Category Archives: Denominations

PRESBYTERIES HAVE DEMONS TOO

Naming your Demons

Rollo May, in his book Love and Will analyzed the word demon and its relationship to daimon in Greek. The term daimon was related to the natural urges of the human persona — for example the ability to feel anger, love, desire, fear, etc. A daimon became a demon, he suggested, when the natural urge became dominant in one’s persona. For example, it is natural to feel anger but when anger takes possession of a person and shuts out the balancing urges in one’s life, we can say that one is possessed. People will say, “I just got so angry I couldn’t help myself.”

May also pointed out that when Jesus exorcised a demon, he named them first building on the biblical belief that to know ones name enables you to have some control over them. When someone does something that I allow to make me feel angry, if I can name that feeling to myself I retain much more control over it. It is when I deny the anger building in me that I get into trouble. By naming it, I have some ability to exorcise it or at least its power over me.

PRESBYTERY AS ONE BODY

Expand that concept to the church. As the Bible does in speaking of the church as the Body of Christ, think of the church as an organic body. Just like with the individual, a congregation, presbytery, or denomination can have mood swings along several continuums from elation to despair, from confidence to anxiety, from humility to pridefulness. Often these emotional stages are prompted by conditions or incidents. A bad financial campaign can throw a congregation into a state of anxiety. A split vote can leave a presbytery in a state of anxiety. As with the daimons or natural urges of humans, these feelings are natural, but when they get out of hand, they can become unhealthy and even destructive.

What are the natural daimons (natural urges) that exist in any connectional system within a denomination? You might call this naming the benefits or values of a connectional church or why do we want to be associated or accountable to each other among regional congregations? Begin with each member of a council making their own list and then share and seek a consensus list of natural desires within the church.

NATURAL DESIRES

Mine would go something like this:

  • There is a natural desire for camaraderie among clergy, especially within a denomination.
  • There is a desire to strengthen the witness of the Christian church through cooperation one with another.
  • There is a recognition of the benefit of being accountable to a larger body that can expand our understanding of reality.
  • There is a desire to extend our witness through the support of others who minister on our behalf.
  • There is a desire to bring our gifts and skills to bear in a way that strengthens the ministry of each church.
  • There is a felt need to have a gate-keeper role in monitoring clergy coming in and leaving our area as well as new candidate preparation.
  • There is a recognition that sometimes a larger body can moderate and mediate in conflictual situations.
  • There is a desire to have a consensus of the main tenets of the faith and not have a fractured witness of competing ideas.

WHEN DAIMONS BECOME DEMONS

Now note that any of these can have their negative as well as positive aspects within the body but in the healthiest form, each contributes to the effectiveness of the church’s witness.

I can’t think of any split within the Christian body that has not had something to do with trying to establish the purity of the faith. There is nothing wrong and a lot right with wanting people to experience the essential teachings of the faith. We don’t want people to be confused with leaders within the Body of Christ offering conflicting opinions as to our core faith. At the same time, few would dispute that a fractured Body of Christ is superior to a united Body of Christ. The desire for a right understanding of the faith is a natural urge that is good, but it can also lead to the demonic destruction of the witness to the Prince of Peace.

This has been true since the beginning. You can hear some agony in Paul’s voice in 1 Corinthians 1:13 “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” So here is a particularly poignant example of a natural urge — the urge to have a pure church — that became demonic in the sense that it has resulted in that which no one would say is desirable.

Consider what happens when a natural urges that you have listed becomes the dominant force in the body to the expense of all else. When, for example, can the importance of the gate-keeping task of a presbytery become destructive to the relationships of those Christ loves, etc. As Jesus said, the core of our faith is relationships, love of God and love of neighbor.

AVOIDING THE SHADOWSIDE

Next we recognize the benefit of the daimon and then explore together how to avoid its shadow side. If we agree that the division of the Body of Christ is not consistent with the Gospel proclamation of the unity of the body, then the discussion moves to how we can prevent the natural and good desires in your list from becoming the demonic division of the Body.

Naming the demons was part of Jesus process of exorcism. To name the demons gave Jesus a level of power over them. The same can be true within the Body of Christ, be it individual churches or other parts of the denomination or even the whole Body of Christ.

MADE PERFECT THROUGH WEAKNESS

Our denomination is experiencing a lot of discomfort as we move through this time of transition, but it can be made easier when we recognize that God does not work through perfect institutions but is graceful to those who seek to be faithful.