Monday, January 16, 2006

sunday pot roast revisited

Yesterday I experimented with my favorite pot roast recipe and it turned out to be so delicious that I thought I might share it.

Sunday Pot Roast Revisited
(serves 8 if you have teenaged boys, more if not!)

1 4-5 rolled rump roast
12 medium sized white or Yukon Gold potatoes in chunks
2 pounds baby carrots
2 TBS. minced garlic
1 TBS. parsley flakes
1 cup olive oil
1-2 cans sliced mushrooms, drained
2 cans Campbell Golden Mushroom Soup, undiluted
2 packets Lipton onion soup mix

In large electric roaster or oven roasting pan, pour in olive oil. Add garlic. Place roast in center,surround with carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. Spread with Golden Mushroom Soup and sprinkle with soup mix and parsley. Cover and roast for 3-4 hours, at 325 degrees, depending on how well-done you prefer the meat.

Slice and serve, using pan juices that have formed a thick gravy.

Easy and delicious!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

more interesting thoughts on ecclesiocentricity

Someone suggested I read these interesting thoughts on the concept of "ecclesiocentricity" after my initial posting so I did and am posting the links here for consideration. While I certainly do not endorse everything at these particular sites, there is much with which I agree in the articles and thought they might be helpful to others.

the church according to John Dewey

wife ministers

what do ecclesiocentrists say?

officers and liturgists of the synagogue

the evils of medievalism

Friday, January 13, 2006

"monstrous" woman of the week ~ King Lemuel's Mom

After a Christmas hiatus, welcome to the 10th in a series of biographical sketches that I publish on Fridays. The title of “monstrous” has been given to these women as a rebuke to those who have labeled all women who do not follow their agenda for women as “monstrous.”

These entries will briefly tell about women I believe have done many things to further the cause of Christ in America, and some even around the world, and have maintained a godly femininity while doing so. They will be women whose choices in life have also disqualified them from being given the godly woman status in some of today’s hyper-patriarchal circles, though the hypocrisy certainly has escaped some of these list keepers! Hence, the title of “monstrous” has been given to these women as a rebuke to those who have labeled all women who do not follow their stifling agenda for women as “monstrous.”

Grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy! Oh, and feel free to emulate.

This week's "monstrous" woman is King Lemuel's Mom, otherwise known as the one who wrote the instructions for life to her son in Proverbs 31. Scholars and historians know next to nothing about King Lemuel. They know even less about his mother who penned this wonderful passage to her son. Many older scholars believe that Lemuel was actually King Solomon, an interesting thought to ponder since that would make the mother in question Bathsheba.

In conservative circles, Proverbs 31 is the key passage that explains the ideal role for today's Christian woman. For me, it is both inspirational and overwhelming. And it is well-worth reading, studying, and memorizing. It is, I believe, a passage that is meant to describe the various tasks in a woman's life, not simultaneously in one season, but rather, in various seasons of life. After all, even Wonder Woman couldn't do everything listed in this passage all at once and still be a healthy, sane woman.

King Lemuel's Mom recognized the importance of a woman's role throughout her life and the various changes that each season brings, ultimately bringing honor to a husband who was older, experienced, and a leader in his community. She saw the opportunities for ministry and commerce that would come at various stages of life and told her son to look for a woman who was a hard worker and one who wouldn't shun her duties in the early years of marriage or until she too, would become an older woman. This is what she hoped for in a daughter-in law and she made her desires known to her son, which is what any good mom would do!

Whoever this Godly woman was, King Lemuel's Mom began the admonishment of her son by telling him of three perils that could trip him up, that could cause him to be ineffective as a king. She first warned him to steer clear of women who could cause him to fail in his duties. Secondly, she admonished him to not drink wine or strong drink, knowing that it could pervert his judgement. Note, her warning was clear. She didn't tell him to drink moderately, she told him to abstain. Finally, she was aware of the great temptations that leaders might have in lording it over those under their watchcare. She warned her son of and instructed him to remember his responsibility to the poor and needy.

Lemuel's Mom then goes on to list all that she believes are important in searching for a wife, giving us the familar icon known as the "Proverb's 31 Woman."

Being the mother of sons and being the wife of one wonderful husband, I recognize both the privilege of striving to be a Godly wife and mother and the awesome responsibility it brings, both in word and in deed. What an honor it is that God chose, through his Holy Spirit, to impart these truths to all of us through the writings of King Lemuel as handed down to him by his mother. And what a God we serve who chose to use this wonderful mother as his teacher, as our teacher.

Let's rejoice together as we read Provers 31:

"The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyetha it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarletb. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates."

grandbaby photo of the week

Thursday, January 12, 2006

update on spiritual abuse charges against r.c.jr.

The following is an update (the previous information can be found here) as of January 10, 2006 written by Peter Kershaw, a former member of St. Peter Church and one of those who has filed charges against the St. Peter session. You can read his comments here. Please note that Mr. Kershaw states that he would never have moved his family to Bristol had he known what he knows now. I hope the public knowledge of these events will serve to caution people against choosing a church that is surrounded with so much controversy, a church where, as one commentator stated is like the "Hotel California," where you can check in but you can never check out.

As I understand it, R. C. believes that there are three possible ways to leave a can transfer to another church with the approval of a session, you can die, or you can be excommunicated. I am unclear as to whether or not that is also the position of his presbytery. At any rate, I would like to offer a 4th way to leave a church. Walk out the door. When you have done everything possible, in good conscience, to follow the mandates of a church BCO and have made appeal after appeal to leadership to no avail, what other choice is there? For your own spiritual health and that of those under your protection,don't even walk. Run!

