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November 08, 2007

Comments

Bubba Matthews

The last two posts present an interesting situation that I'd like to comment on simply because the last few years of my life details this issue.

for the last 3 years I've felt God's call to move overseas and due some type of ministry. Frankly I was initially pretty scared of the whole idea..I mean life here was pretty easy for me and this doesn't sound easy.

Initially I wanted Jim (and a few others) to TELL me what to do. Essentially I wanted them to say "move overseas" so that I could hedge my bets. See, God hadn't provided a burning bush or a cloud in sky or a plume of flame to follow and I wanted someone I could blame if things went badly. I wanted to be able to say to my wife and kids if things went bad that it isn't my fault we are here, its Jim's.

That idea didn't really work, mainly because no one would tell me what to do.

In the end I learned I have to own my decisions because they are mine and I have to trust the way God is leading me. No one else can be the Spirit for me.

However, there is a flip side to this that can't be ignored. Jim did give me some of the most solid advice I recieved when he said something along the lines of "Bubba (ok he didn't say Bubba but I like the name anyway) why don't you move overseas for a few months and just try it". Notice he still didn't tell me what to do but instead gave me a plausible option of a course to pursue that would help crystalize things in my life. There was still Jim's invisible line but that didn't stop him from providing a measure of prodding.

Jeff

Heh...yeah, I can see where that would be enticing. Major upheaval is not something I would look for myself and looking for a scapegoat looks really good in the midst.

It's funny how advice and leading sometimes coincide. I wouldn't have stepped away from sound duties as quickly as I did if Jim hadn't asked me about how I was dealing with the responsibilities. And truth was I felt like I needed to step away but was trying to figure out how to broach the subject when I knew I didn't have a permanent backup (Alex, you are awesome. I just knew that God was going to call you into a different direction with school and was worried about the distant future). And Jim brought it up and BAM, it was done. And looking back, it wasn't Jim telling me to do anything, but it was one of those places where God allowed leading and advice to coincide to his glory (because, looking back at it now, I needed to step away more than I even thought). It's amazing to look back at and serves as another reminder at just how blessed I am (and I think we all are) to serve under Jim's guidance and leadership.

Randy wellman

Yes, I’m still stuck on this post. You may be thinking, please, get on with it, this one is settled. Well, if you will allow me to clarify a couple other things, I will.

I still stand by my first response and agree completely with Jim’s position, but with one clarification. Perhaps it is an obvious one, but nonetheless, I will make it, because it’s one I believe can wreck churches, if we neglect it.

My response and I am assuming Jim’s, is in the context of advice about matters such as careers, marriage, child rearing, personal sins, and a host of personal matters, not issues affecting individual-led ministries or matters affecting the life of the church. In such cases, the consensus of the elders should weigh in more heavily than those of one’s own personal perceived “God-inspired” opinion. Why? Not because we are trying to please a group of men, but because we are trying to please God though the leadership He has established in the local church. I think this is another way God test our faith, not by blind obedience, but a realization that He has established clear methods of speaking to us personally through the leadership of others.


Example: As a minister leader, I may feel strongly that God is leading me in a particular direction. It may be regarding a style of worship, type of music, setting priorities of outreach vs. discipleship, handling a disciplinary problem, etc. If I go to the elders, or worse, they have to come to me, about an area of ministry experiencing a problem, then I should heed their advice, even if it is not where I personally feel God is directing me. Of course, we are not considering matters of sin, rather, matters of one’s own interpretation of the “good vs. best biblical position.” And yes, even opinions.

Ok, if that does not generate some discussion, here’s another post-script for Jim:
It seems like it would be difficult for someone serving both as a pastor and an elder to walk carefully regarding giving advice on personal matters and giving advice on church-wide matters, as describe above, that is, where it may be more appropriate to address collectively as elders. Is there another “invisible line” we have not explored?

Alex Marshall

Interesting thoughts, Randy.

Your statement about God having "established clear methods of speaking to us personally through the leadership of others" sounds almost Catholic to me. Now let be careful to say that doesn't make it wrong. However, I don't know that is the way we normally think about how this works. A big part of Protestantism is the idea of "lay-clergy." In other words, everyone has access to God, not just the Pope or Cardinals or Priests. Hence, Protestants want everyone to have access to a Bible, because we believe one of the big ways God speaks to us is in His word. Catholics hold that God only speaks to the ordained in their "chain-of-command," and therefore do not encourage people to get or read or study Bibles. Make sense?

So my point is, while there are definitely leadership roles in the church, I don't know that I would go so far as to say that God speaks through the leadership of others. He can, but probably doesn't always. Even Biblically, some pretty important things have happened when God spoke not through the leader but someone under them (Samuel is a great example). And God has a tendency in scripture to go against our human conventions (the younger brother consistently getting the blessing in Genesis, for instance, pretty well flies in the face of the human norm of the older dominating). So while leadership and their advice is important, don't think that's the end of the story. God works and speaks in other ways, too.

Taking your example, I think the best response when Elders approach a situation is to ask questions before giving advice. The idea is that the ministry leaders probably know more about a given situation than the Elders right off. So the Elders need to be informed and then dialog with the leader about the adequate solution. That's the ideal situation. Obviously, if you're given a direct command/clear directions from leadership/however you want to word that, for the sake of unity you should probably obey initially, but that doesn't mean you can't dialog to request a change in plan/policy. Essentially, I think the decision should not necessarily come from the Elders' direct leadership so much as the collective agreement of Elders and ministry leader on what is best. More ideas means the solution will probably be better, and more cooperation makes it more likely to be implemented well.

MBV

Did I miss something or has this conversation topic changed from a discussion about spiritual guidance and hearing form God into one about authority?

If so, here's some more grist for the mill: any organization (PTA, Al queda, BPOE, CBC, etc) has to have a source of authority for it to exist. Religious organizations will rely in varying degrees on four sources for their authority: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience (I did not make this up - it's called the Weslyan quadrilateral). Protestants since Luther have said "Scripture alone" (sola Scriptura - a little Latin for ya) - to mean that Scripture will serve as the primary source for our faith and practice. It does not mean that the other three do not influence us - just that they are subordinate to scripture.

Our RC brothers believe that an apostolic oral tradition (outside of scripture) has been passed down, preserved by, and entrusted to the church - therefore they give tradition equal weight with scripture in their faith and practice. So this would be a mojor distinction between RCs and Protestants.

Both protestants and RCs belive that the officers of the church (pators and elders) have authority - the catholics just tend to give them more weight (b/c of the above)

So in essnece, I think I agree with Randy. I would submit that if we have publicly identified with a particular local expression of Christ's body, we have agreed to submit to that body's leadership. I have a voice and an obligation to share my perspective, but - in the end - if we disagree I must submit to the authority of my local body...

Alex Marshall

Hm... interesting perspective. I see one potential problem in the logic. You say this: "if we have publicly identified with a particular local expression of Christ's body, we have agreed to submit to that body's leadership. I have a voice and an obligation to share my perspective, but - in the end - if we disagree I must submit to the authority of my local body." But I think there is a definite inconsistency between that and Protestant thought. If this is the line of logic that Luther used (as you said), then there would seem to be no grounds for Luther's reformation. If he ultimately would have been required to submit to the leadership he had placed himself under, then he would have voiced his concerns, but then stopped. Obviously, that didn't happen. Do you see the inconsistency?

Now, granted, the problems Luther was addressing are hopefully a lot more serious than issues we might deal with. And I am not saying you split a church over every disagreement. That would be utterly ridiculous. However, I don't think its consistent with Protestant beliefs to say "leadership has the final word." While certainly the Bible (especially Paul's writings) emphasize the need for promoting church unity (and in some cases submitting to leadership despite disagreement would seem to follow that principle), there seem to be lines drawn on where to break with that. So the question is, where are those lines? At what point do we no longer take a leader's advice to be binding in any way?

Trying to tie this back into our original discussion, I think we have identified three areas of leadership advice: The first is matters of sin. Certainly, if a leader comes to you addressing a matter of sin, that needs to be taken seriously. You have a pretty clear obligation to listen to that or face some greater degree of church discipline. A second area is matters of personal decision-making. For example, deciding on whether or not to go into the mission field. The leader is then supposed to provide you with solid advice and relevant scripture, but not a definitive answer. You have to reach the answer on your own based on what you think God is leading you to do. This is what I think Jim is talking about with his "invisible line." The third area is church policy. Here is where I think the argument gets most heated. Leaders are supposed to lead in these areas more directly and visibly. At the same time, their decisions may not always be agreed with, and they may not always be right or the best decisions. I think we should voice our disagreements and concerns while trying to cooperate with the leadership. At a certain point, there may be a requirement for more than that (Luther certainly thought there was), and that's the line I'm asking for a definition on.

MBV

Hey Alex: I probably wasn't clear: if the dictates of leadership are outside the bounds of Scripture then I am obliged to obey Scripture. This is where I would draw the line and I think it squares with the traditional protestant position that Luther established; I should have repeated or reemphasized that Scripture alone should always inform my faith and practice. Of course the other three aspects of the WQ still come into play - but they are always subordinate to Scripture. So as long as my leadership directs me in accordance with the dictates of Scripture it is my duty to obey. I can dialog, explain my position, etc, etc, but in the end I have to respect - and submit to - their authority. I don't see this as being inconsistent with traditional Protestantism. However, it may be a foreign concept to many in the individualistic culture in which we live (the catholic tradition has a concept of spiritual direction that we could certainly benefit from). Btw, there is a reason they are called shepherds and we are called sheep - it is an apt analogy.

And sadly we do divide over differences of opinion....just my opinion :)

Alex Marshall

Thanks for the clarification, that makes a lot more sense now. Of course, its all assuming you think the leader is accurately handling or interpreting scripture (fortunately, CBC's leader is pretty good at that, but that is not always the case everywhere). But yes, provided we are in the bounds of scripture, we should follow the guidance of the leader. I'm still not sure how much that is relevant to a lot of issues, though. For instance, using our example of personal decision-making about going into the mission field, to my knowledge there is not a passage that states my name and says "Go here." There are some clear direction- make disciples (interestingly, in the Greek the "go" part is more properly understood as "in your going" so that doesn't really support automatically you having to go oversees), etc. But nothing that tells me specifically what to do. Advice from a leader would be helpful, but I'm not sure how binding. The individual still has to reach that conclusion on their own based on how God is leading them. In church policy, there are some things that are clearly laid out in scripture (we don't worship at an idol, for instance), but there are a lot of issues that aren't as clear. So again, how binding is the leader's advice in those issues? Do they have the final word or is it a more committee-like decision?

Randy Wellman

Well put MBV. Thank you. It's basic Accountibility 101.

MBV

Hey Alex: Let's see if we can make this string of responses the longest ever on Light-Work.

I can't really give you a specific hard-and-fast rule about counsel. I think this is perhaps in the very nature of who God is and who we are as His people. He is love and is a God of relationships. He wants to know us - and for us to know Him - and it is through that relationship that we discover what He would have us "do." For most of us God does not reveal the big picture - usually just enough for us to know what my next step should be. I call this the "marshmallow on the trail" process. He knows me - how to get my attention and keep me moving in the right direction.

"Oh look there's another marshmallow!"

God does not play tricks or jokes on us. He promises to lead us - and if our hearts are resolved to follow - He won't leave us stranded. I think in most cases, if He did really show us all that He was calling us to, we would either balk and run from it - or ditch Him and run ahead to it. He knows our hearts and what He is calling us to - we just have to trust Him.

I see a similar process taking place in the body. We cannot really discern what God would have us do independent of the local body of Christ. This is where our gifts and calling are discovered, developed, and exercised. One of the very great promises of God is that He is our great shepherd and He promises to lead us. We can trust Him completely. I think that when our hearts are in that place the next step will come.

A trusted spiritual adviser is essential to this process. We need to be open before others and God for this to take place - a real living sacrifice. Transparent. We cannot be closed and hidden trying to control the agenda and outcomes. So this means laying our hopes and dreams on the altar as well - the very dreams that God has given us...I don't pretend to understand His ways, only that He what He sometimes calls us to do...

Alex Marshall

Ha! I think we have a lot more posts to go if we're going to try for a record. But we shall see...

I really like your answer, makes a lot of sense. I don't know that God always shows us the next step, but I think you're right in saying "if He did really show us all that He was calling us to, we would either balk and run from it - or ditch Him and run ahead to it. He knows our hearts and what He is calling us to - we just have to trust Him." There are really good Biblical examples of both of those.

I think you're assessment of how the body of Christ helps us discover our gifts and calling is a pretty good one as well. Its also a place of encouragement, and certainly Godly/Biblical advice would be part of that.

So I think we're largely in agreement on these things.

Bo

Bondage
BOND'AGE, n. Slavery or involuntary servitude; captivity; imprisonment; restraint of a person's liberty by compulsion. In ancient English law, villenage.
1. Obligation; tie of duty.
2. In scripture, spiritual subjection to sin and corrupt passions, or to the yoke of the ceremonial law; servile fear. Heb 2. Gal 2. Rom 8.

If a man continues to live his life in fear of what another man thinks of him, than how much harder is it to confess his sin to another man?
· 1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
· Jas 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Essentially, that man has put his self in a place of bondage that compels him to do as another man thinks he should rather than what God instructs or commands him to do. I can’t help but think this is the reason for the obscure “double life” some Christians seem to lead. For example, abandoning Christian lifestyle when no one is around (isolation), yet pretending to be upright and holy on Sundays. Some Christian’s sit silently in the pews suffering from the sins they committed through out the week(s), month(s), or year(s) because they don’t want others to know about their sins. “Yes pastor, everything’s fine. I’m doing very well. Thank you for asking.” There is also an element of pride and shame involved (bondage). Satan is a clever “dung god.”

