One of the oldest monasteries in the world is Saint Catherine’s. Built by Emperor Justinian to protect the monks in the region, St. Catherine’s sits at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt. The walls are made of granite and are between 8 and 35 meters tall.
Up until last century, there was only one way into the monastery: a tiny door more than thirty feet above the ground. People entered the monastery through a system of pulleys and ropes. The monastery itself contains ancient icons and many treasures. But up until recently, it was largely inaccessible to the outside world.
Our churches naturally drift toward becoming like St. Catherine’s monastery: a fortified, doorless organization that focuses upon its own preservation rather than its specific mission.
Our hearts drift toward tribalism, the tendency to gather with people just like us and to reflect ourselves rather than the missionary heart of God. We’re always putting up mirrors around the light of the gospel when we should be putting up windows.
Kingdom Colony or Country Club
The church is intended to be a colony of heaven, living according to the gospel announcement. But too often we turn the kingdom colony into a country club. Our focus becomes the comfort and preservation of our tribe rather than the mission that accompanies the gospel announcement.
Battleship or Cruise Ship
I’ve heard it said that the people of God either have the mentality of a battleship or a cruise ship. Both may sail, but they have very different purposes. The battleship exists for others. It is on a rescue mission, set to penetrate the enemy’s territory and do battle for the commander. The cruise ship exists for the comfort of its passengers. Luxury and comfort are the core values, and everyone seeks to make the journey comfortable and memorable.
When we adopt a cruise ship mentality, the cross and resurrection of Christ will is reduced to a message of personal comfort. The core value of our worship services is to be memorable and entertaining. Our theological debates become about upholding doctrine for doctrine’s sake, rather than seeing theological reflection as an aid to fulfilling our mission. Instead of seeing our gatherings as a base from which individual Christians scatter into the world as salt and light, we wall ourselves off from the outside world and neglect the prophetic nature of our gospel announcement.
Missional or Tribal
Tullian Tchividjian explains the difference between a missional and a tribal people:
“The highest value of a community with a tribal mindset is self-preservation. A tribal community exists solely for itself, and those within it keep asking, “How can we protect ourselves from those who are different from us?
“A tribal mindset is marked by an unbalanced patriotism. It typically elevates personal and cultural preferences to absolute principles: If everybody were more like us, this world would be a better place.
“But in a missional minded community, the highest value isn’t self-preservation but self-sacrifice. A missional community exists not primarily for itself but for others. It’s a community that’s willing to be inconvenienced and discomforted, willing to expend itself for others on God’s behalf.”
This blog post is adapted from Counterfeit Gospels, 142-144.
Right beliefs do not always lead to healthy cultures.
I’ve been watching the discussion about complementarianism – “new wave” and “old wave.” It’s interesting to see how new and old waves interact with each other, build on one another, correct each other, and warn each other.
As I read the comments on some of these posts, I wonder if there’s an aspect in this conversation that has been overlooked. It’s not about the specifics of complementarian viewpoints, but the kind of culture that sometimes grows up around complementarianism. It’s a culture that goes beyond the books and pamphlets that affirm godly manhood and womanhood in an age where gender distinctives are often minimized; instead, it is a culture of silent or exaggerated expectations that crush people who color outside the extra-biblical lines.
When I say the culture of complementarianism seems “crazy” at times, I mean two things, one good and one bad.
First, there is a level of craziness that comes from being outside the mainstream of American life. Just quote Ephesians 5 on television today and you’ll look crazy, but this is a craziness that we should embrace.
The image of men and women, equal before God, embracing their unique roles, where men graciously lead their wives in love, and women willingly lay aside rights and power to graciously submit to their husbands – this is a picture of the gospel. Husbands and wives, in fulfilling their different responsibilities, shine light on different angles of Christ’s work. Christ, though equal to the Father, submitted to His will. In love, He gave His life for His Bride.
Furthermore, complementarianism isn’t the only (or main) aspect of Christianity that seems crazy to a lost world. There’s our belief in absolute truth, in salvation apart from works, our affirmation of Jesus as the only way to God, our belief in eternal hell, and our view of sexuality. We’ll always be tempted to tone down the crazy, but once we shave off the distinctive edges of Christian truth, we trade the power of the gospel for a bowl of postmodern porridge. There’s an element of “crazy” in complementarianism that ought to be embraced and celebrated in the same way we embrace the craziness of the gospel itself.