Here are Peter Kershaw's comments:

I've had a number of people ask me to provide additional details regarding our departure from St. Peter Presbyterian Church. Suffice it to say we had some differences of opinion with the St. Peter church Session over what qualifies as pastoral conduct, and how far a pastors' jurisdiction extends over other men's families, including my own.

At this juncture I prefer to not go into details and will only offer comments regarding what is already widely known through various internet sources (any resourceful person can find the particulars for themselves on the internet, especially on the blogs, so please don't ask me to provide you with links).

What is already known by many is that at least one of the reasons we transferred out of St. Peter Presbyterian Church is because of the manner in which the Session "disciplined" the John Austin family. If the Austins could be censured, shunned and threatened with excommunication, even though there was no biblical basis to do so, and even though the RPCGA BCO could never authorize such "discipline," I knew that it was only a matter of time before I too would come under the St. Peter Session's "discipline." For the well-being of my family we had no choice but to get out, and get out as fast as possible.

I'm pleased to say that we were immediately welcomed into another Reformed Presbyterian church in the area, and that the pastor has been very pastoral toward me and my family. Other former St. Peter members are also members there. That church isn't likely to be a permanent home for us, as we're in the process of finalizing plans for relocating elsewhere. However, even though it's just temporary, we're grateful to our new pastor and our new friends, for their Christian compassion, and for acting like real Reformed Presbyterians. Their kindness has helped us immeasurably in getting through this difficult time.

The ecclesiastical tyrannies perpetrated against the Austin family are just the tip of the iceburg behind why we had to leave St. Peter Presbyterian Church. Though not widely known, that pattern of abuse has actually been taking place for a number of years. Several other former St. Peter members have recently written the Presbytery giving detailed reports of personal experiences with the St. Peter Session. Their accounts closely parallel the abuses suffered by the Austins. In at least two separate written testimonials the magnitude of the St. Peter Session's ecclesiastical tyranny is even far more problematic than it was in the Austin case.

Perhaps at some point I will be able to provide considerably greater detail. However, because I have filed a number of grievances against the members of the St. Peter Session to the Westminster Presbytery of the RPCGA, it would be problematic to make detailed public disclosures over those matters, at least until such time as Presbytery renders a verdict (at present the Presbytery is investigating the charges and will soon set a date for trial). Whatever I do say at that time I trust can be gracious. Moreover, I trust that the verdict of Westminster Presbytery will speak for itself in conclusiveness and render any comments of my own redundant.

However, at this juncture there isn't much I can or should add, other than what follows, and what follows deals with the issue of the sometimes rather heated discussion now taking place on the internet regarding RC Sproul Jr and the Session of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church. The St. Peter Session would much prefer things be kept private, which is quite understandable. Others believe that the nature of the offenses committed by the St. Peter Session warrants public exposure, discussion and debate. What follows are some factors to consider in reaching your own determination in the matter.

RC Sproul Jr is a controversial man. That never troubled me because I too am known as being a bit controversial. However, I believe that it's possible to be controversial and yet not make a habit of offending people. I believe that it's possible to be controversial without taking pride or delight in infuriating your audience.

RC Sproul Jr acknowledges that he has offended many, and has even made a number of enemies over the years. From time to time some of RC Sproul Jr.'s adversaries vent publicly against him. That would be nothing new. However his treatment of the Austin family has provided considerable new incentive for bloggers and grist for the blog mill.

Now it would seem that there's even just that much greater degree of venting currently taking place against RC Sproul Jr, and much of it is over his ordering the shunning of the John Austin family by St. Peter Presbyterian Church.

RC Sproul Jr has offended many people over the years through his squiblog and articles in Every Thought Captive. He's even publicly slandered a number of people through his Open Letters. Two persons have recently filed grievance letters to Presbytery over RC Sproul Jr.'s public slanders against them in Every Thought Captive. Since the folks that RC Sproul Jr. publicly slanders aren't his supporters anyway, and since no one to date has sued him for libel, he's probably come to believe that he's had little cause for concern for exercising such unpastoral conduct.

However, it would seem that RC Sproul Jr. has some disaffected right within his own church. Former St. Peter Presbyterian Church member Rick Saenz posted "the Austin letters" on his Cumberland Books web site, but he posted no links to that specific page. The only people who were informed of that page were St. Peter members, and it was, therefore, from one of those St. Peter members that the source of a "leak" originated.

Now that "the Austin letters" have been leaked to the public there has been a great deal of internet chatter about it. Every day people send me emails with links to new blog discussions. Some of it may be healthy, but a great deal of it probably is not. While I can appreciate people's frustrations, for my part I would much prefer first having Westminster Presbytery adjudge the matter. After that has happened then let the court of public opinion be called into session.

On the other hand, I can see a valid basis for the concerns that some people have about feeling obligated to shine some light on the St. Peter situation. Some of the concerns being aired appear to be from one or more current St. Peter members, likely posting under aliases. There are yet others who say they have visited St. Peter Presbyterian Church, and have witnessed first-hand things that have troubled them, are also posting their comments and concerns.

Several St. Peter members have argued that it is inappropriate for anyone to be publicly discussing the problems of their church, whether it be discussion by their own members, or former members, and particularly outsiders. Perhaps so.

Certainly, it could be argued that the St. Peter Session needs to be given first opportunity to correct its transgressions. I quite agree, which is precisely why only one of the three letters that I prepared, detailing a litany of very serious allegations against the St. Peter Session, was made available to St. Peter members -- specifically "the Austin letter." The other two letters chronicle even far more serious allegations. However, since they are transgressions that are unknown to any current members (several former members are quite aware and, in fact, left St. Peter over those very issues), I deemed it appropriate to give the St. Peter Session the first opportunity to resolve them. However, for the sake of accountability, I did cc all three letters to the Presbytery. I did so prior to being released from membership at St. Peter.

The principle to be employed, as it applies to Elders, is a biblical one: Private sins should be confronted and dealt with privately, and if the sin is genuinely repented of, the matter must remain private. Public sins should be confronted and dealt with on the same scale as the knowledge and effect of the sin has spread.

In my estimation, the St. Peter Session handled very poorly its "repentance" to the Austins. Furthermore, the shunning does not seem to have in any way abated. The alleged "repentance" on the part of the Session has had little or no practical effect. One can only suppose that if repentance were being biblically modeled there would be some evidence of it. As such, it should be no surprise to anyone that the shunning of the Austins has become the subject of so much public debate. That indeed is most regrettable, not only for St. Peter Presbyterian Church, but also for the Austins.

This morning I was directed to a blog where a lady made the following argument regarding whether or not it was appropriate to be publicly discussing R.C. Sproul, Jr. and the problems at St. Peter Presbyterian Church:

"What if you knew someone who was accused of sexual abuse toward a child? Would you have the same wait and see attitude? Would you still support that person, even in the face of testimony in a church court, until you had heard from the accused? Or would you act to protect and then wait for an explanation? You see, people get all would up about sexual abuse, as well they should, but they don’t take seriously spiritual abuse, which as far, far graver consequences."

I find such a comment alarming, even a bit over the top, but it does make the point. Had the Austins known R.C. Sproul, Jr.'s propensity for "spiritual abuse" (as the above blog commenter terms it), I doubt they would have ever moved to Bristol. Likewise, the Kershaws would have never moved here. There's no question but that we would have appreciated someone giving us fair warning. Moreover, the St. Peter Session has a moral and a legal obligation to provide full disclosure to prospective members.

Should others be warned who are contemplating a move here, even prior to Westminster Presbytery rendering a judgment against the St. Peter Session? There are valid arguments both pro and con.

For my part I eagerly await the Presbytery's verdict. But how well I know the challenge of being patient while Presbytery sorts it all out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

and now a blog just for fun

This blog by Marc from Minnetonka is based on the premise that a picture is worth a thousand words, as if the nun doesn't prove that to be true. We were nearly sick laughing at the Christian vinyl section!

a fun blog for baseball fans, at least Cardinals fans

My son, Clayton, has just given his baseball blog a face lift and just in time for spring training.

Check out The Cardinal Curmudgeon.

Clayton is an attorney, by the way, and not a baseball writer so I think you will enjoy his interesting take on his favorite team as well as comments about managing his own softball team. A fun read if you like baseball.

what we can learn from Auschwitz about blind obedience to spiritual authorities

Here is another article from The Bruised Reed worthy of repeating this week:

I recently read excerpts from a book that discussed the reasons why the German people were so willing to accept and embrace Hitler's ideas, even in the face of the terrible atrocities commited under his command. Reaserchers now recognize that in the decades prior to Hitler's rise to power, German citizens had been taught that to question authority was the same as lacking submission to that authority and that it was a punishable offense to do so.

Rudolph Hoss, commandant at the concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz where it is estimated that 1.3 million people died in the gas chambers, recalled this about his own upbringing:

"Our guests were mostly priests of every sort. As the years passed, my father's religious fervor increased. Whenever time permitted, he would take me on pilgrimages to all the holy places in our own country, as well as to Einsiedeln in Switzerland and to Lourdes in France. He prayed passionately that the grace of God might be bestowed on me, so that I might one day become a priest blessed by God. I, too, was as deeply religious as was possible for a boy of my age, and I took my religious duties very seriously. I prayed with true, childlike gravity and performed my duties as acolyte with great earnestness. I had been brought up by my parents to be respectful and obedient toward all adults, and especially the elderly, regardless of their social status. I was taught that my highest duty was to help those in need. It was constantly impressed upon me in forceful terms that I must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers, and priests, and indeed of all adults, including servants, and that nothing must distract me from this duty. Whatever they said was always rights. These basic principles by which I was brought up became second nature to me."

I belive there is a lesson for us in this account.

Many of us have been taught that we are to obey whatever is handed to us by those in authority, whether it be a parent, a government official, or an officer in the church. As I mentioned in my first entry on this blog, the "outing" of the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has opened the eyes of those who are willing to see the is all about the abuse of power.

Too often a body of believers will be brow-beaten into submission by this very teaching. They are told that it is a sin to not obey and submit to everything a religious authority instructs them to do. Indeed, they are instructed that this is from God's hand, not to be questioned. While I heartily agree that God is sovereign in the affairs of men, it is certainly not an excuse to turn a blind eye to abuse.

The truth of the matter is that not only is a Christian putting himself into spiritual danger and not only is he not heeding the entire counsel of God, but he is putting those under his own authority, ie. his family and those in his sphere of influence, in the same sort of danger.

lament over abusive pastors

from The Brusied Reed blog, originally quoted by
Francis Schaeffer in The Mark of the Christian


Weep, weep for those
Who do the work of the Lord
with a high look
And a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
In the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
By their great strength, and the smoking flax
They trample.

Weep not for the quenched
(For their God will hear their cry
And the Lord will come to save them)
But weep, weep for the quenchers

For when the Day of the Lord
Is come, and the vales sing
And the hills clap their hands
And the light shines
Then their eyes shall be opened
On a waste place,
The smoke of the flax bitter
In their nostrils,
Their feet pierced
By broken reed-stems...
Wood, hay, and stubble,
And no grass springing,
And all the birds flown.

Weep, weep for those
Who have made a desert
In the name of the Lord.

