Bully Pulpit or Pulpit Bully?

So once again it is time to discuss pastoral combativeness as a virtue. This is not to say that pastors have some sort of a double-00 rating allowing them to be pugnacious or difficult to get along with. On the contrary, Scripture plainly teaches that one of the qualifications for ministry is that a man must not be “a brawler” (amachon). When he fights, it must be because he loves defending the sheep, and not because he loves fighting so much and wolves as enemies will do. In short, there is a difference between using a bully pulpit and being a pulpit bully.

And this is why I am constrained by conscience and by the Word of God to say to you all, "God don't make no junk!"
And this is why I am constrained by conscience and by the Word of God to say to you all, “God don’t make no junk! Live your best life now! What are your felt needs?”

Nevertheless some still want to raise the objection. If a pastor is a controversialist, one who is involved in polemical battles (from time to time), is he therefore unfit for ministry? After all, the apostle Paul required a pastor to be “well thought of by outsiders.” How can you be well thought of by people who think ill of you?

“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:6–7, ESV).

Can this be said to be true of a pastor if that pastor finds himself, on this occasion or that one, running from a mob?

There are two basic ways to interpret this requirement. One is to absolutize it, and say that any pastor must have a good testimony, period. The consensus that he is an all-round good guy, from pagans and believers alike, must be unanimous. The gloss placed on the text changes it from “well thought of by outsides” to “well thought of by all outsiders.”

The other way is to say that when the inevitable slanders come, the godly pastor must have lived in such a way as to make the slanders laughable, and to ensure that those who would mount the slanders have an uphill climb. This is another way of saying that when a controversy erupts, the pastor must have a good reputation with those whose opinion counts.

For example, I would argue that Paul had a good reputation with outsiders at Ephesus, the place where he caused a riot. The stadium was filled with yelling unbelievers, stirred up by the silversmiths, whose trade in idols had been damaged by the gospel. Paul certainly did not have a good reputation with them — they were in fact enraged (Acts 19:28). And they were hot enough that the disciples would not let Paul go in to address them (Acts 19:30).

So how did he have a good reputation? He had pagan friends in high places.

“And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater” (Acts 19:31, ESV).

And another pagan, the town clerk, a man who was a believer in Artemis, was able to stand up in front of the people and say this as he quieted the crowd:

“For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess.” (Acts 19:37, ESV).

This lines up with how Peter sought to prepare believers for the inevitable slanderous onslaughts.

“Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (1 Pet. 3:16).

Christians should live in such a way as to provoke outlandish slanders, and simultaneously to reveal them as outlandish. A recent example that I might take from my portfolio was the accusation that I was a plagiarist because a source I was using said “double entendre” and I had said “double meaning.” I am particularly pleased with that one. To make it even better, Carl Trueman thought I had been thereby schooled in “basic research methods,” which apparently means never using the word double — a different kind of double bind.

So back to the problem. For those who would absolutize Paul’s requirement, saying that it means “be nice to everyone and everyone will be nice to you,” a few problems remain.

First, it makes Paul a royal hypocrite — requiring Christian leaders to do something he did not do. Not only did Paul not do it, he would boast in the bad reputation he had with outsiders (2 Cor. 11:18ff). He was beaten with rods three times. He was stoned once. He was flogged five times.

On this reading, his hypocrisy is heightened because he praises those who refused to desert him despite the damage it would do to their reputation with outsiders (2 Tim 1:16). The effrontery of Onesiphorus is hard to take — disregarding the plain teaching of the apostle like that, refusing to be ashamed of his chains. Those who sidled away from him no doubt did so muttering to themselves how important a good reputation/resume was if you wanted to teach in a good Reformed seminary.

Second, this reading cannot successfully evade the tenuous nature of their position by making an arbitrary distinction between the prophetic and apostolic office (for which inspiration is required) and the pastoral office, for which vases full of pussy willows are required. Paul teaches his disciples to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), and when the opprobrium of outsiders falls on him, he expects his friends to stand with him. Some did, most don’t — we are perhaps closer to first century Christianity than we thought.

Third, this ludicrous interpretation would require us to say that every pastor or Christian leader who has ever been martyred for the sake of Jesus Christ, beginning with Antipas, was thereby disqualified from the ministry. Outsiders don’t kill you when you have a good reputation with them. This way of thinking — substituting an unctuous testimony for an honest one — is nothing more than a way of pre-assembling denials of Christ prior to the outbreak of persecution. That way, when trouble rises, everything is ready to go.

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adad0
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Ephesians 4:26-27 26 If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day. 27 Don’t give the Devil a chance. Matthew 5:10-12 10 Great blessings belong to those who suffer persecution for doing what is right. God’s kingdom belongs to them. 11 “People will insult you and hurt you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things about you because you follow me. But when they do that, know that great blessings belong to you. 12 Be happy about it. Be very glad because you have a great… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

Gee, I wonder if it was just a coincidence that C.S Lewis labeled the entity known as N.I.C.E. as the ground-zero locus of evil ?

adad0
Member

Nope, not a coincidence. It was a purposeful acronym.
(though I bet you knew that officer RFB! ; – )

RFB
Guest
RFB

Yep…just throwing it in for effect.

Thankfully long retired…

adad0
Member

FYI, ‘don’t know you from Elvis. Just gathered you were in enforcement from your comments. You would know, more than most, that “Being nice, is not the same as doing good.”! Thanks for your service. !

RFB
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RFB
adad0
Member

????????

Alex
Guest
Alex

Isn’t 1 Cor 11:1 the conclusion of 10:32-33? Which would not really support your argument here.

bethyada
Member

[31]So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [32]Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, [33]just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

[1]Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

I don’t see why not. That Paul was asking them to imitate him in one thing (as he imitates Christ) would be consistent with Paul wanting them to imitate him in all the good things he does.

Alex
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Alex

Sure. It’s just slightly incongruous to use 1 Cor 11:1 to say that we must not be worried about having a bad reputation, when Paul says here, on the contrary, “imitate me as I try to please everyone in everything I do.”

Jane
Member

But “try to please everyone in everything I do” has boundaries, as well. St. Paul did lots of things to tick people off, depending on the situation. In fact, the “everyone” in this context is believers. It’s not a general claim that he always tries to please everybody; it’s a statement about how, when there is something that could cause conflict within the church, he tries to please everyone.

What if he’s saying, “imitate me as I try to please everyone in everything I do when the situation calls for it?”

RFB
Guest
RFB

How about a wisdom toolbox, dealing with specific situations with grace, so that we may know how we ought to answer (or address) each one.

Sometimes the situation or person needs a gentle answer to turn away wrath to either keep the peace, or in the hope that the person will hear and listen.

Sometimes it might require diligentia, vis, and celeritas rendered upon an aggressor to protect the victim(s).

Sometimes it might be simply withdrawing from the engagement. I think that that it was Charles De Gaulle who said that graveyards are full of indispensable men.

Andrew Lohr
Member

Inasmuch as lieth in you, live at peace with all men–so it’s not totally up to you, and some things ya can’t surrender. / Cf Theoden’s terms of peace for Saruman in The Two Towers. / Peter: Live good lives so when men slander you they’ll be ashamed of themselves.

insanitybytes22
Member

When Jesus Christ himself began His ministry, Luke tells us, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They
got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the
cliff.”

Personally I don’t trust pastors that don’t have at least a few people trying to hurl them off a cliff.

bethyada
Member

Consider also Paul’s call to get on well with all men as far as it depends on us

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.