Cleanliness is next to godliness, as the saying goes. Though most Christians I know could identify that quotation as a falseism and not a quotation from the Bible, I truly think most of us in our inmost being believe such a statement. Now, we may not believe it in its proper form. We may socially judge someone with a dirty car or a dirty house, but we likely wouldn’t consider them less godly on this account. But if we expand the strict definition of cleanliness to a broader definition of order and organization, it would be hard for many Christians I know to deny their belief in the above quotation. God is a God of order. The stipulation of an elder requires that they have order within their family. Order is opposed to entropy and chaos, two antitheses of God. These notions extend themselves and in our culture come up most notably in regard to finances. In the conservative circles I used to and still do run in, financial struggle is often thought of as financial disorder, and is very often subconsciously linked to ungodliness. Conversely, the leaders of the churches I’ve observed tend to all be intellectually and financially ordered very well. We value order – particularly order of the financial and intellectual kind.
I might surprise you here, but I’m not convinced that our security is the primary goal of God. In fact, I think our goal of achieving security often gets in the way of God’s real goal, which is a conformity to the image of Christ. As the New Testament tells us time and time again, conformity to Christ’s image is not done through the realization of security, but through our insecurities – through our suffering, our trials, our struggles, and our failures. Surely we should seek the restoration of the world, the welfare of our city, and we should push back against the curse. We would never seek evil to befall us or anyone else. But if I have the choice to save 20% of my income for my security or help a single mom in our church, am I to believe that ensuring my security is always (or usually) being a better steward of God’s resources than helping this mother? If there are no moral political candidates or platforms to vote for, is my abstention from voting altogether and refusing to be complicit in voting for an evil really worse than voting for the evil that’s slightly less so? If my child wants to skip college and use the gifts and talents God clearly gave them and called them to so that they might work in a service industry, be a stay at home mom, or go live in an African leper village - do I really need them to reconsider college? Am I to buy into the Western mentality that being the best steward means pursuing the most security and power my means can accomplish? Or is it possible that being a good steward may mean giving the last of my food – the five loaves and two fishes – completely to Jesus for him to do with as he pleases, even if it means I risk going hungry?
You may be able to tell that this topic is a soapbox for me. It has been the area of biggest conviction for me over the past few years, as I have come to see how I, and most Christians I know, are far more selective and utilitarian in our morals than we like to think. We’re self-proclaimed absolutists, and blind to how we really aren’t. But what does this all have to do with ministry? Well, since we come from a culture that values preparedness and security, and since we come from an intellectual culture that has created systems and methods whereby we seek to accomplish our values and security, it means we import those values and systems with us when we do ministry. You have to remember that the main thesis of Allen’s book is that our job in missions and ministry is not to import systems, but to build and edify churches – to advance the Kingdom. When we import amoral (neutral) systems as we plant churches, it often causes individuals and churches to conflate God’s call with the West’s call. Not only that, but when we hold amoral systems up as necessary or overly valuable, we turn them into moral mandates that mar God’s call and God’s truth for his church. Such things can be disastrous for the church, as missionaries not only push standards and systems that aren’t required by God, but as the reliance on such systems often means that missionaries don’t trust the native church to move out or do ministry until they are deemed “prepared” after having mastered these systems or after having embraced certain values. Allen identifies at least two ways in which an emphasis on systems (especially imported systems) can negatively affect the Church.
But if we establish Missions rather than Churches, two evil consequences, which we now see in greater or less degree everywhere, sterility and antagonism, inevitably arise. If the first groups of native Christians are not fully equipped to multiply themselves without the assistance of a foreign Bishop, they must wait upon him, and progress will depend upon his power to open new stations, or to provide superintending missionaries. That way lies sterility…
We have seen again and again in the history of the church that a Christianity which does not propagate itself languishes, if it does not perish. And this is as true of new Churches as of old ones. Wherever the spirit of Christ is, there is the Spirit which desires the conversion of the world to Christ. And when men do not find adequate opportunity for its expression, a spirit of discontent and strife enters in.
