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People are bruised reeds, please don't break us

I've found myself in a twitter conversation about a certain American pastor who protests he's not a legalist but would consider my application of 1 Timothy 5's exhortation that men should provide for their family to make me "worse than an unbeliever".

How so? I've pursued a call to ministry with a mission agency who for better or for worse can't fund me to the extent that I can live in my part of the UK on a single salary... at least not if I want to live somewhere convenient to the ministry and if I want to be responsible for the future by having a mortgage and if I want to follow the call to increase and multiply (i.e. be a Dad). I've watched this pastor on video say he'd subject me to church discipline for leading my family in such a way that my wife needs to work part-time (about 2.5 days a week). It seems he'd kick me out of the church...

I'm prepared to accept that I've made some bad calls along the way though I've sought to be wise and careful financially, and I could just be trying to justify my own failings and sin. I accept that.

And actually, I don't disagree with the principle - I am responsible for my family. 100% agreed. My question is, is this the only way this can look? Even in this pastors own context? Is everything primary? This pastors vision of the godly life seems to be that a man should move out of home, buy a house, marry, have kids and do it all on one income. It's a very western, middle-class, middle-income view of life. In some cultures we'd be bringing our family up in my parents home with the advantages of the care of parents and grandparents... would that be ungodly?

It's hard to disagree when it's done in the name of godliness (charismatics play the same card when they wont let prophecy be tested!)... day care becomes evil... Flee! The world will ruin us and so on... Homeschooling becomes salvation. And women stay in the kitchen, even though the much idealised Proverbs 31 woman was evidently a successful business woman.

That's all meant by way of illustration. I've taken my family where I've taken us and I make no claim to have got that 100% right at every stage. But, my thought here isn't really about that issue. 

Its more about the rediscovery of church discipline and the way it seems to be brandished and threatened against people rather than pursued with gentleness for peoples good. And gentle application of the gospel seems to me to mean there isn't one law for everyone, but the transforming work of the Spirit degree by degree.

My question - how far should application of the gospel go? How far should a pastor seek to authoritatively bind the consciences of his congregation (and his own!), and to what extend should he just be holding up the worth of Christ and allowing freedom of conscience and freedom of the Holy Spirit? 

At one extreme - "if you're not a home-owning single-income Dad you're worse than an unbeliever" at the other (as I heard on an mp3 from my own church family recently as they interacted with another American leader) - "It's not my business whether one of my congregation drives a Hummer or a Prius". I've had similar conversations with pastors who've objected to students leading Christian Unions... because there isn't an Elder present... neither is there when I'm witnessing to my neighbour. Leaders have many opportunities to form their people, winning hearts to Christ week by week, but that doesn't mean they micro-manage the lives of their congretations.... and boot them out if lives don't fit their plan.

Granted sometimes threats and warnings are helpful (usually for the most pious), in my experience people mostly need someone to bind up their brokenness, to comfort them, and to walk with them. There are plenty of bruised reeds in the church. I feel bad enough about some of the choices we have to make in this broken world without someone throwing guilt on to me! There are responsibilities on church leaders that weigh heavily on them, and I wouldn't want to advocate a total-hands-off approach. I want to care for Christians - my heart is that of a pastor-teacher - but I don't want to turn into a heavy-shepherding micro-manager or a biting wolf. I'm not saying that pastor is doing this, but I could imagine him being imitated unhelpfully.

I know I have a bent towards the big picture rather than the detail and I'm really not saying that rigorous application of the gospel isn't required - it is, and every detail of life matters... but does it look the same for everyone in every culture? We're not all called to the same job, same income, same location, same standard of living etc. A pure church is a great vision - but that's not done with an iron fist. No church is pure yet. And progress and joy in the faith come as everyone plays their part, not highlighting one another's failings but holding out the gospel, so that by the Spirit the eyes of our hearts might look again to Christ.

And in all this I'm thankful that I live in the presence of one who is My Provider, the true provider for my family, who is more than able to meet my every need, wretched as I am, and carry me home.


  1. Great post Dave, and I speak as a "home-owning single-income dad" (which is quite a challenge when you have 5 kids and there is no shortage of people who disapprove of our choice). There are actually a lot of issues on which one approved 'biblical' way can be presented, resulting in guilt and pressure being piled on those who don't conform. The answers to this are all in Rom 14, but its a passage that doesn't get preached nearly as often as it should.

  2. Dave,

    You raise some BIG BIG questions. A proper answer to your question, has got to grapple with passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and particularly what Paul means by Scripture being able to equip us for EVERY good work. If by this Paul means that Scripture addresses every situation, then there is a sense in which no human activity down my choice of socks in the morning to the manner in which my wife puts on her mascara that can escape the marrow-piercing glaze of the Word... So my simple answer - it is possible to establish from Scripture whether every deed is right or wrong/sinful or righteous. Deciding about the particular issues though may be a whole lifetimes work and so we pray Kyrie Eleison.


