Monday, January 17, 2011

When Caution is a Vice

Any virtue, when not animated from Calvary and administered by the Spirit, becomes a vice. The fruit of the Spirit is just that: of the SPIRIT. The fruit is not merely amplified and finely polished human personality attributes. “Very nice person” is not the tenth fruit of the Spirit. Jesus was de-cidedly not “nice.” Nice people do not get crucified.

The virtues in our faith are characterized by great tension. For example worship without service is self-deluding, intoxicating, religious narcissism. Service without worship is barren, striving, superficial, religious altruism: the overflow of the anxious Adamic soul.

Our faith is both a rest and a race. Without the Spirit, rest becomes passivity and the race be-comes striving. Regrettably, there are individuals and groups that get a glimmer of one or the other of these virtues, build an identity around them, and engage in fractious and futile infight-ing. Rather than seeing each other as God-ordained complementary necessities comprising a whole together, the others are viewed as being of inadequate revelation, or in error in need of remediation, or even worse . . . enemies. “Be more like us and you will really be on the “ins” with God.” It’s common, and sad.

Without the Spirit’s ministry all virtues will degrade. Honesty becomes brutality, frugality be-comes miserly, kindness becomes sentimentality, gentleness becomes timidity, courage becomes cheeky audacity, and so on. The virtues of wisdom, patience, and caution easily degenerate into vices, and when they do, the community of faith stagnates.

Elton Trueblood phrased it this way:

One of the most harmful forces in the spiritual life may be the counsel of prudence [cau-tion, care]. Whenever any exciting venture is proposed, there are always some to advise caution. The giving of cautious advice is the easiest and cheapest way of achieving a rep-utation for wisdom, because anyone can qualify.

There are times when patience becomes a positive vice, closely associated with cowar-dice.

God’s gracious provision to avoid this condition and the resultant community stagnation are the apostolic and prophetic ministries. In using these terms, I am not referring to the manipulative psychic prognosticating and the authority/honor/loyalty-intoxicated rubbish littering the contem-porary landscape. I mean the real ministries characterized by Calvary love, power, service, and insignificance.

Among other things, prophetic and apostolic graces provide the impetus for progress. These graces provide the Spirit-wrought energy for change, challenge, risk, and adventure. Without them, the community will inevitably settle for the virtues of nurture, care, and relational fellow-ship at the expense of discipline, sacrifice, and mission. Nurture and care will become dominantly detrimental and those grace gifts and ministries reflecting these virtues will become very un-healthy in their expression.

Gentle shepherding is not the totality of the leadership motif presented in either the life of Jesus or the full testimony of the New Testament. Progress (in any human endeavor not just the king-dom) will upset someone, no matter how sensitively it is pursued and administered. The social scientists tell us that 66% of humanity instinctively dislikes and resists change from within their personality configuration. Add the tendency toward entrenchment in “religious” circles, throw in a pinch of devilish fear, a dash of leadership control and voila, we have a first-class stronghold of stagnation. It is not possible to progress without upsetting someone.

One reason among many that the legitimate expressions of apostolic and prophetic ministries are either denied or resisted is because their functional presence will remove strongholds and upset people. Upset people leave, taking their money with them. Need I say more? The dots are there to be connected. The kingdom requires more than gentleness. It requires courage also. The pro-phetic and apostolic ministries help maintain spiritual momentum. Without them, the community will degenerate into an assembly of nice people, trying to be nicer, and enjoying each other’s company.

God gave a diversity of gifts for a reason. They are all needed. Let’s not excise some and over-emphasize others.


It is irrational for us to have New Testament expectations, if our animating values and methods are not the same as the Apostles. The expression of God’s kingdom that many of us hope to see in our lifetimes will not occur within the margins of American (Western) cultural value systems of success and social propriety.

Progress and advance require more than prescribed caution. In a season of realizing inheritance, Joshua was exhorted to be strong and courageous, not careful and sensitive. The first evidence recorded in the New Testament of being filled with God’s Spirit is boldness/courage, not deco-rum, and sensitivity. If caution were an ultimate kingdom virtue, Abraham would never have left Ur. Do not sacrifice the vitality of faith on the altar of prudence and caution. It is simply not the season for it. Let the Spirit marry wisdom and faith. He is the only One who can do it.

Steve Crosby

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Christianity: Much More than a Meeting

One of the biggest challenges we face in the organic setting is overcoming the "meeting mindset".  For many people, the expression of Christianity has always been largely defined and expressed by the "Sunday meeting".  This warped non-Kingdom mindset is also often simply transferred over into the house church setting. 

Neil Cole does a great job of tackling this issue in his book "Organic Leadership".   I've chosen a couple of excerpts from Chapter 3, Pharasaism Today.  The first is from the sub-heading, "The Leaders Must Lead the Way", taking on the so-called pastor/laity divide:

"My friend John White once said "My aim is not to do away with the clergy. I want to do away with the laity and make everyone a priest before God!"  Clergy people need to take the first step; usually the laity will not. But the problem is that when people hold positions of power, they want to hold onto them to protect themselves. So they use their power to maintain their position. This is a vicious circle that prolongs an unhealthy environment."

"People who are in positions of power stand to lose much if the church reverts back to the way it was meant to be. Just as Rome was threatened by Luther, many will lose their honored status and monopolized power if we give the reign of God's kingdom its rightful place in the lives of his subjects.

