(On Credo Friday I mean to post about the things that make me what I am, the things I value and believe. Hopefully it shows by how I live.)
This is the post that will sound like I am negating everything that I’ve just said about Centered Set and Bounded Set and Fuzzy Set. It will sound like I am advocating for a Bounded Set and just trying to slap a Centered Set logo onto it. And perhaps that is exactly what I am doing but I don’t think so. The truth is that for a Centered Set to live and function and be healthy, you have to keep some people out of it.
I don’t mean to say that a person would be kept out forever but that certain types of people or personalities need to be kept out for a Centered Set to do life together in a way that allows for them to flourish.
In the New Testament, Titus 3:10 says, “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them.”
There are some people who are just poisonous to community. That doesn’t mean you could not have a relationship with them or maintain some level of contact that allows you to love them and share the way of Jesus with them. But you can’t let them be part of the Beloved Community.
Jesus said, “Watch out! …Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Mt 16:6) The yeast turns out to be deceptive teaching but before you fill in that blank with what you think that means, have a good look at what those two groups were teaching. Despite what you’ve been told, you’ll find that Jesus was not talking about a “works based righteousness.” They had competing visions of the kingdom of God and neither of them lined up with the kingdom Jesus was bringing to the earth.
When Paul was on the road and he was doing a “final tour” of sorts, he stopped by his friends at Ephesus and met with the leaders there. He had a strong warning for them. And in Acts 20, Luke tells us Paul said, “I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out!” There are always going to be some dudes that are up to no good. We cannot look after the Beloved Community if we are not committed to recognizing the wolves and driving them away from the sheep. These are not characters who come in teaching everyone to smoke, drink, play cards and listen to rock n roll – as I have been told in my younger days – these are people who are bent on perverting the way of Jesus for their own ends or some ideology to which they adhere.
But please note the wisdom from the movie, Broadcast News. Two characters, best of friends, Aaron and Jane, are discussing Jane’s attraction to the new “golden boy,” Tom, at their news studio. Aaron attempts to warn Jane about who he really is:
Aaron Altman: I know you care about him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone, so please don’t get me wrong when I tell you that Tom, while being a very nice guy, is the Devil.
Jane Craig: This isn’t friendship. You’re crazy, you know that?
Aaron Altman: What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around?
Aaron Altman: Come on! Nobody is going to be taken in by a guy with a long, red, pointy tail! What’s he gonna sound like?
Aaron Altman: No. I’m semi-serious here.
Jane Craig: You’re seriously…
Aaron Altman: He will be attractive! He’ll be nice and helpful. He’ll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He’ll never do an evil thing! He’ll never deliberately hurt a living thing… he will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit. And he’ll talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he’ll get all the great women.
The villains in our story don’t twirl their long, black moustaches or come in howling at the moon. And leaders of the Church need to practice discernment in Jesusy ways, not the traditional moralistic, holier than thou, we stand on the truth of the Word of God – kind of ways. Because the people who kill community will whisper in your ear, not shout, they’ll suggest and not tell and they will be full of sweetness and light, until they consolidate enough power to extinguish the light of the Beloved Community. The church may continue to meet, to be sure, but it will a husk, a zombie, a golem and the life and light of Christ will be gone.
My point is, and I do have one, that the flourishing of the Centered Set requires us to keep some people from joining it and gaining influence in or over it. Especially over it. We have to watch out for divisive people. People who use the best words but don’t look or smell like a shepherd. We have to decline entrance to the group to individuals who have a wonderful plan for everyone’s life. The responsibility of leadership in particular but the whole Beloved Community in general is to deny a place to those who don’t act like Jesus, who don’t set an example in the way they talk and act and love. Especially the way they love.
John, the epistle writer, makes a really big deal about this in 1 John. And there are theological beliefs or doctrinal beliefs he asserts are vital but the distinguishing characteristic is love for the church over and against divisiveness.
Divisive people, factional people, “better than you” people, tend to be black and white, binary thinking types who see things as right or wrong, in or out. They seldom can accept or acknowledge that life is full of nuance and following Jesus is more art than science, more narrative than rule book. They tend to be people who love to draw lines and sort people by the lines they’ve drawn. Jesus ended up on a Cross because he didn’t measure up for these types of people. Beware the Narcissist, the Sociopath and the Church Lady. When you smell a Pharisee or a Sadducee type, be kind, be loving, but be determined that they will never, never ever, never ever ever, be part of the Centered Set Beloved Community until you can see Jesus in their eyes.