Evangeline Paterson

can you handle the truth?

"There are some truths powerful enough to make even a heart of stone cry out."
Annie Crawford

Finally, one more goodie from The Bruised Reed that should be revisited this week.
This is an article by Gerald Tritle, originally published in The Chacedon. As I recently heard from someone who had been personally subjected to spiritual abuse and who referenced this article, the author has encapsulated what many have experienced for themselves. My prayer is that we would read it and take from it as the Holy Spirit leads us. I daily pray for those who have experienced this pain and for those who have inflicted it upon others. May God's grace be sufficient.

Reformed Christian media are exposing multiplying accounts of elders who mistreat their congregations by abusing their disciplinary privileges. As an elder, I strongly contend that the abiding health of the church necessitates just and biblically purposeful church discipline (which I am not addressing in this article). Nonetheless, I must agree with these Reformed media that Christ's righteous, little ones are being rebuked, harassed, and even excommunicated falsely for charges ranging from the vague "failure to heed the discipline of the session" and "disturbing the peace, purity, and unity of the church" to the specific, such as "schism" and "apostasy." Elders are inflicting these very serious charges and penalties on the Lord's people for a variety of reasons, none of which are sin, but which, instead, are issues of nonconformity to the norms of so-called "church-life." For example, sheep are punished for preferring to spend more time nurturing their families or engaging in community outreach rather than attending countless, supposedly required, church services and events (beyond Sunday morning worship) or for keeping their children with them in public worship versus allowing them to attend "children's church." I was astounded when a pastor actually requested that I not attend worship service any longer due to the fact that I was "subverting" the programs of his church (one of which was children's church) by my keeping my children with me in public worship. If I had been a member there, I am certain that I would have been in trouble. I know of several other instances wherein elders excommunicated members in good standing for simply trying to transfer their memberships peacefully to other churches. These bizarre events are seconded only by the moral apathy of the congregations who allow such behavior from their elders to continue occurring.

One would rightly wonder how that in churches wherein many elders rule, wherein the very church government (i.e., a plurality of elders) exists for safety's sake, such actions could take place and such preposterous and absurd disciplinary rulings could be issued against Christians who simply may not be "going with the flow," as directed by the elders and as followed by the general congregation. Providentially, I came upon some answers that all too well define why and how these ridiculous disciplinary rulings are taking place. I have concluded that church elders and their respective congregations, who have historically relied upon their plurality of eldership for safety and for just judgments, are falling prey to a phenomenon called groupthink.1 Groupthink threatens the effectiveness of the very form of government (plurality of elders) to which churches cleave for safety and destroys Christ's people, those whose souls elders are charged to oversee. I am also concluding that sins caused by groupthink are becoming more the norm rather than the exception. I will define groupthink, provide examples of its manifestation, and suggest some safeguards to prevent groupthink from taking root in church eldership.

Groupthink is a mode of thinking that occurs when a homogenous, highly cohesive group (e.g., a church session, ruling board, committee, congregation) is so concerned with maintaining unanimity (i.e., striving for agreement) that they fail to evaluate all of their alternatives and options. Sins of omission and commission occur when elders or parishioners, while isolated as a group and under either stress or pressure, engage in groupthink and see agreement and strong solidarity as the norm. Church elders who are suffering from groupthink on a discipline issue consciously and subconsciously see the motivation to belong to the group and to conform to its rules as paramount. The covert and overt pressure to agree becomes the stealth temptation that leads group members, as well as the group as a whole, into irrational, unethical, and even sinful behavior leading to sinful conclusions and judgments.

Church elders are extremely susceptible to groupthink because they make frequent, critical, group decisions (including disciplinary decisions), regarding the congregations they serve as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. To avoid the errors of groupthink, every elder must submit himself and his proposed rulings to the Word of God. Thankfully, Reformed theology has taught us that elder authority is declarative only as Samuel Miller states in his book entitled, The Ruling Elder:

"The authority of Church officers is not original, but subordinate and delegated: that is, as they are his servants, and act under his commission, and in his name, they have power only to declare what the Scriptures reveal as his will, and to pronounce sentence accordingly. If they attempt to establish any other terms of communion than those which his word warrants; or to undertake to exercise authority in a manner which He has not authorized, they incur guilt, and have no right to exact obedience."

The declarative nature of the elders' rule according to the Word of God notwithstanding, we must all remember that, this side of heaven, even "good" elders and the congregations they serve must guard against groupthink—a mentality that enabled the Scribes and the Pharisees to justify themselves in making the sinful, but seemingly reasonable, group decision to murder the Prince of Life, Jesus Christ.

All elders, sessions, consistories, church boards, and congregations will naively deny that they could ever be victims of groupthink, unaware that no one knowingly enters into this temptation so as purposely make a bad or sinful judgment. Studies, however, are conclusive that groupthink occurs in all group dynamics. To demonstrate, most churches have elders (ruling and teaching elders) and congregational members who intimidate, who dominate meeting deliberations, who are quiet and cowardly, who acquiesce to questionable authorities, and who are self-deceived. All of these types of elders and parishioners, including good and wise ones, can see themselves as part of an in-group (they envision themselves as a godly group of folks desperately pursuing the peace, purity, and unity of Christ's church), working against an out-group (a parishioner or family that either may be sinning or is simply acting in opposition to the elders' or congregation's goals and programs).

To focus for a moment, elders are clearly suffering from groupthink if, while deliberating discipline cases, they: 1) overestimate their invulnerability or high moral stance, 2) collectively rationalize the decisions they make, 3) demonize or stereotype out-groups and their leaders, 4) have a culture of uniformity wherein individuals censor themselves and others so that the facade of group unanimity is maintained, and 5) contain members who take it upon themselves to protect the group leader (usually the pastor) by keeping information—theirs or that of other group members—from that leader.

