Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It seems to me there is a present day proliferation of people who are creating dissension in the Body of Christ in the name of doctrinal purity and creating what they call an "identity." I believe that may be causing something more akin to the sin of gendering strife [dissension] than anything else. I also think it may eventually need to be addressed and confronted in a clear, loving, and biblical fashion.

However, I do want to make two clarifying points before I continue to say what I believe needs to be said about it all.

The first thing is...the scriptures do make it clear that the difference between truth and error does matter. John MacArthur says, and I agree with him, that DISCERNMENT is "The ability a Christian has to tell the difference between truth and error and right and wrong." He goes on to say that discernment as he's using it is synonymous with the simple ability to think correctly biblically. I agree again. That's a good ability to have.

So to be discerning about what is true and what is false according to one's belief system is very important in the Christian life and I would not desire to take away from that fact at all. I think it is safe to say that the effort to maintain a spirit of unity in the Body should never be at the expense of truth OR purity in the Church. [A Corinthian problem in the NT if you remember.]

That said, it is also true that discernment in our lives is a grace and is the work of the Holy Spirit Who has been sent to "Teach us all things concerning Christ" and He will always demonstrate His character of Grace through our lives no matter the confrontation necessary about right or wrong theologically. [Or any other issue.] Much of what passes for guarding the truth, as defined by a strife-genderer, which they always say they're doing by the way, is nothing more, in my estimation, than bad character dressed in a second rate personality trying to get their own way and is a biblical no-no.

The second thing is...REAL unity in the Body is not something we are to try and create by using a system of doctrines [Theology] that people agree to accept as a group anyway. Getting our identity or unity from a system of theology, whether Calvinism or Baptist beliefs or any other theological system, is not a concept that can be found in the bible. In fact, the creation of unity among Christians is NOT our responsibility AT ALL.

We are to endeavor to KEEP the bond of unity that ALREADY exists among believers because of the Holy Spirits work in us as Kingdom people according to the Apostle Paul as he wrote in Ephesians. That unity is not around certain doctrines but the Person of Christ and the work of His cross as explained in that same epistle. The people who cause dissension wind up making it impossible to KEEP unity and it is the actions and attitudes of those people I wish to speak about in this post.

Kenneth Haugk has written a book entitled "Antagonists in the Church" and it is well worth the read. He is a Pastor, counselor and author who has been through the fire and has come out with the savor of the Spirit about him. In that book he describes the person who causes dissension. His contention is there are some people who, he says, are "genuinely bent on a kind of behavior that is destructive to the Body" And.. he has given them a name. They are "Antagonists." He believes there is a need for them to be identified and confronted in love for the purpose of maintaining the "Unity of the Spirit." In his book you will find a wealth of information as well as a personality profile and manuel for dealing with such people.

I'm going to use major portions of his book to complete this post because what he says in that book is just too good to miss. He vividly describes the people he has researched and personally experienced in ministry who were bent on gendering strife and causing disssension, called Antagonists, and uses four descriptive terms with an explanation of each. Those terms are...[All emphasis mine.]

A... Narcissism: “Narcissism is a personality pattern in which a person displays an excessive sense of self-importance and preoccupation with eliciting the admiration and attention of others ... a narcissistic individual greedily fishes for and hungrily devours the praise and attention of others ... Narcissistic individuals who are antagonists are extremely reluctant to admit wrongdoings. They cannot conceive of being in error, because ‘right’ is what meets their needs, and ‘wrong’ is what obstructs the meeting of those needs."

B... Aggression: “Antagonists also display patterns of aggressive behavior that permeate their entire personalities. Angry at self, the world, and any convenient situation or person, antagonists seem to wander through life seeking, inviting, and collecting injustices against themselves. Every perceived or actual wrong they experience is stored in their memories and periodically replayed to supply fuel for their anger. Antagonists initiate trouble; they do not wait for trouble to come to them. This often goes hand-in-hand with hypersensitivity on their part. They often take every word and action as a personal attack and respond aggressively. Something as seemingly minor as failing to say good morning to them can cause their antagonism to flare up. Their response to such an omission would most likely be to wonder what you had against them."