When we are isolated, we are confronted with a bevy of choices. The biggest of these is please God or sin.

Bo

Twelve days and no one has an addition to the comment above, silent suffering in the pews. I must have stated my comment quite eloquently. I can only pray it was convicting enough for some to confess. Let's drive another nail at a different angle.

James 5:16 "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."

-right·eous adj
Just; accordant to the divine law. Applied to persons, it denotes one who is holy in heart, and observant of the divine commands in practice; as a righteous man. Applied to things, it denotes consonant to the divine will or to justice; as a righteous act. It is used chiefly in theology, and applied to God, to his testimonies and to his saints.

-ef·fec·tive adj
1. producing a result: causing a result, especially the desired or intended result
an effective remedy for headaches
2. having a striking result: successful, especially in producing a strong or favorable impression on people
3. actual: actual or in practice, even if not officially or theoretically so
he was effective ruler during the monarch’s last illness
4. officially in force: officially in force, operative, or applicable
a regulation effective as from next month
5. true as a rate of interest: used to describe the true or actual rate of interest that is paid on an interest-bearing account
6. military ready for action: fully equipped and ready for action

- ac·com·plish v.t.
1. To complete; to finish entirely.
2. To execute; as to accomplish a vow, wrath or fury.
3. To gain; to obtain or effect by successful exertions; as to accomplish a purpose.
4. To fulfill or bring to pass; as, to accomplish a prophecy.
5. To furnish with qualities which serve to render the mind or body complete, as with valuable endowments and elegant manners.

-much adv
1. largely: used to indicate that something exists or is true to a great extent, intensity, or degree (often used in combination)
2. often: happening often or frequently
3. nearly: nearly or practically
pron
impressive: something impressive, important, or unusual

Pastors are considered righteous men. Most Christians do not consider themselves righteous due to the lack of the definition above. We do not feel holy in our heart and we do not always practice the commands given by Jesus. We also do not feel effective in our spiritual walk because we are not consistent in our daily devotion much less our prayers. And we don’t bring as many people to Christ as the pastor does. Therefore, we feel we have not accomplished much. But we sure want the pastor to think we accomplish much. Why? We sure want to know what the pastor thinks so we can look good in his eyes. Why? Is looking good in Jesus’ eyes not good enough?

Pastors are righteous for a reason. They were called to be shepherds. To guide us through rough and uncertain times. To intercede for us. I believe pastors have had, in most cases, rougher experiences staying righteous than we have had trying to escape our sins. What is it about a righteous man that intimidates us so that we feel we have to act different around them? Could it be that we see Jesus in them? Could it be that we don’t want to disappoint Jesus and so we do what the pastor suggests?

Jim Fleming

Bo,
Thanks for your double dose of passion. You raise some great points. Sometimes, the man in the pew wants the pastor to THINK he is righteous, when BEING righteous (not just looking righteous) ought to be his concern. Also, I think you're on to something, if I'm reading you right on this: The fact that a good pastor will have a heart for righteousness prompts people to value his assessment of how they're doing. That is not a bad thing. People just need to make sure that the approval of a pastor is not their REASON for doing what they do. All men need to do what they do simply because it is their ambition to live a life that Jesus approves of, even when no man does. Have I accurately caught what you're saying?

Bo

Yes! Righteousness is from God. A righteous man can change the course of another man's direction (not always by intention). Whether it by effective prayer or a comment/statement of advice that confirms an individual to be on God's map.

Many Christians have not educated themselves concerning the holiness of God. We are not actively pursuing holiness to put in our heart and, in turn, our daily lives reflect what we truly pursue. Christians, unfortunately, do not consistently fill their hearts with the things of God. God changes our heart so that we will to pursue Him. What’s going on? Is it our culture? Does our culture change our heart after God does? Why do we choose TV or the internet or any self-indulging activity instead of pursuing God’s holiness?

I can hear you: “Where are you going with this?”

Christians have so much baggage. Baggage we do not give to God. We continue to claim it. Baggage hinders the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to mold our heart. Our heart is what drives us to do the things we do. The Holy Spirit wants to mold our heart in to the form of righteousness. But sadly, like the proverbial dog, we return to our own vomit and foolishly repeat our folly. So I ask, is pretending to be righteous returning to our vomit?

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