One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, while on an out-of-state trip, I almost walked out of church. I wish I had just stood up.

I don’t want to explain what was wrong about the sermon, since that’s beside the point here today. Suffice it to say that it was quite wrong, I felt uncomfortable sitting there acting as if I was okay with it, but I didn’t think walking out would have done any good.

I realize now I could have just stood up.

That’s it.

I could have stood up, moving to the side a bit if necessary so I didn’t block others’ view; not interfering noisily, but not being so discreet about it that no one noticed, either. Just standing.

Stand and Answer

If the pastor had asked why I was standing I could have answered simply and plainly:

“Because it would be wrong for me to sit through the doctrinal errors you’re teaching here without registering my strong disagreement.”

If he hadn’t asked, others would have done so afterward, and (in this setting, at least) I’m sure I would have had the chance to explain privately. Either way I would have let my disagreement be known, graciously yet firmly, and I might have had the chance to speak the truth.

I do not yet have a story to tell of actually standing that way. I’m sure my opportunity will come. It probably won’t come in a church.

Can you stand? Would you? Will you?

The Bible uses the metaphor of standing (1 Cor. 16:13, 2 Cor. 1:24, Eph. 6:11-13, 2 Thess. 2:15), but I think sometimes the way to stand firm today might literally be to stand. Not to shout, not even to interrupt, but to quietly register our calm yet definite disagreement.

Wisdom, Courage, Conviction

Knowing when to stand will require wisdom. I expect it will make the most sense where the speaker speaks a position of authority — a pastor, lecturer, instructor, or professor — and where he or she is saying something important enough and wrong enough to justify a public response.

Of course you have no business standing to respond unless you’ve done your homework and you know what you’re talking about. This isn’t an invitation to express mere opinion, but biblically informed knowledge.

Deciding to stand will take courage, conviction, and confidence in Christ. You’ll need to be prepared for what to say, using very few words.

You do not need to be able to explain publicly the reasons for your disagreement. If you can, that’s great, but if not you could always say, “I didn’t come here today as the teacher, you did. I’m not a public speaker anyway. But if anyone wants to know more, I’ll be available to talk afterward.”

Then sit down. You’ve made your point. (Let no one shame you for not being a public speaker. It’s okay.)

You must maintain a gracious attitude no matter what. You must being willing to yield. You may be escorted out; but you have made your point. You may be vilified, but if you respond with grace and truth, you will have made your point doubly.

I will stand. Will you?

13 Responses

  1. Alvin Bass says:

    First, let me state infatically that your conclusion is blatantly and Scripturally wrong.

    26 What then is the conclusion, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one[i] has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. 27 If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. 30 But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. 32 And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, 33 since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33

    If you disagreed with the sermon your Biblical mandate should have been to show respect, even though you may have had none for the speaker and if you were so moved to voice your dissapproval that should have been done in private.

    What you are suggesting is nothing less than chaos, especially in the Biblically illiterate day we live in.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Alvin, please note first of all that the Pauline passage you quoted applies specifically in churches. I wasn’t just talking about church settings, but also about lecturers, instructors, and professors.

    But even in church I don’t think the passage says anything to take away from what I wrote. It says in part,

    But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. 32 And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, 33 since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. 1

    I think what I have written about is a way to speak one by one. If I, as “another person sitting there,” have something to say, and if I stand up to signify it, then when the preacher invites me to speak I will do so, but not until then. I will speak “in turn” (v. 27). I will speak for edification. I will do this specifically and only when the leader is “is saying something important enough and wrong enough to justify a public response;” i.e., when the leader is not speaking for edification but for tearing down true doctrine and practice.

    And please note as well that this passage was written to instruct a truly chaotic church, so that it could be brought under order. I am not advocating chaos. I am advocating standing up silently and patiently.

    I disagree with sermons respectfully until they reach the level already stated, where the teaching is important enough and wrong enough to justify a response.

    I agree with you that if biblically illiterate persons took this advice, speaking in ignorance, it could lead to chaos. The same could happen if people lacking basic sound judgment followed the advice. That is a danger I should have addressed in the blog post. I’ll correct that now.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    Please note recent edits in my last comment.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    For another example of when this might be appropriate, consider the Peter Boghossian lectures I wrote about a while ago. Boghossian misrepresented Christianity to an amazingly egregious degree. I would have stood up there.

