bogeyman (ˈbəʊɡɪˌmæn) — n  , pl -men (also spelled “boogeyman”)
an imaginary evil character of supernatural powers, especially a mythical hobgoblin supposed to carry off naughty children.

Of the talk of suspicion and eyebrow-raising between Christians, there will likely be no end… but here’s an attempt to advance the conversation.

Anyone who knows me well — or who takes a more-than-cursory glance at my Facebook or Twitter accounts — knows that I can be a bit of a cynic. Now, before we go further, let’s talk a bit about cynicism. Defined simply (and incompletely), cynicism is a mindset that tends to believe the worst about people, events, or circumstances.

Having said that, I’ve noticed the presence of what I can’t help but think is a certain kind of cynicism creeping into the reformed evangelical world. I’ve seen this quite clearly in a few spots: in John MacArthur’s recent predictions of the end of the “reformed revival”, in Georgia pastor Terry Johnson’s piece about what he sees as “liturgical anarchy” in the PCA, and in suspicion against younger, urban PCA churches. This is the kind of cynicism that I’ve previously called “discernment gone wild.” It’s what happens the good gifts God gives are left unchecked by love. Leadership devolves into tyranny. Service moves from love-motivated to duty-motivated and begrudging. Discernment becomes cynicism… and cynics like me tend to not notice when we’ve crossed that line. We spend lots of time examining everything but ourselves.

We see differences in practice and elevate them to the level of differences in doctrine.

We create bogeymen for the purpose of “warning” those who might be less discerning than we are and to convince ourselves that our way is the only way.

We accuse those whose methods differ from our own of “trying too hard” at best, and deception at worst.

Cynicism, especially toward people and their motives, has an edge to it that mere discernment does not. It’s presumptuous. It always looks for ulterior motives, always distrusts, and always looks for a chance to say “I told you so.” It has no rightful place among our elders, our churches, or our presbyteries.

A few examples of these “bogeymen” we cynically create under the guise of caution…

  • the wannabe Roman Catholic bogeyman, who appears if we’re in a church where the ministers wear collars or where Communion is practiced by intinction.
  • the feminist bogeyman, who shows up if we see a woman publicly reading Scripture or praying during worship, or assisting with the Lord’s Supper. In our minds, this bogeyman is slowly, covertly working for the eventual ordination of women as deacons and elders in the PCA.
  • folks like me love to create the TR bogeyman, who exists in suburban churches with high steeples, pipe organs, Trinity Hymnals, bowties, and lots of seersucker suits. This bogeyman allegedly hates urban church plants, “doesn’t get” mission or contextualization, and just wants us all to fall into (the old southern Presbyterian) line.

There are also liberal bogeymen, emergent bogeymen, Federal Visionist bogeymen (closely related to the wannabe Roman Catholic bogeyman), and all sorts I’m not even thinking of. When our cynicism makes enemies of friends, the results can be devastating for a church community. Uniformity is valued over unity, differences become divisions, and our traditions become the measuring stick by which we judge faithfulness, rather than the Scriptures.

Brothers and sisters, be discerning! Point out error where it exists, and clearly! Rebuke in love! Resist the temptation, however, to create bogeymen. Don’t create division where there is none. As Pastor Mike Campbell preached at this past year’s General Assembly, “in Christ, the divisions are gone — not the differences.”

Cynicism is not the way of love, friends, and thus it is not the way of Christ.