Tuesday

Some Assembly Required

During the Christmas season, the most dreaded phrase to any mom or a dad buying gifts for their family, are the words, “Some Assembly Required.”
Some years ago, I bought something from Ikea for a gift. For two evenings before Christmas, I had my workbench covered with odd shaped pieces of furniture, screws, nuts & bolts, and really odd steel connectors. It was an… um… interesting time.
The most valuable thing in my shop during those nights was a package of papers with the title “Assembly Instructions” on the front. In spite of my innate distrust of instructions (hey, I am a guy!), I found those pages to be very precious while I was assembling a gift was to fall somewhat short of its claim that it was “Easy to Assemble.” There were several parts to the instructions: a list of all the materials that had been included in the package and how they were used, a step-by-step guide to the assembly process, and an exploded view of the finished product.
Think of this: if you had a project where you absolutely needed the assembly instructions, would you want all of the instructions? If you needed to build something that you had never seen before, would you want to have the Assembly Instructions?
In the church, we do this on a regular basis. We read the beginning of our Assembly Instructions and then put even those preliminary instructions away. And then we wonder why this thing called “Church” isn’t working the way we wish it would, not to mention our private lives.
We have been given three parts of our assembly and operation instructions. We’ve not been using all three to their full capacity.
The first part of the instructions is the Word of God, the Bible. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We must be taught, reproved, corrected and trained by “all Scripture.” We’re usually OK with this one.
But there is more that makes up our instructions. The apostles knew it; they wrote, “…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” when they sent specific instructions to a group of believers in Antioch. I would argue that the rest of our Assembly Instructions are described here: the leading of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, who is the undisputed Head of the Church, taught us that the Spirit would “take of mine and declare it to you.” It is not a stretch to infer that one of the things that the Spirit will declare in the church is the leadership instruction of Jesus, or that He would declare instructions from our Lord and Savior to us individually. He was more direct when He declared that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I have said to you.”
Jesus modeled the principle: at his baptism, he was led both by the Word (“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”) and by the Spirit (“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”).
The third part of our instructions is the input of our brothers and sisters, our friends in the Kingdom. Proverbs states it as a principle: “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety,” and “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.” Even when God made you and me, it was in community: “Let us make man in our image…” (emphasis added).
My point is this: if we are going to have better success, either in our personal lives or in our leadership responsibilities with the Body of Christ, then we need to be well and truly led by the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, and by the counsel of Godly men and women.
In many congregations, we are quick to declare that we follow the Bible’s instructions, though in reality, many of us don’t often read those instructions ourselves; we wait for a pastor or teacher or conference speaker or even a Facebook friend to instruct us in the ways of using that instruction manual. But we honor the Bible and acknowledge its authority at directing our private life and the life of the church. We are willing to be directed by the Word, sometimes to the degree that if we can’t find “chapter and verse” to support a statement or plan, then we reject it out of hand.
In other environments, we are quick to follow what we perceive the Spirit to be saying to us, often without questioning whether such “leading” is consistent with the other half of the instructions: the Word of God. My objection is not against being led by the Spirit (quite the contrary!) or even with the concept that His leading is sometimes unfamiliar or strange. My frustration is when we follow such leading without testing that direction against either the Word or the counsel of our counselors.
It seems that in this day and age, God is re-emphasizing relational ministry, re-emphasizing the value of enduring friendship in the Church. Of course it’s easy to see that being led only by the counsel of others is unwise. Adam found this out in the Garden of Eden. His excuse that “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” didn’t absolve him of blame as he had hoped, and it doesn’t today. “I was only following orders” is never an excuse.
Rehoboam serves as an illustration that we need counsel from leaders, elders (elders in the Biblical sense, not people who merely hold positions in church government), not just our friends and peers. At the same time, I have known congregations where individuals cannot take any initiative unless the “elders” (in the second sense) approve of it, regardless of what the Word and the Spirit say.
Here’s where I’m going with this: many of us – both as individuals and congregations – tend to focus on one of these three ways that God instructs us, and we tend to dismiss one or two of them.
  • Congregations and individuals who highly value the Word of God tend to functionally (not verbally) ignore the process of being either directed or instructed by the Holy Spirit. Some of them value counsel nearly as much as the Word; others overlook it. I find this attitude in congregations often; apart from the members of those congregations, I don’t often see this in individuals.
  • Individuals and congregations who highly value being led by the Spirit tend to value that leading so highly that it is above questioning, either by counselors or in the light of the Scriptures. I see this attitude in individuals and home groups more often than I see it in whole congregations, and the unhealthy emphasis seems to come from injuries sustained by members of the former group.
  • I am aware of a few folks who have difficulty making decisions without researching the opinions of everyone they know. They want the approval of every leader and as much prophetic input as they can find on the subject before taking action. To be fair, we’ve de-valued for so long this aspect of God’s input into the life of the individual and the congregation that there seems to be less of this error.
I propose that we work intentionally toward a relative balance of these three voices in our lives: that we sit under the Word, allowing it to speak to us; that we make time and opportunity for the Spirit to instruct us, and that we cultivate relationship with mature believers and that we invite them to speak into our lives. And I propose that we listen to the input of all three: that we take direction from them and that we learn from them.

2 comments:

Eric said...
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Mark Townsend said...

Have you heard of Bahá'u'lláh?