Refusing to be muzzled
A church job opportunity lost for refusal to be silent about creation
Dear staff at CMI,
My questions today are largely pastoral, so I hope you can help me. I have been a member of our local (Sydney, Australia) Anglican church for the past 19 years and a Christian in other churches from childhood. During that time, I have served in various aspects of ministry, kids church, play group, leading a women’s Bible study group, cleaning, music, etc.
Under a new minister, we did a sermon series on Genesis. Inevitably, my belief in a 6-day recent creation came to his attention resulting in a couple of meetings where he tried to dissuade me from my stance. He claims to be open to the idea that the world COULD have been created as per the historical-grammatical reading of Genesis 1, but clearly doesn’t believe so himself. I’ve tried to question him on how his ‘interpretation’ of the biblical text and his belief in long ages intercept but he is adept at turning the conversation away from my line of questioning, so I really don’t have a clear understanding of where he is at.
He is otherwise a very talented and intelligent young pastor and gifted preacher who would claim to uphold the authority of Scripture and undeniably loves Jesus with a deep and intimate relationship.
In keeping with the sombre responsibility entrusted to him by God, he is very careful when appointing leaders from the laity. In a meeting with him he expressed his desire to have me serve as a leader within the church, possibly even a paid position when my son starts high school. He has asserted that my character is in line with the expectations of leadership and my gifts well suited to the leadership of women and children. His only concern is that I might confuse others and put stumbling blocks in the way of people’s faith if I bring up my view of Genesis 1–11.
So, whilst he says he is happy for me to hold my viewpoint, and considers it an open-handed issue, I can only lead if I guarantee not to share my belief in a young earth with others within the congregation. It would also necessitate a censorship of my social networking so that I don’t mention or post anything which is pro recent creation. (I occasionally will share on my Facebook page one of the CMI daily articles which I receive by email).
Hence my dilemma. I dearly want to reach people for Christ and proclaim the Gospel. The most natural way to do so is within the context of my local church. I’m not about to bail out on my church family just because of a difference in opinion with our current pastor. I’m pretty sure, God willing, that I will still be here long after he has moved on, and perhaps God is calling me to patient submission to the current authority. Or perhaps I should just pull my head in, agree to the terms of leadership, and get on with the job of reaching people for Christ. I can’t work out, though, how to divorce my understanding of Genesis 1–11 from the Gospel of Jesus. I think my witness would become wishy-washy as I labour to say the politically correct thing.
Do you have any suggestions? Surely many of you have worked and churched with Christians who hold a theistic evolution viewpoint. What do you think is the best way forward from here? To maintain integrity, I would have to elect not to be part of the leadership team at church. To be part of the leadership team and reach women and children for Christ I, would have to set aside the very foundation of my understanding of God and the Gospel in the way I address the questions of sin and salvation. I know plenty of people reach others for Christ with an inconsistent view of Scripture and history but having had my eyes opened to the truth it is hard to step back into blindness. Am I missing the big picture of impacting the world for Jesus, though, if I insist on upholding the recent creation view to the exclusion of serving my congregation?
Don Batten responded:
Thanks for sharing your situation, which is sadly not uncommon in otherwise conservative churches today. I think in putting your thoughts ‘down on paper’, you have answered your own question:
“To maintain integrity, I would have to elect not to be part of the leadership team at church. To be part of the leadership team and reach women and children for Christ I would have to set aside the very foundation of my understanding of God and the Gospel in the way I address the questions of sin and salvation. I know plenty of people reach others for Christ with an inconsistent view of Scripture and history but having had my eyes opened to the truth it is hard to step back into blindness.”
If you acquiesce to your minister’s attempt to muzzle you, he will have achieved two things:
- There will be no ‘troublesome’ creationist influence any more within the church, thus consolidating the current ‘liberal’ (I use the term loosely) approach to understanding Genesis, and obviously other Scriptures that interpret Genesis in a grammatical-historical manner (such as Mark 10:6, Luke 3, and Luke 17; see The use of Genesis in the New Testament). This will also make it more likely that when he moves on, the next minister will be more of the same or more ‘liberal’ because there will be no one in the church who understands the issues and their importance to have an influence on who is appointed.
