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I’ve been in the process of moving (and everything that goes with relocating) so, Its been several weeks since I last posted.  Before my move, I considered doing a series of posts on King David and his son Absolom.  Now that I’m somewhat settled in, my thoughts continue to return to their story.  King David, late in life and not for the first time, was forced to flee his home and his kingdom in order to escape from his own flesh and blood who had waged a rebellion and usurped his place as king.  It was arguably the lowest point in David’s life. 

Much is written about King David, “A man after God’s own heart”, a “Warrior Poet”.  King David, however, also had many weaknesses, and committed sins that would disqualify him from leadership in most any Christian (and secular) organization today.  Yes, David was intimate with God, and was a wonderful leader of men but, he was also one susceptible to the temptations of power, lustful toward women, negligent toward his family, tempted by vengeance, and often emotional to the point of over-sentimentality.  As  Gene Edwards wrote in, Tale of Three Kings, early in his campaign as a leader, David lead hundreds of  “no-goods” and they were stuck “with a leader who cried a lot”.  It was these weaknesses, namely his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, and his negligence as a father, that was directly responsible for this present crisis in his life.  Thus enters Absolom.

Absolom, harboring (and hiding) a long held grudge, deep wounds, resentment, and bitterness, used his intimate awareness of David’s most personal weaknesses and failings as a leader and father, to seize an opportunity to usurp David’s authority and make himself king.  Through vanity, deceit, and false pretenses of reconciliation and justice, he not only stole the hearts of the people but, also the allegiance of David’s friends and counselors. 

Nevertheless, despite his failings, and true to his character, David (a man after God’s own heart), rather than fight for what was rightfully his, he left in order to spare the city from civil war, because at this point staying to fight would have divided the people and torn the kingdom apart:

“Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” – 2 Samuel 15:14 

He decided to flee like a fugitive, leaving his loved ones, his home and his kingdom, to go into exile, trusting that God would do what was ultimately best; that if it pleased Him to do so, God would restore him in His way and in His time.

You can read the story of David and Absolom for yourself  (2 Samuel chapters 13-19).  It’s a compelling page-turner full of intrigue and invaluable lessons for the reader.  

Peace,

Roc

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In 1517 Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses and posted them on the Wittenburg Door, and the Protestant Reformation was launched.  His ninety five theses were the driving force behind the Reformation.  It brought attention to the abuses of the Church and the un-scriptural practices of the clergy.  It encouraged the people to reconsider what they had been taught by the priests, regarding doctrine and practice, in light of the new testament scriptures.  And though the Reformation brought about needed corrections regarding doctrine, by Luther’s own estimation there were some things left undone regarding practice and the priesthood of believers.

As I said in my last post I am not prescribing the “right ” way to do church.  I  am not advocating “house” churches per se (nor the harsh stance on institutional churches), although I do believe we are still in need of continued reforms, and a simpler more organic approach to church-life would be healthy.  On that note, today I’m posting 15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson.  I may not totally agree with everything (and neither must you), but it does accurately articulate many of my own sentiments at the present.  Please read prayerfully, and be gracious when considering how each point may play out in your own situation, because we are still the Body of Christ no matter how or where we meet, and that bond transcends place, because we are a “priesthood of believers” who serve a “God who does not live in temples made by the hands of men.”

Semper Reformandum                                                                                                (Always Reforming), 

Roc                                                                 

 15 Theses By Wolfgang Simson

God is changing the Church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They say, in effect: “Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it.” A growing number of them are surprisingly hearing God say the very same things. There is a collective new awareness of age-old revelations, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following “15 Theses” I will summarize a part of this, and I am convinced that it reflects a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church today. For some, it might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud on Elijah’s sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.

1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings

Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called “The Way”. One of the reasons was, that they have literally found “the way to live.” The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritually extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.

2. Time to change the system

In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of “church” remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.

3. The Third Reformation.

In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moraviansthere was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.

4. From Church-Houses to house-churches

Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as “a house of God”. At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God: -Share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, -Have “meatings,” that is, they eat when they meet, -They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings, -Teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God’s word, dialogue – and not professor-style, -Pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, ‘lose their face’ and their ego by confessing their sins, -Regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.

5. The church has to become small in order to grow big

Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.” The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied “sidewards”, like organic cells, once thesegroups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as withSolomon’s Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.

