When I took a year of computer programming, we were always tasked with trying to figure out all the wrong ways to use a program. For example, let’s say our program was designed to add two whole number between 1 and 99. I might test my program by entering ‘-3’ and ‘.045’ or ‘q’ and ‘z’ or ‘eat’ and ‘bat’ to see what it does. A good programmer will have thought about such things and added a subroutine that tells users to choose another number, between 1 and 99 only before telling the program to actually add the variables. One should never underestimate the human capacity for error. My school used a program that was notoriously badly programmed. If one hit the ‘x’ button on the log-in screen, they could crash the entire server. This usually resulted in this message being aired on the intercom: “Please log out of the system for the server reset… The server has been reset. You may log into the system now.” Some teachers only made that mistake once, others made that mistake once a day.
When it comes to Christianity, I find that there’s an unwillingness to consider the human capacity for error. In a few churches, they’ve begun to switch to plurality of elders as their leadership, but they very rarely put any thought into how that can go wrong. After all, how could three grandpas steer a church wrong? Turns out it’s easier than you think; ask any scammer who specializes in the art. A little bit of misinformation goes a long way and does a lot of damage. One example of that is the danger of the consensus, when all of them agree then none of them have the ability to see if they’ve gone wrong or where they went wrong. Elders who are ‘yes men’ tend to let errant pastors get their way without opposition.
But we also have to think about the individual’s capacity for error, one person who might be especially susceptible to the temptation of power and authority should never make the short list of the best candidates. In one of my churches, the deacon’s pet doctrine was put on the top of the list of teachings to emphasize. Something had to be demoted or denied so that his dream could be realized. It felt less like the House of God and more like the Temple of the Deacon where we were molded into his image and theology.
Sometimes when churches ignore the capacity for human error, it’s because there’s a spectacular amount of human error in progress with the leadership that they would much rather hide than deal with. A video I saw the other day was the story of a deacon who was also abusive to his wife. His church knew about it and instead of recognizing that he was disqualified from the position, they begged him to stay on and let them deal with it. They Biblically counseled his wife to be more submissive, but that only made things worse. It wasn’t until the deacon and his wife began going to another church that they got some real counseling that helped them to restore their relationship. If a church’s leadership protects one of it’s leaders from the consequences of his actions, how might they treat problems that their congregations bring to them? Will they recognize who needs help and know the best way to help them? If the leadership ignores it’s own errors, then it does not bode well for the church – the people who go to them for help might not get any at all.
Recognizing the human capacity for error isn’t about making sure sinners don’t have a second chance, it’s understanding the best way to help them overcome sin in their life. There’s a saying about not taking an alcoholic to a bar, this ought to work the same way in theory. Not setting a pot-luck supper before a glutton. Not giving a power-hungry soul the keys to controlling people. Only when you’ve limited all the ways how things can go wrong, can you really make progress in all the ways that things can go right.