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Addition by Subtraction? A contrary view

27 April 2006

In responding to a recent blog by Mike Cope (, “Addition by Subtraction,” a brother or sister with pseudonym CB wondered whether that whole notion meant that “our family wants us to leave, or is just indifferent to our staying.” CB, I’m inclined to share your apparent distaste for the whole idea. (That does not mean, of course, that I am attacking Mike. My desire is to add to the conversation, not to condemn a man who has amply demonstrated his compassion for and devotion to the saints of God.) The context of Mike’s post was a shift in a local church toward a “missional” posture, and the discomfort that would inevitably result among some in the rank-and-file.

The whole notion of “addition by subtraction� seems tainted by an elitist point of view unless it is applied to the situations to which Jesus Himself applied it:

1. In the matter of church discipline for public sin (Matthew 18)
2. In the matter of choosing whether to serve Jesus or not (Luke 14)

We are clearly shown that these weighty matters justify the separation of believers; even if it’s painful, it must be done. But is it equally justified in the matter of choosing what our evangelistic strategy is going to be? That seems to be a stretch, a nod to efficiency, a desire not to be held back by “those recalcitrants,� a form of pin-your-ears-back urgency that neither the Gospels nor the Epistles seems to convey to us.

In musing over this whole idea, the thought occurred to me that no shepherd in Jesus’ mold would be content simply to let some sheep wander off to God-knows-where (Luke 15) without some bona fide effort to reach them, communicate with them, listen to their hearts. “Addition by subtraction� is euphemistic language for, “we’re probably better off without you anyway.�

Of course, no shepherd has standing to prohibit someone from moving on if that is his/her conviction and intention. But simply to let him/her go without challenging his/her decision with a pastoral heart just seems contrary to the spirit of John 10:1ff, Luke 15 etc.


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