Tim Bayly: Safe Spaces for Prideful Old Churchmen, Please
I may not be as old as Pastor Tim Bayly, and therefore I may not be able to claim as much safe space from younger critics as he does in his article, “Abolish slavery, abolish homosexuality, abolish abortion, abolish euthanasia, abolish pride. . . .”
But may be I can. Not based on my age, which is only 45. But based on my work in my ministry, which, judging from the results, actually produced fruit – tangible fruit, acknowledged even by those who 15-20 years ago were my detractors. And since Pastor Bayly based his argument on his personal history, I will follow suit. Not because I like bragging about my accomplishments; I am just following the lead of an elderly man who brags about his.
I started my missionary work in a former Communist country when I was in my mid-20s. No one around me believed what I believed. No one even knew such ideas that I preached existed. There is no significant Protestant heritage in Bulgaria; if there was, it was destroyed by the Communists in the 1940s and the 1950s. Luther and Calvin were not translated in Bulgarian; nothing Reformed was translated, period.
When I made translating books the mainstay of my mission, most people thought I was nuts. Books don’t make a mission, planting churches does, y’know. Only after you have churches planted and going, you think about translating material.
In addition to it, everyone told me Calvin and Luther and Reformed books in general was a mistake. The small Protestant community in Bulgaria was thoroughly Arminian and pietistic. I better translate books about evangelism and prosperity. And if I defended that doctrine of predestination, that means no evangelism, right?
We were the first homeschool family in Bulgaria – or at least, the first homeschool family that homeschooled as a matter of principle, and wanted to teach and lead others to do the same. Our own parents looked at us as if we were killing our own children. I got invited to speak on radio shows a few times about homeschooling, and all I got from the other participants was scorn.
With a small group of several other young people, I was among the first to defend the values of libertarianism as a political doctrine; and I was certainly the first to declare that these values come from the Bible and only from the Bible.
What did I miss? Oh yes, planting churches and evangelism. In addition to speaking and preaching to my own mission church, and to others, I worked in the Gypsy community in Bulgaria. I went regularly in the Gypsy ghettos to preach to small house congregations. Unarmed. At night. In areas that had crime rates 5 times those of downtown Chicago; where a 55-years-old man is considered “old,” and where even the cops dare not set foot after sunset. When I told other people that preaching the comprehensive Gospel of Christian Reconstruction will change the Gypsy ghetto culturally – not just save a few souls out of it – I was laughed at.
No need to go on. I did what I did. Most of it was foolish, stupid, impractical, immature. I didn’t know better. I had no seminary education, I didn’t have centuries of historical legacy behind me. Nothing. I just did what I did. Again, my point is not to brag, but to compare.
And you know what?
The online library I set up with the thousands of pages I have translated, has about 2,000 people visiting it per month. Given that it is in Bulgarian, these are only Bulgarian speakers. Given that there are only about 7 to 8 million Bulgarian speakers in the world, the same proportion for a website in English, given 400 million native English speakers in the world, would be 100,000 visitors. That, if all other things were equal. And the other things are not equal. There are another 1 billion non-native English speakers in the world. There is the rich Protestant legacy in the English-speaking world. There’s the fact that 80% of the older generation in Bulgaria don’t have access to Internet. Etc.
Homeschooling? It’s almost a mainstream in Bulgaria these days, among young educated families. If it’s not mainstream, it is getting there. Even the laws were changed to somewhat acknowledge it.
Calvinism is more and more taken to mean “Protestantism” in Bulgaria. Yes, the older generation of pastors are kicking against it. The younger generation is reading Calvin.
Libertarianism is certainly a mainstream among the young.
And the Gypsies? I bet you there has been no pagan culture in the world that has experienced such rapid transformation in the last 200 years. And there’s more to come.
As foolish and immature and stupid as I was, what I did worked. I am a uniquely blessed missionary. Unlike many other missionaries in history, I saw immediate, tangible fruit of my work, within 20 years after I started. Really lucky, as John Calvin would say. Not everyone loves me, but quite a few people acknowledge my pioneering work. And they acknowledge there is fruit from it. Real fruit. Not just work, but results, too.
And then, a couple of years ago, I got a letter from a young man; he was in his early 20s. He was on the same page as me in terms of convictions and vision, but he was dissatisfied with something I had done or said many years ago. In his view, it was the wrong thing to say or do, and he believed that this lapse on my end placed an obstacle which prevented certain goals from being achieved. The young man didn’t consider the fact that I was 20 years his senior. He didn’t consider the fact that everything I did actually worked. He didn’t mention any of my achievements and contributions. He was concerned about this specific issue. He thought he knew a better way to do it, but he wanted to make sure he first scolded me for not doing it the right way, and even doing it the wrong way.
I had two options before me.
I could have chosen the option of the old man’s pride, and ask this young man who he thought he was to talk to me, known as “the Bulgarian Reformer,” in such a way. Doesn’t he know what the Bible says about treating older people, especially older people who were so successful? What can he show to compare?
The other option was to cancel me and my pride from the equation, and pay attention to the fact that outside that young man’s criticism of me personally, he and I were on the same side. He wanted to achieve something I have always wanted to achieve, and he could see where I went wrong, and he knew a better way to achieve it. Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t. I think, most probably he did. People who can focus on one issue only are very capable of seeing things about it that no one else does. I was sure his plan was better than mine, and his criticism was well-deserved.
