An Open Letter to Joe Putnam
Concerning his Article
“Sitting Among Strangers”
I greet you, brother, in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
I hope you don’t mind the length of this letter. When I sat down to write it, I had no idea that I would end up writing a book.
I have read with interest your essay, “Sitting Among Strangers”. You have not asked for my comment; but since you sent it to me, I assume that you want me to read it, and that you are open to discussion.
I have lived my allotted fourscore and ten years; and I write to you as an older man to a younger. As the Scripture says, wisdom belongs to age – not because we are any smarter – but because we ancient ones have lived along enough that we have had to recognize and pay for our errors.
Brother, I agree with you on the fundamental doctrines of the faith, and I also appreciate your critique of Christianity in the technological society. We are living in the most unnatural way, and the way that we live – even us who are Christians – is far, far from the way of traditional agrarianism, the way of our forbears. The order which God established at the creation of the world has no significance for the people who created this mess that we have to live in.
Have to live in, Joe. We cannot escape the world in which the Providence of God has placed us. We cannot change the powers that rule it. We cannot reform it. We must be in it, even though we are not of it.
We must respect authorities; while retaining the right to disobey them when they tell us to disobey God. We are bound to live within the authority structure that Jesus Christ and his Apostles ordained for us two thousand years ago. And that authority structure is as the bones to the body of the living Church of Jesus Christ.
That church is one comprised of believers the whole world over. Jesus our Lord has built the church, and is building it, stone by living stone. He has selected each one of us individually, to fill a specific place: and every one of us has been been washed, clothed in robes of pure white, and given a place at the royal table with all the saints! Bless God for His infinite grace!
And here’s the thing, Joe. We are – all Christians, “brethren”. It does not diminish this relationship that it is spiritual; for the spiritual is superior to the earthly.
The unity and diversity of the church is illustrated by the Apostle Paul:
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1Co 12:12-13)
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:26-29)
To divide the church into family units would contradict the teaching of these texts.
We are bound together with a bond stronger, more lasting, and more important than kinship. Our kinship to Jesus Christ himself is the thing that matters, as he said in unequivocal language:
“While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mat 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35)
“And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Mat 19:29)
“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luk 14:25-27)
And there can be no living relationship with Him unless we are willing to accept as brethren and beloved all those others who are in his family, to love them fervently, to love them as we love God:
“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1Jn 3:11-18)
We are to do good to all men, but especially to those of the household of faith:
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)
In your paper, you state your opinion that Kinism, etc. is the most important criterion in deciding what church you should attend:
“This incident once again got me to thinking about Kinism, genealogy, and regional culture. It is of utmost importance.” When I was sitting at that last IFB church in my home county, *I was sitting amongst strangers*. Most of them (including the pastor) were not my people, and had no connection to my people and culture.”
You say that believers of a different bloodline and/or culture are no more to be regarded than “strangers”. You say that they are “not [your] people”. Joe, do you hear yourself? Does this agree with the Scriptures that I have quoted above? If it does, please tell me how your opinion can be reconciled to the words of Jesus our Lord and Master.
But this is not all. You go on:
“Local churches should be composed predominantly of *local* people -those of the same race and regional culture.”
“…those of the same race and regional culture”? Can you give me chapter and verse? Or is this merely your own theological construct? I can’t find it in the Bible.
“Doctrine alone is not enough to make a cohesive church, as evidenced literally from the beginning, with the Jew versus Gentile disputes recorded in the New Testament.”
Truly, sameness of doctrine alone is not enough to make a cohesive church. But your attempt to prove this is weak. Yes, there were ongoing conflicts between apostate Jews and Gentile Christians (but also Jewish Christians) until the Jewish wars, when the Jews lost their connection to the power and influence of Rome: which made it virtually impossible for them to persecute Christians; being now a proscribed sect themselves. This is a matter of history.
