Pugnacious Elders

I come from a long line of fighting fundamentalists, at least in terms of my spiritual genealogy. I remember a saying that hung on the wall of one of the pastors under which I sat for a number of years in my hometown. It was something along the lines of “I ain’t no limp-wristed, panty waist” something or other and seemed a motto by some fundamentalist leader to encourage pastors to fight for the faith. I had another pastor (KJV only) in my teen years who told all the youth kids about a Chuck Norris movie he loved where his favorite scene was Chuck Norris killing a rat and coming up out of a bag with it in his mouth. This pastor’s teenage sons ended up shooting a man in a drug deal gone bad, and I think they ended up in jail. I’m not citing that as cause and effect, by the way. Just noting some interesting facts.

Now a newer, more sophisticated version of the fighting fundamentalist has emerged. A friend recently recounted to me a counseling situation in which a husband admitted to the pastor counseling him that he was struggling with other religions, and the pastor replied that he just wanted to hit the guy. He, of course, didn’t hit the counselee. He just WANTED to, and he unleashed his anger on this guy verbally though not physically. These weren’t backwards, uneducated Christians either. The counselee left the church … and eventually the faith.

Even as a teenager in Chuck Norris Want-a-be’s church, I noted that the qualifications of an elder in I Timothy 3 in the NAS (which I used at the time even though I was in a KJV only church) said, “not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” The ESV says “not violent, but gentle”. I get the feeling that as long you don’t actually make fist contact with face, this new version of the fighting fundamentalist thinks they no longer violate this standard for eldership. I would like to go on the record as very strongly disagreeing with that assumption. First and foremost, the Greek word translated pugnacious/violent can mean both the one who actually hits and the one who is just ready to hit. It also can mean a person who is contentious or quarrelsome. In other words, this standard includes verbal violence as well as physical. It includes a STANCE of violence (and an ATTITUDE of violence) as well as the actual act.

In my many years experience growing up under the spiritual authority of fighting fundamentalists, their consistent excuse for their stance of violence is that anything else represents a tolerance of sin and false belief. However, Scripture VERY CLEARLY presents a 3rd way. Scripture warns against subverting the truth AND verbal violence in defense of the truth. BOTH are sin.

Jesus is our model for this 3rd way. In the qualifications of an elder in I Tim. 3, it is called gentleness. The same word is used in 2 Tim. 2:24-26 when Paul instructs the Lord’s servants in how to handle conflict. Be GENTLE. I’ve never heard a fighting fundamentalist give a sermon on gentleness. It’s a limp wristed, panty waist word, right?! Be careful. In fact, be convicted! If the term gentle makes you think women are taking over the church, you need to repent. Gentleness isn’t a sign that women have taken over a church. Not at all!! For women have definitely reached equality with men on the issue of verbal violence. Gentleness is a sign that JESUS and His GOSPEL have taken over the church.

Matthew 11:29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.

Biblical gentleness isn’t weakness. I can prove it to you from Scripture multiple ways, and yet some hard-hearted people still won’t hear it. But it is the Scriptural truth. Gentleness is strength UNDER CONTROL. And in Scripture, it’s strength under God’s control. Verbal and physical violence are strength that has lost its submission to the Holy Spirit and has taken authority on itself. A baby is weak. It can’t hurt a fly. An adult is gentle because though they have the strength to crush the baby, they temper that strength for the baby’s protection. God’s good under shepherd is STRONG. But his strength is submitted to the Holy Spirit. He values the quality of gentleness. He does not assume a stance of violence.

For more on the SCRIPTURAL qualifications of elders/pastors, I recommend this post and the sermon to which it is linked.