Friday, July 27, 2012

On Disturbing the Flock

Sometimes someone does something different in our church meetings, that while quite Biblical, is disturbing to the flock. For example, if a church is unaccustomed to kneeling, it might disturb some if a prayer-leader were to kneel before the congregation as he leads a public prayer, even though kneeling is one of the most common postures for prayer in the Bible.

This raises the question: Should we avoid doing things differently simply because they might disturb the brethren?

After all, disturbed brethren can stir up a lot of problems that would simply not happen if we were to simply stick with our perfectly-acceptable traditions.

Why stir the pot by doing things differently?

One of the best reasons to stir the pot is to encourage growth. One of the strongest enemies against growth is complacency, being too comfortable. Remember the Robin Williams movie, "Dead Poet's Society"? One of the things he did, as a teacher of high-school boys, was to have them stand on their desk; it gave them a different perspective of a room they thought they knew inside and out. We think we know the Bible inside-and-out; that is, until someone does something different that makes us ask, "Hmm, is that Biblical?" And before we know it, we know something we didn't even know we didn't know.

Another reason for doing things differently, even if it stirs the pot, is simply to follow the example of our great Example. Didn't Jesus stir the pot, often? (For those of you who can't answer this question, the answer is "Yes"; the habit eventually got him crucified.)

Isn't "doing things differently" the whole gist of God giving each person his own gift? Romans 12 talks about this very thing:
Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function..., According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts...".
Paul continues this thought in 1 Corinthians 7:
[E]ach has his own gift from God, one person in this way and another in that way."
And in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians he talks about the different gifts as used in our assemblies:
Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial.... If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body.
He continues in chapter 14:
Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. ... [Y]ou can all [exercise your gifts] one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. ... But everything must be done decently and in order.
God does not want our assemblies to be a one-size-fits-all meeting; he gives different gifts, and learning styles, and teaching styles, to everyone, so that everyone can reach and be reached according to the gifts they have. Some learn by listening to dry, technical lectures. Others learn by hands-on activities, such as building a scale-model of a wilderness tabernacle. Others learn by drama presentations (such as that presented by Agabus in Acts 21:10-11). Others learn by multimedia Power-Point presentations. Others learn by fill-in-the-blank paperwork. Others learn via music. Others learn via art.

We've limited our meetings to a cookie-cutter mentality, thinking that sermons are the Biblically-preferred teaching method, and defining "decently and in order" to mean "do things the way I and others like me are comfortable with".

What is decent and orderly for a loud, swaying, dancing rock-band concert (or a holy-roller Assembly of God service, or a football game) is different than what is decent and orderly for an attendee at a funeral, is different than what is decent and orderly for an audience at a stand-up comic routine. "Decently and in order" is not Biblically-defined as "sticking with the traditions we've had at our congregation for decades". It does not mean "sedate and staid and formal" (although that can certainly be decent and orderly); it simply means "appropriate for the venue". I, an old fuddy-duddy, would consider a club-scene "rave" to be chaos with its loud music and strobing lights and gyrating dancers; a cop comparing that same rave to a gunfight in the street would consider it decent and orderly. My point is that we need to be careful about defining "my" assembly as decent and orderly and "yours" as not.

If your congregation is not stirring the pot, if its members are not being disturbed and challenged, then I daresay your congregation is neither growing nor serving the needs of more than a subset of its members (or potential members). The insistence on one particular strand of traditional ways of doing things causes division; it runs off those who need a different style, to seek another congregation that provides that style. After a while, we have a bunch of congregations that don't look alike, who tend to think their way of doing things is right and Biblical and the way those other congregations do things is unBiblical, and we should therefore not fellowship with them. If each congregation had instead allowed variation within their own group, the various congregations would look alike, and be more united than they currently are. The Biblical model is for different gifts to be expressed within a congregation, so that each congregation is a melting pot (stirred), not to divide congregations into different pots, each containing a different gifting.

And perhaps the best reason for doing things differently, is to become more in line with the Biblical example. Take the previously-mentioned example of kneeling in prayer. If kneeling in prayer is the Biblical norm, then we are being Biblically abnormal to not kneel.

Or raising of hands; if Paul specifically tells the men to raise holy hands in prayer, why do we look askance at the men who take this command to heart?

I think it's time for our congregations to grow up, and stop being afraid of things simply because they're not the way Grandpa did them. What should matter more is how Jesus and his Twelve did them.

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