But the enmity between Jews and Gentiles evident in Paul’s epistles that affected the church did not come from within the church: it was caused by self-righteous Jews who in their arrogance thought that they must straighten out these uncircumcised, heathen followers of Messiah Jesus.
But your claim that there cannot be a cohesive church composed of Jews and Gentiles is incorrect. You err in this, Joe, because it is evident that the church in Jerusalem, composed of Jews and Gentiles, was so “cohesive” that “…the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common”! (Act 4:32) They were, in truth, a family — the family of God. They treated each other as if they were an extended family.
“And going to a church of local folk that teaches false doctrine is also not acceptable. The correct answer is that one should seek out (or found) a proper doctrine teaching church in ones own area, filled with ones own people.”
Are you really sure of that, beyond all doubt? Is this really “the correct answer”or just your answer?
“When one goes to a local church made up largely of outsiders, that speaks of “church family” being more important than your actual kin and neighbors, one is setting themselves up for manipulation, cult-like thinking, and public scandals.”
But such evils as you name have occurred in every church, even the churches planted and overseen by the Apostles! Witness the letters of Paul. That is why there are official overseers, and why there is church discipline. I know of a church composed along the lines that you advocate. The pastor, also one of the extended family, said that his greatest difficulty is just teaching people to “get along”. Family infighting can be brutal, Joe! Alas! Your formula will not solve the problem of human sinfulness – or the constant activity of the Evil One.
“My strong focus on kith and kin is at odds with what could be termed “proposition only modern Christianity”, and with the IFB movement. After 400 years of gospel witness in America, why would one seek out a church pastored by an outsider, and peopled principally by outsiders? It will not work out long term.”
Why? For a number of reasons. First, the church, as you say, ought to be really local. The members of a church family, must live close enough to each other that they can fulfill the commandments as to daily social life: the “one another” rules of the New Testament that make real “the communion of saints”. This, in the case of urban churches, at least, will inevitably result in a mixture of people. Even a family-based rural church of any size will, if it is evangelistic, have to eventually include many “outsiders”. Will you exclude them from the social life of the church? Or will you reckon them your brothers and treat them as family? Will you allow them to intermarry with “your people”? How far is this separatism to go?
“And, you may get a surprise if the ruling clique covers-up the sins of their friends, family, or ministry colleagues. Cops are rumored to occasionally cover up for their corrupt brothers in blue, and professional preachers are no different.”
I know it. I have been the victim of it myself. The exercise of authority always leads to abuses and self-protection. Fathers fail in their duties to their family because they are sinful men “of like passions as we are”. They chasten us according to their pleasure”, as Paul states in Hebrews. It is an evil that cannot be wholly eradicated, and therefore must be tolerated. As an aside, the Presbyterian form of government, as well as that of Lutherans, Anglicans, and other “connectional” churches are better equipped than autonomous local churches like the IFB to hold tyrannical pastors accountable.
“Who are you sitting beside in the pews? Are they part of your people, with multi-generational ties to your area and culture? You know their name, but do you know them? Probably not. I will never again sit in a church of strangers.”
Wow! I guess that means me. Never? Your experience seems to have affected your judgment, Joe. It looks to me that you had a shocking experience that made you afraid for your family and have over-reacted. Would you have us all live in suspicion of each other?
And if those “strangers” should turn the tables and treat you as a stranger, how would you feel about that? Would you leave, or open your heart to your spiritual brothers and sisters? Would you split the church and take your people elsewhere? Then would your church isolate itself from all the churches composed of “strangers”? So much for inter-church relations!
I beg you to re-consider, and with an open heart and mind, review the Scriptures that I have set before you. You have people that respect your opinion and Scripture knowledge. Don’t let it go to your head. What if you change your mind someday and find that you have led people astray? You can tear up the body of Christ with your “correct answer”, that you are so sure of, Joe.
I wish you all God’s best, Joe!
Yours in Christ,
Howard Douglas King