Proverbs in Light of the Cross; Group Think

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.Proverbs 15:22 NLT

…..victory depends on having many advisers. Proverbs 24:6 NLT

None of us enjoys getting our ideas shot down by a committee or board. Yet there is safety in numbers only if everyone speaks their mind in a humble and Christlike way. I have talked to new church board members who told me, they aren’t really sure what to do, so they just watch and vote the way everyone else is voting. There is no point in having many advisers if they all think alike. There is also no point in having many advisers if they don’t warn us of the consequences of the board or committee’s choices. Also the board must realize their loyalty must belong to the mission of the group and not just to the leader of the group.

While I was taking a Speech and Communications class, at a local community college, the professor introduced me to the phrase “Group Think.”

According to my professor, group think is a phenomenon, where being a part of the group is actually more important than the mission or beliefs and values of the group itself. It is where you are afraid of disagreeing with the group,           in order to protect the mission of the group, for fear of being separated from the group.

Symptoms of group think are when the group over estimates its power and authority, and becomes close minded. Group members experience pressure to conform, regardless if conforming is actually helping the group accomplish its mission. Membership in the group actually becomes more important than the mission of the group.

My professor gave some examples. In Watergate all the President’s men agree to break in and bug the democratic headquarters. Later many confessed they knew it was wrong, but they complied for fear of no longer being able to work next to the President. Being a part of the group became more important than the mission of the United States government.

As my professor explained, I started thinking of some examples of “group think” in the Bible. The Jews all agreed to crucify Jesus and release Barabbas because that’s what the leaders wanted. This actually brought unity to the group, but at what expense! People were afraid to confess Jesus for fear of being thrown out of the group or synagogue. Yet Jesus was the whole purpose of the synagogue! When this phenomenon occurred the group defeated its purpose of being a

group just in order to be in the group. They may have even thought they were protecting the group from Roman persecution by having Jesus crucified, but without Jesus the group meant nothing.

Having many advisers will keep us focused on our mission only if they are not afraid to speak up.

The greatest want of the world is the want of men– men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall. -Ellen White, Education, Page 57.

You may study the Proverbs Sabbath School lesson here.

Respecting God While Respecting Our Leaders

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson suggests that “Over the long centuries, people have struggled to understand the role and function of government and how citizens should relate to it. What gives rulers the right to rule?”

I believe it is worthwhile to think about the role of government and our individual responsibility.

Former United States President Richard Nixon, defended himself in the Watergate scandal, by telling reporter David Frost, “If the President does it, then it is not illegal.” This bold statement shocked David Frost, and every other competent thinker! I suspect that in the United States, people really started to question their leaders after Nixon’s downfall.

I believe we keep a healthy balance of respect for leadership, without blind submission, when we ask for accountability and checks and balances. In the United States we have a constitution with which the President must conform. This Constitution declares who has the ultimate authority. It reads, “We, the people.” Not “I, the President” or “I, Thomas Jefferson, or Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.” The power and authority of the Constitution comes from “The People!” Therefore the United States president is not above the law.

In the church we have the Scriptures as our sole authority, and our leaders must be held accountable. And the church as a body has authority derived from the Scriptures and the leadership of Jesus Christ as represented in the body of the church.

God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.” -Ellen White, Last Day Events, p. 56.

Just as in the United States, the President is not above the people, the church leaders are not above the church. While working in a different Adventist conference many years ago, my boss told me to do something on the Sabbath which my conscience did not think was appropriate. My boss told me the conference president expects me to do it so I better do it no matter what! (Please keep in mind my boss said this and the conference president never actually made such a threat.) I thought to myself, Sorry, Jesus died for me, not the conference president. I have to be faithful to Jesus.

It does not matter what church affiliation you belong to, you have to follow your conscience and what the Holy Spirit has convicted you is truth based on Scripture. If any leader, secular or ecclesiastical, tries to place his authority above your conscience based on the Scriptures, then consider,

The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply rooted of papal errors. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 292-293

Papal errors are not confined to the papacy. The church in Christ’s day was quite papal when they crucified Him even though the word “papal” was not recognized yet.

“The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. …. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” The Lord “is the Rock, His work is perfect.” “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Jeremiah 17:5Deuteronomy 32:4Psalm 2:12. (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 414)

Jennifer Schwizer wrote a compelling post on clergy sexual abuse. However sexual abuse is only one form of abuse of power. Pressuring people to violate their conscience in any way whatsoever is abuse. The ugliness of sexual abuse is not so much what it does to the body, but even more so what it does to the soul and conscience. You don’t have to use sex to rape someone’s soul and violate their conscience. Anytime someone puts their power over your conscience it is rape. (Thank God for the millions and millions of clergy members throughout the ages and across all denominational lines who have ministered to God’s children faithfully, without ever harming a single soul. Because of them we have confidence in the clergy, and people can find in them the mercy and love of Jesus.)