- He will have you tacitly agreeing with him that this is an ‘open handed’ matter that doesn’t really matter. Regarding his position that our understanding of Genesis is of secondary importance, I recommend the DVD Is Creation a Secondary Issue? (Actually, it’s all about Jesus!) by Dr Martin Williams, who is Head of Theology at the Reformed Theological College in Melbourne.
- (As you realize) you will be silenced in all circumstances because you will never be able to be ‘plain Jane’ while-ever you are in this official role in the church. It will be extremely frustrating for you. Any mention of creation apologetics will be disloyalty/breaking your covenant.
- You will not be anywhere near as effective in your teaching or witnessing. What if a child asks about evolutionary stuff he/she is being taught at school? Or a mum asks you about her son who says he is not sure that he believes the Bible anymore and can’t see much point in coming to church because ‘science has disproved the Bible’? Could you really say, ‘Sorry, I can’t talk about that’?
- Withholding the truths of creation from children is going to prepare many of them for abandoning the faith when they get exposed to evolutionary teaching at school and university. You won’t be able to point them to ‘life saving’ material that helps them to think through these things. I have three grown children, all university graduates, who were brought up with creation apologetics (Creation magazine, videos, etc.), and it had a hugely positive impact on their lives. I know others who actively opposed biblical creation, preferring to talk in metaphors (e.g. framework hypothesis) and their children are far from the Lord. It seems to be, ‘If Dad and Mum don’t believe the Bible, why should I?’ Our documentary, Fallout! shows how young people from churches that don’t teach them how to think logically about these matters drop out when exposed to evolutionary propaganda in the education system (surveys indicate ~75% dropout rate across all churches).
I wrote an essay that The Melbourne Anglican editor requested, but then would not publish it because the editor could not find anyone willing to refute it! It is a succinct reminder, in 800 words (the strict limit set by the editor) of how many doctrines are undermined by not taking Genesis as Jesus did (literally); see Church censors biblical creation. It also starts with an apt testimony of a youth worker in an Anglican church in Melbourne.
Your minister “has asserted that my character is in line with the expectations of leadership and my gifts well suited to the leadership of women and children.” Now he should realize that one of the reasons you have those qualities is because you respect the Bible as the Word of God from the beginning and therefore have a consistent Christian worldview. Why is it that few others have those attributes? I suggest it is because they do not have that same consistent biblical (creationist) worldview.
Might I suggest, if I may, that you speak to your minister, expressing your appreciation of his confidence in you and your desire to be involved in ministry, but that the very attributes that he sees in you are a product of your confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, which in turn comes from your ‘creationist’ convictions. If he wants you to be involved in ministry, then it must be ‘all of you’; you can’t leave aside the logical foundations of your faith and remain effective (like cutting off Samson’s hair!).
You might say something along the line of: ‘My heart’s desire is to love and serve the Lord Jesus through His church and I have appreciated the opportunities that I have had to minister in various ways through this church in recent years. I am honoured that you have raised the possibility of serving further in the ministry that you outlined, and I would also do that as unto the Lord. However, I could only accept such an offer provided I was at liberty to minister in accordance with my heartfelt convictions from the truth of God’s Word. That is the way I have ministered in the past, and as far as I know I have not caused any offence or upset within the congregation. In all my dealings I have sought to be supportive of the church and of the leadership. In the ministry you discussed with me I would continue to work in line with my character as you know me as I have in the past, endeavouring to do so with faithfulness and integrity to honour Christ. So, I would be happy to accept, but only provided no restrictions were placed upon me about what I could or couldn’t say with regard to the truth of the Word of God. Of course, if I was saying anything heretical, I would want to be corrected.’
I hope I have not overstepped the mark in offering my thoughts. I think you knew what you needed to do before you asked!
PS. If you think it would help, one of us CMI speakers/scientists would be willing to meet with your minister privately to discuss the issue of Genesis history and the serious Gospel implications.
Thank you so much for your well-considered reply. In my prayerful contemplation I had pretty much come to the same conclusion. I will re-approach our minister in the way you suggested and see what comes from it, although I’m not overly hopeful. I know that God is sovereign over the situation though and that even if I’m blocked from leadership roles within the church God can continue to use me effectively in ways that I probably haven’t even dreamed of yet.
Thank you for the ongoing ministry of CMI. I have learned so much and grown immensely in my faith and love of Jesus as a result.
Postscript: J. declined the church position, preferring not to be muzzled. However, she continues to be involved in effective Gospel ministry.