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The bane of true believers
I write a monthly CEO-only newsletter that goes out to a few hundred CEOs (if you lead a ministry, please let me know and I can add you to the list). On more than one occasion, the topic of “horizontal hostility” has been featured. When groups that are mostly like-minded attack each other, there is a reason.
A few years ago, I participated in a debate about church planting movements at a missionary training institute. I have debated this topic before: last time I was the anti-movement guy. This time I took the pro-movement side. Many, if not most, of our mission agencies have been influenced by movement thinking over the past 15 years. This training institute has been very vocal about their opposition to this strategy. I was asked to participate in a debate about the topic with them. I like all forms of church planting, including the traditional form that this institute teaches. What is not healthy is elevating this strategy to a non-negotiable theological doctrine. When one steps back and sees the bigger picture, one will understand that we have two groups here that want the same thing: healthy, reproducing churches. The means to get there is different.
This training institute has made this their hill to die on. They see the methodology of church planting as fundamental. Furthermore, they have actively worked to exclude those who do not hold their views. They have influence with an annual missionary conference focused on young adults and have used that influence to “uninvite” missionary agencies who would otherwise be a great fit for participation at the conference. They have directed their energy at persuading donors to pressure agencies toward their viewpoint. I have been rather surprised that several national Evangelical figures have contributed their time to such narrow thinking by speaking at their events and supporting this ongoing effort. Making a methodology into a fundamental doctrine and then silencing those with whom you disagree harms the global Great Commission.
What we are seeing here is a phenomenon called horizontal hostility. It happens when highly focused individuals working to solve the same problem (in our case, planting healthy churches in unreached people groups) make enemies of colleagues over how to get the job done. Even though they share the same goals, the path to getting there divides them. Bitter rivalry can develop despite the overwhelming similarities that the two sides might share. This is the dark side of fundamentalism. Paul rises above it when he writes, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil. 1:15-18) Horizontal hostility happens often with “true believers.” It is no wonder that it is happening among Evangelicals, particularly those of us who are more conservative. The way we handle doctrinal truths spills over into areas which are not, in fact, fundamental. For those leaders who are used to battling for truth, this battle gets extended into these non-essential areas of disagreement.
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Groups like this training institute have become “conflict entrepreneurs.” A conflict entrepreneur is somebody who builds momentum for themselves not by what they stand for but by what they oppose. They use the controversy to further their agenda. They want the fight, because the fight gives them a platform, and notoriety, and advances their agenda. Often, the best way to respond is not to respond.
The antidote to horizontal hostility is humility. Let us be careful that we don’t read our own marketing material and conclude that it is anything more than our own marketing material. I love it when leaders are totally sold out to the vision God has given them. I love it even more when they also see that the Great Commission is bigger than any one of us and make room for others. Gamaliel’s gambit comes to mind. In Acts 5:38-39 we read, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice…”