Thursday, April 3, 2008

Teaching vs. Manipulation

One of the things which we can forget today - and indeed any day when there are heated issues and opposing points of view, is the difference between teaching and manipulating. There is a very important difference here, and if it is forgotten, we can become sleezy.

I'm sure that most Confessional Lutherans would argue that when it comes to moral Christian behavior that the ends do not justify the means. There is a right and a wrong - and we don't allow wrong behavior for a good cause. That doesn't float. Our attention and focus is to be on acting properly, come what may - even if doing that which is right means suffering for us. It's what our Lord does, it's what we ought to do.

Pastors are to be teachers. So what does it mean to teach? When you teach, you are focusing on informing, on proclaiming the truth. You are providing information - and what happens with that, you can't control. We see that in Scripture - some people love Christ, some hate Him. They both heard the same teaching from our Lord. Teaching is always focused on the the truth being clearly stated. Get the truth out!

Manipulation, on the other hand, focuses on the end result. Manipulation has a different Algebra. I want X result, so what must I do or say to get there? The focus in manipulation is upon the ends - and using the best means to get there. Now, Manipulating quite often involves telling people something, even something true, but telling them to change them into something you want them to be. Manipulation is focused on a change - get the change done!

We are called to be preachers and teachers, not preachers and changers. Our focus is to be on the Truth. The problem is, all too often we can see something going on, and our thought is, "How do I get this improved, what do I do to make this better?" We start thinking in terms of manipulating our congregations, trying to remake them into an image we would like them to be.

And the thing is, this is so anti-Lutheran. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. . . but if I plan and plot this rightly with my reason and skill, within 6 months my congregation will be doing _________.

But we are trying to make good changes. . . yes. So what? The next guy after you may be trying to make lousy changes - and all you've done is taught your congregation to be flexible. Our job isn't to change - we teach, we proclaim the Word. Thus there is a solid foundation that people have, so that when winds of change come along the people can evaluate the change on the basis of the Word. The focus should be on teaching the Word - and let God act in that Word. Let "good" changes come. . . or if they don't come in your time, so be it.

We can't live on the basis of the ends - because we don't see them all. I might not see positive changes - so be it. Let Apollos see the fine harvest - it's the Lord's field and I am to tend it with the Truth.

And of course, this gets to the root of matter. Are things done poorly today because there were bad changes or because for generations we stopped teaching the truth - where we watered down what the laity got? Build the foundation by the truth, and let God bring about what changes He will. Otherwise our "victories" are empty and pointless. What good is it if someone does something nice if they don't know why. Good practice won't "teach" good doctrine - it may reinforce it, but if someone doesn't know why they are doing something, it's not going to be that effective at teaching.

2 comments:

Dizziness said...
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Dizziness said...

Rev. Brown,

Your post highlights a useful distinction. I would add that there are times and places where rebuke and correction are necessary parts of teaching. But this is not done in a manipulative or subjective way, but in an objective way based upon the Word of God.

So, mentally I draw the line between manipulation and rebuke where the Word of God is silent or misapplied by context or intent. The sanctified life is certainly a domain where preachers expect outward results.

Where the Word is denied, they may fall into legalistic application of subjective practices of piety to try and reach these ends. As you say, the end doesn't justify these means.

We Lutherans call unrighteous living what it is - a denial of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. So we rightly preach His Word and let Him do the work. But we can do this in a directive way (and in my case, only when spoken to directly by the pericope assigned.)

Thanks again!