the title of the next chapter. Taking the examples of Sampson and David, the Hughes’ highlight the dangers of sensuality and how ungodliness constantly seeks to justify itself. I’m sure that many of us who have been involved or around Christian ministry can count off the ministers we know who have compromised themselves and barred themselves from service. And for some of us we need both hands to count them off. The Hughes’ ask the tough questions – what do you watch on TV (or online), where does your mind wander in the quiet moments, how are you actively pursuing holiness?

In one sense you can never stop asking these questions. And the questions need to be specific – direct – frank. Is there someone at church that you are more excited about seeing on Sunday than anyone else? Are you knowingly harbouring a desire, a thought, a dream which you can’t share with your wife? Do you have access to money that no one knows about? A friend of mine asked me once – “what will you do when you meet the woman that you’d be willing to give up your wife, your family, your ministry for?” The premise of the question was assumed – you will meet her one day. And the purpose was clear - plan for it now. Our natural inclination will be to sin. So make it hard for yourself. Ask the questions – better yet, get someone else to ask them to you. Put things in place so that you’ve really got to work hard at sinning (the point being, of course, that your laziness kicks in and you give up before you sin). Hire a male assistant (if you’re straight). Put your home computer in a public place. Don’t have anything to do with the offertory. Success is holiness.


Seumas Macdonald said...

I'm sure the book doesn't address this, but why do the safeguards of holiness sound like a recipe for pursuing a Pharisaical avoidance of impurity? And if they're not to become that, what is going to stop them being so?

Dave Clancey said...

An interesting question. No, the book doesn't address this paticular issue.

What the book, and my additions, were aimed at I think were seeking to help people consider and safegaurd against sinning. In that sense there are similarities with a pharisaical system of law. I guess the difference is in our attitude to those 'laws' (and that really is the wrong word to use!). Putting your computer in a public place (if you know that you are tempted by on-line porn) helps you to stop sinning - it isn't in and of itself a solution (the solution is a change of heart and desire), nor should it be thought of as somehow making us righteous (I know you weren't getting at this.

But as for 'avoidance of impurity' - why is this necessarily pharisaical? Paul urges Timothy to fless from sinful attitudes and behaviour (1 Tim 6:11) - Jesus commands about eyes and hands seems to be suggest he was all for avoiding impurity. But maybe I've missed your point!

Seumas Macdonald said...

I think 'the avoidance of impurity' is a phrase that will help probe this issue more deeply.

There is a kind of avoidance which I would characterise as the avoidance of sin as impurity. That is what I see Paul urging Timothy to do. It is right both to avoid sin, and to avoid temptations to sin as well. But they are not on the same level, I would also argue.

There is an avoidance of impurity that is more motivated by avoiding contact with sin as presented by 'sinners' and their sinful behaviour, for the sake of preserving some kind of moral purity. I take it that Jesus' scandalous behaviour goes head-to-head with this kind of avoidance.

Now we come to the heart of my question and pondering - in following Jesus' radical willingness to go to those recognised as 'known sinners', how do we resolve the tension between avoiding temptation and maintaining a blameless reputation (reputation being another topic for another day) on the one hand, and what I will characterise as associating with 'sinners' as sinners in their sinful existence.

I use 'sinners' to mark out, as the scriptures do, people who are publicly marked as 'sinners' by a culture's standards.

Dave Clancey said...

I wonder if distinguishing between who sinners are and what sinners do might be helpful (it might not be, too!)? Jesus' attitude, it appears, was to interact with who sinners are, but not to participate (or condone) what they do. You sit with the porn addict in your office or in the pub, but not the peepshow. You meet with the habitual binge drinker at 2 in the afternoon, not 2 in the morning. And I wonder if by interacting with sinners in such a way you are not only meeting with them, but also not putting yourself in a position where you can be tempted by their sins.

I, and the book, weren't getting at avoiding 'the world' or 'sinners' so as not to be contaminated by sin. Certainly not. But we do need to be wise and pragmatic in safeguarding ourselves against falling into sin.

Seumas Macdonald said...

true, true, and i'm not suggesting you or the book are saying otherwise, just thinking it through.

i do wonder whether there's a difference to be drawn between being with the porn addict at the peepshow, and being with the binge drinker at the pub at 2am. one can be present at the latter without being implicated.

i also wonder if this might lead to a mindset of 'sure, i'll engage with you, but on my terms and my turf' which bothers me too. i guess i'm trying to envision what it will look like to have a firm commitment to a blameless life, matched with an equally firm commitment to engage sinners even in their sinful lifestyles, without participating in their sins.

Dave Clancey said...

You're spot on, and correct about the difference in the two examples.

I should have thought of it earlier, but in working through Ephesians here at church I was really struck by Paul's command in 5:11 'Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them'. He goes on to talk about exposure to the light, and it occurred to me that what he is getting at is an involvement with sinners (but not the 'deed's of darkness') with the purpose of exposing them - not in a codemnatory way, but in a 'showing them the futility of this way of life' kind of way, for the light makes everything visible (5:14). As he goes on to say - 'be very careful how you live' (5:15). And I wonder if that is where we end up - in a sanctified common sense process of decision making which carefully weighs a myriad of factors in each involvement with 'sinners'. One I'm very aware of is how you do that when many of the regulars you minister to would think you've abandoned the faith if you so much as even walk past a pub (for example!)

You've really got me thinking about this reputation thing, though. Have you written on it? I think you should - it would be valuable to many, and you'd come at it from a great point of view given your work.

Peter Orr said...

Mark Driscoll speaks on it on his sermon on John 17 (search the MarsHill website for it). He gives the example of someone chiding him for kissing and hugging his (biological) sister in case it looked like he was having an affiar! Needless to say,he does not pull his punches.

Seumas Macdonald said...

thanks Peter, I'll look it up. I'm always happy to spend another hour listening to Driscoll. Dave, I haven't written anything coherent, just some thoughts here and there, but I think I'm about ready to draw them together. This has been some helpful thinking...

Seumas Macdonald said...

Here, I whipped up some thoughts.