But there’s another kind of crazy that we shouldn’t be so crazy about. It’s the craziness that sometimes grows up in the culture of complementarianism. I’m talking here aboutculture, not the beliefs.
Culture is a lot harder to pin down and define, and yet culture communicates, sometimes more than our statements. In some churches that affirm a complementarian view of manhood and womanhood, a culture develops that goes beyond the complementarian beliefs into a skewed version of manhood and womanhood that we did not discern from the Scriptures, but from previous generations of American culture.
Last year, I wrote a blog post intended to encourage stay-at-home wives (like my own), and I got a lot of emails from puzzled men and women who felt I had overlooked the guilty consciences of working moms. I quickly discovered there are a number of people who are sensitive to this discussion because they’ve endured scorn and judgment for having a dual-income home. Here is a sample:
My wife has been a working mom for the first years of our marriage, and although we expect to bring her home from work upon the arrival of our next child at the end of this year, she’ll probably keep working on a very part-time basis. You can imagine in our environment that we often face explicit or implied criticism/judgment that she is a working mom.
Notice the reference to the environment of their church. The idea that it is never appropriate for a wife to work outside the home is not something you’ll see in the best scholarship of complementarian thinkers and leaders, but it is an expectation that grows up in the culture among some complementarian churches.
(As a side note, in the Romanian villages I served in, the idea of women seeing their role as either inside or outside the home didn’t make sense. Families did whatever it took to put food on the table, which meant the women were just as active outside in the garden and fields as the men were. The kitchen duties were split, depending on whatever item was going to be cooked. The man was the head of the household, but the roles were not as specific or limiting; neither were these activities extrapolated as timeless specifics for everyone everywhere.)
There are other elements of crazy culture we should be aware of:
- a reticence or hesitance to affirm and celebrate women’s contributions in local church ministry, particularly contributions that are more up-front and visible.
- a warped vision of manhood that focuses on calloused hands and physical labor and ignores other kinds of work.
- the assumption that marriage is always better than singleness, so that singles feel like their identity is wrapped up in not having a spouse.
- unwillingness to celebrate any evidence of gospel ministry or fruit among those with a more egalitarian viewpoint.
- an unexpressed expectation that the godliest women have quiet and introverted personality types, and cannot be assertive and outgoing.
- a competitive tendency that leads to unhealthy individual comparisons and rushed judgments, rather than extending grace to one another.
- a spectrum of “holy” and “holier” choices with regard to a child’s education (from public school all the way to homeschooling).
I could go on.
The human heart is constantly seeking to justify itself. Too often, we as Christians are trying to one-up each other by grasping for a sense of superiority over our brothers and sisters because of the extrabiblical laws we’ve created and now keep.
It’s the culture of complementarianism that needs to be renewed and restored. Because there’s nothing crazier than taking a beautiful picture of the gospel and making a new law out of it.
What happens when two of the most influential evangelicals of the 20th century don’t see eye to eye on an issue with important theological and practical implications? A public showdown. That’s what happened with John Stott and Billy Graham in the mid 1970′s regarding the role of social ministry in the mission of the church.
The year was 1974.
2500 evangelicals from 150 countries and 135 denominations were in Lausanne, Switzerland for the International Congress on World Evangelization. In his biography of John Stott, Godly Ambition, Alister Chapman describes the background for the confrontation:
The central purpose of the congress was to galvanize evangelicals to finish the task, to ensure that the gospel finally reached every corner of the earth. Its theme, emblazoned above the podium, was “Let the Earth Hear His Voice.”
By the time of Lausanne, Stott had come to the conclusion that God called his people to care about society and politics as well as evangelism. Many at Lausanne agreed with him, especially people from churches associated with the WCC (World Council of Churches), where social and political issues were high priorities. However, the belief that preaching the gospel was all that really mattered was still common, especially in the United States. Talk of social action brought to mind the dreaded social gospel, which many saw as a chief culprit in the theological drift of America’s historic denominations.
