We are currently in the midst of a string of significant dates: the 1-year anniversary of the preaching of my father’s last message at A. Church (‘Being Word-Centered’); of his suspension; of the Article 17; of the joke that was the Congregational Meeting. Puritangirl has already commemorated such things with more personal offerings on her blog; in our sequel posts to this past weekend’s photo essay, we will continue to write on writing.
Churchville: A Romp through the Uncanny Valley
Okay, so, perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to use the phrase ‘Uncanny Valley’. People have time and again, throughout this soap opera, made references to the Twilight Zone and invoked concepts from the field of psychology to describe phenomena observed or experienced over the past year and a half. One example is ‘cognitive dissonance’: we could talk about things that weren’t making sense back in 2015 when 13, 54 when the church visitors were issuing WatchTower-like dictates on the state of reality, on recent history, and on the character of certain individuals, which just didn’t quite fit with what people saw for themselves or else knew to be true… many of us logically concluded that, since we were sane and knew our own priorities and presuppositions to be biblical, somebody somewhere was lying.
But in contrast we could cite the mental gymnastics and lengths people were willing to go to in order to ease their mental discomfort, sometimes betraying their wrong-headed presuppositions: ‘Well, we all know we’re perfect, or at least pretty damn close, so if a passage in the Bible seems to convict us, God must be wrong–or the person telling us about the passage must be shunned.’ Or, ‘Well, we all know Pastor 21 is an absolute saint, he ought to be canonized. So if the bullet with which you’ve been shot came from his gun, and he was filmed shooting you, well, it was all a set-up by you and the police.’ That sort of thing.
No–instead, we’ll talk about the weird that has been the past several weeks’ interaction with the men of Classis NM with regard to literacy, with some excursi into people’s assumptions and assertions about writing (especially when compared to verbal, as in, face-to-face oral interaction), and about knowledge.
First, a note on the relationship of writing to the Christian faith. This is something we have perhaps taken for granted in the past, but some of us were shaken by the assault on writing as a mode of communication by the Emergent (or Emerging) Church in the early years of this current century (readers are directed to books like Reclaiming the Center, in which Christian scholars interact with the Postmodern-influenced arguments of the EC about, for example, the limits of language in communicating truth). The fact that truth can be transmitted in human language, specifically in writing, to humans by both humans and the Creator God, is a necessary premise in Christianity. Not only that, but Christianity requires that truth has been communicated, clearly, knowably, by God to man in writing, in the inspired Word which we call the Scriptures (from the participle of the Latin verb which means ‘to write’).
The truth of the Gospel committed to writing and handed down from antiquity, the tangible object in its many copies (the Chicago Statement declares that only the original autographs were themselves inspired, but the printed Bibles in the myriad of translations the world over represent and contain all the truth of those autographs) has an interesting relationship to the Godhead itself: the second person of the Trinity is called the Word in the Gospel of John.
As Christians, we use the term ‘word’ or ‘Word’ to refer both to the written special revelation that makes up the canon of Old & New Testaments, and to Jesus Christ himself. I am not a theologian, so I shan’t go much beneath the surface on this point, but it is significant that the (creative) power of God’s spoken word, illustrated in the opening chapters of Genesis, is in some way represented by the physical, readable writing by which He has revealed divine, life-giving truth, and is represented in the incarnation of the Son himself.
Peter tells us that “men wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”; this inspired word was recognized as such by the believing heirs of the apostles’ message, and whither the faith spread, there eventually were the scriptures, carefully preserved, copied, and distributed, if not always faithfully taught and esteemed. To know God, one needed to know Christ, and to know him, one must know His gospel. This first knowledge of the basics is essential for salvation; continued growth in sanctification requires deeper learning and understanding of the full counsel of the Word of God–and that had and has to be available.
The history of literacy in the church, of catechesis, preaching and teaching of the Bible, I can’t speak on in any great detail nor with any authority, because that has not been one of my areas of study. But given these principles outlined in the New Testament, and the prolonged encomium of the Word of God (in this instance, His Law) in Psalm 119, we should appreciate the medium of writing as that primary one which God has chosen through which to make Himself known and knowable to us. It is clear and sufficient for salvation and living rightly before the face of God.
Occupations which Require Reading and Writing: Selective Laziness?
