By Paul Stocks
Here is a question for brothers in Christ: if you went to a meeting advertised as a healing service and found after 30 minutes that a séance was beginning, what would you do? Would you leave and go home? Would you confront the leaders? Would you sit there until it finished? Would you warn those who referred you to it? Would you warn others?
Let me share something similar that happened to a friend, I'll call him Jack, in 2008. Last year Jack joined a men's group run by Men Transforming Men (MTM). This group's focus is on helping men travel through the 'journey of the male soul' (as it seems to be called in the men's movement's literature) which is often precipitated by the awareness that occurs from critical life losses in mid-life e.g. death of wife, marriage disintegration, loss of job, etc. The distinguishing mark of the group, as it was promoted, was that it brings a Christian perspective and this appealed to Jack so he joined it confident that it would be a helpful and Christ-centred sharing of men at an honest and deep level. Adding to this perception was the understanding that the founder was a pastor at a nearby large, Evangelical, Baptist Church.
During the year there were many talks, Jack said, using ideas from the men's movement which were also liberally sprinkled with biblical passages and meditations so he felt it was helpful in the journey he was walking through at that time. He discovered also that an objective of these group gatherings (of mainly Christian men) was to lead up to a Men's Rites of Passage (MFoP) weekend retreat and he was prepared to attend this later in the year, and in fact did this.
MTM had a speaker come from the USA to lead these men through the weekend's sessions. By this time of the year Roman Catholic contemplative teachings were regularly included in the normal weekly meetings so Jack wasn't surprised when the MRoP teachings included discussions of male initiation ceremonies of “other spiritualities” and the problem that the lack of this has caused for men in the cultures of the West. He had a growing uneasiness, though, about how things were unfolding. On the day of “initiation” the men gathered and after more talking were led in a ceremony and told “Now we welcome the spirits of our ancestors into our gathering … and we welcome the spirits of the North, the spirits of the South, the spirits of the East, the spirits of the West…”
Jack walked away from this gathering when he heard this. Afterwards he approached the MTM's founder and told him this was “not on” as it directly opposed the work of Christ. The founder answered that we don't need to restrict ourselves to the Bible in our journey. [Beware of such a dilution and muddying of the good news of the kingdom of Christ, and of opening up to spirits which God hates.] In the few following weekly meetings hostility to Jack was thinly disguised.
This true story highlights various matters:
(1) There is an incredible sense of need, dissatisfaction, and a deep loneliness being experienced by men, even in evangelical Bible-preaching churches. Some attribute this to the modern church being geared to women and not being men- friendly, and therefore men lose connection to church.
(2) It also highlights that the sense of 'lostness' of male identity, and even awareness of this, can even make Christian men vulnerable to accept strange teachings.
Although men in Western cultures rarely go out to desolate areas to fast and have a shaman lead them through initiation ceremonies to become recognised as a full and responsible member of the community as some Native Americans do, for example, we instead often join service clubs (like Lions, Rotary, etc), community organisations, political parties, and similar Christian organisations. This seems to serve a similar function in our cultures. Therefore such initiations as MTM promotes and engages in are unnecessary and culturally insensitive by imposing this ceremony on Western men and possibly to those of other cultures. In addition it is unscriptural from a transcultural New Testament perspective.
The most important initiation any man (or, in fact, any person on this planet) can have is the initiation into Christ that occurs when in repentance we believe in Christ's great atoning work, we receive the Holy Spirit who then lives in us, and we declare our change of allegiance by being baptised in water and sharing our faith in Christ with other people.
Through this grace given to us we are initiated into the kingdom of Christ the Lord of lords, and King of kings. We are incorporated into the body of Christ as members with important ministries ahead for us to fulfil according to God's plan and the gifts (both natural and spiritual) and graces that He gives us. We are given new identities by the Holy Spirit who uses us as instruments to glorify the eternal Father and Son. We are adopted into the family of God and become related to His Fatherhood as his children – yes, as sons and daughters of the living God. We often and humbly contemplate the mystery of the ages – that we are now in Christ, and Christ is now in us. The depth of the riches of God is inexhaustible, yet we can explore them in the Word of God.
All other levels of human identity are pale when compared to the new identity of the regenerated follower of Jesus Christ. The needs of men are very real – more men die by suicide in Australia each year than die in car accidents. Let us respect all men and women and share with them the One who is the answer to their deepest questions and yearnings, all of which are fully met by communion with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Together with this good news there is some bad news, for there are false teachers offering counterfeit spirituality and soul nourishment. We must use discernment regularly in our associations with others and be ever-ready to share the reason for the hope within us.
(3) And it highlights that ministries can become compromised. Although Ministry to Men (now called Men Transforming Men) was established in 1998 by one of Kenmore Baptist Church's pastors as a result of KBC's “deep burden to reach Australian men” (source: The Queensland Baptist 6/12/02), it has changed significantly.
(4) Finally, it calls brothers to arise and pray for other men, for there is a deep ache in the heart of many and we have been entrusted with the gospel of peace that will truly transform them. It is time for wayward ministries to regain true compass bearings and get back on the right route. Pray mightily that groups like MTM will wholeheartedly repent and jettison their ballast and fill their hulls with the rich and satisfying cargo of the triune God's provisions for men. It is time for each of us to fellowship honestly and authentically with other men in the ways the New Testament teaches. And it is time to come alongside those who are struggling in life and give them a listening ear and support; and to invite those who, in our eyes, are not so acceptable into our circles of friends. There is a crisis in manhood and, brothers, we are empowered to minister life to men. “The love of God compels us.” (2 Corinthians 5:14)
About the Author
Paul Stocks has bachelor degrees in biblical studies and pastoral counselling. Paul and wife Shelli have a multicultural family and are parents of 2 adult daughters : Xiao Na lives in Nanjing, China, with her husband Bicheng, and Arienne lives in Sydney with her husband David and Paul's and Shelli's first grandchild, Elijah.
The Stocks’ fellowship at Ormeau Community Church, in South Queensland (Australia) and facilitate a small group there.