There are some terrible things lurking under the dark underbelly of “brethrenism”. They are perhaps not unique to “brethrenism”, but they are certainly problems we have: so they’re problems we have to deal with.
One problem in “Brethrenism” is, the Ego Trip.
One reason I want to discuss the Ego Trip is, it’s a problem I personally have trouble dealing with. There it is, out in the open. I find ego trips exciting and appealing. I like to think I’m special.
Wherever there are people who haven’t yet experienced the “redemption of the body” (and that means all of us, because the “redemption of the body” hasn’t happened yet (Romans 8:23)), we have this thing the Scripture refers to as “the flesh”.
I believe “brethren” have been too lazy in their theology, confusing the “old man” and “the flesh”. But I suppose that’s not terribly important right now. What’s important is, there is “sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3), the flesh is a vestige of the sinner I was (and the sinner you were), and we carry it around with us until we die. That is the great problem in Romans 7.
When we get together with other Christians, when we gather in the assembly, we all bring this thing we call “the flesh” with us. That means, the gathering itself is infested with this thing we call “the flesh”.
The flesh is a nasty, deceitful thing. It can masquerade itself as a good thing, it can even take a good idea and turn it bad. For example, Pharisaism is basically the flesh acting religiously. It was the workings of people who claimed to love God, to worship Him; but when the Son of God came, the Pharisees couldn’t get rid of Him fast enough.
It’s no different 2000 years later. We, like the Pharisees, carry around the same flesh that is quite content to be religious, just so long as it isn’t required to give Christ the place He deserves. And like the Pharisees, we’re really good at making our self-will and selfishness sound very pious.
Every Christian group has the same problem, but because of how we gather, “brethren” have some unusual symptoms of the root problem.
Consider a typical “brethren” remembrance meeting: we sit quietly in a room with a table, on which are bread and wine. We sing, pray, and read Scripture; then someone stands up and prays, then breaks the bread into pieces and passes it around. After that, he prays and hands around the cup of wine. Is there opportunity for the flesh in that?
We in “brethren” camps will sometimes make some rather arrogant statements about other Christians who have a clergyman to run their meetings. And I agree that the clergy system is wrong. But can we honestly say we don’t have another set or problems, when we allow anyone who “feels led” to speak out, pray, offer a hymn, or stand up and take over the meeting like that?
Please understand I’m not suggesting we’re wrong to do what we do. In fact, I’m convinced of the opposite. I’m convinced it is exactly what we should do, what 1 Corinthians 14 teaches we ought to do.
But I want to try and make the point: in our meetings, there is tremendous opportunity for the flesh to rear its ugly head. I suppose this is probably equally true for any church meeting, but in a more mainstream church, the problem is limited to the clergy, or the people who are up front, actively participating.
So in “open” assemblies, where the meetings are largely structured and planned: the opportunities for the flesh are still there, they’re just limited to the people who are selected to actively participate.
With this rather bleak picture in our minds, let’s consider a concrete example. Let’s say we’re in an assembly like the one where I fellowship: Sunday nights are usually unscripted, “open ministry”. That means, any brother who feels he has something to say can stand up and preach. Sometimes it’ll be more than one person, sometimes it’ll be just a single person that gets up.
But essentially, anyone can unilaterally decide to take over that particular meeting and preach to the assembly. It’s actually a good thing, but there is certainly opportunity for the flesh, isn’t there?
I think for many “brethren”, the Ego Trip of “open ministry” appears to be irresistible. I want to be careful not to accuse anyone of anything, but I can’t help but notice that certain brothers seem to find the opportunity of a captive audience just too much temptation. Night after night, these same brothers will stand up in the meeting, and say basically nothing.
This Ego Trip is a major concern for me, because I have from time to time spoken up in the meetings, and I actually enjoy it. I remember someone once commenting that it was hard to speak publicly, and my thought was “not really”. I used to be a schoolteacher, speaking in front of people is really not that intimidating. Actually, it’s fun. But that’s precisely the problem.
We’re not in the assembly to see ourselves as the center of attention. We’re there for the Lord Jesus to be the Center.
So I’m having to be painfully honest now, and admit that I like the Ego Trip. I like standing up in front and speaking. I find it exhilarating.
And right now, that is a major concern to me. Partly because I’m in a bit of a spiritual crisis right now. I’ve declared myself Post Brethren, and I meant that. I believe 95% of what “brethren” teach, but I see that we have utterly failed to act it out. And that realization is making me question my place in so-called “brethren assemblies”. On the other hand, as I consider whether I ought to stay in “assemblies” or perhaps go elsewhere, I have to admit there is a nasty thought in the back of my head. If I go elsewhere I might lose my ability to speak out in the meetings. Now, I am a firm believer that every Christian is a priest: we are all given the place of extolling the Lord in the assembly (1 Peter 2:9). I am a firm opponent of clerisy. But I suspect that the little thought in the back of my head is ego, not conviction. I am almost convinced it’s a reaction to the prospect of losing a chance in the limelight, rather than a fear of failing to live up to my conviction that all believers are priests. I’m afraid of not being recognized as someone special, rather than being afraid that Christ will be dishonored by the clerisy I might find somewhere else.