Friday, October 01, 2010

Rock Your Systems

As a Christian, I think it is essential for us to constantly challenge ourselves to consider why we believe what we believe and ask God to open our Spirits to seeing this world we live in through His eyes. Just as I have been discussing and wrestling with these feelings I came across the below post from a fellow YWAMer. My soul breathes a sigh of relief knowing I am not alone in the convictions this writer so eloquently shares. I hope this post will challenge more of the "systems" we have set up in our lives to be rocked!

"Systems" by Danny Lehmann
by YWAM on Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 11:31pm

Have you ever walked a dog and in the course of your journey encountered another dog approaching your partner ? The scenario is predictable: First, there is eye contact, then a stiffening of the tail and the hair on the back standing up. They then begin to ever so cautiously circle one another all the while sniffing to see if their new acquaintance passes their test. A good meeting proceeds with the tails beginning to wag and then some playful sporting. A bad one is when, usually suddenly, both dogs have an internal alarm go off and a fight breaks out.

This image came to my mind recently when I was recommended by a former student of mine to speak at a church. Much like the above dog encounter, before the meeting, in the course of an otherwise friendly conversation I was skillfully and suspiciously peppered with questions by an assistant pastor about my views on many subjects, such as Calvinism/Arminianism, the place of Israel in prophecy and whether or not I was one of those leftist "social justice" missionaries.( In keeping with Woodstock's 40th anniversary I was tempted to say "B...B...Bro, Where's the love?")

I had simply been invited by the senior pastor to teach on evangelism. My spiritual pedigree had been attested to in my books by the likes of Chuck Smith, Loren Cunningham and Greg Laurie. Nevertheless, I had the distinct sense that my "papers" were not enough so this watchdog over God's flock had to do his own personal sniffing.

My inquisitor, however, was not the only one doing the olfactory inquiry. Having canine tendencies myself, I did some sniffing of my own. I instinctively picked up the smell of a critical religious spirit but by God's grace made a choice to relax and keep my spiritual tail wagging!

To switch from my smelly metaphor to theological language, my new friend had spliced parts of the Bible into clear (in his mind) religious "systems" and like the above dog exchange, was sniffing me to see if I was OK. His clear unspoken vibe was "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen!" Although I passed the test and had a relatively fruitful time of ministry, I was on edge the whole night lest I would slip up and profane his systematic pulpit.

Recently my son David, a serious Bible student, showed me a purchase he had made of a 1200 page "Systematic Theology." Thumbing through it I identified the particular systems this fellow was espousing. Digging deeper I noticed this systematic theologian had done what many of us do, due to our systems: over emphasize certain Scriptures and de-emphasize or ignore others that don't fit our systems.

I recently saw former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on a T.V. talk show. The host, upon hearing that Mike was to be in Las Vegas for a political rally asked him if he was going to hit the slot machines. Huckabee laughed and said, "The last time I went to Vegas I took a twenty dollar bill and the Ten Commandments and I broke neither!" He went on to say, "Besides, I'm a Baptist and even if I struck it rich at the casinos I wouldn't be able to tell anybody!" It was a funny exchange but Huckabee was just simply and honestly admitting he was part of a system - a Baptist system that does not look too kindly on gambling.

A big question to ask ourselves is how do our systems affect the above statement that love is the fulfilling of the law? Where does "knowing what we believe and why we believe it" end and the idolatrous worship of our systems, often made in our image, begin? My guess is we are getting close when our systems prevent us from fulfilling the law and begin to control us. Perhaps it's when being "right" replaces being good. When ironically the Bible prevents us from doing what the Bible tells us to do!

A while ago I was asked to mediate in a situation where a pastor was threatening to cut financial support for Nepali missionaries because he had heard that YWAM was "working with Catholics" in Ireland. I tried to reason with the pastor and assure him that our dear Nepali brethren would probably never in their life even meet a Catholic in their Hindu kingdom. As he then turned up the rhetoric and identified the "antichrist" in the Church at Rome, his anti-Catholic system became more apparent. When I asked him if he believed anyone anywhere in the world could be a Catholic and be saved, he said "no" in no uncertain terms. I was stunned as I hung up the phone.

