Generalizations are acts of authority. And this is why our modern world hates and instinctively cringes when generalizations are made. Our culture hates anything with the slightest aroma of genuine authority.
Women are weaker than men.
Now I’m a misogynist, a racist, a flat-earther, and I probably do crossword puzzles on Sundays for fun like some kind of psycho.
But the Bible requires Christians and Christian pastors in particular to make generalizations. Generalizations, by definition, are generally true. They are not necessarily exhaustively true — there may be some exceptions, sometimes more than others — but taking everything together, generalizations are more true than not. And generalizations are true enough to teach wisdom. Cretans are lazy gluttons, Pharisees are snakes and hypocrites, and lazy fools come to ruin. The Bible is full of this kind of truth, and Proverbs in particular is full of this kind of wisdom.
Proverbs says that the lips of the harlot drip honey. Is every harlot good looking? Is every prostitute a sweet talker? Proverbs says folly is bound up in the heart of a child and the rod of correction will drive it far from him. Is the rod of correction the answer to every single instance of folly? Are there any children for whom circumstances and frame require a more nuanced approach? Sure. But all things being equal: faithful parents will regularly, consistently, and lovingly spank their children in order to teach them wisdom. It is a sin not to spank your children.
Wisdom requires analysis and application. Wisdom requires seeing the world accurately and applying God’s word faithfully. And this is why I recently posted on Facebook and Twitter this little gem: “When will Christians realize that a pastor or Christian ministry should not be trusted until or unless it has been accused of being a hate group? Death threats, malicious slander, hate blogs, and at least one visit from the police should be prerequisites for Christian leadership.”
Several friends thought that this was unhelpful or at least potentially confusing, since it seemed to make persecution a qualification for leadership in the church. Some thought they understood what I was getting at but that I might be encouraging an unhelpful belligerence. While we may currently have a courage problem, we don’t want to swerve this thing straight into a jerk problem. And I actually agree with these concerns. I see how what I wrote could be misunderstood and misapplied, and yet I stand by what I wrote because it is a true and faithful generalization.
What about the word “prerequisites” — did that take it a bit too far? No, it did not for several reasons. First, no one I know of takes the other items in the list of qualifications (1 Tim 3, Tit. 1) so woodenly to require all of those virtues and qualities in full maturity. Christians understand that those qualifications are to be evaluated by trajectory. We don’t ordain a man because he preaches exactly like Charles Spurgeon; we ordain a man who has begun to preach faithfully and courageously. We do not generally require a man to have grandchildren in order to demonstrate that his own children are faithful believers. We can usually tell how they are doing far earlier. So likewise, what I wrote about hate groups and slander should be taken the same way. We want to see a faithful and healthy trajectory of collision with unbelief.
Secondly, I stand by my words specifically for our culture. Christians should not trust a pastor or ministry who is not coming into conflict with our world given what our world is currently doing. You cannot be a faithful pastor who manages to avoid conflict in a world as compromised and infected as we are. If you heard about a pastor in 1939 Germany who was not in any trouble at all, what would you think? As Jesus might have said, it will be more tolerable for Nazi Germany in the judgment than modern America.
Third, a great deal of our problem is bound up in our misunderstanding of gospel ministry. Gospel ministry is a trouble making mission. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36). This statement from Jesus is, incidentally, a wonderful generalization. Christian pastors should seek to emulate it. And of course it should stand side by side with other statements that seem to contradict it (cf. Lk. 9:56). But read the gospels and read the book of Acts closely. The central events, stories, actions center on conflict and trouble. As the bishop once fretted, ‘Everywhere St Paul went there was a riot; everywhere I go they serve tea!’ Everywhere Jesus went He made people feel uncomfortable, angry, confused, and the apostles carried on that glorious tradition. Everywhere they went there was controversy, riots, arrests, hatred, and yes, central to it all was the preaching of the scandalous death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners. But let there be no mistake: everyone who follows Jesus is looking for a certain kind of trouble. And everyone who would proclaim this Jesus is a trouble maker. This is no equivocation or playing with words. The point of the gospel is to bring a sword, to bring division, to bring controversy and conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, the darkness and the light, the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. That only seems like equivocation if you do not take the conflict seriously.
So let me add to my list of prerequisites: Christians should not trust a man or a ministry who is not already practicing godly generalizing. A general is a leader in a war. He is a man we trust to see the whole battlefield well. A general must generalize in order to win the war. There are many other important tasks in any military operation, some which require a glorious specialization. But a private who insists on a general not generalizing is insisting on being leaderless (and almost certain defeat). Practicing godly generalizing is practicing Christian leadership and wisdom. And so we should not trust a man or a ministry with authority who has not demonstrated that sort of wisdom. If a man is practicing that kind of biblical wisdom, he will have enemies that he is laboring to love and bless. How can you love your enemies if you don’t have any? Clearly, if you want to follow the admonition of Jesus, you must go make some enemies. And in our world this really is not difficult for the faithful. But it does require courage.
New e-book Death by Baptism available here.