6. No church is led by a Pastor alone

The local church is not led by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating “from houseto house,” whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfil more than a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.

7. The right pieces – fitted together in the wrong way

In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms, ice, water and steam, the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalised Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new, and at the same time age-old, forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker’s original and blueprint for the Church.

8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalisation of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity

The “Body of Christ” is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faithcan trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to re-emerge.

10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God

The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called “worship service” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalised patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour “worship service” is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a “high input and low output” structure. Traditionally, the desire to “worship in the right way” has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to “worship in truth and in spirit,” not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as “the Way of Life.” Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start “acting powerfully?”

11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people

The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people “into the church,” and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.

12. Rediscovering the “Lord’s Supper” to be a real supper with real food

Church tradition has managed to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper” in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the “Lord’s Supper” was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.

13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies withglobal chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing witheach other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned withtraditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporatenessof the Church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.

14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit

They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worthbeing noticed at all. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted”, says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worthpersecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God withhis absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualisation of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.

15. The Church comes home

Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history. As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God’s Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighbourhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world. 

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“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty.  Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper…. education and slavery were incompatible with one another.” – Frederick Douglas

“I am here to help you find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.” – Melvin B. Tolson (The Great Debaters)

Today is Presidents Day, and in honor of the holiday and the month (February is Black History Month) it seemed appropriate to post on a relevant theme and to begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.  Over the past couple of weeks my sons and I have been watching inspirational movies about the African American experience, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, The Great debaters, Booty Call (okay, kidding on that last one; just seeing if you were paying attention).  As I watched these movies and other programs, certain themes were consistent, mainly the ongoing role education and faith play in the pursuit of liberty.  So it got me praying and thinking about slavery, literally, figuratively (of the mind), and it’s expression in the church.  Here are some of my thoughts. 

In the Old South there were three main tenets regarding slaves and learning.  They were brutally enforced, and history says that overseers were trained to adhere to these tenets. 

  • Slaves were to be kept ignorant and uneducated.
  • Slaves must never presume to be smarter than their masters or overseers.  If they were, they never showed it.
  • Slaves must never be self-directed, that is, presume to freely choose or act in their own best interest without the approval or permission of their overseer.

“The power to enslave another class of people rests solely on the ability to bind them in ignorance.” – High School Teacher

Why would slave owners discourage literacy?  Because knowledge is power.  A smart slave was “trouble”.  They were less compliant because they were less ignorant and therefore not as willing to submit to exploitation.  When Lincoln emancipated the slaves, many slave owners withheld this information from them so that they would continue harvesting the fields for their masters. 

Though illiteracy and ignorance are not synonymous, knowing how to read and think critically helps to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and empowers an individual.  The one place a “slave” needs to be set free is in their thinking.  Reading is liberating to the mind, and in one sense this “truth” can help  set people free from the mind-set of a slave.  

“Nigga, who taught you Octagon?!” – Chris Rock (comedy sketch on slavery and reading)

Educated slaves, had to hide their learning from their masters and overseers.  The overseers, many of whom were themselves uneducated foreman who could barely read, would subject a slave who could read to unspeakable cruelty.  Their learning could spread to other slaves, instilling hope, a sense of accomplishment and worth, and belief that they too could attain their God-given destiny.  Such thinking would upset the status quo so, a slave caught reading would be severely whipped, or have some of their fingers cut off.  So, educating oneself was a perilous adventure that required great courage (and still does),  because for a slave to accidentally reveal that he could read or out think his “master” was a potential death sentence: 

“So think about the poor slave who could read, but was scared to teach their kids to read for fear they would be killing their kids. Think about the poor slave that rode to town every week. Think about the poor slave who rode the buggy to town every week. Riding the buggy…riding the buggy, And he could read, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. And up ahead he sees a busy intersection, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. Then he sees a STOP sign, —-. Now he’s in a big dilemma. “If I go through this intersection I’m a have a accident, If I stop, these crackers will kill me.” And he’s riding the buggy and in the last minute he says ‘**** it’ goes through the intersection has a big ol’ accident. Almost kills somebody. Then the police come; “Nigga what is wrong with you, Nigga what the **** is wrong with you. You could have killed somebody Nigga. Didn’t you see that stop sign?” “Oh I don’t know what you talking ’bout.” “You didn’t see that stop sign, that stop sign back there?” “Oh you mean that OCTAGON thing.”  “Nigga, who taught you octagon?” – Chris Rock