Elders, just as the Roman Catholic machine of the 16th century, can, as previously mentioned, overestimate their invulnerability towards sin. They develop an impression that they are beyond error, for they say to themselves, "If we work together, we can't go wrong." The admirals in control of Pearl Harbor in 1941, determined that their naval base and the ships docked there were invulnerable to attack. They uniformly and cohesively maintained this position of fortification against all clear and substantiated warnings communicated to them by the Presidential Administration in Washington. You know the rest of the December 7th story. Similarly, groups rationalize that, if they think as a group, then their decisions will be right, good, and highly moral. Often, groups contemplate precedent decisions and their resulting successes to confirm this vision of inherent morality. Elders can operate in this group mentality, maintaining their inherent morality and protecting their public image. They may also say that, because there is a "multitude of counsel" present, biblical decisions, those which seem good to the Holy Spirit, cannot help but be formulated.

Elders, when under the pressure of a church discipline case, also may rationalize their favored position, which may actually be the idea of one or two very verbal leaders within the group. It becomes normal and convenient (especially if group members are tired or thinking about other issues at the time) to downplay the drawbacks and risks of a given course of action. Groupthink causes legitimate objections to a chosen course of action to be perceived as negative or "lacking faith." Groupmembers (elders or parishioners) begin to discount warnings that their thinking may be irrational, whether the warnings come from within or outside of the group.

Elders, as was also mentioned, can quickly stereotype out-groups. This aspect of groupthink allows the in-group to paint an unappealing, inaccurate, and self-serving picture of the adversary of the group's position. For example, group members who do not have Master of Divinity degrees, yet who may have a biblical objection to a degreed and "professional clergyman's" course of action, may be quickly demonized or despised in a "respectful" sort of way. While consciously denying it, the in-group is subconsciously demonizing the out-group. Stereotyping out-groups (e.g., ruling elders, homeschoolers, wine-drinkers, proponents of Christian liberty, Theonomists, and Reconstructionists) leads to premature and erroneous group decisions. The Reverend Brian M. Abshire in his Conquest of the Pod People, Feb. 21, 02, Chalcedon Webpage, depicts such decisions. He shows "obnoxious" believers to be a sort of out-group that usually and erroneously receive the wrath of elders and congregations in church discipline cases. He states that "…formal discipline is not used against heretics, apostates, church-splitters, backbiters and others who may well be pod people (Abshire's name for unbelieving church members), but only against people who are obnoxious." Abshire reminds us that some of God's children are indeed difficult to love sometimes, having rough edges, failing to relate to others adequately, and sometimes being burdensome. In response to the people who are concerned "only for the peace of the church," pressure, says Abshire, is put on the brethren with "OPD" (obnoxious personality disorder) to conform to the acceptable in-group.

Many elders in a group situation, as stated already, censor their own and then others' thoughts which oppose the group's ideas. Self-censorship manifests openly under the guise of group loyalty, faithfulness to a Book of Church Order or "the spirit of unity" and becomes group censorship. Weak elders, who fear appearing disloyal to the group or to a Book of Church Order and not wanting to go against the seemingly unified others, cower under the pressure of the stronger group members. Lacking courage and boldness, these weak men gladly conform to the strong and to their favored position. The stronger members, as they gain more strength, pressure other group dissenters into conformity, as well.

This façade of group uniformity is fueled and maintained via mindguards, wherein some elders will shield the group from exposure to ideas, discourage others from expressing ideas, and even suppress information from other sources (e.g., documentation). The silent and understood group norm is agreement, and that norm is powerful. I recall being told by a certain teaching elder that I would be removed from the session unless I stopped referring to certain opinions as being "modern evangelical" versus "Reformed." Neither the Bible nor any Book of Church Order gives any pastor the title of ecclesiastical boss, endowed with power to remove dissenting elders. My shock at this elder's statement was seconded only by my disbelief of the other eight elders who said nothing about this power mogul's actions and words.

Groupthink is not psychobabble. It is real and has been clearly documented as having contributed to the space shuttle disaster of 1986. Robert Jackall writes in his Moral Mazes that in January, 1985, a year before the space shuttle Challenger's tragic seventy-three-second flight, engineer Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, a contractor to NASA, suspected trouble. Boisjoly and others came up with recommendations to improve the shuttle's O-rings and to adhere to specifications regarding not launching below certain temperatures. The day before the Challenger launch, with forecasters predicting the overnight temperature at eighteen degrees, much lower than the fifty-three-degree minimum recommended by Morton Thiokol, Boisjoly and other O-ring team members held a discussion that resulted in a recommendation not to launch. While at first demonizing Boisjoly, Morton Thiokol's top managers afterwards recommended that NASA not launch the shuttle, given the cold temperatures and the potential O-ring failure. NASA, under the constraints of public and government pressure to launch, minimized Thiokol's concerns of probable O-ring failure and insinuated that Thiokol was not being a "team player." Under NASA pressure, Thiokol reversed its recommendation not to launch the shuttle. The next day, Challenger was launched, the O-rings failed, and the booster rocket exploded, incinerating the shuttle's entire crew. In summary, although Roger Boisjoly worked long and hard in collaboration with many others to reach a safe and ethical decision, he was, in the end, unable to resist pressure from his company's client, NASA. This case shows that ethical answers are not always easy to recognize, execute, or accept. Apparently, neither NASA officials nor the Morton Thiakol executives understood that they were making an ethically wrong choice, but, instead all pursued a vocal agreement for a launch. It also shows that the process of reaching an ethical decision can involve complex and demanding communication efforts. Ecclesiastically speaking, pressure to conform and to submit to a group's erroneous position can blind and cause to err the best of elders and congregations.

