One of the things that modern Christians have a hard time doing right is loyalty. We don’t know how loyalty is supposed to work. We don’t understand the spiritual requirement of personal allegiance to your church and its leadership, and in addition we have a very poor understanding of what disloyalty actually smells like. Not a few Christians think they are contending for the peace and purity of the church, just like it said in their membership vows, when they are actually stinking up the sanctuary. We think that if a letter begins it is with grief in my heart, the letter that follows cannot be disloyal.
Let me begin by noting that—in this as in so many other situations—there is a ditch on both sides of the road. One ditch might be called the “Dear Leader” ditch, the insistence that everyone applaud like they were a spectator at a North Korean missile parade, clapping in sync with the goose-stepping soldiers. What we have there is not likemindedness, but rather mindless conformity, baptized automata pretending to be disciples of Jesus. That really is cultic. But in the other ditch we find ornery cussedness, pretending to be valiant for truth, but in the last analysis they are loyal only to their own thoughts, opinions, and perspectives. These people are disrespectful, disloyal, and disruptive. Fully three quarters of them would be astonished to be told that they were being disloyal. But they are, and it’s bad.
However, there is a ditch on both sides of this road. And so allow me to give the best illustration I know of on how to stay on the road of righteous personal loyalty. That example is provided by Trumpkin, the doughty Narnian dwarf.
First, let us take a look at his intense loyalty to his sovereign Caspian. He doesn’t believe in Aslan, doesn’t believe in Doctor Cornelius’ knick-knacks from the past, and doesn’t believe that any help is going to come to them from the high past. But nevertheless . . .
“Thimbles and thunderstorms!” cried Trumpkin in a rage. “Is that how you speak to the King? Send me, Sire, I’ll go.” “But I thought you didn’t believe in the Horn, Trumpkin,” said Caspian. “No more I do, your Majesty. But what’s that got to do with it? I might as well die on a wild goose chase as die here. You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You’ve had my advice, and now it’s the time for orders” (Prince Caspian, p. 92).
Now that’s loyalty right there.
But earlier, when some Black Dwarfs had suggested the possibility of bringing in a Hag or an Ogre or two to help their cause against Miraz, Trufflehunter objects to that on the basis of what Aslan would think about it. Trumpkin responds to Trufflehunter in a telling way. There are plain limits to loyalty.
“We should not have Aslan for our friend if we brought in that rabble,” said Trufflehunter, as they came away from the cave of the Black Dwarfs. “Oh, Aslan!” said Trumpkin, cheerily but contemptuously. “What matters much more is that you wouldn’t have me” (PC, p. 72).
Trumpkin knew instinctively, in his bones, the way a hierarchical world works. Not only are persons ranked differently, so also differences are ranked differently. There is a stark distinction between disagreements over this policy or that one, on the one hand, and compromises with evil on the other. Since there is a difference, they should be treated differently. The debate over this tactic or that one should not be treated as a battle between light and darkness. There are times when absolutely no one should say, “Yes, sir,” and yet there are other times when the only ones who don’t say, “Yes, sir” are the anarchists and rebels.
Since I am leaning on C.S. Lewis so much here, let me quote him again, this time from Screwtape. “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”
When it comes to life in our modern congregations, we think we have to guard against mindless conformity when what really threatens our spiritual health is our radical individualism. The Scriptures tell us what we should be laboring for, striving for, and praying for. We are not told to work at maintaining independence of thought. We are not told to build some ecclesiastical variant of academic freedom. We are commanded to strive for likemindedness, to be of one mind.
“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Rom. 12:16).
“That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6).
“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11).
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil. 2:2).
“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Pet. 3:8).
“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5).
“For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state” (Phil. 2:20).
Allow me the privilege of translating all of this into modern American English for you. Drink the Kool-Aid. Join the cult. Surrender your independence. Swallow the party line. Go baaa like a sheep. Strive for the nirvana of acquiescence.
Modern Christians allow the Bible to talk that way because it is their sacred book and so they are technically stuck with it. But if any Christian leader, anywhere, anytime, teaches that obedience and maintaining a teachable spirit are virtues to be cultivated by church members, then that guy is now a hazard with blinking lights all over him. He is clearly power-tripping. He must be a Diotrephes. He is Diotrephes automatically.
But . . .
“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7).
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
It is not possible to pursue likemindedness biblically without having a biblical view of authority.
These two verses, incidentally, taken together, provide a compelling argument for membership in a local congregation. These individuals have to know the names of the men who rule over them—you cannot obey an undefined leadership. And a body of elders cannot render an account for an undefined membership. If you don’t know who your rulers are, you cannot consider the outcome of their conduct or way of life. And if you don’t know who you are responsible for, you cannot watch over their souls. These two verses, taken together, require two lists of names—a list of the elders and a list of the members. Obedience to Scripture at this point is impossible otherwise. Pastors and elders are not allowed to look at their flocks on a distant hillside, as painted by an impressionist at a low point in his game, and working with dirty brushes. “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds” (Prov. 27:23). No, giving an account means counting.
Now this means that members of churches have assigned duties of loyalty and obedience. But what a number of Christians today believe is that their membership actually requires honest and sometimes impudent feedback when they disagree, preferably online. I have seen some behavior in that department that, as one of my daughters might put it, makes my eyeballs sweaty.
So this year marks my fortieth year as a minister of a church—of the same church. May I be allowed the wise observations of an elder in Zion, or perhaps, failing that, of a wizened old geezer? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen Christians flame out in the loyalty department. I have seen disloyalty to the mission, I have seen disloyalty to friends, I have seen disloyalty to membership vows, I have seen disloyalty to previous positions taken, I have seen disloyalty to spouses, I have seen disloyalty to our confessions, I have seen disloyalty in business commitments, I have seen disloyalty to an elder board, I have seen disloyalty to a deacon board, I have seen disloyalty to benefactors, I have seen disloyalty to teachers, I have seen disloyalty to parents, and I have seen disloyalty to pastors. And as a pastor, I have often seen it up close and personal. And lest anyone get the wrong idea about this, like every Christian who cares at all about true religion, I have seen it in my own heart.
But people today are nevertheless hungry for true community, and true community is impossible apart from shared values and mores—likemindedness, in other words. But once community actually starts to form, the attacks on the “cult” will begin. Vulnerable and sophomoric Christians in the community will be taunted—prove your independence. Whatever your leader asks for, vote no, drag your feet, raise a stink, and put some daylight between yourself and that guy. As if you could establish independence by always finding the North Star, and always sailing south by it. But that’s not independence.
Don’t try to pretend that learning to deal with all this is somehow an unnecessary part of learning pastoral ministry. Remember that Jesus prayed all night before He selected Judas.
More needs to be said about all this, of course. And maybe I will.