 

Day to day, in all sorts of circumstances, people (black, white, or purple) are still taught to hide their learning, or are made to feel ashamed for being smarter than their “overseers”, even in the church I might add, as if ignorance is a virtue.  Never does a week go by that I am not confronted with this “dilemma” at work or worship, with friends or strangers.  Knowledge is power, and the suppression of it is a power-play.  I’ve had to tell my sons recently, no “friend” who mocks and shames you for your love of learning, or seeks to intimidate you into hiding your intelligence, is a true friend; they do not have your best interest at heart.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.” – Ayn Rand (Anthem)

The freedom to choose is so related to liberty and freedom that even God Himself leaves us the freedom to choose whether or not we will obey Him and His commands.  It is so integral to our spiritual formation and identity, that to take away a person’s freedom to choose or act according to his will, keeps them in such a state of immaturity, that strong character and a worthwhile sense of identity is never formed.  The dependency this creates keeps one bound to their “master” and unable to see their own preferences as viable options or possibilities.  This is why Jesus himself commanded his disciples to not call their leaders master, rabbi, or father.  Only “One was their Father”.  In Ayn Rand’s book, Anthem, we encounter a world where all individuality, and freedom to choose ones own preferences has been programatically suppressed out of the human race.  There is only the collective “we” and the major sin is to have a preference apart from the group identity or, or which hasn’t already been pre-determined by the elders.  They could not even choose their life’s vocation.  Even that was determined by those in authority, and according to their predetermined “grouping” or status in life.  To presume otherwise, to even “think it” was a  “Transgression of Preference”, and they, “Asked so many questions that the teachers forbade it”.  Until their souls were awakened, they had no idea that they were functional slaves.  They lived within a box where they did only that which they were expressly told was legally allowed by the elders, “And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.”  That is not liberty.  We are free to serve God by faith working in love, as our conscience dictates (against such there is no law). 

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” – 1Cor. 7:23 

It’s easy to look back at our history (Black History is America’s History) and see slavery for the shameful thing that it is.  But can we look at the past and see vestiges of slavery in our own lives even today?  In our thinking, our work, our places of worship?  In scripture, darkness is equated with ignorance and error.  Knowledge and truth with light.  We have one Father, one Lord, the Father of lights who has, “delivered us, rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son,” a Kingdom where:

 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Gal. 3:28

Peace,

Ron

In previous posts on groupthink (this is the last) I’ve tried to show it’s potential dangers, but that isn’t to say that I think that groups or teams are bad.  Just the opposite!  As one of my graduate school professors said to me (who was very much into groups),  “Yes, Ron, community is necessary for spiritual growth, but only if the group is healthy.”  Healthy or not, people do gather, and because of the relational baggage we carry, or the emotional wounds from our past, our stories often collide as we experience one another.  Nevertheless, good things can come out of these collisions if there are those within the group who are committed to Christ-like solutions.  Groupthink methods can certainly help control these collisions but there is a better way.  Teamthink.  Neck and Manz (1994), coined the term, but it’s characteristics can be seen in scripture.  They defined it as, “effective synergistic thinking within the group.”  Unlike groupthink, teamthink is characterized by these traits:  

  • Encouragement of divergent views 
  • Open expression of concerns/ideas
  • Awareness of limitations/threats
  • Recognition of member’s uniqueness
  • Discussion of collective doubts  

Acts 15 offers us an example of these characteristics at work.  A conflict arose in the church of Antioch because the more traditional Jewish believers wanted the Gentile followers to obey the law of circumcision.  I won’t get into the theological implications of law and grace, but instead consider the way the group resolved the conflict by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and each other to reach a decision on the matter. 

  “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”- Acts 15:1-3 

First notice the phrase “sharp dispute and debate”.  Though it is rare that you’ll ever “convert” anyone by arguing with them (though it does happen), there are times when such debates are necessary.  Labeling as divisive those who are contending for core issues of faith is misguided.  Paul and Barnabas were not being divisive.  Those promoting wrong doctrine and encroaching on the liberty of the non-traditional Antioch church were the cause of the division.  Elsewhere, Paul actually speaks of “Those who cause division because of their wrong doctrine”, but encourages Timothy to rebuke them sharply and to correct them. 