Many years ago, I heard the testimony of a church leader, defending himself for some shady deals, saying his boss (another church leader) told him to do it, therefore he had no choice but to obey his boss who had “authority.” I am sure Joab was thinking the same thing when King David told him to put Uriah on the front lines of the war. Please read what God’s messenger has to say about Joab’s rationale.

“And Joab, whose allegiance had been given to the king rather than to God, transgressed God’s law because the king commanded it. David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 719)

While we need to be respectful of authority,  we also need to remember the ultimate source of authority. And while we respect those in leadership, we must remember we are accountable to the Scriptures and God’s church, of which Christ is the Head. Even Martin Luther, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation, tried his best to be respectful of the leaders of his church. It was not his goal to start a new church, much less a movement that would change the world. He sought to bring his leaders into harmony with the Scriptures, and it was only after his efforts to work within his church failed, that he felt he had to make a choice between allegiance to God or allegiance to his leaders. Martin Luther was loyal to the only One who loved him enough to create him and die for him. Likewise we should make every effort to submit to our leaders as far as we can without being disloyal to the One who died for us.

Dispute over biblical truth did not stop with the age of Luther. It is our job to continue to press forward and put into action the truth that is contained in Scripture. And sometimes that makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes it causes heated arguments. And sometimes leaders weigh in with their opinions on one side or the other. Any particular interpretation of a biblical passage is not automatically more “right” because a church leaders says so. God has designed the governance of our church in such a way that, if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us individually, the mind of the Spirit will be met through the vote of the church body. And that is why the vote of the General Conference should be regarded as authoritative.

No one person or relatively small group of persons has authority to dictate his or their opinion to the rest of the church body, no matter how strongly they feel on the matter. Leaders need to respect the vote of the members, and members need to respect the position of leadership, as far as it is biblical.

I have met people who are afraid to speak up in board meetings or church business meetings, because they feel they are too young or poor, and their influence would not be felt. I have also observed people abusing their age or money to hurt others. I would like to encourage all—no matter how young, old, rich or poor you are—you need to speak your convictions in these meetings. And, no matter how young, old rich or poor you are, you need to respect others when you do. We all have a right and a responsibility to speak, and we all have  a responsibility to respect each other when we do so.

“If The President Does it, Then it is not Illegal.” Really?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson states, “In some cultures, there is a tendency to distrust and challenge leadership; in others, to blindly submit to it. How has your own culture’s attitude toward authority impacted the church in your area?”

In an interview with David Frost, Richard Nixon, a former United States President, forced to resign due to a scandal, defended himself by saying, “If the President does it, then it is not illegal.” This bold statement shocked David Frost, and every other competent thinker! I believe, in the United States, people really started to question their leaders after Nixon’s downfall.

I believe we keep a healthy balance of respect for leadership, without blind submission, when we ask for accountability and checks and balances. In the United States we have a constitution the President must hold to. The Constitution also declares who ultimately has the authority. It reads, “We the people.” Not “me the president” or “me Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison, or Ronald Regan or Barak Obama.” The power and authority of the constitution comes from ‘The People!” Therefore our president is not above the law.

In the church we have the Scriptures as our sole authority, and our leaders must be held accountable. Also the church as a body has authority,

”God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.” –Last Day Events, page 56.

Just like in the United States, the President is not above the people, likewise church leaders are not above the church.

“The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. …. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” The Lord “is the Rock, His work is perfect.” “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Jeremiah 17:5; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 2:12.- Desire of Ages, Page 414.

Many years ago, I heard the testimony of a church leader, defending himself for some shady deals, saying his boss told him to do it, therefore he had no choice but to obey his boss who had “authority.” I am sure Joab was thinking the same thing when King David told him to put Uriah on the front lines of the war. Please read what God’s messenger has to say about Joab’s rationale.

“And Joab, whose allegiance had been given to the king rather than to God, transgressed God’s law because the king commanded it.  David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1.  –Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 719.

We need to be respectful of authority, but remember where authority ultimately comes from. And while respecting those in leadership, and even being in leadership, we must remember we are accountable to the Scriptures and God’s church, of which Christ is the Head.

I would also like to share a parting thought. In my years of Gospel Work around the country, I have met people who are afraid to speak up in board meetings or Church business meetings, because they feel they are too young or poor, and their influence would not be felt. I have also observed people abusing their age or money to hurt others. So this is what I say to all. No matter how young, old, rich or poor you are, you need to speak your mind in these meetings. And, no matter how young, old rich or poor you are, you need to be nice when you do. Everyone has a right to speak, and everyone has a responsibility to be nice when they do so.