"Antagonists try to build themselves up by tearing others down. They express their inner struggles with a negative self-concept by attacking people, enjoying the failures and misfortunes of others while they project their own sense of worthlessness onto them."

"The attacks of antagonists are self-serving. Often they will seize on a slogan or pick some side of a valid issue and pretend that is what they are fighting for. It rarely is. An antagonist will quickly drop a particular slogan or issue once it no longer serves his or her ambitions."

C... Rigidity: “Rigidity is characterized by inflexibility of thought, usually coupled with excessive concern for precise and accurate procedure (as defined by the rigid individual). Someone with a rigid personality sees the world as totally static; his or her explanation of events is, by definition, the unquestionably correct interpretation. Rigid individuals ridicule or ignore differing opinions and skillfully overlook contrary evidence ... Antagonists with rigid personality structures are especially jealous of leaders, because people in authority have the power to inject disturbing input. Therefore, rigid antagonists frequently employ their simplistic rules and regulations as weapons against leaders.”

D... Paranoid personality syndrome:“Marks of a paranoid personality include persistent, unwarranted guardedness and mistrust of others; delusions of grandeur; lack of genuine emotions, and hypersensitivity. Because they distrust others, paranoid persons try to find hidden meanings in words and actions, continually looking for ulterior motives behind what others say ... they commonly experience difficulty in relating to others; disagreements and arguments are commonplace. Paranoid individuals find coworkers and authority figures most difficult to get along with.

“A paranoid person often projects his or her own feelings onto others. If, in a social gathering, a leader accidentally forgets to shake a paranoid antagonist’s hand, the paranoid might blow the incident all out of proportion in his or her own mind. The wrath carried inside the antagonist will be attributed by mental sleight of hand to the leader, as if the leader were angry with the antagonist."

My assessment of all this?

I would say he has nailed the actions and attitudes of people who gender strife and cause dissension as clearly as it can be done. It would also be wise for us all to evaluate our own actions and attitudes in light of this blistering description. To be part of the problem instead of the solution is not what I desire for my own life and I'm sure you would agree.

That said, I have to admit that it would take a measure of the work of the Spirit for us to be willing to address the kind of problem people he's describing in ANY fellowship. I'm going to have to reflect on what measures I would even suggest to do so at the present time. My measures in the past did not demonstrate genuine love I'm afraid. I spoke the truth as I saw it to such people but it was often driven by much more than Kingdom concern on my part I'm convinced. [Like self-protection perhaps!!]

I would finally say...I HAVE pastored these people and have even met some on the Internet. I think that families may also suffer this kind of Uncle or Aunt around sometimes and it doesn't make for good family reunions generally speaking. But the family of God CAN be a unit that graciously celebrates the differences [Even theologically] that are present because we are at different places personally in our individual Kingdom journey. With respect, patience, and a measure of love that is spread abroad by the Spirit we can maintain a unity of the spirit while working through our beliefs to truth as much as is possible this side of glory. No one of us will have it all and no one of us needs to be rejected just because we don't have it all. Kingdom living can be different. May God make it so by His Grace.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

We like to make things exclusive, complicated, esoteric, etc, don't we?

Jesus said two things that come to mind in matters such as the subject here. The first is, He commands us to have unity. We are to be one, in Him.

Second, He says if we don't come to Him as a little child, we don't even get to see His Kingdom. Couple those two thoughts and it appears to me that the center of our unity .. the substance of it .. has to be things that a little child can understand.

I've been in plenty of church services where I didn't speak the language. Russia, Latvia, and Haiti specifically. Yet we had real unity there, as Jesus was the only common factor present. Not even language!

Good post.

Paul Burleson said...


Good comment.

I really liked this..".I've been in plenty of church services where I didn't speak the language. Russia, Latvia, and Haiti specifically. Yet we had real unity there, as Jesus was the only common factor present. Not even language!"

That about says it.

Christiane said...

"Yet we had real unity there, as Jesus was the only common factor present."

Bob, that is the kind of 'discernment' that does come from the Holy Spirit.

Aussie John said...


Thank you for this post.
Kenneth Haugk, as you have explained his work, has certainly nailed it.

I once mentioned somewhere that it would have been good if I could have begun ministering at the place in life where I am now.