The conviction that new converts can beget new converts leads them from strength to strength: the conviction that they will fall if they are not nursed leads them from weakness to weakness. The difference lies not in the nature or in the environment of the converts; but in the faith of the missionaries.
If we answer “no” to the above questions, Allen would argue that our ministry is likely more focused on establishing “Missions” or programs as opposed to the Church. We’re not concerned with the edification and propagation of the church, but with the meeting of our own contrived standards so that we can feel some sense of control. While I don’t think Allen would say that methods are bad, in our culture they have been given the preeminence. An overemphasis on proper methodology and qualification can not only prevent zeal within the church, but may also create an atmosphere of sterility (because nobody is trusted to do anything, so they stop doing things) or of antagonism (the church becomes hostile towards missionaries because the national church has been patronized and treated as ignorant).
The problem with methodology is the same as with the aforementioned problem of doctrine. The issue does not lie within the doctrine or methodology itself. In fact, these things are often very good. Doctrine is wonderful and necessary, but only so far as it explains and deepens one’s true relationship with God. If doctrine is merely knowledge, it is not only useless, but often a hindrance to true relationship. Likewise, methodology often arises as a means derived from true observations about the world. Many don’t save enough for retirement and end up needing assistance late in life – therefore, save 20% of your income each year. But while our methodology may be sound, methods are merely a means to an end. Saving 20% of our income is a fantastic means when pursuing the end of self-sufficiency in old age and retirement. But does anyone ever ask if retirement from our contribution to society through our work should be a goal for most/any, or if self-sufficiency apart from our families should be desired? Should my goal really require saving so much of my income my whole life, or should I perhaps consider living on less when I’m older? Is it possible that our view of family skews our view of retirement? If we were more willing to live together as extended families in one house, what would that do to the strength of our family structure as our kids lived in close proximity to grandparents, as they saw their parents struggle to love their in-laws - something which culture depicts as impossible? What would living on less land and with less expenses mean for the amount of money I could give away towards the work God is doing in the world? What might this break from the idol of self and independence depict to our society and our children as they saw the old taken in and taken care of by extended family? In our society which is so willing to put the elderly behind the closed doors of nursing homes at the first sign of diminishing health, what might a goal of unity and community over independence and self-sufficiency depict to them? How might such a goal overlap with and differ from our current goal for retirement?
We in the West tend to love our politics as much as we do our finances – probably in part because politics controls taxes and therefore influences finances. But as Christians, we also recognize that laws are often a reflection of a nation’s values and moral health, and are controlled through politics. Therefore, some think we should vote for the individual who will most advance our nation’s morality through legislation. There is a caveat, however. You can’t vote for the most moral candidate or the candidate with the most moral platform if that candidate has no chance of winning (e.g. third party candidate). There are so many values and assumptions in our methodology here. We in the United States grow up with a competitive, win at all costs mentality. We’re also taught that it is our obligation to participate in the political system since we live in a democracy. To not vote, or to “throw away” a vote is likened to sin. But have we ever thought through whether our shaping of the future is our primary end? Is that what God calls us to do – to figure out how to direct history and then ensure that it is so? Or does God call us to submit to his morality and his means regardless of what we think that will lead to - and simply trust him to take care of the ends? Can we really legislate morality, or is the legislation that passes rather a reflection of the morality our society already holds? Is it more godly to spend our money lobbying congress to legislate morality, or to spend our money helping the poor, feeding the hungry, housing the immigrant, and taking in the orphan – the types of things James calls true religion? Does God call us to sacrifice some of our morals in our vote so we can legislate the morals we deem more important – does he call us to win at the cost of moral compromise? Or does God call us to obey him in all things even if that obedience seems foolish, seemingly has no chance of directing history as we think it should be directed, and leads us to our own crucifixion? Such considerations aren’t very American, but they do sound like the types of things we Christians must be asking. But in such a methodological society, we often inherit and perpetuate systems and elevate functionality so that we rarely ask philosophical, prodding questions.