Congregations, like deliberating elders, sometimes pursue corporate agreement at the expense of righteous, biblical behavior. An example of this type of behavior can be found in an analysis of the stabbing death of Kitty Genovese on the streets of Queens, New York, in 1964, which happened while thirty-eight onlookers did nothing to help her. Christine Silk, in her article entitled Why Did Kitty Genovese Die? (published on the WWW by the Objectivist Center), explains that people, regardless of their conscious denials, take their action cues from others, especially during emergency or highly emotional events, when deciding what to think or how to behave in a given situation, especially when they are unsure of what to think or do. It should be noted that taking social cues from others often provides a beneficial shortcut to knowledge that guides our actions (as in following a friend's example in purchasing a particular product). But sometimes, taking social cues from others can lead people astray, and with grave consequences. When Genovese's murderer first attacked and stabbed her (in the middle of the night while she was coming home from work), she screamed for help. Lights went on in nearby buildings while many folks peered out of windows to determine what was happening. One man yelled from a window to her assailant, "Leave her alone." That witness then closed his window, thinking that all was cared for when the assailant left his victim. The rest of the thirty-eight onlookers assumed that the situation was managed and proceeded to shut off their lights and go back to bed. When many of these thirty-eight witnesses were later interviewed, they stated that they were thinking that someone else was caring for the situation (e.g., calling the police). In addition, these onlookers justified their inaction by declaring that they saw other lights on and heard a man discoursing with the assailant. In reality, nothing was happening toward the end of helping Genovese. Her attacker came back and stabbed her again. She screamed while again being watched by nearly thirty-eight onlookers peering out of their windows who were assured that someone else was calling the police. Nobody called the police. After the witnesses shut off their lights, the assailant came back and stabbed Genovese a third time. That time, she died. No one who saw this did anything because they all presumed that someone else was acting.

Many unsuspecting parishioners, like Kitty Genovese in the past, have become victims of congregational groupthink. Silk explains that groupthink spawns a pluralistic ignorance in which "each person decides that since nobody is concerned, nothing is wrong." It also produces an effect called "diffusion of responsibility," whereby people assume that, because others are present (e.g., in the congregation or on the church's ruling board), somebody else must be doing something about a particular situation. Thus, no individual (parishioner or elder) feels particularly compelled to take responsible action (e.g., call a congregational meeting, issue a formal complaint against the elders, call a presbytery representative, depose a church officer). The famous last words from the silenced lambs become, "I thought that he or she was taking care of that situation. What a shame that had to happen to such a nice family." They resume their lives while the injured parishioners' lives and reputations are severely damaged and altered.

I witnessed one family being unjustly disciplined in a church while their friends and many other families were stating that they "had seen this type of behavior from the elders in the past and that they were not going to sit by and let this happen again." Would the lambs be courageous? No! They were silenced, became cowardly and self-preserving ("We can't get involved, they'll kick us out, too."), and they allowed a good family to be unbiblically excommunicated. I have seen all of the data on this case. In this case, groupthink caused the elders to make a sinful decision (for which they will be accountable to God), groupthink caused the congregation to displace their responsibility to act (for which they will be held accountable for the sin of omission), and groupthink caused an innocent family to be cast unjustly out of the congregation. They are blessedly recovered from the event and are in a solidly Reformed congregation.

If we apply the knowledge of the groupthink experts to churches, we can see that elders and congregations who are engaged in groupthink tend to make faulty decisions because they: 1) fail to adequately determine their objectives and alternatives, 2) fail to adequately assess the risks associated with the group's decision, 3) fail to cycle through discarded alternatives to re-examine their worth after a majority of the group has discarded the alternative, 4) fail to seek advice outside of their system (i.e., their local church or supportive-to-the-in-group presbytery members), 5) select and use only information that supports their position and conclusions, and 6) do not make contingency plans in case their decision and resulting actions fail.

The following are some are some recommended strategies for minimizing the risk of sinful decisions that groupthink can cause:

1. Parishioners must strictly employ the criteria in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Exodus 18:21 when choosing their rulers.
2. Parishioners must always remember that their elders are men who have been called from among their numbers. Reformed theology has wonderfully taught us that the vocational calling of an elder is no more holy unto God than is that of the truck driver. Parishioners, therefore, must watch over the actions of their elders and be prepared to challenge them respectfully and forcefully when they are sinning.
3. Parishioners should never allow organizational bureaucracy or twisted interpretations of Matthew 18:15-17 (taught many times from the pulpit to neutralize decisive congregational action against uncontrolled church authorities) to stop them from correcting wrongs. Congregational action against over-lording elders is neither "schism" nor "divisiveness," and is never a sin.
4. Parishioners should never assume that others care about and are trying to stop bad church discipline decisions from being made. Act! Remember Genovese.
5. Parishioners or elders who become the unjust prey of tyrannical elders should be vocal about their need for help. Do not assume that other parishioners or elders can come to their own conclusions about what is happening.
6. Elder meetings should always be meetings open to congregational members. When doors must be closed due to discipline cases, congregations should be allowed to choose a representative, perhaps from a sister church, to sit in on deliberations to watch over them for biblical soundness.
7. Elders and congregations should avoid isolation of the group. Isolation leads to an unhealthy and cultic environment. Strive to prevent isolation caused by viewing only limited data and by considering only a few alternative actions. And, remember! In the body of Jesus Christ, the Reformed corner of the church is not the in-group called to demonize the rest of the church (the so-called out-group). Members' cross-pollinating fellowship with other churches and denominations is healthy, preventing isolation, and should be encouraged (Acts 10:35).
8. Every elder should be allowed to critically evaluate courses of action without being judged or stereotyped as an out-group. Elders should call a meeting after a decision consensus is reached in which all group members are expected to critically review the decision before final approval is given. Individualism (diversity) at this point should be encouraged.
9. In churches where there are ruling elder/teaching elder distinctions, teaching elders should not be looked at as the leaders. In addition, the term moderator (on a session of elders) does not equal that of "leader," unless one dangerously construes the term that way. Teaching elders should avoid being directive (over-lording) and should even encourage dissent. Ruling elders must avoid passivity (being cowardly and indecisive) to a "superior" teaching elder.
10. Always consider an outside, respected, and impartial party to witness complex and critical deliberations and to review group conclusions before any final actions. An outsider may provide more options to consider and inherent risks to avoid.

