Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unity & Diversity


I’m going to describe several different types of Christian experiences. They could be called perspectives, church models or paradigms. Each one describes a different type of individual. A group of such people becomes a body; a large group - a movement or separate branch of Christianity. Each one has a different focus. Each one is valid. These are generalizations; please allow room for individual differences.

Many of us are familiar with what I’ll call ‘bible churches’. Here are some characteristics of them: These churches and individuals are bible – focused. The written word is their anchor and reference point for their relationship with God and the church. They have bible studies during the week, bible camps in the summer and bible retreats in the winter. When they meet corporately they study the bible. Formal teaching is an essential activity and corporate fellowship looks like a classroom. The teacher takes a prominent place in front. His role is to teach doctrine from the bible. These churches and believers are highly focused on doctrine. In private they study the word in depth and often use study tools such as a concordance. Many are fluent in Greek or Hebrew. It’s common for verses of scripture to be highlighted by the Holy Spirit as they study. These believers have key concepts that are important; things like eschatology, doctrine, Christology, inerrancy, apostasy and exegesis. Major concerns of this group revolve around doctrine. They argue the validity of the bible and defend it ferociously. Biblical ignorance in the church is a sore spot with them. Their desire is to see us walk in the truth of the word. Heresy and apostasy are ever-present concerns that represent rebellion against God. Corporately, they see God as the author of the most exquisite book ever written; a love letter to the world. These believers have been influenced for centuries by men and women who were teachers. Their experiences reflect the influence of doctrinal teachers through the ages. I was discipled in this tradition for years. I understand it well. But it isn’t the only valid expression of Christianity.

A different type of expression comes from those who are gifted as pastors; the dutiful servants who shepherd the flock of God. This type of person has been an ever-present force in the history of the church. Were it not for their gift of keeping watch over the sheep, the church would have been laid to rest long ago. Their heart is always for the sheep. Protection of the brethren is their focus and passion. While they may be adept at teaching and evangelism, their mainstay is tending to the spiritual needs of the body. They’re concerned with horizontal relationships in the church. They’re the ones you’ll find at the bedside of the sick. They grieve with those who experience death and loss. If you know someone who intercedes for others, they probably have a pastor’s heart. These wonderful people live and die by the words Jesus spoke to Peter: “Tend my sheep”. Major concerns for them are the health and safety of the church. They see outsiders who would mislead, entice, or prey upon the flock as an enemy and treat them as such. They see God as embodied in Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Its unfortunate we don’t see more of these folks in the church. Men and women are often given the title ‘Pastor’, but far too many don’t have the heart of a shepherd. People who sit under a pastor’s influence reflect these values in their walk with God.

The evangelist brings a different expression and set of values to the body. Though a constant influence on the church through the centuries; few evangelists have held permanent leadership positions, making their influence less prominent. Most have been itinerant preachers or foreign missionaries like Whitfield, Wesley, Billy Graham and Hudson Taylor. Salvation of the lost is their passion. They sacrifice convenience and give their lives to the mission field. Many suffer loss, torture and loneliness for the opportunity to spread the good news. Soteriology, missiology, regeneration, outreach, souls, damnation and repentance are the words of their culture. Laziness and apathy are their gravest concern. Churches and individuals who come under the influence of the evangelist reflect these values. They see God as embodied in Jesus, the missionary. Their expression of the church is to be sent into the world as he was. I can’t say that I’ve been personally influenced by this type of person until I met Dennis and Diane Teague.

In the last century, the prophetic has been restored to the church. A few years ago I came under the influence of leaders who were prophets. I was warned often about the heresy and error found in this part of the church. When I arrived, I was concerned over what I saw as blatant disregard for sound doctrine. They were forever taking passages of scripture out of context; interpreting and applying them however they wanted to. It nearly drove me crazy. But there’s more to this expression of Christianity.