At Lausanne, Stott wanted evangelicals to take social action seriously. The twist in Stott’s message to the congress was his argument that the Great Commission itself demanded that Christians pay attention to people’s physical and social needs, as well as their spiritual ones. He did this by focusing not on the standard version of the commission, namely Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, but rather on John’s account of Jesus telling his disciples that as his Father had sent him, so he was sending them. And just as Jesus’ mission had involved caring for people’s bodies, as well as their souls, so should that of the church.
The Lausanne Covenant reflected Stott’s vision. It was primarily focused on evangelism, but included a secondary section on social responsibility. As time went on, however, it became clear that the committee tasked with continuing the work of Lausanne was not fully on board with the Covenant’s inclusion of social ministry.
… Stott discovered that the powers that be in this American-led movement had not really accepted the covenant’s dual emphasis on evangelism and social action… Stott was adamant that Lausanne should be about social action, as well as evangelism. The committee had already been stacked against him, however.
So, as Stott arrived in Mexico City in January 1975 for the first meeting of the continuation committee he knew it would be an uphill battle.
Billy Graham addressed the meeting on the first night. “What I counsel…” he said, “is that we stick strictly to evangelism and missions, while at the same time encouraging others to do the specialized work that God has commissioned the Church to do.”
Stott stayed awake for several hours that night, formulating his response to Graham’s proposal. By morning, he had decided to confront Graham, who was bankrolling the meeting and the movement. As business began, Stott stunned everyone by saying that he would resign from the committee if Graham’s vision for the movement prevailed. Stott demanded that the Lausanne Covenant’s emphasis on the social implications of the gospel be reflected in the organization’s ongoing work. Stott and Graham had known each other since Graham’s crusades in England in the mid-1950′s and they had become personal friends. But Stott’s challenge was still bold.
The committee was shocked. Many in the room disagreed. For them, social concern had occupied just one paragraph of the covenant and little of the congress’s discussions, whereas evangelism had dominated both. Many evangelicals still saw the world very much as Stott had done back int he 1950′s: caring for people’s physical needs was important, but getting them saved was much, much more so. But losing Stott would have been a big blow. Some felt he was blackmailing the committee.
How was this disagreement resolved? It wasn’t. Not totally anyway. Here’s what happened…
In the end, they locked Stott and Peter Wagner, a Fuller Seminary professor who wanted Lausanne to focus on strategies for evangelism, in a room and told them to come up with a compromise. The result was a weak reference to “the total biblical mission of the church” in the committee’s statement of purpose. Graham made sure that his relationship with Stott was not breached, writing to him in April to say that “there is no man that I respect, love, admire and would gladly follow more devotedly than I would you.” It was a mark of Graham’s humility that he did not use his enormous capital to press his point at the meeting at Mexico.
When I think of John Stott and Peter Wagner locked in a room, I only wish they’d locked a tape recorder in there with them. For more information on Stott’s life and ministry, I recommend Godly Ambition by Alister Chapman.
The reality of common grace means there is truth to be found and lessons to be learned in all sorts of places. I recently read Winning, a business book with candid advice from Jack Welch (longtime chief of General Electric).
Here are a few highlights worth sharing:
1. Focus on concrete behaviors, not vague values.
“A good mission statement and a good set of values are so real they smack you in the face with their concreteness. The mission announces exactly where you are going, and the values describe the behaviors that will get you there. Speaking of that, I prefer abandoning the term values altogether in favor of just behaviors.”
2. The more candid you are, the faster you will be.
“Candor generates speed. When ideas are in everyone’s face, they can be debated rapidly, expanded and enhanced, and acted upon. That approach—surface, debate, improve, decide—isn’t just an advantage, it’s a necessity in a global marketplace.”
3. Leadership success isn’t about you.
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
4. Don’t try to make everyone happy.
“You are not a leader to win a popularity contest—you are a leader to lead. Don’t run for office. You’re already elected.”
5. Clearly articulate the purpose of change.
“Attach every change initiative to a clear purpose or goal. Change for change’s sake is stupid and enervating.”
6. Don’t just ponder. Get moving!.
“If you want to win, when it comes to strategy, ponder less and do more.”
7. Give up the idea of a career plan and get ready for an adventure.
It is virtually impossible to know where any given job will take you. In fact, if you meet someone who has faithfully followed a career plan, try not to get seated beside him at a dinner party. What a bore!”
8. Try to find a job that challenges you.
“Any new job should feel like a stretch, not a layup.”