Jesus Christians.com

Preferred Language:  English | Espanol | Deutsch | Francois | Po Polsku | Easy English

Loose Cannons

We were recently asked to split some very knotty, short chunks of timber, each cut from the juncture of two tree branches. We were offered the use of a beautiful new chainsaw to complete the task. The saw had more than enough power to cut through the knots and reduce the tree joints to manageable-sized pieces for a fuel stove. But there was one problem. We had no way to anchor the little pieces of timber that we wished to cut. If they had been still attached to the tree itself, the chainsaw could have handled them easily. But as it was, as soon as the spinning saw would make contact with a piece of timber, it would jump away, sometimes quite aggressively. Not only was the chainsaw useless in dealing with the pieces of timber, but the timber itself was quite dangerous, because it would shoot off in almost any direction as soon as the saw started to cut into it.

This incident illustrates the background to the term "loose cannons". Cannons were traditionally lined up along the wall of a fortress, or along one side of a ship. Cannons were not easily aimed, but if they worked in conjunction with a row of cannons, what one cannon might miss, the others would hit. The cannons were also mounted on a kind of rail, so that when the explosion sent a cannonball flying through the air, the natural recoil would only send the cannon itself a short distance back on the rail before stopping its movement.

For the cannon, such an arrangement must have been very restrictive. They had little choice in where they were to fire, since all of the initiative rested in the captain of the ship... an authority higher than themselves. They were also limited in how they were able to react to an explosion from deep inside of them. They were more or less forced to control their natural reactions. If a cannon had feelings, it would probably be tempted to think of such control as repressive.

But loose cannons were useless. Sure, you could be spun around and aimed wherever they might choose. But the explosion that would launch a cannonball out of the weapon would so jar the weapon itself, that the ball could go anywhere, and the cannon itself might end up doing more damage than the ball, as it shot off in the opposite direction, flattening anyone in the way.

Loose cannons are dangerous... to others as well as to themselves.

We use the term loose cannon today for people who function so independently that they are not accountable to anyone else for much of anything that they do or say. They are free to arbitrarily make up (and change) the rules with regard to everything that they do and say. The rules, of course, always center around themselves. In their own mind, all the world is out of step with them. Only they have the formulae for determining who is right and who is wrong. Not surprisingly, the loose cannons are almost always right in their own eyes, and anyone who does not agree with their conclusions, is almost always wrong.

We must confess that we ourselves are probably regarded as loose cannons by larger organisations than ourselves. It may seem hypocritical of us to be criticising others who are independent when we are so independent ourselves. But there is a difference, and we humbly pray that the difference is not based on a selfish desire on our part to write off others and justify ourselves. We feel that the difference must be based on a genuine preparedness to submit our own will to the will of a larger body on opinion matters, providing certain fundamental moral principles are adhered to.

Independence, personal initiative, and flexibility are neither good nor evil in themselves. But then, neither are organisation, co-operation, and accountability. What makes a person a loose cannon is not their personal drive and adaptability. In fact, these qualities are powerful spiritual forces, and are needed by individual members in any successful organisation. What makes a person a loose cannon is a refusal to accept a larger discipline and authority than their own personal opinion.

Most loose cannons are very good with words. They can justify almost anything on their own part, and they can condemn almost anything on the part of anyone who attempts to criticise them. But what they cannot do is to hear out their critics and seriously consider the possibility that they themselves are wrong, and that they need to change. Loose cannons are invariably hiding from some uncomfortable truth, for which they do not want to be accountable.

Freelance evangelists are notorious for having double standards with regard to their sex lives. Freedom becomes an opportunity to sin without being accountable to anyone. Others run up bills and then skip town. Some tell whoppers about miracles that have supposedly been done by themselves. There is almost always a tendency to exaggerate their size and scope of influence, in an attempt to give the impression that they really are part of a bigger body. But on closer inspection, you usually find that (at best) their bigger body is just a loose assortment of other loose cannons, each of which has something to hide. So they all enter into a silent conspiracy to say nothing about the sins of the others in exchange for unaccountability on their own part.

When you think about it, that conspiracy really extends to most of the world, from total psychotics to the most respected church people. Various teachings about grace have been invented to justify lack of accountability for the actions of church-goers, and for sin in their lives.

