In the age of information, we are far beyond the point where the church could simply place a chastity belt around the minds of the sheep to maintain a people with virgin ears and virgin eyes. But it seems that Christians pretend this is so. The safe preaching that comes from pulpits in America today resembles the very plain Corn Flakes which were created by John Harvey Kellogg to prevent masturbation (yes, you read that right). There is a mentality still present today in American churches which is parallel to the mentality which regarded spouses sleeping in separate beds as holiness. This is the same mentality that has most Christians in America believing grape juice to be the holier option for communion over wine, and helps prevent drunkenness.
Unlike Socrates, the Greek philosopher who had to drink poison and die in order that his influence in Greece was muffled, elite evangelicals in America only need to place their opponent’s name under a ban and their followers will follow suit. Indoctrination without examination is the safest route to remain accepted in our culture. Once you begin to question the traditions and presuppositions you are taught to believe, then like a Cretan you must be silenced. But this actually makes it is easier for atheists and secularists to prey upon professing Christians, since God has designed us to be critical thinkers rather than remaining in dependency on our mother’s breast for the rest of our lives.
It’s not that the conclusion that atheist arrives at is correct, but it is their attempt to put off infancy and put on adulthood which attracts men and women who feel weighed down by doubts that they are not allowed to have in the church setting. Many carry the burden of always having to cover our eyes and plug our ears when an opposing worldview is presented, out of fear of inevitably falling away. Many churches are presented as a safe zone in which you need to stay, and only go out for a brief moment to pull maybe a few others inside. Although apologetics is paraded among many Christian circles, there still seems to remain a patronizing attitude and safeguarding that does not line up with what Paul means when he says, “guard the flock.”
I am unsure how it is reasonable even to have a conversation about apologetics without the sheep being exposed to oppositions that actually challenge a Christian’s faith. I respect those who engage in public debates with opposing worldviews as it allows believers to hear the opposing worldview from the horse’s mouth rather than simply explained by another Christian who agrees with them. While it is important that Christians be taught by their teachers what other worldviews believe, hearing it from the other side itself leaves no room to think the presentation is biased or an unfair representation.
Even homeschooled children who are not allowed to play with unbelieving kids in the neighborhood, restricted from television, and are confined in corners at church and family functions away from the mischievous children, will one day grow up and being exposed to the world outside. The same is true for all those whose whole lives are confined within the four walls of their local Christianity: they too will one day be exposed to a darkness that their discipleship did not prepare them to handle.
Too many Christians carry an attitude of naivete, or even arrogance, in which they act as if that as long as they indoctrinate their children or disciples, catechize them, and keep them on their hips all day that there will be nothing to shake their faith. Parents who withhold information concerning sex from their children will find out later on that someone irresponsible has taught them a perverted view of it. Churches which mock evolution and mock atheism without exposing their flock to the detailed claims that are made by them fail to prepare them for the real battlefield. Churches that teach church history in a sanitized way open the door for their flock to find out the whole truth from someone who will use that as leverage to draw them away. Churches who tell their flock that the bible is infallible and inerrant yet make it seem as though the bible came together in a nice package from God fail to help their flock understand the providence of God through a peculiar history and leave the door open for opponents who proclaim our faith is rooted in perversion and uncertainty. Churches who speak of the victories of the Church in America, yet fail to tell them about the “Jesus of Lubeck,” a.k.a “The Good Ship Jesus,” and the ministries and denominations which were funded by the slavery of Africans, present the perfect opportunity for black cults to make disciples. Churches who neglect to deal with Old Testament scriptures such as in Exodus 21:7–11 which allow for a man to sell his daughter into “slavery,” leave believers as an open target for unbelievers.
Many are told to abandon their families and friends to avoid outside voices that could influence us. They present this as a command while misinterpreting our Lord’s statement; “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). This makes Christianity seem like a secret society or just another cult that needs to confine you in order to brainwash you. Many churches use this type of mentality as a form of control. Although there may be a sincere desire from leaders who want to see their flock grow in holiness and to be protected from being deceived, this actually is counterproductive. The Pharisees added such extraneous boundaries to God’s law with the same motive, and it resulted in a religion which was burdensome and hypocritical.
The church in America is preparing people to be sheep that simply live amongst other sheep, but Jesus tells the disciples he is sending them as sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16). We must remember that one form of persecution is mocking. This mocking is not always from the mouth of an uncivilized, unruly, unintelligent person which actually helps the Christian psychologically feel more confident in their faith. Some of it is sophisticated, thoughtful, intellectual, and challenging. This is why it is important that church does not breed any more generations that only know how to repeat cliché answers to opponents. Rather people must be forced to think and decide for themselves if what has been presented is accurate. We must depend upon the Holy Spirit to do His work in opening the eyes of the blind, and we must trust that there is power in the truth that has been revealed to us. But we must also be able to present that truth afresh, custom-fit, and adapted to answer any and all unique circumstances.
Censorship is a snowball rolling down an unending hill. Once you attempt to censor the flock from outside influences, it eventually becomes a problem that happens within as well. Subtly we see in many churches the echoes of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books)—the list of books banned by the Roman Catholic Church, which resulted in no book being printed or sold unless permitted by the church. The Catholic Church ended up controlling universities and publications. Because of a score of its hang-ups, taboos, fears, and self-righteous objections, even the church in America today cannot consistently praise people like Martin Luther and William Tyndale and promote its censorship at the same time.
I think it is interesting to see the attitudes of many ministers in America towards the Abolish Human Abortion movement. Even if they were right in some of their assessment, their approach to cover the eyes of their flock when AHA passes by is suspect. I also find it interesting from my observation that controversial topics in the church are only allowed to be discussed if the traditional view is upheld. Once someone opposes a traditional view, the debate usually does not end in a civilized manner; rather it seems those who hold the traditional view seem to get hostile. I don’t mean that when defending the faith or biblical standards we aren’t allowed to be passionate. The passion I see amongst many, however, is a result of not having a response that they confidently say is Sola Scriptura.
I also have heard many pastors forbidding their congregations or other Christians from reading or listening to certain material. There is a difference in warning someone about something rather than forbidding them. I think this is a result of the mentality that many pastors have that “sheep are dumb.” Since they believe sheep are dumb, they apply it to their congregation as if they are not responsible enough on their own to do their own research. This attitude makes ministers come off as if they are the only ones competent enough and strong enough to examine things before it is filtered to the flock.
We don’t need flocks who accept everything their pastor tells them; we need flocks who question everything first. I don’t mean that they ought to question everything in a manner that results in extreme skepticism, but in a responsible way that allows them to think critically through why they believe what they believe. God actually used my skepticism to save me and has used it to bring me to experience some of the most intimate times with the Lord. Censorship does not sanctify. Holding one another accountable does not mean we ought to control what others do, see, or hear. Rather we ought to encourage one another and exhort one another to guard our hearts and not be deceived. This moves us all toward greater sanctification. This exposes the fallacy of censoring the flock to protect it: censorship actually does not allow the church as a whole to be sanctified. If we believe we are “reformed and still reforming,” we must recognize that reformation will continue to come by the Spirit of God outside man’s attempts at organized control.
I am truly thankful for those ministers of God who are being faithful to the call to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. I am thankful for all of their labor in studying, defending the faith, and providing resources to challenge the body. I am also thankful for those who will not be muffled by the majority and continue stand up against legalism and unrighteousness.