I identify, very much, with your words, "My measures in the past did not demonstrate genuine love I'm afraid. I spoke the truth as I saw it to such people but it was often driven by much more than Kingdom concern on my part I'm convinced. [Like self-protection perhaps!!]"

The personal pronoun refers to me, I'm sure!

I used the measures I was taught were Biblical,as no doubt did you, and which are still being taught, using the Scriptures as a weapon.

Much was, and is at present, made of Jude 3and 4, with little mention of "the common salvation" of all who were followers of Christ, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles.

Non-party people are regarded as ungodly deniers of Christ with some secret agenda.

I also identify with Bob's comment: My wife and I remember, with great fondness, our experience of being total strangers attending a service in a Greek speaking church. We were made to feel genuinely welcomed and lavished with love.

That has seldom been our experience as strangers in an English speaking service.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

You said," I once mentioned somewhere that it would have been good if I could have begun ministering at the place in life where I am now."

You will never know how many times I've said and wished that myself. Especially having pastored so many Seminarians years back in the Church I pastored just minutes from SWBTS. I taught them where I was on the journey and I had a lacking in understanding in some things especially regarding the Kingdom, Grace, and Holy Spirit giftedness of the WHOLE Body of Christ.

You will rejoice to know that an opportunity has arisen. Several [a couple of dozen] of those couples have contacted Mary and me and are putting together a "Reunion Retreat" in Ashville NC this coming summer and are flying us there to share with them what we've learned and how we've changed and why, the past thirty years.

Boy do we have some things to share. I may even ask some of you [Especially You] to share what you would say and try to see where I can let them benefit from your walk as I have.

Rex Ray said...

Belle and I started our life teaching school at the end of the World in King Cove, Alaska. The only radio station was Russian. No roads, no cars, and no lights after midnight because the electric generator was cut off.

One dark night I was on a boat and the only guide was a light run by a battery at the chapel. The light pointed the way, and I thought of Jesus.

Yes, we have unity with Jesus so why do we disagree on a hundred other things?
I'd say CHANGE is the most common factor. People don't want to change.

Paul, I hear you're speaking at our senior adult banquet with widows being recognized. Some may be on hos pis care or have switched churches, but they'll hear old songs from a man they haven't heard in years.

The place you'll stay has many memories. It's a house that's been moved a mile and remodeled into a guest house by my sister. It was provided by the school in World War II for the school teacher. We came from town to find our old bob-tailed cat sitting on the butter eating what mother had planned for supper – red beans. The fool just kept licking the juice as mother grabbed a broom and landed a blow that would have been a home-run anywhere. He bounced off a wall – hit the floor that became a treadmill. His claws only spun on the linoleum. Finally he got traction and put a hole through the screen door. While mother scraped off the top of the beans, we picked the cat hairs from the butter. I think the cat learned to wait for his beans.

Christiane said...

"One dark night I was on a boat and the only guide was a light run by a battery at the chapel. The light pointed the way, and I thought of Jesus."


it's me, L's

Your writing gets better and better.
I was laughing over 'traction', 'hole in screen door', and red beans;
but I kept going back to that beautiful part about the light in the chapel guiding your way and reminding you of Our Lord.
WOW. You made my day with that.

The oldest known hymn in Christianity that exists (outside the sacred Scriptures) is called the 'Phos Hilaron, The Gentle Light':
It speaks of Light of Christ in a way that you will understand:

"having come to the setting of the sun;
beholding the Light of evening . . "

Paul Burleson said...


I agree with every word you just said.


It's going to be an honor and pleasure to drop the "Internet" from "friend" where we're concerned.

I'm also looking forward to meeting your wife, sharing with the people, and with linking my heart and ministry with your Pastor. It's going to be a great time together and in the Word.

Rex Ray said...

My sister doesn't believe in her having a computer, so to get a signal, you'll have to get closer to us or the church ½ mile away.

Did I mention 'your place' is within sling-shot of ours, two sling-shots of Rodney's, and throwing distance from my sister. Conclusion: you can run but you can't hide. :)

Looking forward to our meeting. A long time ago at a deacon's meeting I was asked how I thought of your coming. I said “Like Christmas coming early.”

Christine, You continue to amaze me how nice you are.