I have been asked to write a regular column for Evangelicals Now. The latest article (my original, unedited version) is below.
It can’t have escaped your notice that Extinction Rebellion have been making a nuisance of themselves. Now, I don’t intend to comment on the value or otherwise of what they are seeking to do – I will leave you to judge for yourselves. All I really want to point to is the means by which they are making their point.
As a former Trade Union member and avowed leftist, I have no problem whatsoever with a peaceful but disruptive demonstration. What value is a protest if it doesn’t cause some inconvenience? It is toothless and no sort of bargaining tactic. So, I can see why Extinction Rebellion have chosen to make their point this way (notwithstanding the value of the point they are making – another column for another day by another columnist, I think!) But it bears noting that many of our elected representatives, along with those in the media, are largely supportive of what the protestors want. This has led some to suggest that they are making life hard for ordinary people who can do nothing about their demands when those in any position to help are, essentially, in agreement with them.
Often, a balance needs to be struck between effectively making your point, encouraging others to move to action, and causing moves that were always going to happen to be delayed. Much depends on what you really want.
Rebellion in the church?
The question of appropriate tactics (for want of a better term) matters when we raise certain issues in the local church. If we are concerned about a flourishing God-glorifying ministry, at times we may need to raise issues of concern so that the ministry can continue to be just that. When issues arise you really have two options before you.
1. Stay quiet and say nothing
It may be that some matter is not to your liking. You might think it a big problem, you might think it fairly small. But one option is to say nothing. You might decide the matter is nothing more than a preference and you can put it to one side for the sake of the gospel. But if you choose to stay quiet and say nothing (for the sake of unity) you cannot then behave as though the thing is a genuine problem. If you are not willing to take it to your elders you must treat it as though the thing is not a problem at all. If it is not worthy of bringing to your elders it is not a matter worthy of stewing over and disrupting the church.
2. Go to your elders
If you think something is a genuine problem, and something does need to be done, then your only option is to take it to the church leaders. Meet with them, graciously explain the problem and see what they say. If they agree with you, they will seek to do something about it. If they don’t agree, let them explain why not. There may be good reasons for the thing being the way it is, or you may find that your position isn’t as solid as you first thought. But none of these things can be discovered unless you talk with them.
When you speak to your elders, they may resolve the matter to your satisfaction. However, they may agree with your concerns and (in your view) not handle it adequately; or they may dismiss your concerns altogether. What are you to do then? Presuming this is not an issue which a majority of the church members believe amounts to a matter of sin within the eldership (cf. Gal 1:6-9), I think you have three options:
1. Talk to them again
Begin the conversation again. Explain the problem, how it has not been resolved and what might need to happen. Maybe they will see the issue more clearly now they have tried to address it.
2. Accept their decision
You can accept that the eldership didn’t agree with you and lay the matter to rest. You will not make an issue of it and you will submit to your elders’ decision on the issue at hand.
3. Leave the church
You may decide that the issue is so important to you that you would be compromised to remain in this local church under elders who accommodate this thing. You personally conclude that it is unbiblical to submit to them on this matter. Should that be the case, your only course of action is to find another church.
Now, clearly, the nature of the issue at hand makes a difference to the route you take. Not all issues are resigning matters and not all problems ought to be passed off with ‘agree to disagree’.
Sadly, however, many believe there is another option. They believe that they do not need to accept the elders’ position and yet can remain in fellowship of the church, perhaps even continuing to cause disruption over the matter raised. But that position is not reasonable. The biblical instruction is clear enough: ‘Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account’ (Heb. 13:17). Which leaves us with a stark enough choice: we either submit willingly – even when we disagree – and put any thought of disruption out of our minds, or we determine that we cannot submit to them and find leaders to whom we can.
Of course, if we can’t find any others, we maybe need to ask whether the issue might have been us all along.