Friday, April 29, 2016


This post appeared on this blog a few years back but is in need of being revisited as things are far worse today than even back when it first appeared.

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 real 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 things 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 Spirit's 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 create 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 or is divisive. His thought 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 dissension, 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 a 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 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.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


What I'm about to say is ONLY my view. But it comes mixed with forty years of pastoring and attempting to lead people into the New Wine of the Spirit which calls for New Wine-skins of methods and watching as others have done the same. 

I'm convinced for change to NOT BE for the sake of change that what I'm writing here has validity. The suggested strategy I'm offering has been shared with pastors for years in seminars that I've taught. 

Let me begin with this statement. Most [not all] of the people I've been associated with through the years are NOT AFRAID of change WHEN it is seen by them as being of the Spirit and is seen as an evolution into something new that He [The Spirit] is bringing about for the edification of the whole of the fellowship. Without this confidence, change can be seen by them as merely a substitution of one old wine-skin for another old wine-skin instead of an evolution into what is needed for the new wine of the Spirit.

What I'm about to share is a strategy for moving into change whether we're talking about a local fellowship or a family. It involves change that confidently come from the Spirit's control rather than from manipulation or someone's personal agenda. I've seen it and watched it and I applaud it.

A strategy for implementing change in the life of a local fellowship [or family] would involve seeing what is needed and asking/answering the following questions...

Seeing a need for having a way of testing to see if the Spirit's truly giving new wine or not.
[How is the new direction of GOING_ different AT THE CORE_ from the old?]

Seeing a need for having a way of evaluating new methods as new wine-skins.
[How is the new direction of GOING_ helped by this new method of DOING?]

Seeing a need for having a way of asking the FELLOWSHIP about how they see the change.
[How do we ask for and receive the thinking of the congregation about it all!]

Seeing a need for having a way of keeping the FELLOWSHIP informed on the changes coming.
[How do we design critical path chart to inform the people along the journey.]

This is quite simple as you can see. But I've lived long enough to know that it would be wise to never mistake simple for easy.

Paul B.

Monday, April 11, 2016


At the outset let me say that I don't believe anger IS a sin at all. I believe it is generally better
understood as simply a negative human emotion. What you DO with your anger can become a sinful thing certainly. But when the bible says "do not let the sun go down on your anger" it is not saying anything about the nature of anger. It is advising us to deal quickly with something that can create real problems if left unattended. I also believe there is such an animal as "righteous anger." But that is the subject of another post at another time and ISN'T indicative of MOST of the anger we experience anyway.

Anger is a lot like fear in the scriptures. It is usually addressed in a negative context but, if correctly understood, the problem biblically is with the ACTION that results from the emotion, not the emotion itself. When speaking about fear, Jesus said on one occasion, "Oh ye of little faith, why are you so fearful." The storm they were in would make ANYONE who is a thinking person a bit fearful I would think. But they awakened Him and questioned His caring for them...out of fear. Which indicates, by the way, that He must have gone to sleep AFTER the storm arose or the question is rather ridiculous. So their action of waking Him up was done based on assuming He didn't care about them ['Look..He just went to sleep while we were in trouble.'] and was the indicator of their lack of faith or trust in Him.

I would think it wise to ALWAYS have a bit of fearful adrenalin flowing in the middle of storms, wouldn't you? Just don't do anything stupid motivated by that fear. The results can be awful. Anger is much that way. It is a powerful, albeit negative emotion, that can bring about terrible results when not properly restrained or handled responsibly.

Someone could be thinking..."Oh no, Paul Burleson is always talking about angry people and trying to get people to be nice to one another. Doesn't he know some things are worth getting angry about?" I admit to writing a good bit about the need to watch anger in life. But it isn't so much the anger I see in others that causes me to speak of it. It is that I see anger in others quickly BECAUSE I have experienced it in my own life for so long and I have seen the hurt I've caused in relationships because of it.

In fact, I've found that what most of us spot quickly and wish to correct personally in others is what is really present in us. But we so often DON'T see it there at all. I finally saw it in me. It was not pretty. I've already stated that I believe our anger is seldom the righteous kind. [Except in one's own eyes.]

That said, I must confess that anger seems more prevalent in all venues of society today more than any time I can remember. Whether politics, television, radio, entertainment or even religion, people appear to be taking license with expressing anger and there seems to be little or no regret about it or taking responsibility for it.

So let's talk about anger.

Well, let me begin by saying that I don't think other people CAN make you or me angry. Anger in a person is not caused by the actions of other people. It is really the result of two things as I understand it.

One___is our thinking about what someone does. If I'm thinking.."They don't have a right to do that." Or, if I'm thinking..."They shouldn't treat me that way." Then I act a certain into isolation, throw something, cry, angrily retort, get loud, or any number of things I can act out. You can see, I'm sure, that it was my THINKING about what they were doing that caused my reaction to their behavior.

But for me to say "I did it BECAUSE they made me angry," is to state an UNTRUTH. To say I chose to do what I did BECAUSE of my anger IS a truthful statement, but you are never a victim of someone else's behavior. There is, of course, the exception where you are robbed of choices were you to be, in fact, a captive to someone, which is illegal or immoral at worst and certainly an unhealthy situation at best, even if it's a marriage holding you captive.

But to believe you are a victim to what people do or say in normal circumstances of life and are made angry by their actions or words is to reject the responsibility of choices we have as human beings. To believe otherwise fails to own our own behavior and we become a blamer.

The fact is we have a will and are responsible to use it as we choose, REGARDLESS of the actions of others, to be different in our own actions. But it is learning to "faith" [believe] who we are in Christ, [Forgiven/Free/New Creation] and then thinking correctly, responsibly, even biblically so that ultimately, in the power of the Spirit, we can choose, as Christians, to BE different in actions, regardless of other peoples behavior, that makes for good choices as Christians.

The other thing is___my anger is not only caused by my own thinking, but it is also often present in me because of blocked goals. If I have a goal such as.."They are going to treat me right or else"...and "if they DON'T, then watch out," my anger tends to be felt and expressed. But neither the feeling nor the expression of it are the result of someone else's action. It is because I had a goal [To be treated right.] and no one had better keep that from happening.

Driving a car can illustrate the same thing. Four way stop. My turn. Someone jumps ahead of me. WATCH OUT. But they didn't cause my anger. I had a goal of fairness in taking turns at the stop signs and they blocked it and I had angry emotions because of my thinking that they had no right to do so. To illustrate this Larry Crabb once showed it this way....

"A is the event. C is the emotion. Most people think A__causes__C. But A___doesn't cause ___C. The third ingredient everyone seems to bypass is B which is our thinking about the event. It is B___that causes C".

"As a man thinketh in his heart [mind] so is he." [In his actions.]

One of the best ways to grow is to accept as valid that you're not a victim to anyone or anything. As a follower of Christ we are empowered by a true knowledge of His word and the life of His Spirit within us enlightening that truth to our minds to live life in victory, not as a victim. So we CAN think clearly. Such clear thinking can produce different actions in us than are found in those who act like angry jerks. It can cause a taking of responsibility and choosing to NOT act that same way. Like an angry jerk.

It WOULD be wise to not let the sun go down on your anger by allowing it's presence in you to challenge you to responsible self examination about your incorrect thinking instead of playing the blame game.

Choosing to act Christian. What a novel idea.

Paul B.