The Bible says, "Do not forsake living in community, as so many others have done, but rather be accountable to one another. And this is so much more important as you approach the return of Christ." (Hebrews 10:25) Living in community scares people because it is so restrictive. It does not leave them freedom to sin. And yet living in a community of fellow Christians, sincerely seeking the truth, is essential for true followers of Jesus Christ.

We have found that mental patients as a rule respond to our message of living by faith better than people who are generally regarded as sane. The mental patients have the ability to see the truth in what we are saying, because they have let go of the false values of normal society. But, sadly, they rarely become members of our community, because they are addicted to the concept of being their own supreme judges of what is right and wrong, on everything, and not only for themselves, but for everyone else. This egocentric approach drives them farther and farther away from everyone else, and more and more into a world of their own extravagant imaginations.

The religious world is littered with loose cannons, all of whom exhibit many of the same classic signs of mental illness that we have just mentioned. Providing they are still able to function in other areas of their lives, they may not be clinically diagnosed as suffering from mental illness. But the symptoms, their causes, and the tragic effects are there all the same.

They are like the loose pieces of timber or the loose cannons. Because they recoil in fear every time they are asked to account for errors or inconsistencies in their lives and in their witness, they rarely achieve anything for God. Oh, they tell themselves that they are doing great and mighty works which only they and God can fully appreciate... but the delusion mirrors that of the committed mental patient.

We agree with the loose cannons about many of the sins of secular society, organised religion, and even the medical profession. There is much that is sick about "straight" society. But fear, pride, and hate are not the answers. There are legitimate grounds for unity, and there is a great need for each one of us to consider humbly the perspective of other cannons on either side of us. If this does not happen, the cannons will continue to fire at one another instead of working together for God's greater cause and kingdom.

Jesus said that, wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, he would be in the midst of them. He did not say that we need to have hundreds or thousands. But neither did he say that this principle would work with one person on his or her own. We need others (at least one other) against which to test our theories.

And there must be agreement between at least two or three for our prayers to have any effect. However, what we see today is a gradual disintegration of fellowship (or agreement) based on Christian principles, and less and less accountability between Christians.

Attempts at forming Christian communities usually start because people can see some of the positive benefits of close fellowship and co-operation. But as soon as it starts to cost them something personally, they abandon the movement. And even when it appears that two loose cannons have formed an alliance, a closer look shows that it is based on selfish desires on the part of both parties, and it starts to break down almost as soon as it begins. Two independent evangelists may choose to share accommodation; but sooner or later, rather than growing from two to three to four to five, they part and start over again with someone else. It is a speeded up picture of what is happening in marriages around the world today as well. The obsession with self and freedom and anarchy eventually destroys the marriage relationship along with every other relationship.

We are not saying that the answer is a false church based on a false cornerstone. But in one way or another, the loose cannons will all eventually be swallowed up by that same false church (by force, if by nothing else) unless they are willing to fall on the rock of Christ's teachings and be broken by an authority bigger than themselves. And yes, that authority does include visible human beings, who in turn are ruled by other authorities bigger than themselves. So, if you are sincere, either get with other believers who are close to you in their vision, or be swallowed up by those who are also building a self-centered empire.

The Bible says that if we cannot love our brothers and sisters whom we have seen, how can we say that we love our heavenly Father whom we have not seen. (1 John 4:20) Jesus prayed that his followers might become one (John 17:21), and he said that the world would recognise that we are his followers by our love for one another. (John 13:35) Where is that love evidenced in the myriad of screaming anarchists that populate the religious world today?

It is time for the loose cannons to put aside the finer points of their disagreements and to turn to the first principles of the gospel of Christ. Principles like love and faith and honesty, like humility and obedience to the teachings of Jesus. This is where true unity will come from. And it will require us to submit to the probing exhortations of one another, in an effort to bring us all to a closer relationship with Christ.

If we can work along these lines, we may each find our place along the wall that God is building, and we may eventually stop tearing down what God is trying to build up through others besides ourselves.

(See So You Want to Start Your Own Ministry?.)

Register or log in to take the quiz for this article

Mail us at:   fold@idl.net.au,    OR write to:    Godstuff Comix,  P.O.Box A678, Sydney South, Australia 1235