Prophetic people relate to God, the world and the church differently. They hear, taste, feel, smell and see spiritual things that are valid expressions originating in God. The prophetic believer is concerned with relationship more than doctrine or salvation of the lost. His or her life is a never-ending conversation with God. The Lord speaks to them at night in visions and dreams. They hear drumming in the spirit while driving to work, and see visions of heavenly things at rest. They steward the presence of God wherever they go. Intimacy with the Godhead is what matters most to them. This is not to say that evangelism and bible study are not important to these believers – they certainly are. But they prioritize them differently. A prophetic gathering doesn’t usually have a central figure. Groups of people hang out and party in God’s intoxicating presence. Angels are commonly found in their company, coming as messengers and fellow-laborers in ushering in the supernatural to the world. The demonic realm that is often revealed to them is the greatest threat to the prophet. Their conversations are filled with words like anointing, mantles, glory, miracles, manifestations, impartation, visions, rhema, seasons, signs and symbols. People who come under the influence of the prophet reflect these values in their life. They see God as a friend, father and revealer of heavenly secrets. Their desire is to share the secrets of the Lord with the world.

The apostle is only beginning to emerge as a presence in the church after its long absence. We have yet to see how this gift will shape those who sit under its influence. It is the least understood of the five gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. It seems that the apostle is the one who connects the other four and brings networking and connectivity to the church. Apostles appear to function as facilitators of others in ministry. They are well connected and mobile, coming alongside those who need their maturity and expertise. They understand the other gifts and operate in all of them to some degree. The apostle has been called the New Testament equivalent of the king. They are undoubtedly leaders who bring God’s governmental structure to the church. Those who are mentored by apostles reflect these values in their lives.

These are broad generalizations. Most people have a mixture of gifts and a variety of influences in their lives. There is considerable overlap of gifts in most people. I apologize for generalizations that don’t reflect your experiences. But I wanted to illustrate something many of us overlook.

God is interested in diversity. One look at nature reveals diversity of form and function everywhere. It reflects the nature of God. The Godhead reveals both unity and diversity through communion in the trinity. His diverse nature is reflected in His body - the church. The diversity of gifts was intended to give balance and strength. All the members functioning in unity and harmony would make a church against which the gates of hell could not prevail. Diversity is God’s nature and desire for us. But diversity creates problems. I won’t spend a lot of time on this except to say we have terrible disagreement, hatred, accusation, suspicion and mistrust of those in the body who do not reflect our own perspectives and gifts. Imagine if the Father, Son and Spirit acted this way.

The enemy tried to eradicate the diversity of gifts centuries ago. They’re coming back with a vengeance. The prophetic branch is growing. The young apostolic movement is gaining momentum too. And young evangelists are hitting the streets in unprecedented numbers. This is the work of God. We are experiencing labor pains as we give birth to the new things from the Lord. After they are born they grow. Rest assured; growing pains are a part of the process. My final encouragement is for all of us to treat one another with honor, regardless of which branch they come from. Love is to be the one thing that makes the church unique from the rest of the world.

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1 comments:

Jim Brown said...

Through the years I have seen this diversity first hand. I began to notice it more as the calling in my own life began to take shape.

I remember one time when a prophetic person spoke at our gathering, he had a 'hard to hear' kind of word and it shook up the church. It was like a person shaking a tree full of ripened fruit; as the tree was shaken the fruit began to fall on to the ground. Then I saw a man trying to catch the fruit before they got bruised. It was a Pastor not wanting the fruit to get damaged. He oozed with mercy, love and kindness. Then he got P.O'd at the prophet shaking the tree. Yet the tree needed the shaking word from this prophet. Afterward the two locked horns and separated and went their own way because they could not accept each others unique anointing and diversity in ministry.

I remember hearing an evangelist share his burden about saving the lost. He was endeavoring to stir up the church for greater outreach. The known teacher spoke up and almost rejected what the evangelist was saying. This teacher said "we don't need more newbies but we need to educate those who we have already". Their disagreement became a division. So the teacher and the evangelist separated and went their own way because they would not accept the diversity that each one had.

Ministry has historically never been able to work together because of diversity, expression in ministry and uniqueness of specific calling/anointing. Yet it is imperative that the ministry in Ephesians 4:11 work together and see the need of one another and each unique calling and also every ministry must come to the place and acknowledge the they are incapable of filling any anointing other than that which they have been called into.

Unless this happens the Body of Christ will continue to divide into camps, not much different than the Corinthians who were dividing into 4 camps of Paul, Peter, Apollos and Christ. Paul wisely nipped this in the bud with a great question: "Is Christ divided". I would ask the same thing, Is Christ the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor, the teacher divided? I think not!