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Location: Allentown, PA

I'm a Christian wife and a mom to three daughters and two sons. I'm a member of the board of directors of EmPoWeReD Birth. In my "spare time" I'm a doula, and a certified childbirth instructor.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Life Action, Part II (or "Indoctrination 101, Pt II)

When I left this topic last I was discussing a concern I had before my church brought in a ministry group to do an extended period of "renewal" meetings. I was concerned that the high "payment" to attend the meetings could result in an acceptance of what was being taught without proper thought and study. I laid out how attending the meetings might work out in a "typical" family structure.

Well I don’t have a “typical” family structure. I work part time days, my husband works full time nights. So we knew going into it that my husband just wasn’t going to be able to attend the weeknight services. With 4 kids, and knowing that I had a weekly Wednesday night commitment at another church, I knew I would not attend all of the services, but I hoped to attend as many as possible. I actually submitted a prayer card on the first Sunday that God would help to make attendance at the sessions flow well. We also knew that we could not attend the Saturday service because of my previously mentioned class that I needed to teach.

Monday night things just seemed to fall into place. I got home from work on time, dinner was ready to go, the kids were very cooperative about getting packed up into the van to go. I did have a slight unease because I hadn’t told my husband I was planning to go—I suspected he would not approve since we had much to do around our house. But I reasoned that my relationship with God was more important, and I would just stay up late to get some stuff done. I got to church and distributed the kids to their various classrooms, then settled into the sanctuary to listen to the sermon. After some perfunctory introductory stuff, my pastor stood to speak as an introduction to the guest speaker. He admonished the congregation that it would be good for us to be like the Bereans who were noted as being noble in Acts because they received the message preached to them. He stopped at that point. Lets look at the passage from Acts 17:10-11:

10As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

My pastor is a man of the Word. I’m sure he knows that the Bereans were commended not just for receiving the message, but because they examined it against the scriptures. Why had he left that part out? It gnawed at me all through the evening because the lack of time to examine the scriptures was precisely one of my concerns before the series even started.

The message that evening did not sit right with me. It was about “self-control” vs. “spirit-control.” I’m sure you can guess which one was set up as the good thing, and which was set up as “b-a-a-d, just plain b-a-a-d!” The thing is, “self-control” is part of the fruit of the spirit. There are 35 uses of the word “control” in the NIV Bible, and 9 of them are references to being “self-controlled”—all of them indicating that this is a good thing. An additional 9 refer to human control of other people in a good way, while 5 are negative human control. 2 relate to God’s control of the weather and of our transfigured bodies. Only 4—all clustered in a short portion of Romans—refer to being controlled by God, righteousness, or the Spirit. (6 refer to the control of animals, or being controlled by sin or Satan to round out the 35)

I don’t want to down play the importance of that portion of Romans—it is part of the Bible and very important. The author is very passionate in his discourse, which to me indicates that he felt it to be a weighty issue. But I do not believe that the Bible supports “spirit-control” at the expense of “self-control.”

Now to be sure, the speaker used some examples of “self-control” that were not positive. He seemed to speak from the perspective of “self-control means wanting things your own way.” But even in that, I was not moved. His examples used extremes of behavior when I felt that a middle ground would be the more appropriate behavior. For example, he spoke of a wife who was upset because her husband was late coming home for dinner. The “self-controlled” wife he said would throw the dinner in the trash and sulk, treating her husband poorly when he got home. The “spirit-controlled” wife would cover the plate, and keep it ready to heat up when her husband got home, not having any expectation that he would be home “on time” any evening, and thus not allowing herself to be upset about the situation. I feel that the first situation the wife was childish, and the second situation the wife lacked proper boundaries. An acceptable middle ground to me would be to cover the food and then warm it up (or allow her husband to warm it up himself) when the husband got home, but after he had eaten dinner talk to him calmly about how the tardiness had impacted the family and ask that in the future he call home.

In giving this example, you need to remember that in my family the roles would be reversed—my husband is the one getting dinner ready, and I am the one who is potentially late getting home. I had to wonder if this speaker would have given the same type of advice to my husband about how to handle things if I were habitually late for dinner?

I gathered my kids up from their classes not feeling at all refreshed or renewed from the sermon, but rather troubled. My troubled feeling only increased on the drive home from church when I learned that my children had been told to BEG me to bring them back to the sessions. They had actually been told this on Sunday as well. While I would completely support them being instructed to enthusiastically ask to be brought back, “begging” to me implies that they were being encouraged to continue to plead after a parent had responded “no.” Further, when I started asking questions of my children to find out why they were excited about the program I found that it wasn’t because they were learning about God—which is typically what they will tell me when I ask why they want to go to Sunday School or “God and me” on Wednesdays. No, they wanted to go back because they were earning points to get stickers and candy. I’m for positive reinforcements used in moderation…but I think that went overboard if it was SUCH a motivator that it overshadowed God.

Tuesday I got held up at work, dinner wasn’t ready when I got home, I knew the kids really needed to get baths. I didn’t go to the service. I did discuss the previous night with my husband. He did not object to my having gone, nor did he say I shouldn’t go again. But he shared my unease. Wednesday night I had my previous commitment to serve as a teacher for “God and me” at another church. Thursday and Friday I possibly could have gone—actually Friday evening I did end up driving out to the church to drop some stuff off. But I did not go to the sessions. The next time I went--and the topic of my next blog in this series--was Sunday morning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, it's me, Sarah, again.

I wanted to say how much I admire the maturity with which you examined the renewal services at your church. I wish I had had so much insight when I was in college and attending a very charismatic penticostal church. I found especially interesting what you had to say about cost/value in regards to faith. I remember in college the leaders at church were always requireing huge investments of time (sunday services were about three hours long--and you'd better love all of it! Not to mention Sunday evening services, Wed prayer services and any other Bible studies you might be involved in). This is apart from the other investments they were asking the people to make. I often wish I'd had the maturity to see what was going on and to leave earlier than I did.

7:58 AM, February 01, 2005  
Blogger Goldie said...

Hi, interesting reading as usual! :) Can't wait to hear what happened next. I agree with you, lots of red flags there... telling the kids to *beg*??? And what's that about self-control? The way I understand what "self-control" is, the wife in the first example does not have it. Interesting experience! I wonder how your family and your church worked your way out of this one... will be looking forward to your next release!

11:09 AM, February 01, 2005  

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