These days I share the lament of the river god in “Prince Caspian,” one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia.
I’m struggling to verbalize my strongest concern for the local churches I come into contact with. For some time now this has lain deep inside me, appearing to some who observe me as a form of discontent, to others as restlessness or I know not what. I find myself compelled to
sit on my hands and bite my tongue all too often when I’m meeting with Christians. The reason: what, by all the rights of our brand new Life in Christ, should be a glorious time of sharing Life and our lives, is anything but. Sometimes it’s downright boring.
Upside-Down and Backwards
Even worse, I often find the focus of the meetings to be upside-down and backwards from what I know to be God’s heart for his precious children. Yet, as a member of the “laity” I have no voice. As a woman, my voice is often doubly discounted, simply because I am not a man.
I know the leaders of these places mean well; they are holy men who are living according to the light they have. Yet, I cannot help but ache for the people (clergy and laity alike) whose lives are restricted from living in the Reality that is the Life of Living Together In Christ. They are bound by restraints imposed not by God but by men.
The Fear that Binds
These restraints have one source: Fear. Oh they are clothed in the guise of God-given responsibility for the local church, but they are born of fear, nonetheless. The greatest fear is that of chaos. “Let all things be done with decorum and with order” has been dinned into the heads of church leaders for so long that they have grown to distrust the very people who have been honored with the indwelling Spirit of God, that is, the rest of the church.
In a sense, this marks a loss of trust in God himself. Leaders who start out with a clear-cut sense of stewardship, somewhere make a subtle shift. They start thinking and speaking of “my church” instead of acknowledge that they are merely fellow-servants in “the Church of the Living God,” to steal a phrase from Paul’s letter to Timothy. As a result, any difficulties, problems, or weaknesses in the church become a reflection on the character of the individual leader(s). And you wonder why church leaders are leaving the pastorate by the droves!
“My church” bespeaks a heavy burden of personal responsibility. While it is an admirable quality to be responsible, I can’t help but wonder if some of the responsibility church leaders take on consists of things that would be better served by other people, or left to God himself. After all it is HIS Church!
The vast majority of the leaders I have known have wonderful hearts to see people cared for spiritually. Most don’t even have a smidgen of desire for Power. If they have a penchant for control, its usually in the service of fear for the orderliness of operations, or fear that if someone else takes on a task it won’t be done well enough to reflect a standard of excellence.
Centuries of tradition have built up and reinforced a structure that is now very far removed from what I feel has been on God’s heart from before the beginning of creation.
A Plea for Loosening
“Loose my chains” pled the river god, lamenting the bridge that had been built up to restrain the Fords of Beruna.
Man-made structures and strictures can prevent our spirits from flowing freely together within the Life we have been given in Christ. A focus on “not sinning” forces our minds to think about sin and directs us away from the Model, the Source, of all Life. Our lives were not designed to live in the pursuit of a negative, no more than our bodies were designed to live in a vacuum. As our bodies were created to breathe air, drink water, and enjoy all the colors, shapes and smells around us, so our spirits were created to thrive in the free give-and-take of interaction with each other in and through the Spirit of the Living God.
We say that Christ is the head of the Church, but by our religious structures – in a very practical sense – we hog-tie our Messiah, making it impossible for him to be expressed, except for the tiniest glimmers here and there.
What if we were to let the Fords of Beruna run free so we could again splash across its waters? If you’re not familiar with the story of Prince Caspian, here’s a glimpse of what happened after the bridge had been pulled down, freeing the waters:
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The first house they came to was a school: a girls’ school, where a lot of Narnian girls, with their hair done very tight and ugly tight collars round their necks and thick tickly stockings on their legs, were having a history lesson. The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.
“If you don’t attend, Gwendolen,” said the mistress, “and stop looking out of the window, I shall have to give you an order-mark.”
“But please, Miss Prizzle—” began Gwendolen.
“Did you hear what I said, Gwendolen?” asked Miss Prizzle.
“But please, Miss Prizzle,” said Gwendolen, “there’s a LION!”
“Take two order-marks for talking nonsense,” said Miss Prizzle. “And now—” A roar interrupted her. Ivy came curling in at the windows of the classroom. The walls became a mass of shimmering green, and leafy branches arched overhead where the ceiling had been. Miss Prizzle found she was standing on grass in a forest glade. She clutched at her desk to steady herself, and found that the desk was a rose-bush. Wild people such as she had never even imagined were crowding round her. Then she saw the Lion, screamed and fled, and with her fled her class, who were mostly dumpy, prim little girls with fat legs. Gwendolen hesitated.
“You’ll stay with us, sweetheart?” said Aslan.
“Oh, may I? Thank you, thank you,” said Gwendolen. Instantly she joined hands with two of the Maenads, who whirled her round in a merry dance and helped her take off some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes that she was wearing.
read more here.
What if all of us trusted God enough to take our grubby hands off the control mechanism of the local church and let Christ in us (the same Christ who resides within each of us who have bowed the knee to him) run things?
Of course, we would all have to change the way we interact in our get-togethers. Some of us, who are used to doing more, will find it necessary to pull back and make room so others can take part. The vast majority of us who are accustomed to sitting back and being “served” will be offered the unprecedented opportunity and responsibility of serving as we offer gifts to others from the storehouse of what we have been given. Yes, it will involve a little work, but the work will be spread out across all of us instead of being dumped on just a select few. If all of us are indeed “priests” (see Exodus 19:6, Revelation 1:5-6; I Peter 2:8-10) is it not right that all of us – not just a few – share the work of priesthood?
Not Just a Few
I find it very enlightening that Paul, when instructing the Corinthian believers in how to conduct themselves when they meet together, addresses his remarks – indeed, the entire letter – to all the brothers and sisters, not just to a few. He appears to assume that the local church meetings are directed by and consist of contributions from the group in general, and not just a few individuals. This is consistent across the board; most of the Epistles were addressed not to the leaders but to the church as a whole. Why? Because the life, the driving force, came from the group of individuals who had banded together as a body to Live out the Life God had given them to live, before God, each other, and a watching world. Can we do no less?
Ah, friends, can we release our hands, loosening our hold on the security of things we’re holding simply because we’ve already done it this way Can we choose, corporately, to wait on God, to let him show us how to function together?
Next Post: Cisterns or Living Water