Pragmatism, Jonathan Fletcher and the shoddy reasoning of ‘we have… only been blessed’

I was particularly disappointed to see the following letter from Simon & Kathy Manchester in this month’s Evangelicals Now. You can read it here, but I reproduce it in full below:

Dear Editor,

We have know Jonathan Fletcher for more than 40 years and only been blessed by his friendship and ministry.

Of course it is painful for everyone when questions or accusations must be dealt with as good people are doing.

May the Lord enable this process to be kept in proportion, and be marked by great humility.

How good the Lord is to all of us – to protect and provide.

Yours sincerely,

Simon & Kathy Manchester, Australia

Now I have no intention of commenting on the specifics around Jonathan Fletcher here. I am in absolutely no position to do so. What I do want to highlight, however, is the atrocious reasoning that seems to underlie this particular letter.

Look at the opening statement. The Manchesters insist that they have known Jonathan Fletcher for 40 years and have only known blessing through his ministry. It is that opening statement that seems to underlie the later one calling for proportion. The strong inference seems to be that the process (potentially) and/or the surrounding comments concerning Jonathan Fletcher lack proportion. And they specifically appear to lack proportion, according to the Manchesters, because they happen to have been blessed over the last 40 years by Jonathan Fletcher.

Now, leaving aside what exactly people mean when they claim to be blessed by someone (it’s rarely entirely clear), I don’t doubt that there have been people blessed by Jonathan Fletcher’s ministry. The Lord uses all sorts of people and chooses to bless, throughout scripture, from the least likely of sources. Even the likes of Balaam and Shamgar – despite neither being believers nor of God’s people – managed to bless or save Israel. When even an ass can start speaking the truth of God, and ultimately bless Balaam by saving his life, we minimally learn that the Lord isn’t (by our standards) overly picky about which instruments he uses to dole out his blessings.

Knowing this, using the line ‘but I have been blessed by it/them’ suddenly starts to look a bit ropey. That the Lord has blessed you through something or someone does absolutely nothing to tell you, of itself, whether the instrument of blessing is in any way godly or worthy of praise. Blessing – which comes from God – does not immediately render the means God uses to be godly. As far as Jonathan Fletcher blessing the Manchesters goes, it’s great that the Lord has blessed them that way, but it does absolutely nothing to reckon the means of blessing to be fundamentally good. I’d have thought someone with a Reformed bent and a credible theology of sin (including total depravity) would recognise as much.

But this goes further. Not only does blessing not render the means of blessing good of itself, nor does it undo the serious sin that has taken place. King David blessed Israel well enough, but none of that blessing undid the seriousness of his abusive sin towards Bathseba nor the murder of Uriah. When Nathan confronted David, the King delivered his own vedict on himself – the man deserves to die! David was that man and no amount of blessing Israel happened to cancel that out. The same was true of Solomon and the sins he indulged. Despite taking Israel to her zenith, his kingdom-splitting sins were not ruled out because of the great blessings the Lord used him to bestow on his people. The Lord simply does not tot up our blessing and use it to cancel out our sin – that is the logic of Allah, not Yahweh.

It seems (to me at least) that the Manchesters are indulging in the worst kind of pragmatism. Because Jonathan Fletcher has been used to bless, his sins must be viewed in proportion to his 40 years of blessing. The calculation appears to be more blessing equals greater need for proportion which, whilst I don’t want to be unfair or unkind, sounds remarkably like leniency. Grave sin is all well and good, but let’s just weigh it against his great blessing. Because he has worked so well in the eyes of many, let’s try to rescue a reputation and be a bit more gentle than we might otherwise or than the sin itself warrants because, well, we have been greatly blessed by him.

This is, interestingly, precisely the same logic somebody who used to be in my church tried to employ when I ask them to stop pushing the teaching and books of Joyce Meyer. I dared to suggest that Meyer was a prosperity teacher who denied the gospel and led people into serious error. This was flatly denied. When I pointed to her own website that claimed such things, and I pointed to her preaching in which such things were declared, none of it was good enough. The answer came back, ‘but I have been so blessed by her’. That was it. Cut and dry. It didn’t matter how far from the gospel her teaching deparated, someone had been blessed and could therefore only be considered right, healthy and good for blessing the rest of the church.

I suspect the Manchesters would have the same view of this as I did. That is, it is terrible reasoning and will lead to more damage to the church in the end if we allowed it to pass. Whatever blessing someone might have gleaned from Joyce Meyer is not good enough a reason to allow her false teaching to ruin the church. Blessing, of itself, does not equate to godliness or helpfulness. If they do view it like I did, they would do well to recognise that they are employing the same reasoning regarding Jonathan Fletcher and it is as woeful there as it is in the case in my church.

We equally cannot ignore the fact that what some call ‘blessing’ is no such thing at any rate. That someone may have been blessed by someone or something that is less than godly is one thing, but we must also ask whether what they call ‘blessing’ is any such thing. The person in my church who claimed to be blessed by false teaching wasn’t actually being blessed at all. What they meant was that they liked it, which really isn’t the same thing. The heroin addicts I know feel like they’re being blessed with the drugs they’re addicted to – they really quite like them – despite the fact that what they consider a blessing is the very thing that is killing them. Those who feel blessed by false teachers may enjoy having their ears tickled but, in the end, their enjoyment does not mean it isn’t damaging. Playing on the railways lines always looks fun, it doesn’t stop people getting hit by oncoming trains.

In the same way, whilst I concede (see my earlier comments) that people might genuinely have been blessed by Jonathan Fletcher and his ministry, we have to ask the question whether it really was a blessing. Were we actually blessed or did we just like the attention? Were we really served well or did the things that went with it cause us more damage than we realised? Whilst we may have been personally blessed, did our blessing lead to blessing for others and the wider church or was it the means by which great harm was done? Is our view of blessing biblical or are we just using that as shorthand for, ‘I quite liked it’ or ‘I feel like I gained something that I wanted out of this’?

I suspect there probably were people blessed by Jonathan Fletcher is real and genuine ways. But I am afraid that does nothing to undercut whether his sin has damaged people in real and genuine ways too. Nor does it do anything to mitigate whether his sin has caused real and serious damage to the church and to Christ himself.

I equally suspect, as with anybody like Jonathan Fletcher, there are people who benefited from his modus operandi and culture over which he presided and those who didn’t. There will be those who gained, those for whom it was moot and those who were damaged. That some gained – or simply weren’t damaged (so far as they judge it) – does nothing to overcome the questions of whether they were gaining from a sinful culture and the sins of a particular man nor does it do anything whatsoever to mitigate the serious damage done to those who suffered from it. Arguing that ‘we have… only been blessed’ – which may well be true – does nothing whatsoever to mitigate matters.

Sadly, this sort of reasoning is all over the church. It is pragmatism 101. So long as things are working, so long as people are blessed, so long as people come to faith, so long as it brings people into the church, so long as our discipleship appears to be going well, so long as, so long as. Whilst things are working, we justify as piccadillos and trifles the sins of those we admire. And we admire them because they are, so far as we judge it, successful. They make things happen. They work. They are vital to the cause of Christ. Godliness and character can take a back seat to the principle that, so long as it works, we will get onboard.

It is this same reasoning that leads to Mark Driscoll (and others like him) spectacularly falling and yet still finding themselves back in church leadership, doing exactly the same things, because they do what works. They get things done. The Lord is using them to bless. We, despite all the talk, have only ever known blessing by him. Those who make such a calcuation will find that reasoning comes back to bite them in the end. Those inclined to write such things in national newspapers may just find the same.