I urge you not to read this but instead read 1 and 2 Timothy and the book of Titus and ask after the Lord, “How should I serve in the body of Christ?”
If you want to know what God is saying to me about how I should serve in the body of Christ, you are welcome to read on. But this is my conviction for me.
What would happen if you were walking back to work from your lunch break and suddenly a man in a white lab coat accosted you and wrested you to the ground. He pulls down your pants and unceremoniously inserts a rectal thermometer. As his hand goes to your throat, you notice that he is wearing gloves and are oddly thankful for this.
“Hold still!” he demands, “I’m checking your pulse.”
You have no reason to disbelieve him, it is, after all the first thing he’s said to you. You are having difficulty breathing, however. Squirming and resisting is reflexive.
Like an MMA fighter he moves from side guard to full mount and flashes a light in your eyes then pins your head to the ground; you can hear him breathing right in your ear. He grabs your nose and jams a tongue depressor into your throat. He dismounts but relents no control and manages to remove the thermometer. You are curious how it did not break.
As his pressure upon you lessens, you prepare to refasten your pants, get to your feet and kick him in the head. But alas, he is only repositioning and to your horror, removes a hypodermic needle from his pocket. (Again, how did that thing not break, you wonder?) In a classic TV doctor move copped from Hawkeye Pierce and every medical drama you’ve seen on T.V, he grasps the safety cover off the needle with his teeth and to your shock, horror, pain and dismay, jams the needle into your butt-cheek and presses the plunger. As you edge toward hysteria, shock takes over as he pulls another syringe, pops off the safety cap, flips you over and jams another syringe into the opposite butt-cheek. That is going to hurt on the way home.
Finally he stands, you begin to try and right your disheveled self, your now semi-prone, semi-nude figure a spectacle to the now great crowd of onlookers. The man bends down and shows you a medical degree from Northwestern (How did we know he’d be from Chicago?) and throws a business card into your lap, which, for the first good break of the day, nearly covers your genitals from the shocked stares of gawkers.
“Don’t worry – I saw you were symptomatic and I’m glad to say I’ve treated you for Inobedderranew Disease. No need to thank me.”
This rather horrific analogy is completely made up and no judgment should be drawn against Northwestern or its Med School graduates. Their pitiful football program is another story. All these characterizations are unimportant. What is important is the principle at work here; the hypothetical treatment you received in this story is the furthest thing from Medical Care. What happened is more akin to rape.
This occurs philosophically in Churchdom very regularly. We have a created or conjured office of ‘Discernment Minister’. There are more so called ministries that evaluate ministry than there are actual ministries ministering these days. Some are formally formed and solicit support, others are a volunteer corps, standing ever vigilant and at the ready to evaluate, invalidate, vivisect, dissect, postmortem or even perform exploratory surgery on unsuspecting ministries everywhere.
The purpose statement for these ministries always contain important buzzwords and Biblical characterizations. We have the aforementioned “discernment”, variations on the theme of “watchman on the wall”, “prophet”, “voice crying in the wilderness”, “restorer of ministerial integrity”, “watchdog” or some type of “town crier”.
What I have learned is that none of these terms are fully applied from the Bible and into the “ministry” of the watchdog group. When the Old Testament prophets are called to be “Watchmen”, they always, always feature a face to face ministry to the people group they are a part of. Ezekiel did not have the convenience of a blog for making his declarations. He was not allowed to speak from anonymity. Instead, God by His own hand broke Ezekiel down and gave him a heart for mourning and sent him face to face with the ones the Lord was calling to repentance.
Habakkuk’s description of ‘watchman’ was applied to watching the work of God – both His judgments and deliverance. Habakkuk had asked for judgment, the Lord said He was sending the Babylonians and Habakkuk basically said “Yikes! Not the Babylonians!” But rather than say ‘be careful what you ask for’, I must embrace Habakkuk’s words and say that God is trustworthy and perfect in His judgments, even when no fruit is on the vine and life has become a study in paucity.
Never do we see the ‘Watchmen’ of the Old Testament looking over the wall of another city. They are always keeping post on their own city, on their own ministry, on their own people whom the Lord called the Watchman to minister among. They are personally invested citizens who minister to their kindred and those who share life with the Watchman.
We’ll also see the discernment “ministries” use many of Paul’s quotes to Timothy and Titus, quotes from throughout the New Testament that are taken gravely out of context. Each of these quotes must be seen in the context of the day. Paul never offered or commanded any Scriptural discipline to a body of believers that he had not already ministered in, that he was coming to minister in, or that he was ministering in. When he teaches Timothy about bringing correction, it was for Timothy as a pastor of the church he was pastoring. These were not missives fired indiscriminately, they were personal, knowledgeable and prayerful and intended for personal follow up.
In the book of Revelation, the message to the churches were very personal. The church at Smyrna was not addressed with the sins of the church at Laodicea. Neither was the church at Laodicea praised for the works of Philadelphia. There were no blanket statements of caution issued – instead, the Lord spoke clearly to each body the appropriate need, praise or correction.
What has happened in churchdom today is tantamount to that rogue doctor I began with. And the biggest problem is, it seems than rather keeping an eye out and crossing the street and refuse to be either his victim or his audience, many have replicated the model of the doctor and become exactly like him. Now we have a bunch of doctors roaming about, waiting to see another fellow, labcoat or no, showing symptoms that we may administer our rough justice equivalent of ‘spiritual medical care’.
The proliferation of this rogue “Church Doctor” is being replicated most prolifically in response to the ‘pre-existing condition’ of the ‘Discernment Ministry’. In response to the work of these self-appointed rogue officers, we see a legion of respondents becoming exactly what they despise in order to bring a halt to the ‘Discernment Ministry’.