Because of groupthinks' clandestine qualities, it can be a sinister snare for elders and congregations alike. To attain their collective goal of glorifying God in their judgments, all Christians, whether in rulership or not, must call upon the Lord for the individual courage to confront, to reason, and to make decisions that represent the will of God as revealed in His Word. This is a part of loving God with all of our minds. This is a part of reconstructing the visible church for God's glory. We should be especially wary to avoid the sins of groupthink in our judgments, for with what judgment we execute, our Lord has said in Luke 6:36-38 that it shall be executed against us to the same measure.


1. The groupthink specifics I articulate in this article were gleaned while attending an Air Force "Decision Making & Critical Thinking" lecture that presented summaries from the following works:

* Janis, Irving, 1982, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decision.
* Janis I and Mann L, 1979, Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice and Commitment, The Free Press Houghton Mifflin.
* Janis, Irving , 1972, Victims of Groupthink: Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes (2nd edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

everything you ever wanted to know about men....

but were afraid to ask.

Being the wife of one husband, the mother of 5 boys who are mostly men now, and 5 grandsons, I think I have a fairly basic understanding of men. When I came across this list it resonated with me immediately.

Men like to barbecue. Men will cook if danger is involved.

Men who have pierced ears are better prepared for marriage. They've experienced pain and bought jewelry.

Be careful of men who are bald and rich. The arrogance of "rich" usually cancels out the nice of "bald."

If it's attention you want, don't get involved with a man during play-off season.

Men like phones with lots of buttons. It makes them feel important.

Men love to be the first to read the newspaper in the morning. Not being the first is upsetting to their psyches.

The way a man looks at himself in a mirror will tell you if he can ever care about anyone else.

Don't try to teach men how to do anything in public. They can learn in private, but in public they have to know.

All men are afraid of eyelash curlers.

A good place to meet a man is at the dry cleaner. These men usually havejobs and bathe.

All men hate to hear, "We need to talk about our relationship."

Men are brave enough to go to war, but they are not brave enough to get a bikini wax.

All men think that they're nice guys. Some of them are not.

Men have an easier time buying bathing suits. Women have two types, depressing and more depressing. Men have two types, nerdy and not nerdy.

If a man prepares dinner for you and the salad contains three or more types of lettuce, he is serious.

No man is charming all of the time. Even Cary Grant is on record saying he wished he could be Cary Grant.

Men have higher body temperatures than women. Men are like portable heaters that snore.

Most men hate to shop. That's why the men's department is usually on the first floor of a department store, two inches from the door.

Men are less sentimental than women. No man has ever seen the movie "The Way We Were" twice, voluntarily.

Impulse buying is not macho. Men rarely call the Home Shopping Network.

Men who listen to classical music tend not to spit.

Men are self-confident because they grow up identifying with superheroes. Women have bad self-images because they grow up identifying with Barbie.

When a woman tries on clothing from her closet that feels tight, she will assume she has gained weight. When a man tries something from his closet that feels tight, he will assume the clothing has shrunk.

Male menopause is a lot more fun than female menopause. With female menopause, you gain weight and get hot flashes. With male menopause, you get to date young girls and drive motorcycles.

Men forget everything. Women remember everything. That's why men need instant replays in sports. They've already forgotten what happened.

Monday, January 09, 2006

manna on Monday

And now for some sane views on church authority...

Yesterday and providentially, our pastor continued his teaching through the book of Acts as he preached on what he calls his favorite passage in the book, Acts 20:28. In part two of his three part series on these verses, he made the following observations:

* This passage is directed to the church leaders in Ephesus but there is application for all of us in that the principles of authority and leadership are the same in the home and workplace.

* Elders and pastors are to keep watch over themselves. He made the analogy that Christians are to be like tools and instruments...they cannot rightly perform the work they are called to if they are not kept sharp and tuned.

* We are not to underestimate the ruin that can be caused by an unwatched life within the body of Christ.

* We keep watch over ourselves in 4 areas as described in Acts 20:28:

by being concerned for our own sanctification and the sanctification of others,
by being courageous in declaring the Gospel, becoming watchmen on the wall as described in Ezekiel 33:2,
by being content with material possessions
by showing compassion for the weak and needy

Good stuff...stay tuned for part three next week.

ecclesiocentricity another name for ecclesiolatry

And speaking of nutty views of church authority, check out this blog by a PCA pastor in the Peoria area. Note the lack of scholarship and exegesis. As an astute young man pointed out to me recently, it is all this guy's opinion because you cannot find any Scripture to back up what he is saying. And note that there is no place for comments, which is not surprising given the overall message that truth begins and ends with this man himself. Can anyone take this stuff seriously, I ask you.

In an interesting related article, Andrew Sandlin had this to say regarding "ecclesiocentricty":

"One of the most injurious errors in the history of Christianity is when the church is identified with the Kingdom of God. Jesus said very little about the church and very much about the Kingdom, and He did not equate the two. Nobody else in the Bible did, either. This is just a fiction dreamed up early in the Western church in the attempt to conform it to the structures of the collapsing hierarchical Roman Empire by which it was surrounded, and this view was later passed on to the Protestants (and even in the Westminster Confession). The church is a local assembly of Christians, but the kingdom is the rule of God by Jesus in the world, wherever that may be (1 Cor. 15:23-28). This means that Christian schools and businesses and politics and music and pro-life and family and campus and cultural ministries and so on are (or should be) within the Kingdom of God, even though they are not the church. The church should not try to monopolize these aspects of the kingdom. Sometimes I hear well-meaning Christians say, “All ‘para-church’ ministries are anti-Biblical.” They have yet to find a Bible verse for this assertion. They believe that if the church isn’t doing it, it shouldn’t be done. The problem with this is that God’s plan in the earth is bigger than the church, which is to be sure a vital part of it. The family is a basic ministry in God’s plan. It should be a part of the church, but it is not the church. It has its own calling separate from the church (Gen. 1:26-28). The same is true of the state (Rom. 13:1-7). It is not a part of the church, though it is God’s minister and subject to His authority. The state should be a part of the Kingdom of God in Jesus, yet it is not the church. “Ecclesiocentricity” (church-centeredness) subverts the Lordship of Christ by arrogating to itself tasks and institutions beyond its purview. So, the church is not the Kingdom."

rc sproul jr accused of spiritual abuse

The latest pimple on the face of reformed Christianity comes out of Bristol, Tennessee where R. C. Sproul Jr. and his fellow elders have been accused of spiritual abuse. From what I can gather by reading around the blog world, his presbytery is still investigating the charges.

The Austin family, who moved to Bristol to be a part of Sproul’s agrarian community called St. Peter Presbyterian Church, felt they had been victims of the typical “bait and switch” where they were told they only needed to subscribe to the Apostle’s Creed to become members and then had their consciences pressed when they would not agree that baptizing a handicapped child would guarantee her salvation. When the Austins chose to leave the church, the congregation was instructed to shun them and they were threatened with excommunication for not keeping their membership vows.

Months of conflict passed by until a rather weak apology and a membership release were both sent to the Austin family after the threat of a lawsuit was made by another church member. You can read the proverbial paper trail here, the Austin’s personal journey here, and commentary by anonymous “Jim” here, which is itself so sad, as the fear he is experiencing as he tries to plan his “escape” from St. Peter’s proves that the charges of spiritual abuse are true.

This has probably been a long time in coming. Verbal and emotional abuse of women and alcohol abuse have already been widely acknowledged with this group so why should it surprise anyone that over-lording would be next in order to silence concerned church members? Can you say contumacy?

Reading the documents was eerily too familiar to me. When our family experienced a situation similar to that of the Austin family, all the same elements were there…intimidation, warnings to other church members to shun us, public pronouncements of our disobedience to the elders (asking questions = rebellion remember), excommunication, alcohol abuse, conscience-binding, the list seems endless.

The bright light in the R.C. story seems to be Rick Saenz who had been a part of the session and who had failed to take a courageous stand. The documents include a letter he wrote to the Austins asking them for forgiveness for his cowardice during their time of crisis.

My most interesting observation, as it was in our own situation, however, is the fact that R. C., while proclaiming his distorted views of church authority, was reluctant to come under the authority of his own presbytery. How this is handled in the future will be interesting to watch; hopefully their presbytery will take their calling more seriously than our's did and actions will follow mere words.

And after reading through the numerous commentary, I have come to the conclusion that some of this half-baked doctrinal stuff seems to show up most often alongside too much alcohol. "I've only had 5 beers dude, but this excommunication stuff is looking pretty good right now....burp burp burp"..... Hmmmm.......

Friday, January 06, 2006

so many great books, so little time

Our home improvement project for the winter will be to add more bookshelves to the library, choose and install new ceiling moldings, paint all wood and woodwork, and organize all the shelves into some sort of reasonable order. I am so thrilled as it will mean that I will actually be able to put my hands on the appropriate book at the appropriate time and my bookshelves will be purged of all unnecessary items, making room for what else but more books!

When my Christmas tree goes out this afternoon, my favorite end table will again be in place and loaded with some of the books I hope to read during the next few months:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War Between Traditionalism and Feminism by Rebecca Groothuis

The Good Earth
by Pearl Buck,

Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend,

and a more thorough read of Heartfelt Discipline : The Gentle Art of Training and Guiding Your Child by Clay Clarkson.

I have been so inspired by my online friend, Kristin, when I see how many book she reads in one year and herself a mama with sweet little ones around her! I need to use my time more wisely, read more, write more, process more of what I read and write, and to relax while doing so, I think.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

me and my dishwasher

It seems as though it has been f-o-r-e-v-e-r since I have blogged and I hope to have several new entries by the end of the coming weekend.

We have been enjoying our family....all 18 of us under one roof for over a week....and my dishwasher has whispered "enough" several times. We have played games, seen movies, had awesome discussions, have gotten far too little sleep, and Clay and I continue to spend time with Sam's famly as he has gone back to umpire school.

So, lots more blog entries to come and some great pictures, too.

Some upcoming commentary....

* What exactly does "ecclesiocentricity" mean and why do we need to understand it?

* What does foot binding have to do with high heels and corsets? And, of course, does it have anything to do with hyperpatriarchy?

* New Year's resolutions...some good ones to ponder.

* Monstrous women from the pages of Scripture