I’ve written previously about the challenges with responding to conspiracy theories in relation to COVID19. I was recently asked how I would encourage church leaders to respond when those conspiracy theories are being pushed by people within the church with a view to shaping the church agenda.
My response is as follows. First of all we need to make three distinctions. The first is between those who are raising genuine and reasonable questions as opposed to following a conspiracy theory. The existence of those conspiracy theories does not mean that legitimate questions don’t exist. Secondly, I would distinguish between those who are specifically developing and promoting such theories and those who are caught up in listening to them and sharing views. Most people in church are likely to fall into the latter category.
Thirdly, I would distinguish those who are fully involved in the life of the church from those who pass through, sit on the periphery and are often chasing after the wildest of theories. I remember at our previous church a couple who joined us for a little while. They would often approach me after a service and thrust some paper into my hand, often with a particular end—times bent. Well, I would smile politely, pocket the paper and forget about it. There was no need to spend an elders’ meeting discussing it and little point attempting to engage the person on the subject matter. So, I would simply ask them about other things relating to their life and the Gospel. However, they rarely wished to talk about such things.
My priority is people within the church. In such a situation I want to reassure them of our love and welcome. We want to see them grow and mature in Christ. However, what we cannot do is to simply follow theories and ideas without proper discernment. This should of course be reasonable. We would not wish to follow an idea simply because someone claimed to have had a word from the Lord, picture or dream. We would test such things. So, no more would we follow something revealed to us through a blog or YouTube video. Indeed, this is where it is helpful to think about gifts and discernment. My view of contemporary prophecy and words of knowledge is that they best fit into he category of “General Revelation.” They are not Scripture but people can hear God’s guidance. Yet when the church discerns together, I would argue that such words of knowledge should be heard alongside words of wisdom – the insights of the church treasurer, the architect, the project manage, the school teacher etc.
Secondly, I would be honest with them. I would say that based on careful investigation and assessment I consider these things to be false. Not only do I mean that the theories are untrue but that they are false from a Gospel perspective too. There are two parts of this. First, sadly I’ve seen conspiracy theories that are false because they distort God’s Word. These include those that have represented vaccines as “the mark of the beast” face coverings as disobedience to the law and pharmacy as “witchcraft” because of a twisting of Greek. Secondly, there is a falseness because conspiracy theories encourage attitudes to the truth and to others that are out of line with Gospel values.
This leads to a further point. Is the person willing to engage? Are they teachable and do they present their proposals in a manner which reflects the fruit of the Spirit. This is important because I don’t think anyone should claim the right to influence church life if they aren’t showing characteristics such as teachability, love, gentleness, kindness, self control etc. It’s also important because Scripture says that we are known by our fruit. The fruit demonstrated in our lives indicates whether or not the roots are healthy. When we see divisiveness and judgementalism that doesn’t bode well in terms of the roots.
Sadly, you will find that some people will simply not wish to engage on such terms. You may lose members and even friends as a result. Yet this is so important as we seek to genuinely love them and as we seek to care for the church.