What happened? I often contemplate this question when I consider the condition of many young leaders in my generation (and many in the generation before mine as well). It seems like my social media feeds often have reports from friends made in high school and Bible college or ministry colleagues who have gone hook, line, and sinker for some trendy, new philosophy of ministry.
While, on one hand, it would be easy to get frustrated, I have to pause before getting too worked up. Because, while it seems like many are jumping on the bandwagon of compromise, I also hear another group chirping their agenda of which I want no part. This group also demands loyalty to a man-centered system of ministry. Some call it the “straight and narrow” or “old paths,” but sadly, more often than not; it really is just a philosophy of ministry, centered around a strong, dominant leader. And, if your ministry does not fit into their cookie-cutter version of what it should be, all of the sudden, you are a compromiser.
As I consider both sides (some might call them the “right” and the “left” of our movement), I begin to realize that neither are where I want to be. Certainly, there are aspects of both groups that are good; but there are also aspects of both groups that are very negative and blatantly wrong. I believe Christians should stand somewhere in-between—a place where, like Jesus, there is a balance of grace and truth.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.—John 1:14
What’s the answer? Some tell me to get involved with both “groups” in order to keep a good balance. Yet, this seems to be a very dangerous mindset; for, it is the people I associate myself with that I will eventually identify myself with.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.—Proverbs 13:20
As I have prayerfully been seeking the answer, the Lord has directed my attention to the epistle of Galatians. The churches addressed in the book of Galatians faced two primary challenges.
The first was the influence of legalists who said that a believer must keep the Old Testament Law in order to get or stay saved (and by extension to be considered a spiritual person). These false teachers were peddling a works salvation (Galatians 2:16). It was a religious system of works-sanctification and works-assurance (i.e., “If you live this particular way, then you are saved or spiritual, but if you don’t, you are not.”) This was a false gospel. Its aim was flesh dependence (“works”). The result was bondage and hypocrisy.
The second challenge came from the opposite end of the spectrum—there were people proclaiming that how a Christian lives makes no difference, and that believers can live any way they choose without consequence. These false teachers were changing Christian liberty into license (Galatians 5:13). This license manifested itself as believers began abusing the grace of God and using it as an excuse to live however they wanted. Its aim was flesh-indulgence (“liberty”). The result was compromise and carnality in the churches.
As I look at the issues Paul is speaking of to these churches, it led me back to the same question I asked before—what happened? How had they allowed such issues to creep in? Yet, Paul makes it clear that this was not really a question of what had happened, but a question of who had happened.
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?—Galatians 5:7
Where the Galatians went astray in their doctrine and philosophy is the same place so many of us have gone astray as well. It isn’t God’s Word or God’s Spirit that led us to the place we now stand (though that is what many of us would like to think); but it was someone.
Perhaps it was a ministry friend or a dynamic young leader. For some, it was a dominant leader from some institution or church. But, regardless of who it was, if we would be honest with ourselves, some of us would have to admit that we stand where we do, not because God’s Word led us to this place, but because “so-and-so” did.
How could we fall for something so blatantly wrong? Most of us would agree that the church should not be modeled after man, but after Jesus. Yet, day after day, many busy themselves with modeling the church God has called them to serve in after another man’s model, instead of what God’s model is for them. We limit the direction and growth of God’s church in which we serve to whatever “ideas” we as men can come up with. This is the egregious error of our generation.
But, would it surprise you if I told you that we are not the first generation of Christ’s disciples to make this mistake? Indeed, the very first disciples of Jesus got this wrong!
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother… And he was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.—Matthew 17:1–8
Peter, James, and John saw the glory of Christ manifested in an unprecedented way. In that experience, God had included Moses and Elijah to further exalt Christ (which the “law” and the “prophets” do). Yet, in response to it, Peter got the idea in his head that temples needed to be made to Jesus, to Moses, and to Elijah. But then God stepped in, and by the end of that time on the mountain, those men had eyes for Jesus only.
Looking back on this, we wonder how these men could become so man-centered. How could one possibly even think about building a place of worship to anyone except Jesus? Yet, even as we think this, so often the churches we are building today reflect the same fundamental flaw. Sometimes we pattern our churches after a man-centered culture more than a Christ-exalting culture. When this happens, our music becomes more about what the people like than what honors God. Our programs become more about fitting into a certain group than what is more glorifying to God.
This is an easy trap to fall into. And, no matter which ditch along the pathway of a balanced Christian life and ministry we have fallen into (i.e., right or left, legalism or license), when we fall, we find ourselves out of touch with a life and ministry that is truly glorifying to God.
It’s time for us as God’s people to get out of whatever ditch we find ourselves in. It’s time for us to stop throwing bombs at each other across the way, get back up on the Christ-centered pathway, and bring the battle to our real enemy. There is too much at stake and far too little time left to concern ourselves with anything less. It’s time for us as God’s people to stand together with God’s Word as our sole guide for the cause of Christ!