Was Declining the “Help” of Peacemaker Ministries Somehow “Unbiblical”? Thoughts on that, and various readers’ analysis of SGM’s use of the word “biblical”

January 15, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Lots of interesting stuff in the “comments” section of the previous post, An Open Letter to Ken Sande at Peacemaker Ministries.  If you haven’t already done so, you should check out that post and the comments that many of our astute readers have made.  And of course, if you haven’t been following this blog lately, be sure first to read Noel’s Story.

What I found particularly intriguing was the assessment of someone going by the handle of “Eric.”  In part, he had this to say:

It’s most unfortunate that Noel and Grizzly declined Peacemaker’s services, and SGM’s overtures of wanting to help. That would indeed be the biblical response.

Perhaps some of you out there find yourselves agreeing with Eric, believing that the only truly “biblical response” WOULD have been to do whatever it was that Mr. Sande would have suggested to Noel and Grizzly with respect to the story that they shared with us here several days ago.

But…WHY would a person think that any Christian who wanted to be “biblical” would need to respond to Peacemaker Ministries’ requests, such as Mr. Sande’s request for me to call him and engage in “private communications” with him via the telephone?  Or Mr. Sande’s requests (whatever they might have been) of Noel and her family?

I posted these thoughts:

There’s something manipulative about approaching another Christian with an organization calling itself “Peacemaker Ministries.”

I mean – if the guy calling himself a “peacemaker” asks you to call him, and you don’t, then you must be saying you don’t want peace, right? And who doesn’t want peace? Only some bad non-Christian.

So really, if the person they’re dealing with is a Christian, the “peacemaker” person holds all the cards. They can almost force you to talk with them, on THEIR terms, from the git-go, because to do otherwise would seem like you don’t want “peace.”

I believe we see this mentality lurking behind commenter “Eric’s” assessment of Noel and Grizzly’s supposedly “unbiblical” refusal to talk further with Peacemaker Ministries.

Moreover, though, I believe we see this mentality lurking behind a LOT of what goes on within Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Reader and commenter “Work-In-Progress” shared this with us the other day, about SGM’s frequent use of the word “biblical” as an adjective:

What’s messed up about the system in SGM is that they label everything they do as “biblical.” Naturally the implication is that doing things any other way is NOT biblical.

The pastors often cover their bases by giving a weak disclaimer when they teach on X or Y topic that they aren’t saying their perspectives are the only biblical ones, but that the pastoral team has been convicted through prayer, reading scripture, the leading of the Holy Spirit, etc., that their teachings are the result of having their convictions formed by a biblical worldview and biblical principles. But even when you give a disclaimer like that, if you keep labeling your perspective on a particular teaching or practice as “the biblical perspective,” most of the congregation is going to come away with the impression that this teaching or practice is the only biblical one, and everything else is contrary to the Bible; this is especially true in an environment like SGM that pushes conformity and encourages suggestibility. The pastors might say once or twice that other perspectives can be valid, too, but these messages are far outweighed by the many, many times they pat themselves on the back for having the right teaching and right practice (sorry, “humble orthodoxy”).

Part of the result of this attitude is that what ought to be recognized as merely cultural distinctives of SGM become elevated to theological distinctives. In other words, how well you conform to the church culture – homeschooling, being an at home mom or wife, courtship, etc. – becomes a measure of how good a Christian you are (in their language, how much you are “bringing the gospel to bear on your life” and other similar catch phrases). This is especially evident in how they approach gender issues.

As an example of how unable they are to untangle questions of church culture from questions of doctrine/theology – when my now husband and I were starting our premarital counseling at CLC (not our choice, let me tell you!), I made it very clear to the guy doing our counseling that while we appreciated the sound teaching at CLC, we didn’t really fit in with the culture there, and for that reason we were unlikely to ever join an CLC or another SGM church as members. He seemed to understand what I was saying about the difference between church doctrine and church culture and agreed that there was a distinction. But once the counseling actually started . . . everything he talked about and asked us about concerned gender roles, and very little of it had anything to do with *anything* in the Bible. It was like he was using the principle of male headship as an excuse to talk about how we should be more like CLC couples. We should have a date night every week, which the husband should be in charge of planning right down to the last detail – because it’s not leading if he has to ask the wife at the last minute where she wants to go, or if he doesn’t know what food to order for her, or if he doesn’t have a list of topics for them to discuss at dinner, or a list of questions to ask his wife about how their marriage or relationship with God is going, or assigned reading to discuss over dinner. I am not making this up. These are all things our premarital counselor told my husband he should be doing (and to be safe, I told him afterwards that if he ever tried to assign me reading for a date, he would be in BIG trouble).

We were also told that we should schedule time for “intimacy” and “romance” (meaning sex). We needed to be sure that my husband was leading me in working through conflicts. That last one let to a very bizarre conversation because I had no idea what “leading through conflict” even meant. When I asked what our counselor meant by this, he was unable to give me an answer. He said something about how my husband should be more concerned with understanding why I was upset than with how he had been offended, which to my mind was something both spouses should do to productively work through a conflict. I pointed this out, and he said, well, she should make sure you end conflicts with him leading you through a time of prayer. Again I was confused by this – why did I need to be “led” through prayer? Couldn’t we just pray together after resolving a conflict? (To be honest I didn’t understand why we needed to pray after every conflict, either, but I didn’t mention that). Eventually he ended up saying, “Well, leading is just . . . y’know . . . leading!”