It’s like roaming the streets mugging people so they won’t have the opportunity to become muggers. It’s a like a combination of the spiritual “SS” and a ‘retroactive abortion’.
“Do you have ze papers?” has been replaced with a spiritualized equivalent of street gang inquiry: “Who you with?”
And God have mercy on your soul if you’re wearing the wrong colors or answer incorrectly, or worse, your answer is “neutral” or unconcerned with the most recent wrong perpetrated on one church group or another.
The reality is that we are not to be watchmen on the wall looking into someone else’s city. The Lord does not require us to be free lance fruit inspectors. The Bible shows no office of “Health Inspector”. We are not called to minister cure without an appointment. There is no such thing as vigilante church inspectors. There is a cooperation between church bodies for verifying works, there is “vouching” for ministers. There is sending and giving relief in time of need. There is not an office of Exchequer of Church Calling and Health.
As a pastor or a ruling entity in a church body, you may wish to invite a free agent “Discernment Minister” into your fellowship to evaluate and inform your fellowship as a consultant. That is your right, though I fail to see the profit in that alleged prophet. Just the same as you might bring in a computer consultant or a tech systems consultant, or invite a company to present Sunday School curriculum, it is your right as a ruling body of a church to invite a special speaker to come in and tell you all the ways your church family might be beset by false teaching in the world today.
Paul said men preach Christ for all sorts of reasons, and the reasons he lists are all wrong. When he cautions and teaches Timothy and Titus about dealing with false teaching, he is cautioning them to maintain their own swimming hole. He is teaching about symptoms to beware of and to correct within their own purview of ministry. He never advocated ministers of the Gospel becoming traveling minstrels of judgment and doom. He left that to the Spirit – and the book of Revelation is evidence that the Holy Spirit does not need our help in convicting.
I can speak now to what God has put on my heart. As a pastor, I’m asked all the time, every time we meet together about any number of ministries. One of the perceptions of Christianity and the Church is that no one knows what we’re for, but we’re very clear on what we’re against. I would like to see every question about what our church is about be distilled to this answer: “We’re about Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
It was Paul’s ‘mission’, and apart from Christ, Paul was likely the greatest theologian to ever walk the planet.
I am called to serve my church family. I don’t see any freelance fruit checking prescribed in the Bible.
So when someone asks me “What do you think of Rick Warren and Saddleback’s emphasis on AIDS relief in Africa”, what do I say? I was asked this week.
I say, “I don’t know all the details of Rick’s ministry, but here at New Song, we have been called to reach out to the community of Ckara Ckara in Bolivia. We support our community with Food for the Hungry International, and are part of the Adopt a Child / Adopt a Community Program.”
“But don’t you think it’s kinda weird that Warren has Saddleback so involved politically?” asked my asker.
“I can only tell you what we’re doing here at New Song” I answered.
“Is that your way of saying you don’t agree with Saddleback and Warren?” she continued.
“No, it’s my way of saying I can only tell you what we’re doing at New Song. I can only tell you what God called me to do and be a part of, and that’s why I can tell you about what we do at New Song. Just like I don’t know what God has for you today, apart from His call for you to worship Him according to Spirit and Truth.”
“You know” she said “many of your churches are critical of Warren. Whose side are you on?”
Bingo. “Whose side are you on” is an interesting question. Joshua asked that question and was humbled by the answer. In the blog-dom, I don’t know that the Captain of the Army of the Lord’s answer would have sufficed. We are that arrogant and full of self justification. We’ve appointed ourselves vindicators, validators and mediators; the only thing that cannot be agreed on is whose measure of the pound of flesh required for retribution is correct.
My answer to the inquiring church lady was “If the Lord is telling you to be a part of what Saddleback is doing, you’ll have to ask them how to be a part of what they are doing. I can only tell you what our calling is at New Song. We are called to discipleship – growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and taking His Word and His love to our community and to our world. I can tell you the ways God has given us for serving Him in this church family.”
She was not satisfied with my answer; she had a personal agenda that I frankly cannot be concerned with.
As I write this analysis, I have to constantly delete sentences that prescribe the action the Lord has put on my heart to you, the reader. I walk an equally fine line of becoming what I despise. It never crossed my mind to apply Paul’s words about judging another man’s servant to ‘watch my life and doctrine closely; it will save you and those who hear you.’ I am learning I am only called to teach and lead worship in my church. I am not called to crack heads together in order bring the ministry of reconciliation among people I don’t even know. I am called to honor the Lord in my life of worship, to do everything “decently and in order”. That means I am to be very clear on the Lord’s call for me. I must be convinced that I’m serving where He wants me, how He wants me, when He wants and most importantly, Why – for His glory.
As a post-script, I have been motivated in the past by trying to right the wrongs done to me and others. I can neither remedy nor repair those wrongs. My friend Hank told me “You can never make up for the past; you can only live upright and godly today. Apologize for what you’ve done and humbly trust the Lord to repair and heal. You serve Him today.”
More important words have never been spoken for those of us who claim the Gospel and the Ministry of Reconciliation. You and I can never make it up. You and I can never remedy or repair the wrong that’s been done. For the Monergist, all that has happened, the good, the bad and the ugly is from the hand of God; it glorifies Him – get over it. For the synergist, your ‘balance’ is all wrong – trust more in God if you can’t get over it. No matter your theological underpinnings, trust God and do what He says. Forget what is behind, press on to the mark of the high calling of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ words to Peter after their morning fish breakfast come to mind. Peter is worried about how his lot in life will compare to John’s. And Jesus’ words to Peter are just as appropriate for me as I worry about what’s going on elsewhere in the Kingdom: “What is that to you? You follow me.”
That’s what the Lord is telling me about serving Him.