Eroding expectations

Recollective readers may have caught my allusion to my first post in the title of my previous article about this local house church. It is time to see what has become of those expectations, even if this story is not over yet.

I did not go to this house church much in December because of repeated cancellations for various causes. I wondered if this indicated the sincerity and significance of the organizers, but it seems to have been just a run of events judging by comments made at the meetings, which have become regular again.

I will modify the remarks I made about the women in the church. My general sense is still that the women are at least the cohesive force behind the fellowship, but I hold that as a suspended judgment as I continue to observe the men. I have noticed that the one who talks the most is not necessarily the one who is responsible for the most. Just today Laura was telling me that she hardly ever convinces her husband, Brandon, to do anything, and that it’s usually Paul who talks him into it.

I understand Vickie a little better now. I initially felt she was loud, assertive, and confident–not loud in volume but in personality. I thought her trick of signing her e-mails “dirt” was a device of false humility. After further interaction I would remove “confident” from that evaluation. When you remove “confident” but “assertive” remains, you have a worrier who is anxious to be right, is prone to feeling judged or condemned by disagreements, and builds a sense of self-worth, definition, and significance through expression rather than introspection. And it occurs to me that I should have recognized this sooner; I know someone like that. (No catcalls from the audience, please.)

Corresponding to this, it is appropriate that Paul is often silent or little heard from while Vickie is propounding on some subject; if he were to constantly correct, improve, and surpass what she said, Vickie would feel utterly worthless, rejected, and belittled. When he does have something he wants to say, his wife will hold her peace–and his daughters, too, with a bit of reminding. I am thinking of our serious conversations, but I will illustrate with some family banter:

Once, during the chaotic final preparations of a meal, as Paul was trying to help he kept repeating, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it; I am not the one in charge here.”

One of his sons piped up, “No, Dad, you are the head of the household. You’re the authority; you have to take charge and tell everyone what to do!”

To which his father replied, “Okay, then, I’m telling you to be quiet.”

But very serious questions still remain. Foremost among them, why are they even meeting out here in someone’s private home when their teaching is accomplished by replaying the sermon of a famous and widely available preacher? (Besides John MacArthur I have heard Alistair Begg.) Two or three weeks ago I broached this subject. The answer came from several family members, and while their views definitely overlapped they may have differed somewhat as well. Here’s my composite summary of what they said:

  1. When scripture is discussed freely among the assembled believers, the conversations devolves into unprofitable dispute about unimportant details.
  2. Some of the attending families have doctrinal disagreements with the host families, and the hosts would rather that the guests feel welcome than rejected over doctrinal matters.
  3. Listening to an outside teacher provides independent spiritual accountability to the men of the church.

As these reasons were played out I struggled not to explode into vehement deconstruction of the internal contradictions and unscriptural justifications. These are people who already say that church is for believing Christians, not the place of outreach to unbelievers. These are people who have left the traditional church with its designated human authority. And these are the reasons for their TV-dinner spiritual food?

To the first objection I say, yes, indeed unprofitable debate can arise. Let those who are mature among you recognize when it is occurring and take steps to end it. Don’t be too afraid of ruffling feathers, for so did Jesus and so did his apostles; sometimes when we are wrong we need to be hurt a little bit. (Ask Peter, the poor chap.) If someone habitually causes trouble and pain without profit, there is no reason why he should be welcomed to the assembly any longer.

To the second objection I say, yes, hammering home a point of doctrine should not overrule extending warm brotherhood to fellow believers. There may even be a time when it is best not to bring up a particular truth to avoid oppressing another. But these should only be momentary occasions suited to the people and circumstances, and prompted by the discretion and understanding afforded by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the harmony in your fellowship is no more sweet than the sound of two people singing silently together.

To the third objection I say, no! No! How can this concept of accountability to something outside myself have any credence at all when I am choosing the standard? It is more meaningful, though no more profitable, when the standard is decreed for us; we follow the Pope because he is the Pope, so be it. But when we listen to recordings of various teachers, and discern who among them preaches truth, and decide that among them there are several we will frequently turn to, and then announce that we are accountable to a teaching independent of our own foibles–that is like going to a costume party disguised as yourself. Whatever discernment you exercised in choosing your teachers is the same discernment you ought to be excercising so much more often in discussing freely among yourselves the word of God.

I don’t know how well I expressed these thoughts at the time. I know my consternation and irritation showed in my expression if not my language, and I know that we had started to repeat ourselves before we stopped discussing it. I have not brought it up again since, nor have I found hitherto unguessed virtue in listening to some conventional preacher belabor a simple concept until I feel more dizzy than elightened. (I wonder, do other people confuse those two feelings, or does it truly take that much redundant use of educated-sounding phrases before they understand the thought introduced early, in the topic paragraph?)

So I suggest a few songs, and for the most part keep my opinions to myself. I sit quietly and listen to the men decry current politics and to the women bemoan their friends who are sick and tired of hearing about sovereign election, and I gradually feel more and more out of place. For now this is good; an immediate sense of familiarity and compatibility is one of the most treacherous feelings I have to deal with, and if feeling out of place is a more accurate sentiment, it can only be more salubrious for informing my ultimate course of action.