  3. Hi Bish,

    I know it's related to your illustration rather than your point, but I think this video offers a slightly different tone and emphasis to the Pastor you've been talking about on twitter. He's not quite answering the same question, but I think it is nevertheless pertinent to see this kind of measured response from a Pastor who is conservative on the family and complementarian on gender roles.

  4. Kip - I do agree, and all the issues matter. But there is still a lot of room for God calling people in different ways... you to be a Rev for example, but not everyone to that. Godliness isn't being a Rev, though sometimes it can be portrayed that way by some!

  5. Pete - a much more helpful and measured approach. Helpful to highlight that what can be happening today is a feminist-reacting-almost-islamic-approach as a reaction against the spirit of the age.

    So much is a question of priority and provision and how much that has to be exclusive and direct.

  6. Just a quick note in a late lunchbreak...

    I've always interpreted the "equipping us for every good work" as something quite different from "specifying what every good work is". One of Dave's phrases: 'Being truely charismatic' i.e. led by the Spirit would seem so important in these issues that aren't precisely specified in the Scriptures...

    P.S. your blog makes me smile.

  7. hmm, 2 tim 2:21 must go with 2 tim 3:16, probably also a reference to the good work begun in philippians 1 (among the overseers and deacons?) which seems to me to be the good work of partnership from the beginning of the gospel in phillipians 4. In short, sacrificial gospel priorities must shape the lives and doctrines of overseers and deacons, and there's plenty encouragement for that (eg "i am convinced that my God will supply every need through his riches in Christ Jesus" -in what Woodies used to call the "economy of the kingdom" - verses like "I seek the fruit that increases to your credit" php 4); the reward of sacrificial living and hardship...

    One of the highlights of last year was sitting with a very beaten down staff twin who was working in a difficult town where both the CUs and the churches including his own elders were judging his ministry. Providentially, I happened to be in 1 Cor 4 with my relay worker, and it struck us that by pretty much every measure of ministry people we face (biblical knowledge, growth in holiness, increased financial support, growth in mission, love for the cross, commitment to church, evangelistic fruitfulness...), Paul's ministry would have been judged a failure in Corinth. But he says even that is folly; he's building for the day, and his work is not to be judged before the day which will reveal his work. I wonder if this category of providing for himself and his household would be another measure Paul would have fallen short of - going as he was homeless and working night and day...I know he was both single (actually I'm less sure given 1 cor 9, "the other apostles take along their wives why can't I"...) and unique, but surely something of his encouragement and comfort (the "what is my reward on that it not you?" theme surely still applies - something like the "I tell you no one who has left XYZ for me in this age will not receive this age, and in the age to come eternal life"; "God is no man's debtor kind" of principles).

    Equally, with respect to your church discipline/bruised reeds question, I was struck that Paul's knowledge of the resurrection not only kept him going in his labour pains, but kept him patient for the church - it was a very small deal for him to be judged according to this age, but if he was obsessed with their judgments then he would come impatiently with a rod; but as it was, the resurrection which made him so unappealing to the corinthians also made him patient for them and so he'd come in love, in a spirit of gentleness (note the fruit of the spirit there)...that's how church discipline worked for him. No wonder he said I have applied all these things to myself...for YOUR benefit. A bruised reed he would not break!

    Well there's some musings. I for one am grateful for your home. I'm sure the boys are too, and Em, and I'm sure a couple 1000 students who've been through transformission are too. you're much loved, db.

  8. Heartfelt, Dave. Perhaps an issue where eldership authority has been 'rediscovered', but without the bounds traditional in a confessional setting, where the limits of that authority is clearly defined. Think: the value of having elders commit to rule, teach and lead according to the subordinate standard of (e.g.!) the Westminister standards, is not only that you know the positive content of their leadership, but that you also know where their authority to discipline (primarily by teaching, Calvin wrote) ends. Carl Trueman wrote on this recently here.

  9. Very helpful words from Trueman. I hope they get read by many. Useful implications for CUs too - with reference to our 'confession'.

  10. Good post Dave.

    There is a couple I know of where the guy is a manual worker and the woman is a senior manager.

    Once their kids were settled in school (probably also a sin for that American pastor) he quit his job to stay at home to enable the wife to restart her job.

    A job that pays probably double what his does.

    Which is the best way to "provide" for your family?

  11. Cheers for this Dave. These are some interesting thoughts and a healthy warning to continue oversight and involvement in peoples lives without becoming overbearing, legalistic or forgetting that individuals are ... different and so people's lives will often look different and still be consistent with biblical, gospel centered living (sorry for the long sentence).

    Keep it up


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