Speaking of Catholics, how could the church practice the execution of "heretics" during the Inquisition? On the other hand how could Lutherans persecute Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation? How could John Calvin condone the burning of Michael Servetus at the stake in Geneva? How can certain T.V. evangelists identify a hurricane as a judgment from God and blame it on the gay community? It is because they read the Bible with cultural, national, racial, and political lenses, mixed in a few personal biases, added some theological naivety, subtracted love and came up with a system. The result: a deadly recipe that is the opposite of love. Others were then judged by that system, failed the test and were consequently thrown out of the kitchen.

Just for kicks, let's consider a couple of questions: Where does the Bible even declare that we are to jigsaw Scripture pieces into an airtight puzzle when a little ruthless honesty would force us to admit we inevitably have pieces left over? Could it be that He intended us to see the Bible as the unfolding story of His forever dream, celebrating the diversity within the unity rather than dividing over it? Did He really want us to treat His Word as a divine pizza pie that we chop up into topical bits and then respond to the bits of our choosing?

Is it possible that He is much more relaxed than we are about the things we get so uppity about, like sovereignty/free will and other biblical tensions. Can we be content with some mystery and enjoy the eternal love story without dissecting the Bible like a frog in a high school biology classroom? It may not only lower our blood pressure but promote more unity in Christ's Body, which seemed to be quite a big deal to Jesus and the apostles (Jn13:34-35, Eph. 4:3,11-13,Phil. 2:1-2, 1 Jn. 2:7-11, 3:10-17, 4:7-11,20-21). Controlling systems can blind us to the divine priorities of unity and love.

Could we not study the first chapter of Ephesians, for instance, verse by verse at face value in light of it's context and historical background without flying out of the book on verse 11 and declare from one system that everything that happens is God's will (including things He has declared in other parts of the Bible not to be His will!)? Can we not then read the sixth chapter of the same book and see real demons that we need to "wrestle" with in order to cooperate with God to see his will done, while not denying the sovereignty of 1:11? Can we simply deal with it, let the Bible be the Bible, and let others be who they are even if it or they don't fit the box of our systems?

Am I suggesting throwing out all systems? No. The early church took great pains to clearly define what it stood for ("... Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father..."). Such statements as those found in the Apostles Creed, for instance, require systematizing to a certain extent. The question for a mission like YWAM is which of these systematic hills are we willing to die on, especially when we are called to value our interdenominational identity and fulfill Jesus' prayer for unity (Jn 17:21-23).

In the 1920's J. Greshem Machen and his Fundamentalist allies, fighting theological liberalism, came up with 5 essentials to the Christian faith, revolving around the authority of the Bible, the person of Christ (His death and resurrection), the virgin birth and His physical return. Since then we have added to the list, created multitudes of new systems which have divided us from believers we are commanded to love and taken a lot of the fun out of fundamental! Case in point: the pastor in Florida who recently threatened to stage a "Burn a Q'uran Day" and almost went through with it knowing full well it would put missionaries and soldiers all over the world in danger to Muslim reprisals. "B...B...Bro, Where's the love?"

I freely admit that there are teachings in Scripture that I have systematized. I must in humility, however, recognize that my systems have been developed by looking at the Bible through the grid of my American heritage, culture, race, economic/social status and my denominational affiliations. I try to be "totally" objective. I'm not. No one is.

Must we sacrifice truth in order to walk in love? I think not. God is not confused. He told us not only to be right and do right but to be and do both in love. How? By submitting to His Spirit who teaches us to honor God's Character by being like Jesus--- "... that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4). Augustine, in the 4th century gave us some good advice : "In essentials--unity. In non-essentials--liberty. In all things--charity."

" is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10)

Danny Lehmann is the Dean of the College of Christian Ministries for YWAM's University of the Nations.