Before the beginning this exercise, I was trying to think of occupations which require reading and writing as a regular component of the job. The most obvious categories:
Media (journalists, editors and screenwriters are most prominent)
Authors and Publishers (across genres)
Teachers, Academics and other Researchers
The primary task of a pastor is to preach and teach the Word of God, which consists of reading (with all its components) the text, and then exegeting and expounding it to his congregation, which means writing a sermon. Week in, week out.
Now, what are we to make of a troop of pastors, in a denomination that has prided itself on its intellectual tradition and reputation as intellectually rigorous and doctrinally sophisticated, who don’t read and write?
I don’t mean they don’t when they do their jobs (the part of their jobs they have to do, anyway, to get paid–doing right by their brethren as delegates to classis evidently falls in a different category)–they probably do. But for some reason, in this situation, when pressed for written interaction with issues, concerns and questions committed to writing by ST, they… just don’t. I am assuming, furthermore, that they don’t read, because they don’t write. These are two separate skills (see e.g. Lane Fox, R.  90), but I conclude that Christian leaders who do know how to read, and have been trained to approach the biblical text in a certain (I hope capable and responsible) way, are evidently not reading what is written to them by a brother-shepherd if they do not respond to his pleas to engage with him on matters of very great importance, which are articulated as being under their purview by the Bible itself (see What Would YOU do? pt. 1 & pt.2, Appendix vi., Inhumanity in the Church, pts. 1, 2, & 3, and the Open Letter).
No–they don’t want to read and write. A church visitor was happy to write, but not to meet, and eventually his patience in writing to me ran out. Though he wrote, he didn’t read, which I pointed out to him time and again. Skimming and making the wrong adducements and offering irrelevant and non-sequitur responses indicates a lack of close and careful reading, which, I would argue, isn’t reading at all–what was intended to be communicated was not received, and the reader was not even aware of it and wasted his time. I have a high standard for what I call ‘reading’. If it could be said of me that I didn’t ‘really read’ something, I didn’t read it at all.
In the past several months, my father’s ‘Oversight’ Committee declared they would prefer to read (the write-up he gave them at a meeting on 24 August) and that they didn’t need to discuss the matter ‘live’. Several missals to the OC and to the CIC have not elicited any like response of any significance (indeed, the deacon mentioned in WWYD? pt. 2 and in the Open Letter still has not seen fit to return even a text). And now, the same pastor who in late August said something to the effect of, ‘We don’t need to talk about this, we’ll just go read [the write-up]’ (after which there has still been no response, not even acknowledgment, of the contents of that write-up they could ‘just read’), is declaring that he doesn’t fancy spending hours on the computer writing, finds it more ‘efficient’ and beneficial to ‘sit down and talk about things face-to-face’, and even believes that that is the way toward ‘resolution’. Aspects of his reasoning will not be discussed at this time.
But the Classis delegates aren’t the only ones. Others, non-pastors, have elevated oral not only above written communication, but even at its expense–deriding writing as (perhaps) impersonal; as a medium which lends itself to miscommunication because there are no tones or voice or facial expressions; as too ‘anonymous’ and ‘safe’ (this I take to mean that people can hide behind writing and not be held accountable [??]); and as somehow abnormal (e.g. the pastor’s seeming ‘dig’ about spending ‘hours’ on a computer). I beg to differ. But that probably doesn’t surprise you, given the word count of this blog…
Does this pastor resent having to sit down and pore over God’s Word and write a sermon or two every week for his flock? I’m sure that over the course of his tenure, this has taken many hours of mental labour and prayer. I’m sure in this arena, he would not denigrate (reading and) writing. Many–especially cessationist–members of the CRC would say that God Himself writes more than He speaks verbally, or at least, His writing is what He uses to communicate to us today. If only He had decided to be more efficient! If He put everything on tape or into mp3s, perhaps we wouldn’t need teaching elders in the first place.
At any rate, these several pastors must do a modicum of regular, half-way serious reading and writing on a regular basis. What does it mean that they can’t be bothered to do so in a serious (spiritual) church matter? I’m sure it must just be because they’re busy, not because they’re situationally, selectively lazy. Or maybe it is simply because the author of the Bible is God, and the author of ST’s emails is…ST. Why should anyone put himself out for another human being?
In the next post, we’ll return to writing for a bit. Sub-headings and topics for sequel posts will include: