My blog has been unfortunately critical the past few days — and I do mean unfortunately. I’m quite eager to turn my attention away from Elevation Church and back to my series about converting to Lutheranism. I would rather spend more time teaching truth than attacking error. But it is a sad fact that error abounds in the modern church. Christians must engage this error thoughtfully, with careful and constructive criticism.
Unfortunately, when this happens there will be friction — especially when criticizing an allegedly visionary leader like Steven Furtick. Those who consider Furtick their pastor may easily perceive critiques as attacks against their pastor and their church. Criticizing the methodology behind the spontaneous baptisms is received as a critique of those who were baptized. The phrase “aggressively defend [the] vision” has the danger of becoming all too literal, with personal attacks rising quickly to the surface.
In fact, that happened here. A gentleman from Elevation, while under the self-confessed influence of emotion and cold medicine, posted some rude comments. I even wrote up and published a post documenting the comments and subsequent Twitter exchanges. And if that were the end of it, this would have been a sad story. But that wasn’t the end: The guy reached out and emailed me an apology. He also emailed my pastor, explaining what had happened and apologizing. My pastor counseled me to call the man and try to settle our differences.
And that’s exactly what happened.
I called the man and we talked for a while. He apologized for his comments, and explained that he felt I was devaluing his son’s baptism at Elevation. I clarified my position, apologized for the unintentional offense, and shared the forgiveness of Christ with the man. In short, we were reconciled. We still disagree about Furtick; we still disagree about the baptisms; we still disagree about Elevation Church. But we are reconciled. We are not split over a personal fight, but a theological disagreement.
Now, I want to be clear here: The content of the comments was not representative of the response I have received from Elevation members. By and large, Elevators have been very polite. However the mindset behind the response does seem to be shared by many. A brief perusal of the #shakethesnake and related hashtags on Twitter will show a general disregard of critics. To be fair, not all of the critics have been perfectly respectful either. However there are plenty of respectful and thoughtful criticisms (hopefully mine, certainly Dr. Duncan and Stuart Wilson’s pieces) which are being dismissed by Elevators. The reason seems to be the perception of all critics of Elevation as “haters” or “snakes.” This is a culture being fostered by Furtick through his sermons — see, for example, his use of Stuart Wilson and the Charlotte media as a constant whipping boy in his Chatterbox series — and various parts of The Code. I say again, this is an incredibly dangerous mindset to have: No one is above criticism — not even Steven.
Finally, I wanted to take this post to mull over the positive things that have come out of the Elevation situation. Paul admonishes us to think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy. The following are a few things I find encouraging in spite of the otherwise dismaying state of affairs:
In spite of my vehement disagreement with the apparent manipulation of baptisms at Elevation Church, I can heartily affirm and celebrate the fact that those who were baptized for the first time in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit were given everything that Holy Baptism promises. I am not thrilled about the church they attend, but I was baptized in a church that was similar, in some ways, to Elevation, and God did indeed call me in my baptism. So I celebrate and pray that those who have been called in their baptisms at Elevation will grow in true faith and daily repentance and contrition, that they may drown their Old Adam daily. For this great Sacrament, given to us sinners by your Son, Lord we thank thee.
Rather than simply back and forth name-calling or harboring anger and sin, today I was able to forgive someone and be forgiven. I have completely absolved this man of any sin he may have committed against me, public or otherwise. Even though we still disagree, it is excellent to be able to disagree in love and forgiveness. I genuinely believe that the man with whom I talked has faith in Jesus, and I pray that he will grow in that faith. If he is ever in town, he has a standing invitation to come visit my church, just as I visited his. For the forgiveness of sins, won on the Cross by your Son, Lord we thank thee.
The pastoral office is one instituted by Jesus for the oversight of His Church. These men are gifts of God. Today, I am especially thankful for the pastoral staff of my church. Not only were they aware of what was going on in my life, but they faithfully encouraged me to extend forgiveness above all else, and to be sure I was building up the body of Christ. They boldly approached me with wise words of advice, watching over one of their flock as men who will give an account. For men who love your Church — pastors called by your Son — Lord we thank thee.
Today was particularly encouraging for me, and I wanted to share some of that with you. Keep Elevation in your prayers. Keep their baptized in your prayers. Much repentance is needed, but that will only be worked by the Holy Spirit. For now, let us not lose focus on the good, even when we must critique the bad.