  5. Saul says:

    While my scriptural knowledge is certainly non-exhaustive, my understanding of the verse in 1 Corinthians 16 was that the word “stand” is meant figuratively, in the lines of “being firm in one’s faith” or “persevering” rather than a literal statement of standing. I don’t have the chops to attempt a rigorous exegesis of the verse or anything, but Strong’s Concordance does list the act of standing to be one of several meanings of the Greek word used in these verses, so it does seem to be valid. It is interesting that a small change in perspective can lead to a call for outwards action rather than inwards resolve.

    While I disagree with you on many points, this is one that I welcome. Sometimes it is important to stand (or sit, or kneel, as the case may be), and while this action could indeed be vilified, doing it with peacefully with quiet resolve is respectable. While I can often empathize with desire to register a noisy and quarrelsome dissent in public forums, let’s be honest, it doesn’t always paint the dissenter in a positive light.

    While I haven’t commented in a very long time, I have continued to read your blog posts. Despite this, however, I admit to not being entirely certain when you would feel it appropriate to stand. Is this primarily a doctrinal issue for you, where you can respond to specific statements by quoting scripture, or do you mean this in a wider context, like in a public speech or classroom discussion about social issues or political topics?

    If you mean this in a wider sense, beyond for example a Boghossian representing Christianity to what you feel was an egregious extent, could you perhaps provide a hypothetical example or two to illustrate a time when you (or anyone else) would be justified in registering their dissent?

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    Welcome back!

    Right. I said it was a metaphor, and suggested this could be one way to apply the instruction contained in it.

    I gave a hypothetical situation in comment 4. I hope that helps.

  7. Mary Lou C. says:

    Personally, I would speak to the preacher after the service. If I couldn’t stick around long enough to do it right then, I would do it later. If I weren’t going to be in that vicinity for any length of time, then I would contact him or her by telephone or email or I would make a return visit if possible — if it were that important and I felt that strongly about it.

    I wouldn’t like to be embarrassed in public, especially by some stranger who doesn’t know me, my background, or my relationship with the Lord. Therefore, I wouldn’t do that to anybody else — preacher, teacher, or whomever.

    Taking a stand doesn’t literally mean standing up in the middle of a service, lecture or whatever to draw attention to one’s self. It means sticking up for the truth in Christ and drawing attention to him. And it should always be done with consideration and respect.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Could you imagine a situation where the teaching was wrong enough and important enough to stand?

    Could there be times when the risk of embarrassing a speaker is less than the risk that the crowd will accept what he or she is teaching?

  9. Greg says:

    I’m getting the sense that heresy that would be sufficient to elicit a response and it is charity to assume it could be out of ignorance that would restrain you from interrupting the speaker. For example, a pastor may be using modalistic metaphors for the trinity to such an extent that I wouldn’t be able to ‘not’ stand for it but it could just be from ignorance. On the other hand, if a church allowed a Mormon elder to speak to the congregation during a worship service then I’d have to stand and interrupt. The line would certainly be somewhere between the two.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Agreed. You’ve put it well.

  11. Saul says:

    Thank you for your reply, but I do still feel like I don’t fully understand the message you are trying to convey. I’ll try to restate my question.

    The examples you’ve given have related to doctrine. If a sermon speaks to political or social issues that a Christian would have a biblical-based objection to, and they feel that the message is severely incorrect, is that a time for them to stand? I don’t know if going into specific examples would help, so I’m trying to keep the question broad and open-ended.

    I understand your objection to Peter Boghossian’s speech to principally be that he mischaracterizes faith. Is this the issue that you would have wanted to stand over, or was it some other aspect of his speech?

    Finally, I’ve given it some thought. I can think of a couple of times I wish I would have walked out of a given event, but I wouldn’t have thought to stand. Do you feel that there is a difference between standing and walking out?

    Thank you for your thoughts, it has given me something to think about.

  12. CORAM DEO says:

    A church service is NOT the venue in which to state your opinions or bring up a discussion which only equates to an interruption.

    Opinions and discussions should be reserved for a Bible study where both pros and cons can be heard in an orderly fashion…. and maybe you might even learn something!

  1. September 12, 2016

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