July 18, 2008
I must admit it caught me totally by surprise. I certainly was not prepared to be struck by a message from the Lord while watching a television program. But when my guard was down, God’s rebuke slapped me in my face and sent me reeling into a period of heart-wrenching repentance. Now, after reflecting on the Lord’s corrective for a few days, He has asked me to pass it along to all of you. Trust me, I’d rather be writing about something else entirely, but I’m under obligation (not to mention under conviction) to obey my “Editor-in-Chief.” Warning: This message might hurt; read no further unless you do so with an open heart and a spirit of submission.
The program I was watching took place in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and involved a community of Amish people. I was intrigued by their simple way of life and how they have denied themselves most of our modern-day conveniences such as electric appliances, farm machinery, and automobiles. They live today as though they were stuck in the early nineteenth century. Yet as I became more involved in the story I couldn’t help but notice a rather glaring contradiction. The characters portrayed on the television screen appeared to be fiercely proud of their humble way of life. At times they came across as being condescending, even judgmental, toward those who didn’t follow their austere lifestyle.
Look at that, I thought to myself, in the same way most people take pride in what they possess, these people take pride in what they don’t have. They are just as hung up over possessions as the rest of us.
“Exactly,” I heard the Holy Spirit saying, “just like those in the institutional church and those in the simple church movement. Both are guilty of the same pride.”
The shock wave from what I had just heard nearly knocked me off of my recliner and propelled me into a prolonged period of deep introspection and intense repentance. For the last five years I have been advocating a return to the simple church structure portrayed in the New Testament. In so doing I have often been frank about pointing out the faults in the institutional church. At times I’m sure my ranting has seemed judgmental toward those who practice their faith in large buildings, with large gatherings of people, involving large programs, directed by large numbers of paid staff, supported by large organizational structures, requiring large budgets. In turn, those of us in the simple church movement meet in homes, restaurants, or parks, keep our gatherings purposely small, devise only those programs (loosely organized) that the Holy Spirit expressly tells us to do, have almost no paid staff, very little structure, and no real budgets. Yet in much the same way that many in the institutional church take pride in what they have, I’m afraid many of us in the simple church movement have taken pride in what we don’t have. Obviously, any such pride is sin.
In the process of railing against church buildings which seem to dominate the ministry of the institutional church and promoting our concept of meeting anywhere the Spirit leads us, we have been guilty of making buildings the issue. But it’s not about buildings; it’s about Jesus! In the process of speaking out against large, formal gatherings of believers and advocating meeting in small, intimate fellowships, we have been guilty of making numbers the issue. But it’s not about numbers; it’s about Jesus! In the process of arguing against the need for a hierarchy of paid professional clergy and championing the “priesthood of all believers,” we have been guilty of making structure the issue. But it’s not about church structure; it’s about Jesus!
In the process of complaining about denominationalism which divides the body of Christ into thousands of different names and instead promoting a return to the simple unity of an organism directed by one Head, we are dangerously close to creating another, albeit leaderless, denomination. But it’s not about the name under which we gather; it’s about Jesus! And in the process of pointing out the lack of stewardship involved in spending huge amounts of money to keep the institutional church programs running and advocating instead a pay-as-the-need-arises-as-the-Spirit-directs stewardship we have been guilty of making money the issue. But it’s not about money; it’s about Jesus! God, please forgive us for taking the spotlight away from your Son! “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” – 1Corinthians 1:31.
Not that it’s wrong to point out the flaws in the body of Christ, for they are legion, nor is it necessarily wrong to champion our way of doing church. But we need to do so in a spirit of humility realizing no one of us has a full grasp of complete truth. In our zeal to obey the Lord we must be very careful not to pass judgment on others nor appear condescending to those who may believe differently. And we must listen very carefully, not only to what the Lord is telling us, but how and to whom He wants us to share what we’re hearing.
While it’s true that all over the world the Lord is speaking to countless believers and leading them out of the institutional church into a more organic expression of their faith, He is not telling everyone to do so. I suspect He desires some people to remain in their denominational structures and traditional churches and promote reforms from within. Whether you are being directed to leave the more traditional forms of church and follow the Lord into the harvest field, or to remain and help people learn how to listen to the Lord and obey what they hear, or to (as I suspect is part of my calling) stay close to the door and help people make the transition to simple church, we are all accountable to the same Lord.
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” – Romans 14:4. “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat…So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” – Romans 14:10, 12. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food [or buildings, or structures, or numbers, or money].” – Romans 14:19-20.
For the sake of unity within the body of Christ we need to repent of our pride, whether it’s pride in what we have or in what we don’t have, pride in how large our ministry is or how small, and let Jesus be the Head of His church. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” – Romans 15:5-7.
Above all, let’s continue to keep our ears and eyes open for a message from the Lord…even if it comes through the television…even if it exposes our own pride…even if it hurts!
Bill, a child of God, pride exposed