Unfortunately, those who are in a position to make changes are those who will be the least motivated to do so and this perpetuates the power struggle. If we are to turn things around, leaders must be willing to sacrifice power, prestige, and perhaps even profession, all for the sake of the kingdom of God.

I am not suggesting that we simply eliminate a Sunday morning service in a church building and meet instead in a home. All the arguments of this chapter can be applied to a house church gathering. The point is that church is shared life together, not an event, no matter how good the event is, whether a traditional worship service or a house church gathering.  If we place importance on the event at the expense of shared life together, we have missed the point entirely."

Later, Neil Cole speaks of "A Stark Contrast of Powers":

"The religious leaders Jesus confronted were much like the Roman Catholic authorities Martin Luther confronted with his 95 Theses.  They were leaders who were invested in the programs of the institution, and likewise, the institution invested power in them. In each case, because they were the protectors of doctrine, they were threatened by any who would challenge the status quo and allow ordinary people the authority of God's Word.

Jesus confronted these people with another kind of power. Luther also unleashed a force that threatened the established institution. In a sense there was a clash of powers. But the unleashed power of God's kingdom is far superior to any other, and this increases the fear of those who are part of the institution.

If you think you have authority because the system grants you position, you have not yet tasted true power. True power cannot be contained by programs, organizations, or human systems. It is found in God's own voice and presence.

I often mention that Martin Luther had two important goals for his life. They were to translate the Scriptures into the common language of the everyday man, and to compile a hymnal of praise songs for the people to sing. He said of these two ambitions: "Set them loose and the flame will spread on its own.". That flame can be an unstoppable force consuming darkness and leaving transformation in its path in ways that our traditions and programs can never do. I believe we have yet to see the true unbridled power of the kingdom of God because we have been too satisfied for far too long with lesser power.

As leaders, we must decide if we will hold on to the Scriptures or let them loose. Will we continue to oblige our people to look to us as the only ones who truly understand God's Word?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Building Coffins or Pursuing Relationships

Happy New Year!
We hope you are walking in the fulness of God's grace at the start of 2011.

In my inbox this afternoon was an email from Don Atkin. He passed along this gem from Steve and Marilyn Hill. No introduction needed.

Steve and Marilyn Hill

This may not seem like a great way to start a new year but several recent blogs, conversations, tweets have turned on the subject of theology and the merits of differing theological systems. If one is honest, they will need to admit that their system of choice works as long as they do not include the scriptures that form the basis of a rival system. Interesting problem! God gave us a collection of historical accounts, poems, legal systems, sacrificial systems, moral laws, prophecies, dreams, visions and letters arranged in 66 books, written over thousands of years of His relationship with us. Then we try to make a rational system out of it? We cannot make a rational system out of our relationship with our spouse and we try to do so with our relationship with God?

Every theological system is like a coffin. The only body you can get to fit into it is a dead one. Making the coffin more and more complex to try to accommodate more and more of the mystery of God misses the point. If your reason could create a logical system that could fully contain God, your reason would be God. God will not fit in any coffin no matter how many bits you try to chop off nor how many scriptures you try to ignore.

The universe is not rationally ordered nor is it rationally determined. If God wanted to write a book of theology He could have done so. He is smart enough. He did not so why do we try? We do worse than build theological coffins. We try to force God into them. The only God that fits is a dead one. The comfort of rationalism and the arrogance of having the right doctrine is that it becomes the end in itself. You got it right. You do not have to do anything else. And your God is in a coffin where you do not have to deal with Him.

The universe is relationally ordered. God is a Father and God is a love relationship of Father, Word and Holy Spirit. Their union is a mystery of love and mutual honour. Our lives are relationally ordered. That is why the moral law is eternal. Moral law has to do with relationships. There is no rational system that can protect you from the risk, uncertainty, vulnerability demanded by authentic relationships. The practical extension of rationalism is legalism. Hearts protected from life by rules and fear.

The universe is relationally determined. The future, in general and my future in particular, is determined by my relationship with God and with others. God is a Father who is passionate to share Himself with a family. The Father and the Holy Spirit are passionate to present a bride to the Son. The Father and the Son are passionate to create a living temple for the Holy Spirit. The Word and the Spirit are passionate to present all things to the Father so that He might be all and in all.

This is not to say that the universe is unreasonable. It is reasonable, predictable, seasonal and purposeful. It is not absurd but neither is it rational. Someone has said that the first question of the age of reason is suicide- why should I live? The end of rationalism is nihilism. Absurdity and rationalism are two sides of the same coin. What is rational is not necessarily meaningful.

Truth is not a system of thought. Truth is not correct doctrine. Truth is a person whose name is Jesus. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Him are judgement and forgiveness, wrath and mercy, law and grace, God's freedom to choose and man' s freedom to choose, His freedom to love and my freedom to love. In Him all truths hold together in living tension. Even the ones that we cannot reconcile in our rational systems. Even the scriptures that we try to ignore.

The challenge and sharp discomfort of a relationally ordered universe is that the God who is love says that right belief is not enough. He says that even the devils believe and tremble. He says that if I say I love Him and do not love my brother, I am a liar.

My life in God is fulfilled as I love Him and love my enemies.
The universe is ordered by love.
My future is determined by love expressed in simple but often difficult serving of others.

"By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth." I John 3:16- 18

Life is relationships.

Thanks to all of you for your friendship in 2010. May this increase in 2011.

Steve & Marilyn Hill