…to adopt fads over convictions and biblical principles.
Don’t you love first dates? No, me neither. It’s been a while since I’ve been on one, but the awkwardness is the worst! Both parties try avoiding offending the other. Intense pressure rises to please the other and leave a good impression. So, this conversation ensues: “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know…what do you want to do?” “I dunna know…what do you want to do?” “Whatever you want to do.” “I asked you first; what do you want to do?” (Sigh). And so, it continues. What’s needed is a little stability and direction. Hopefully, as this couple learns more about each other, they will learn and appreciate each other’s tastes and expectations. Until then, they will mire in the tar pits of indecision. There is something amazing in the conversation. If just one of them would speak up and say, “Let’s do a movie” or “How about pizza?” or “Let’s hike in the park,” they would both gladly follow. Almost anything would be acceptable than continue that tedious conversation. They are at the mercy of the wind to be carried anywhere.
Churches, and individual Christ followers, can be the same way. They lose direction and focus. As a result, they can get tossed about with various fads. Google “Church growth strategies” and see what happens. I got over three million hits. It’s not as though they are all bad; some make a ton of sense. Many miss the mark. The tragedy occurs when we rely upon the next church growth high to another. We can even find ourselves preaching trends instead of truth. At times, these may even swerve into heresy. It’s easy to do as it happens subtly, slowly over time. Again, don’t misunderstand. I have listened at conferences and been inspired and encouraged. How do we, then, judge between something good and a distraction?
On face value, I would answer the question with ideas like more Bible study, more prayer, etc. And, those could help anchor the waywardness of our souls. In fact, they’re recommended. However, our friend, the Apostle Paul, writes something interesting about stability. Ephesians 4:14-15 speaks of the danger of getting pushed around, “…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” So, according to Paul, how do we get there? How do we avoid being children tossed around? What’s involved with growing up in every way? We need to check the context.
Ephesians, like all of Paul’s writing, makes amazing claims. He can hardly contain himself as he explains all the blessings in Christ. He marvels at the free gift of grace to those who spit in God’s face. He overflows with thankfulness that God would consider him worthy to proclaim the mystery of God’s plan to bring the Gentiles in as a new people we call “church.” As we enter chapter four, he answers the unasked question, “So what?” How do we now live in light of these truths from chapters 1-3?
Giving and using spiritual gifts gives stability. We stand together better.
As I said before, the answer sounds like, “More Bible study!” However, that’s not what Paul says. In order to reach the point of stability in a stormy sea of fads and heresy, Paul recommends utilizing the spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:11-12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”). This leads to maturity in the body of Christ but specifically to our resistance to fads and trickery. The danger is out there: so many distractions and out right deceptions lead to instability. Why and How? What’s the connection between stability and the gifts of the Spirit? See the next section, but also perhaps that specialization makes for expertise. In the old west, if everyone had to be a farmer, blacksmith, sheriff, and the barroom piano player, no one would become truly skilled at anything. What’s the old expression: Jack of all trades but master of none? Since Jesus himself has given these gifts to the church, the recipients become experts. Our apostle focus on apostling. Teachers teach. Prophets prophesy. Shepherds shepherd, etc. We naturally, by the power of the Holy Spirit, get better and better in our field of influence and expertise. So, when some scoundrel tries to influence the church, a team of experts springs into action. God will use the right one(s) at the right time. Very few people have more than two gifts much less three. That leaves some major holes in the leadership foundation structure if one or a few oversee the church.
More brains give more insight.
I hate committee work. It is soooooo slow. It’s much more efficient if I just make the decisions. When we work as a team, everyone has to contribute, and decisions take forever. Even in marriage, when a husband and wife work together, it takes a lot longer. But, teams can make better decisions (ideally but admittedly not always). So, when our group of experts above gather, some kidder with the gift of faith wants to step out trusting God in some outrageous fashion. Everyone ooo’s and ahh’s at the possibilities as dreams and plans flow. Then, the administrator pipes up and says, “How will we pay for that?” It’s not like the gift of faith person wants to be reckless or the administrator wants to be a kill-joy. Both are needed in the church. The multiple brains help the church not be overly influenced by the winds and waves. In our home, my wife gardens and I cut the grass. From time to time, she wants to remove grassy areas for more garden space. But, she does not consider how the change effects mowing. I can make mowing harder than it should be. My wife can envision a garden plot that will look nicer and carry less maintenance. Two brains = better solutions. Yes, too many brains can make a long, tedious meeting to the point that no decisions are made. Practically, shepherds need to lead and guide so that things can move forward. Even the most well balance leader is subject to his own weaknesses and blindspots.
This can be called plurality in leadership. More than one person has the target on their chest and the responsibility. When each activates their giftedness, they fulfill a primary role. Churches find balance in the team rather than bias of a few. And just by playing the odds, it’s easier for one person to get tossed around by every wind of doctrine than an entire team.
We speak truth in love.
Paul is not done hawking stability in the storm. In verse fifteen he writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” This does not so much imply a cause and effect but the establishing of an environment. While we are speaking the truth in love, we grow and mature. Both should be there. Marriage specialist Jimmy Evans says, “Truth without love is mean, but love without truth is meaningless.” In the church, not only should both be done, but the environment should exist with both present. It’s not an “or;” it’s an “and.” We are not the Holy Spirit nor are we moral cops. But, imagine a church environment where the relationships have such depth that they can foster examples and even confrontation if necessary in the context of love. We don’t confront because some rule is broken and the offender must pay. We speak gently and with love because we, well, love the other person.
Wait! It’s loving to confront? Yes, when done in that spirit. Sin is not a right. It cuts down to the soul and causes profound damage. When we love someone enough, we risk the friendship enough to speak the truth in love. I will always be grateful for a long distance phone call (before free long distance calling, that used to be a big deal) from a friend. Without going into details, she confronted me on an unhealthy relationship. At first, I became angry. Then, a switch clicked on…likely the Holy Spirit. I thought, “Oh my…what in the world am I doing?” I confessed and repented. And while painful, I ended the relationship. By coincidence, I met the woman who would one day become my wife a month later. I make no promises, but that’s what happened. I am forever thankful not only for that phone call but for brothers and sisters who really love me. They keep me moving towards maturity and stability. God uses them, his word, prayer, and conviction of the Holy Spirit to help me to say, “I refuse to adopt fads over convictions and biblical principles.”