One of the unfortunate but inevitable consequences of being a public intellectual, especially in the context of the Church of God, is that one is the occasional recipient of messages from cranks who conflate their own human reasoning with the infallible word of God. Such was the case for me this afternoon, as I received a message from someone who sent me what is likely a form letter than he has sent to many people in misguided efforts of personal evangelism. Since I do not wish to give him more attention than he deserves–which is none–I will neither give the name of the person who sent me the e-mail nor quote the e-mail itself at length to publicize the message. Rather, instead, the purpose of this entry will be to use this e-mail as the jumping off point in how not to engage in discourse relating to the Word of God with others. As is often the case when we see misguided efforts at spiritual communication, one can see in bad examples the opposite off what we should be doing.
The first mistake of the e-mail message I received was that the sender began with the title: “Below Are The Words Of God, Not Mine.” This title is a lie, not only because it contains a substantial amount of the author’s own words, but even the words of God that are quoted are given the author’s own interpretation, which the author does not recognize as a private interpretation but rather considers to be God’s own words. This is a common problem with writers and speakers in general. The citation of a biblical proof text in support of a particular idea is not itself proof of the idea being presented. There are certainly occasions where someone can correctly draw insight from scripture from the basis of experience in living a godly life and in self-examination as well as critical look at the world and its institutions, but it is also common that people think themselves to be far more insightful than they are about God’s word and about the moral or spiritual state of the people they attempt to rebuke and correct. None of us is immune to this tendency, but a helpful antidote to it is to maintain a sense of humility about ourselves. The author, and the rest of us, would be wise to do so.
Once we move to the message itself, the author begins by criticizing the tendency of ministry to desire titles for themselves as well as showing hostility to calling people mister because it implies a sense of mastery on the part of those people over us. The author defends his baptism in 1974 while assuming that the respect that is given to people who have been ordained amounts to respecting persons in an ungodly and improper way. Whatever is of value in such selective proof-texting about respecting persons as opposed to giving people the respect and honor that we ought to give to those whom God places over us–a principle that is made clear throughout the Bible as well–is not entirely relevant because the author’s hostile attitude towards authorities fails to appeal even to one whose thoughts and feelings about authority and those who hold authority are often highly ambivalent and complicated. The strident and one-sided selective quotation of some scriptures–without explaining the meaning of key terms like what it means to be a respecter of persons–is unfortunately a highlight of this message and many like it.
The largest chunk of the e-mail is spent on discussing issues of divorce and remarriage. In general, this large amount of stridently worded text fails on several grounds, some of which are specific to this section and some of which are more general faults of the author. Among the common flaws are taking a strident and self-righteous tone when dealing with issues that are complicated, and failing to take into account that the recipient of the letter has published rather complex thoughts on the subject at hand, despite being someone who has never been divorced nor even married at least as of the present time. Even as someone who believes that the Church has been far too lax in binding and loosing relationships when one looks at the biblical record and God’s clear statements in Malachi and the Gospels, for example, of His hatred of divorce, is likely to find the author’s own discussion to be far too self-righteous in its handling of the subject. Beyond this the author has some truly misguided notions about David and his supposed commitment to his original marriage to Michal, which is in total ignorance of what the Bible says about his marriage relationships as well as the rationale for his not engaging in relations with Abishag.
Even the ending of the message is not without serious problems. The author makes a muddled call to action that does not make it clear what the author intends on the recipient of the letter to do in acting upon the misguided message. The author urges the reader to never call another minister mister (forgetting or simply not realizing that I am a mere lay member and no ordained minister myself) as well as to look into the doctrines of Cogwa. It is unclear whether the author is a member of Cogwa and wishes to encourage this reader to join them, or thinks that the reader is a member of Cogwa. In either case the author would be deeply mistaken. If the author thinks that this reader is a member of Cogwa and needs to take a critical look at their doctrines, few people have been more critical nor less positively inclined to them than I have been from even before the founding of that church organization. Alternatively, if the author thinks that a rigorous attitude towards the sanctity of marriage and a hostile attitude towards those who seek to multiply titles to themselves is going to lead one to have a positive view towards Cogwa and its leadership, then that view is clearly mistaken as well. Either way, the author is deeply mistaken about a muddled and ambiguous call to action.
The author closes his message by saying, “Respectfully,” despite the fact that the entire letter written has been full of a great deal of disrespect towards a wide variety of people, “In Christs (sic) service,” despite the fact that the message does not in any way serve the Gospel of Christ except as an object lesson in how not to engage in personal evangelism as a believer in a way that serves to the glory of God or the reflected glory of the would-be messenger. To those who also were the unwitting recipients of what looks like a mass e-mail, you have my deepest sympathies and condolences for the time wasted on such an unwelcome message.
Your post reminds me of something I wrote about responding to people who say “God told me…” If you’re interested, take a look: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/08/19/how-should-we-respond-to-god-told-me/
Yes, I agree that this is broadly similar as well in terms of being skeptical of claims that people are speaking with God’s authority, and in examining ourselves and holding ourselves to the full biblical standard rather than simply picking concepts that we want to push.