  “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.  After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’  The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.  When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.'” -vv. 5-14 

Notice that the concerns of all parties were heard.  There was “much discussion”, and there was no attempt by the apostles to pull rank or distance themselves from the less powerful, least represented Gentile members of their group.  “God who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinctions between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  What is amazing to me is how we today, who do not have the credibility or authority of the early apostles, lack their humility when we try to wield more authority over people in our faith communities than they were willing to force upon their own in their day.  

  “It is my judgment therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.” – vv. 19-22  

Here we see the “us” in consensus.  They did not dismiss the concerns of the more established or powerful group.  They acknowledge the legitimate threat to the faith and their standing within the religious traditional Jewish community, but addressed them biblically, appealing to cultural sensitivity.  Love, even under the pretense of liberty, does not needlessly cause others to stumble.    

  “Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:  You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.” -vv. 27-29 

 Once again we see an appeal to be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of the other group, concerns that were rooted in both scripture and culture.  It was with this in mind that they set reasonable limitations on the Gentile community that did not place on them unnecessary religious burdens or violate their liberty in Christ. 
 
In making these decisions, the group and their approach was no less “spiritual” because they did not have a “Word” from God, though they would have responded to one if the Spirit had chosen to direct them in that manner (which, ironically, was common in the Antioch church).  Nor did the leader come down from the mountaintop, having heard from God for all the others, while they all compliantly obeyed (though God does speak through others, the “word” is still judged for authenticity).  Nor was it less relational because they disagreed sharply.  Peter and Paul were not subversively undermining the church because they broke with the status quo of the more influential majority group.  They took a stand on biblical grounds regarding what they understood to be essential.  Though their experiences among the Gentiles were unique, they were recognized as credible, and rather than being dismissed as “just another opinion”, it added to the realization of a new harmony and, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”.  Wait a minute!  The Holy Spirit?  How did He get in there?  When did He show up?  You mean with all these leaders fighting for their view of what is right, all these people with all their stories and experiences, their opinions, their traditions, their liberty, their you name it; with all this religious testosterone in the room, the Holy Spirit was there the whole time helping, leading, and trusting them to work it out according to His heart and mind?  Yep. 
 
So, here in scripture we see a positive example of decision-making in a group context.  Not just another technique or opinion of man, but a lived out, New Testament example from those who came before us.  
 
When it comes to team work and decision-making, a thinking team is better than groupthink, and… “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit”.  Let me know what you think.
 
Roc 

I’m busy today conducting a workshop, so I might not be able to post Part 3 of the Groupthink series until tomorrow. There is, however, this old tune by the Police that’s been running through my head called Miss Gradenko that speaks to the issue. I won’t bother explaining it, I’ll let the song and this video speak for itself.

Peace,

Roc

“MISS GRADENKO” 

The two leaders always had a tenuous alliance with each other.  They were both leaders with a sizable following and with great influence, and neither fully trusted the other, but their shared religious history and ambition for power and influence kept them working in collusion to expand their kingdoms. 

So the two “Kings” called a summit where they conferenced.  “Abe”, the first leader, said to “Josh” the second, “Let us partner together, and our combined strength can be marshalled to extend our influence into the surrounding kingdoms”.  Josh thought it a great idea and assured Abe that his network and followers, would support the venture, “But first, let us seek to hear from God, and see what He thinks”.  Abe had already decided that it was a good idea, even if it wasn’t a “God” idea, but in order to appear to be inclusive of the other leader’s suggestion, he summoned his team of company prophets.  All 400 of them.  Why so many?  The shear number of voices, all giving confirmation, must have been an overwhelming sign of the spirituality and rightness of the leader, and confirmation that He was God’s man.  After all, a consensus of 400 prophets must certainly be of profit to “the kingdom”.  So Abe called his prophets, all 400 of them, and asked (more like, declared; he was the leader after all, and had already decided), “Shall we combine forces and extend my, uhh, our kingdom?”  The prophets (who do not profit) all said “You betcha’, if God be for ya who can be against ya and stuff, praise God”, and other such spiritual sounding catch phrases. 

Now Josh wasn’t impressed by all this pretence, and though he was as much in collusion as Abe, he sincerely wanted a true word from God, no matter how it contradicted their plans.  After all, he was a pragmatist, not a fool! 