In my response, I told the young man, paraphrasing: “You are right. I don’t know what I was thinking many years ago. Go ahead with your plan. I got your back. If I need to say something to repair the damage I may have done, and to help you, I will do it. Just don’t lose your focus.” So, there was my choice of action.
However foolish I was, at least what I did worked. And yet, I took criticism from a younger person, because he had the same vision, and he thought he knew a better way to make it work.
Where was I? Yes, Pastor Bayly’s work all these years. How he was brave to call abortion a murder. How he talked to Mother Teresa. And abolishing abortion “sounds good” to him. Impressive.
The problem is, whatever he thinks of these efforts of his, they didn’t work. He may have called abortion a murder every sermon, and he may have talked to St. Peter himself, and abolishing abortion may sound good to him all day long, the fact is, his generation murdered 25% of these same kids whom he now is accusing of pride. And whatever he did, didn’t stop that murder. Didn’t even make a dent in it. He is still calling abortion a murder, and abolishing it still “sounds good” to him, and still, one in every four babies is butchered in the mill down the road from his church.
At some point, time and age become a liability. At some point, an old man who has done the same thing over and over, getting the same undesired results, should stop and ask himself, “Is what I am doing the right thing, if it doesn’t bear fruit?” If he doesn’t stop and ask himself such a question, eventually God sends to him a young man who will ask him that question. And the graver the old man’s failure is, the more zealous the young messenger of God will be.
Yes, yes, Chesterton said that “the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him.” But Chesterton missed something. And it is that the God behind the young people’s criticism is always right. And the young men have enough time and flexibility to make it right. The old man doesn’t.
The old man’s duty is not to do abstract philosophizing on people going to hell because of pride. His duty is to consider the concrete Biblical threat of curse on those who bear no fruit, despite their good intentions and going through the right motions (Matt. 21:19; 25:26-30). That curse doesn’t count years of age. If anything, the older you are, the worse the curse, given that you have been given more years, more experience, and supposedly more wisdom to figure out why you have no fruit. After all, it was a 30-years-old young Man Who told the distinguished Sanhedrin of old men, “Behold, your house is left to you desolate!” (Matt. 23:38). It’s not that that young Man had His own way of doing things, and the Sanhedrin had their own way, and it was all OK. It was that the Sanhedrin and their way didn’t bear fruit. And therefore were cursed.
Back to my own experience as an almost old man.
I said I am uniquely blessed missionary. I am also a uniquely blessed father. I am the worst father in the world, of the best children in the world. I am foolish, lazy, absent-minded, selfish; my children are wise, industrious, organized, focused, devoted. But that is not so unique. More unique is that I am one of the very few fathers in the world who openly tells his children: “If you see me going down the road of perdition, ignore my position as a father and stop me. Talk in my face. Yell in my face. Deceive me and trick me away from my path. Do anything you need to do to stop me.”
Yes, I do tell them that. In fact, I said it publicly, in a sermon, “Redeeming Jacob.” I pointed to Isaac as a father who lapsed; eager, in his old age, to sell the blessings to his apostate son, Esau, for a tasty meal. Rebekah and Jacob, in my view, acted as Isaac’s protection. If you find that sermon and listen to it (I don’t know the link, sorry), keep in mind that all three of my children were there in the audience, listening to that same sermon.
You see, it is prideful old men who think that 1 Tim. 5:1 provides safe space for them from well-deserved criticism. (Just as it is totalitarian statists who think that Roman 13:1-7 provides safe space for greedy and blood-thirsty tyrants from facing justice for their crimes.) The truth is, though, the verse is not absolute, and can not be taken in isolation from the rest of the Bible. If an old man is caught trying to commit a crime, 1 Tim. 5:1 doesn’t apply; if I need to shoot a murderer to prevent a murder, I am not going to ask him for his year of birth. And while, granted, murder is a rather extreme example, being passive in the face of murder, or just speaking and feeling murder is bad but never doing anything to bear fruit, is just as bad. And therefore, if an old man is guilty of it, 1 Tim. 5:1 doesn’t apply. If that old man hasn’t done the job of examining himself and whether he bears fruit, he better ask for young men to do it. Because if there are no young men to do it, “capricious children” come in the play to rule over the old man (Isa. 3:4, 12). And when that doesn’t work, the real curse comes.
But Pastor Tim Bayly doesn’t seem to be that wise. He wants a safe space from criticism by younger people. He thinks that’s a safe space. That’s a foolish thought. Safe from criticism is the most dangerous place for an old man.
I really want safe space. That’s why I tell those younger than me: If it is about bearing fruit in a mission and towards a vision we share, and you think that, by action or inaction, I messed things up, please talk to me. (If it’s about someone’s feelings hurt, though, I don’t care. It has to be an ethical/judicial issue.) If you need to yell in my face, yell in my face. I only ask of younger people the following: Don’t lose your energy, don’t lose your vision and purpose, don’t lose your focus. And yes, come back and tell me in my face how you achieved something in a much better way, and criticize my way of doing it. I’ll be happier than you. And in a safer place than Pastor Bayly.
Because pride is not always what old pastors imagine it is.