Thursday, January 1, 2015

Falling Off the Opposite Cliff

C. S. Lewis warns us against running as swiftly as possible from the error we are least likely to commit. I am convinced that two opposite errors in the Christian church today are individualism and conformity. And they aggravate each other. Each side sees clearly the errors of the other and is pushed to extremes trying to avoid them.

One side sees the abuses of self-exalting leadership. They see leaders who are promoting their own agenda or even their own ego rather than the will of God or the good of people. They see leaders who require unquestioned obedience and rigidly oppose the slightest disagreement. They see leaders more interested in numbers and facilities than in carrying out God's work in the world. It is easy for them to become discouraged and uninvolved and cynical of the motives of everyone in charge. Or to adopt their own personal, often narrow, prescription on how to fix the problem. Or even to drift from congregation to congregation, being unwilling to commit to any one for fear of being in bondage to an overweening authority. They have been burned once and do not want to risk it again.

Then there are many leaders who are thoroughly frustrated by the lack of commitment on the part of their people. None of them are willing to be put in the effort needed to help the congregation go forward. They are consumers who drift from congregation to congregation, looking only for what they want. They are critical of everything that does not meet their expectations and are always pushing their own agenda. So the leaders push for people to get with the program. They become forceful and exacting, expecting to somehow whip people into shape. They become hostile to criticism, feeling it is just attempting to undercut what they are trying to do. They are overworked and burned-out from trying to accomplish everything without help, and they look on the congregation with a jaundiced eye. They have seen it all before.

Both sides are cynical, both sides are frustrated, and both sides probably have a point. How do we break out of the cycle? Now Scripture pictures the church as a body, as unity in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). But how do we get there? We need to start with the idea that God is at work in His people (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29) and in His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Colossians 2:19). This is true even though we fall short of what we should be (Philippians 3:11-16; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17). But though there is a place for correcting obvious sin (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26), we need to trust God to do His work in His church (Psalms 127:1,2, 37:3-6; Proverbs 3:5,6). Now I am not speaking against calmly reasoned attempts to improve things. But I am speaking against the dependence on ourselves and on our methods that pushes us to extremes

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