The pendulum is swinging
Solomon said "There's nothing new under the sun". I
think he may have been right! From school jokes which seem to re-emerge
generation by generation, to the approximate five year cycle in the popularity
of brewing ginger beer at home. Society moves like a boat rising and falling on
the swelling sea -– you can 'almost' predict what's coming next...almost.
Every few years in business and organisations some new trend
surfaces and gains momentum. It's normally just a rehash of something that has
been around already, re-packaged and re-emphasised. Within a short time -–
regardless of the industry you come from, this pop terminology does the rounds,
finding universal application. Restructuring and re-engineering
-– a pop concept of the eighties which left a trail of resentment in it's
wake. Leadership -– a nineties pop concept, where charismatic leaders
were transformed into guru's, and put on the international speaking circuit. I
think we hoped that they would provide 'the hidden gnosis or knowledge', as
a catalyst to our individual success. Currently, within New Zealand, the term Capacity
building is circulating and gaining attention. It's a great concept -–
simply meaning 'the realisation, development and utilisation of the tremendous
potential within an individual or organisation'. As a believer in a creative
God, and man made in His image -– it sounds good.
As we know, there are trend setters, and trend followers.
Often following from behind, bringing up the rear, is the industry of religion...some
say we Church people are ten years behind the world, others believe the gap to
be more like fifteen to twenty years. On one hand we have our spokes people
warning us -– be careful, we're becoming like the world, and on the
other hand they are saying, we need to lift our game and become more socially
'with it' or relevant if we are to succeed in our mission of reaching the
My question is 'In what respects are we trailing the world?
I've heard it said that "What is happening in the world today, will be
happening within the Church in ten years time". Another commentator stated "What
is socially accepted in the world today, will occur in our churches in ten to
fifteen years". I can follow the reasoning -– a combination of entropy (decay
over time), gradualism and 'sheep mentality'. A quick glance at the secular
music industry, and it's Christian counterpart would seem to reflect this
leader/follower phenomenon. In most areas of Western society: from marriage
through to careers and materialism...we do appear to be straggling along behind.
Maybe this is because we have separated ourselves from mainstream life?
'The Church' is a general term used to describe 'the
individual people who collectively attend churches'. So when we say, 'the
Church is following the world', we are actually saying 'We are following the
world'. Could this statement be true of you and I? Have we unconsciously
adopted the moving standard advocated by the spirit of this world?
Beginning in our thought lives, then progressing into our words and actions.
Perhaps there is a different way of viewing the situation -
which is less about following, and more about acknowledging the latent
capacity each of us has within us -– whether we are churchy or worldly. The
book of Romans discusses our human capacity to do good OR evil, depending on
which side of our human natures we feed! The Apostle Paul made it abundantly
clear that he had struggles with his flesh (old man -– carnal nature). I've
seen people who do not profess to know Christ do good deeds, and I have
personally witnessed my own selfish tendencies battle it out with my desire to
be obedient! Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things and
desperately wicked; who can know it".
My concern is that in our efforts to bring about 'Holiness'
(being set apart), our good intentions can easily end up manipulating and
coercing young Christians into trying to be something they are not. They, like
us, must grow over time -– from the inside out!
Recently I have spent time with some people who belong to a
Christian sect built on a structure of strict internal accountability and
discipline. They remind me of the Essenes spoken about in Scripture. Determined
not to be tainted by the world -– they have created their own world -– mix
with their own kind and even speak in part King James when being spiritual. They
display great outward marks of discipleship -– but are so consumed by being
good Christians, that they view anybody from outside of their group as 'less
than' themselves. It's different to the way Jesus approached life.
What some deem to be 'following the world' may in fact be
nothing more than living life in the 2000's! "The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes". God is at work
today -– it may look darker, but His grace abounds even more under these
conditions. Romans 5:20b "...But where sin abounded, there did grace much more
If life is a journey of progressive learning, and 'we grow'
over time -– we can take the learning gifts from most experiences. If we
believe that God can take our failings and weaknesses, and turn them into His
opportunities, pretty well all aspects of our journey can be redeemed! It
is quite likely that our peers may view our growth (manifested in the
decisions we make) as 'following the world'. I've been accused of
backsliding numerous times -– by well meaning brothers who judged before the
time. Nothing new there! Peace with God does not automatically deliver peace
The downside of creating two worlds out of one humanity -–
the Christian and the non Christian, is that the line between the two
will be pushed around by human preference and convenience. We cannot stop this
occurring in society! Even if we employed Crusader strategies, killing those who
refuse to tow the party line -– we cannot change the hearts of those around us.
As I read it, Jesus went about doing good -– He lived in one world, not two. He
remained consistent throughout.
God's Word is the immutable constant in a believers life
-– the unchanging standard by which we measure our progress -– our successes
and failures, the worth of our accomplishments and the value of our future
plans. In this context, capacity building is an exciting topic...
However, when society forgets to measure to 'a common standard', there can
be no constant, no deep security. It's scary. The pattern we see in the book
of Judges is relapse (abandoning God's wisdom, and doing that which is
right in our own minds) -– retribution (God at work seeking to regain our
attention) -– repentance (we turn away from our own ways, back to God) -–
rescue (God loves to forgive and restore us). When we forget to measure by
God's standard, we begin to walk on a slippery downhill path to consequential
The marking, distinguishing sign of those who 'get to know
God' is not our puritan holiness, nor our spiritual gifts, nor our
evangelistic drives... No, His spirit of love within us says more than all of
these. The other fruits will also be evident -– but the greatest is love.