As I said to my husband after we got out of that particular counseling meeting, CLC/SGM is making up all of this stuff as they go along. There is nothing in the bible about date nights, or husbands leading wives through conflict, or really any specific details about how marriages should work – only general principles. SGM pretends as though the very, very specific teachings it promotes about male-female relationships and spousal relationships in particular are “biblical” when in reality they have very little to do with the Bible or with Jesus.

Today, commenter “Cindy K” added these observations about the use of the term “biblical”:

“Biblical” itself carries a heavy connotation, perhaps the greatest of all for the Christian. It becomes a thought-stopping cliche all of its own, for if anyone rejects that which is Biblical, they are rejecting God Himself. Someone here noted that this was true of declining the intervention of a group called “Peacemaker,” as it insinuates and implies SUBTLY and CUNNINGLY that one does not want peace. The real reason that the intervention was declined relates to disagreeing with Sande’s presuppositions about what forgiveness looks like (for me anyway) or because there are no issues of unforgiveness Noel. Reconciliation is not appropriate and not absolutely required, and it seems that many people who should know better mitigate the two separate concepts. That is very powerful and is a type of emotional blackmail, all unspoken and inferred and implied and understood within the group.

But “Biblical” is especially problematic in this sense. Whenever someone wants to promote their own preference or interpretation, they can attach “Biblical” to it, backing up the concept with God’s own integrity and the history of Christianity itself. How clever! No right-thinking and loving Christian rejects anything Biblical. So in one word, a manipulative or even a misled and earnest leader can speak something, calling it Biblical, and with only a word can threaten a believer with the authority of God Himself. It takes some chutzpah and holy conviction and assurance in the Word to challenge that authority or even the accepted use and application of the term. And as some have pointed out on this forum, many in SGM who make such declarations have only 9 months of study to declare them experts on every subject from soup to nuts, including that which SGM finds to be Biblical, including how to deal with sexual abuse of children. Who gets to decide what is Biblical?

I find the use of the term “Biblical” that is attached to anything gender related to be very disturbing and damaging. Some groups put a holy-sounding modifier on to every gender-related word as part of the coded language of their group in order to enforce their gender agenda. It is even applied to terms and concepts that are actually very banal when you consider them. And some things that are just outright silly are said, making gender into it’s own kind of sacrament. I wonder if someone’s drain gets plugged if these folks would look for a Biblical plummer. Or if they tried to unplug it themselves, they would only use a how-to guide published by Crossway or Zondervan, and they would decline a how-to guide published by IVP or Reader’s Digest. Somehow the repair would be more biblical if they used a book from a better publisher. This is an exaggerated example, but this highlights how some of these groups have done this very thing.

This all does several things

– It intimidates and discourages people from challenging anything Biblical by exploiting their own reverence for the Bible, so people use it to win their arguments and push their own agendas.

– The word is also used to reinforce the authority, stature and power of those who make the declarations of what is Biblical and what is not.

– Those who do are shamed without any other words being said, just from the selection of this word (it become cult-code language). People who do have doubts will likely not even consider rethinking anything presented to them as Biblical because of their own already flourishing sense of shame that is always a focus in a shame-based group.

– People hear “Biblical” and believe that they don’t need to be discerning. It becomes a “shortcut” for them, but it actually dulls their discernment and critical thinking. Someone has done the work for them.

– It actually diminishes that which is truly Biblical. It does not distinguish how Biblical Biblical is. Is it essential doctrine or non-essential matters of liberty that are matters of private discression? Is it something that is true of the Universal Church but not permissible within a denomination or within an individual church?

– When certain things like intramural issues are promoted as absolutely Biblical and not open to interpretation, and these matters are treated as sacraments, it diminishes the true sacraments. Is wearing a dress for a woman as important as participating in the Lord’s Supper? In some groups it is. Are banal things being put on par with the essential doctrines of the faith, just because they are called “Biblical?”

It really is disturbing when you think about it because the word itself gets so overused, it no longer receives the respect that it is due. I understand that those within this subculture find this offensive, but they have no idea how ridiculous they sound sometimes, particularly to other Christians. Biblical no longer means that which is set apart as God’s standard as recorded in the Bible, upon which all Evangelical Christians agree. It means whatever my demonination’s leader has claimed is true. That’s very troubling

And it’s a troubling process to work through when you leave, because a part of you feels anxiety. You have to sort through everything to figure out what stones were handed to you and called bread and what scorpions were handed to you and were called eggs. In the name of faith, trust, submission and love, you didn’t even really look to see what those trusted authorities laid into your hand. And they don’t want you to look, either. They want you to keep your eyes and ears shut and listen to them say “This is surely Biblical” or “Did God tell you that this was surely so?”

You have to re-think all of their language.

I thought these readers – “Work-in-Progress” and “Cindy K” – provide us with some excellent fodder for discussion.  Thoughts, anyone?

© 2009, Kris. All rights reserved.