“Isn’t there a true prophet of the Lord around here instead of a bunch of yes men?”  At this comment, Abe began growing a bit agitated.  Josh was his invited guest, “The least he could do is show a little respect in honor of my authority” he thought to himself.  But he needed Josh, so he found it expedient to defer to his wishes.  “There is another guy, but he’s a lone ranger, and doesn’t know how to submit to authority (submission and authority were big issues for Abe).  He doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group, and is always negative and critical of my directives, not to mention my company of prophets.  He’s always talking about orthodoxy (right doctrine), orthopraxy (righteous acts), and orthocardia (pure and righteous heart/desires).  We don’t need all that intellectual theological stuff!  Always talking about idols of the heart and repenting of this or that.  It’s a downer, we don’t need that negativity.  And he has issues with authority.  Oh, did I say that already?” 

Nevertheless, Abe turned to his associate and said, “Email Mikey!”  And for added affect, “And bring him to me!”  When Mikey arrived, the associate coached him as to what kind of “word” he was to give in keeping with the spirit of the other prophets.  “The leaders are all in agreement (at least none have spoken up in disagreement), the prophets have all offered similar opinions, and this venture is going to happen anyway, it’s already in motion.  So, don’t be presumptuous; let your word be in harmony with the rest of the group so that there will be unity.  Don’t be divisive! “

“You must be trippin’!”, said Mikey.  “That’s not how I roll.  I’m just a mouthpiece.  A messenger just like you!  What the Lord speaks, that’s what I’ll say, and I won’t be flippin’ and twistin’ it to appease anyone.”

Always the non-conformist”, the associate groaned to himself.

“Mikey, should we go into ‘battle’ and extend our territory?”, Abe asked (he had already made up his mind; he was the leader after all).

“You betcha”, he said wearily, like one who has played this game way too many times.  “If you go into “battle”, or pursue this course of action, or venture, or whatever you’re callin’ it, God will give you good success…”, and in his best Monty Python rendition, “and there will be much rejoicing, Hooraaaayyy!” 

Abe got the intended message.  “How many times have we gone through this?  Tell me what you really think!  What do you hear?!  We want the truth!!” 

Mikey’s first impulse was to assume the most militaristic posture he could muster and shout back, “You Can’t Handle The Truth!”, but thought better of it.  However, because Mikey recognized and honored true authority (the position, if not the man), he did what all true servants of the Lord do: he submitted by speaking the truth as the Lord had spoken!  “The Lord showed me all your people scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no leader.  Let every man withdraw to his own house'”.  

“Aaaand there you go”, said Abe.  “Always so critical and negative!” 

Mikey continued delivering the word of the Lord.  It was plain that Abe and Josh’s venture was to end in disaster, that is if Mikey’s word was true.  When Mikey finished, Abe’s senior or “master” prophet, slapped him in the face, and scorned the word he had given.  “Who do you think you are?  When did God leave us to speak through you?”  Mikey had accused him of being deceived and of lying to himself and others, and that was when the “senior” prophet slapped him in the mouth.  Abe, then had Mikey disciplined for insubordination, and once again placed him on ministerial probation.  This would send a message to any of the other prophets in case they were ever tempted to risk humiliation by speaking the truth and contradicting the group and their leader.  Mikey would be restricted from public ministry until he either got with the program, or his word was proven false.  But he wouldn’t.  And it wasn’t.  His word, just like this story, was true, and the word of the Lord came to pass just as Mikey said it would.  In the end, the 400 prophets Abe gathered to himself did not profit him.  Not only did he lose the honor and power he so coveted; he also lost his life.  

If you haven’t already figured it out, yes, this is a true tale, although I have taken some dramatic license in the telling of it.  It is the historical record, found in 1Kings 22:1-39, of Israel’s Kings Ahab (Abe) and Jehoshaphat (Josh), and the Lord’s prophet Micaiah (Mikey), and his encounter with Ahab’s company of prophets.  These prophets did not profit the king or his subjects because they were all ensnared by groupthink.  All of the Eight symptoms mentioned in my previous post, Groupthink Part 1: Harmony or Conformity, can be found in their story.  And it ends disastrously.  Please find the time to read this cautionary tale.  The telling of it gives a vivid example of the dangers of groupthink, whether it’s regarding a nation with a leader like Ahab, determined to go to war and the religious leaders who rally around him, or a church leader with a team of members or company of “prophets” who do not have the courage to speak the truth in love for fear of reprisal, or who perhaps choose not to do so in hope of personal reward, or promotion. 

