Painfully Liberated

I sold out for seven years.

For my first seven years of vocational ministry, I hid some of my most fervent beliefs about God and His Word for fear of losing my job.

When called upon to preach, I almost never dealt with passages from the Bible that dealt with themes or topics I thought would get me in trouble.

When asked about certain hot topics by church members, I’d skirt the issue and try to appear neutral.

This was all learned behavior.

When I would post an opinion on Facebook, I’d get crushed by the weight of the judgments voiced in the comments section.

On the two occasions that I preached controversial texts from the pulpit, I endured scathing responses.

When I voiced an unpopular or nonconformist stance in private meetings or conversations, I could always count on bewilderment or a rebuke.

Other pastors would advise me not to rock the boat, because to do so would be to trouble the waters and put myself in danger.

The lesson I learned was that time would bring the wisdom to play the ministerial game just right. I learned that maturity meant keeping unpopular doctrinal stances to myself. I learned that people will love me if I would just shut up, fall in line, and do what they paid me to do. I learned to sacrifice (some of) my own biblical values and conclusions on the altar of pastoral success. I learned that to be a successful minister meant conforming to the thought patterns, notions, and convictions of the powerful.

So, for seven years, I let the fear of man control me. My conscience roared within me every day. You can ask my closest friends and family and they will tell you about the hours we spent on the phone or in person working through these frustrations and struggles. They will tell you that I stopped believing that the machine we call the established church in America actually works months before I left full-time ministry. They will tell you that I was deeply conflicted and have been still as the aftermath of my exit has begun to subside.

But I am here to tell you now that the conflict is over.

I have been liberated. Painfully liberated.

It has been one year since I was asked to resign by my last church. I have cried many tears, endured many dark nights of the soul, and investigated my own heart many times over the past twelve months. I have kept a very low profile in recent months so as to not stir up controversy or endure any more judgments or comments sections. I wanted to write, but could not face the prospect of angering or upsetting any readers. It took me almost a year to realize that I no longer have to bow to the popular consensus. I no longer have to live in fear of opinions or public outrage (which seems to be the flavor of American discourse this decade). Instead, I can be me. I can study God’s Word and proclaim it boldly because I have nothing to lose.

In Proverbs 29:25, Solomon wrote, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”

In Galatians 1:10, Paul, writing an extremely difficult letter to a rebellious church, said, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul urges a young pastor named to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

The point these texts make and the point I’m trying to internalize and practice is this: I don’t need to please men; I need to please God. Men who faithfully study and proclaim the Word without fear of men are approved by God.

So…I suppose it’s time now for some confessions. After all, you’ve probably been wondering what I was hiding all those years that could get me in such trouble in traditional, established Southern Baptist churches. You may be worried that I’ve been a closet liberal or become a brazen heretic. Fear not. Here are a few confessions:I am far more concerned with biblical fidelity than silly traditions.

  • I believe the most biblically faithful polity is equal elders that lead and guide the church.
  • I reject ridiculous attempts to explain away God’s Word to make it more palatable to itching ears or to our expectations or opinions.
  • I wish we’d all just stop pretending that Jesus didn’t drink alcohol or that the Bible condemns its (responsible) use.
  • I believe deacons should never ever hold authority over pastors according to Acts 6, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and the rest of the New Testament.
  • I wish we’d quit equating American patriotism with Christianity. We serve a King, not a flag. Enough already.
  • I believe Christians ought to stand on the front lines of racial reconciliation efforts rather than try to explain away the problem (see: all of Ephesians and pretty much the rest of the New Testament. Or just read the whole Bible and see God’s love for the nations. Or dive into Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God).
  • I am flat out sick and tired of sermons that elevate man and not Jesus (see: 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5).
    Jesus + anything (man-made traditions, rules, etc.) = NOT the gospel.

And here’s the most scandalous of them all. This one takes the cake.

A couple years ago, a rumor broke out in my small town that I am a Calvinist. I spent hours trying to convince several concerned church members that nothing is wrong with Calvinism (or Reformed theology) while never actually choosing a side. It was pretty silly. So, I’d like to dispel this rumor once and for all.

Yep. I’m a Calvinist.

I love Reformed theology and I believe that the most conservative stance anyone can possibly take is to err on the side of giving God too much credit rather than not enough. And frankly, I don’t even think that is possible.

There you have it, folks. I know it’s a lot to take in. And I kind of doubt any of you really care about any of this. I just needed to write it. Thanks for listening.

I’m done hiding.

I am a Southern Baptist who hates unbiblical traditions, holds to a Reformed understanding of Scripture, rocks a beard and t-shirts, and drinks beer. And I can no longer allow myself to give a crap whether or not any of that makes you mad.

(And you’d better believe the comments section on this bad boy will be closed).

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