Easum, author of several widely acclaimed books on church leadership, including Growing Spiritual Redwoods, Leadership on the OtherSide, and Unfreezing Moves, is Senior Managing Partner of Easum, Bandy & Associates, Port Aransas, Texas. His insights are used in many denominations across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
Sheep have a habit of getting so involved in feeding themselves that they munch along for hours without ever looking up to see where they are headed. All goes well as long as the sheep munch in their own pasture. But if someone leaves the gate open, sheep will munch their way out of the pasture onto the adjacent highway. There they could be run over by an eighteen-wheeler without even knowing what hit them.
Many Christians have done the same. We have munched so far from our roots that we do not realize how far we have removed ourselves from what we once were. What were once our bedrock beliefs are now only memories.
The Loss of Bedrock Beliefs
Events of the last few months have caused me to think more about a subject that has concerned me for some time: Why do so many Christians allow their bedrock beliefs and values to be eroded away by the decisions made by people higher up in their tribe? And then over time, these same Christians learn to live with what they would have previously considered a watered-down belief system. Why do we do that?
Something happens to religious groups over a long span of time when their bedrock beliefs or values are radically changed and the majority accept the change and learn to live with it, even though it goes against what they really believed in the past. In time, the new value or belief becomes accepted by them. I wonder why we do that.
I have noticed that the more the bedrock beliefs of a group are changed, the faster that group becomes irrelevant and slides into major decline. Why don’t groups realize this and quit accepting it as progress?
The bedrock value or belief issue could be anything that once was important to a group of people. Take my denomination for instance. Over the years I’ve seen several of the historic, bedrock beliefs and values of my denomination questioned, challenged, and then watered down, with very few people taking a stand against the action. I’m thinking of issues such as the divinity of Christ, the universality of the gospel, the belief in the priesthood of the believer, the virtual end of the itinerancy for the large church, and the rise of professional clergy, to name just a few. At one time all of these issues were bedrock beliefs or values of my denomination. While they were, we were a strong group. As they were changed from within, we began to decline. Over time, many of my tribe have accepted the changes. Why do we do that?
Or take the Southern Baptists and their battle over the inerrancy of the Scriptures, or the recent decision of the Episcopal Church to endorse a homosexual bishop (this is not a comment on the subject of homosexuality, so don’t make it into that), or the Evangelical Lutherans (ELCA) and Episcopal Church trying to find a common ground for communion together and the sharing of priests, or – I’m sure you can think of many more. What are the bedrock beliefs in your tribe that are under siege but no one seems to care?
Is It Worth Watching Instead of Munching?
You see, what concerns me is that no matter what the issue is or where we stand on the issue, how we react when our bedrock beliefs are thrown out the window determines the values or beliefs for future believers. It bothers me that most of us do nothing when our bedrock beliefs or values are changed. It bothers me more that so many just go on thinking that nothing has really changed for us—but it has. Those who come after us lack any memory of the bedrock belief that no longer stands the test of the majority. Why do we allow that to happen? Why do we munch instead of watch?
Why don’t more people leave their tribe when their tribe morphs into something other than its historic origin? Why do we suck it up and go on? Why do we do that?
Could it be that deep down, the clergy care more about a paycheck than bedrock beliefs? Could it be that laity simply don’t know enough about their faith to make a conscious decision about what is bedrock and what isn’t? Could it be that Christianity is now the stepchild of culture and science or the fad of the hour and that Christian leaders seek to stay in line with them? Could it be that Christianity has been wrong all the time – that the values we once held dear were not really worth believing in the first place? Or are we little more than sheep, with our heads down, munching our way out onto life’s freeway . . . .
We can’t change bedrock beliefs and have the same faith. I think that is what has happened over the years. Little changes have led to bigger ones with no one taking a stand. Then the day comes when bedrock beliefs are thrown out the window and everyone thinks the new values or beliefs are adequate.
Take my denomination, again, for example. In many ways the majority of my tribe is so far removed from the group I joined thirty-five years ago that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recognize some of us as Methodists. When you compare what we (UMC) believe today with what we believed when Francis Asbury began the Methodist movement in the U.S.—well, need I say more. . . . Could this be why our tribe has such difficulty taking the gospel into every new part and population of the U.S. like we used to? Could this be why Methodism all over the world, except the U.S., is booming?
How far can our bedrock beliefs get watered down and changed before they are no longer worth giving one’s life for? Can bedrock beliefs ever change?
Now, take the Episcopal Church again. I know some priests whose bedrock beliefs were hit hard by the recent decision, and I know some priests who are rejoicing over the same decision. How each responds will be more than merely interesting and will have an enormous impact on the Episcopal Church. If those who feel betrayed stay in the fold, they contribute to what they feel is the watering down of the faith for the next generation. If those who feel their faith is vindicated in this vote take a superior attitude toward those who are hurt by it, faith again is watered down. This dilemma doesn’t seem to have any win/win to it, unless some priests change their bedrock beliefs or leave the Episcopal Church. Anything else is watering down one’s faith. A difficult choice, anyway you look at it.
I think it is time for folks to stand up for their bedrock beliefs, no matter what side of the issue they are on. That is infinitely better than constant compromise. The world doesn’t want compromise. It wants a definite belief structure that is constant, one way or another. There is just too much at stake for either side to suck it up and compromise their bedrock beliefs. So I’m praying for all of my friends in the Church who are faced with major changes in the bedrock values and beliefs of their tribe. May God give you the courage to stand by your convictions, no matter what side of the fence you’re on.
One more thought . . . Could this changing of values and beliefs be one of the reasons why the majority of young pastors don’t join denominations? They don’t accept compromise. If so, all of us had better learn a lesson from this.
God help us all to stand firm for our bedrock beliefs, no matter which side of the fence we are on. Otherwise we might just be munching our way into oblivion.
We do not realize how far we have removed ourselves from what we once were.
The more the bedrock beliefs of a group are changed, the faster that group becomes irrelevant and declines.