On that note, I’ll leave you with these words from A.W. Tozer: 

“God has always had His specialists whose chief concern has been the moral breakdown, the decline in the spiritual health of the nation or the church. Such men were Elijah, Jeremiah, Malachi and others of their kind who appeared at critical moments in history to reprove, rebuke and exhort in the name of God and righteousness… Such a man was likely to be drastic, radical, possibly at times violent, and the curious crowd that gathered to watch him work soon branded him as extreme, fanatical, negative. And in a sense they were right. He was single-minded, severe, fearless, and these were the qualities the circumstances demanded. He shocked some, frightened others and alienated not a few, but he knew who had called him and what he was sent to do. His ministry was geared to the emergency, and that fact marked him out as different, a man apart.”

Indeed.

Ron

Groupthink: A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. -Irving Janis

Philippians 2:2- “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” -Paul the Apostle (and “Chief” of sinners) 

Today I’m beginning a series of posts on Groupthink and other relational issues, especially within the church community.  The issues I will touch on pertain to group dynamics in any organizational structure whether it be a family, business, political party, or school club.  I will, however, focus primarily on relationships within a church or other ministry context because there is something about religious groups that make them particularly susceptible to the dangers of Groupthink.

Irving Janis, who in the 70’s conducted extensive studies on Groupthink, was able to identify eight traits that were common to this group behavior:

  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.
  6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

As I read this list I couldn’t help but think of the recent elections and how each of these traits were symptomatic of the presidential campaign, and when I warned others of what I saw, I personally experienced numbers 2,4,5, and 8 on a regular basis.  It is within the church, however that I’ve routinely experienced this dynamic.  There are many reasons for this.  A core ethic of followers of Christ is unity.  We are to love one another, care for one another, pursue peace with one another, and to be like-minded.  Many of us within the Body of Christ take this to mean that all conflict is bad, critique is divisive, and dissent is an act of disloyalty.  Of course that is not what Paul meant when he urged us to be of the “same mind”.  He was not encouraging us to the form of “Groupthink” described above, which isn’t really “thinking” at all (in the biblical sense of the word).  Nor is this type of “Groupthink” the loving thing to do.  It does not reflect Christ’s nature or attitude.

“Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

I won’t get too technical, but when Paul says be “like-minded” he is using the Greek verb phroneō, “to think,” and in some translations autos is added to phroneō and is translated “of the same mind”.  Paul’s appeal is not for thoughtless uniformity passing as harmony.  He wants us to have the same opinion or attitude regarding something in particular, something specific that makes for true harmony; something that produces unity in diversity.  The unity the world offers is a counterfeit to the harmony that Christ calls us to live out in community even when we encounter diverse viewpoints on a course of action, or are learning to live with, and care for those of another ethnos or group.  In either case we are called to be of “like-mind” and  “one purpose”.  How are we to do this?  

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

Of course it’s easy to see how our government has failed in this area.  Partisan politics makes it is extremely difficult for our leaders to acknowledge the value or worth of their opponent and their views for fear of losing power and influence within their own group.  They avoid critiquing the assumptions of their own group for fear of losing credibility or position.  But isn’t it strange that we see this same attitude among Christians even within our churches, denominations, and para-church  organizations? 

The eight symptoms of Groupthink are rendered less potent when leaders model Paul’s command to show others preferential treatment, and when they create a culture where the truth is spoken in love and differences are honored.  Groupthink becomes less the norm when we put away the vanity and selfish ambition that would cause us to use others for our own gain or self-preservation, or when we choose not to discredit and render “invisible” and voiceless those who disagree with us.  When we resist the urge to insist on uniformity of thought and opinion on secondary issues as a prerequisite to belonging, people are then free to be authentic, and creative in their expression of bold love toward each other because there is no longer a fear of reprisal or loss of relationship.    

So, consider the list above.  Have you encountered Groupthink in your group or sphere of influence?  Are you a leader who has enabled or even encouraged Groupthink, or have you been victimized by this manipulative practice?  Perhaps a little of both?  I would love to hear your thoughts, because in parts 2 and 3 I’ll give examples of what Groupthink looks and sounds like in practice, the effect it has on the spiritual and emotional life of the people within the group, and some practical suggestions on how to help yourself and others find freedom.     

Ron

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