Once again, we must understand that methodology is a means to an end. When we are infatuated with methodology, we often assume the ends without ever questioning them. Saving 20% of your income is great IF your goal is retirement and self-sufficiency. But should those things be your goal? Voting for the candidate that best represents your morality and has a chance of winning is great IF your goal should be having the most effectiveness in the political sphere. We are so smitten by methodology, we fail to sift out God’s “foolish” means and ends from our “wise” ones. This is no less true of our application of methodology in regard to the church. According to Allen, the spontaneous (or Spirit lead) expansion of the church is what is desirable – the seeing of Christ’s Kingdom come in power as he makes his enemies his footstool and restores all things from his seat of power at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. In the following quote, Allen describes both what our end should be, as well as what we have made it to be.
It raises at once the question whether [spontaneous expansion] is in its very nature desirable; and the instinctive thought in our minds has condemned it beforehand as an irrational method of religious progress. It is clear that while it possesses all those advantages of which I have spoken, it also opens the door for the unbalanced manifestations of a wild enthusiasm; and we, to-day, certainly incline to dwell upon the latter rather than the former. That fact by itself alone, is sufficient to explain its comparative absence in our Missions. We fear it because we feel that it is something that we cannot control. And that is true. We can neither induce nor control spontaneous expansion whether we look on it as the work of the individual or of the Church, simply because it is spontaneous. "The wind bloweth where it listeth," said Christ, and spontaneous activity is a movement of the Spirit in the individual and in the Church, and we cannot control the Spirit. Given spontaneous zeal we can direct it by instruction. Aquila could teach Apollos the way of God more perfectly. But teaching is not control. Teaching can be refused; control cannot be refused, if it is control; teaching leads to enlargement, control to restriction. To attempt to control spontaneous zeal is therefore to attempt to restrict it; and he who restricts a thing is glad of a little but does not welcome much. Thus, many of our missionaries welcome spontaneous zeal, provided there is not too much of it for their restrictions, just as an engineer laying out the course of a river is glad of some water to fill his channels, but does not want a flood which may sweep away his embankments. Such missionaries pray for the wind of the Spirit but not for a rushing mighty wind. I am writing because I believe in a rushing mighty wind, and desire its presence at all costs to our restrictions. But if that is what we are talking about, it is futile to imagine that we can control it. Let us begin by acknowledging that we cannot.
By spontaneous expansion I mean something which we cannot control. And if we cannot control it, we ought, as I think, to rejoice that we cannot control it. For if we cannot control it, it is because it is too great not because it is too small for us. The great things of God are beyond our control. Therein lies a vast hope. Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ: our control cannot reach as far as that. We constantly bewail our limitations: open doors unentered; doors closed to us as foreign missionaries; fields white to the harvest which we cannot reap. Spontaneous expansion could enter open doors, force closed ones, and reap those white fields. Our control cannot: it can only appeal pitifully for more men to maintain control.
There is always something terrifying in the feeling that we are letting loose a force which we cannot control; and when we think of spontaneous expansion in this way, instinctively we begin to be afraid. Whether we consider our doctrine, or our civilization, or our morals, or our organization, in relation to a spontaneous expansion of the Church, we are seized with terror, terror lest spontaneous expansion should lead to disorder...We instinctively think of something which we cannot control as tending to disorder.
Part of our aversion to Spirit control is self-centeredness. We want to succeed for our own validation. But we also want to succeed because we want to be good stewards. Others are entrusting us with various resources. But we also want those to whom we minister to succeed. We care about those into whom we pour ourselves and we want them to thrive. We often believe that by insulating disciples in our methods and doctrines that we insulate them against failure. In our minds, or at least in our practice, the armor of man – philosophy, psychology, theology, and hermeneutics - is far superior to the armor of God. Allen tells a great parable that gets at the heart of this fear we have for new disciples – this fear that leads us to trust in methods and preparation over the Spirit.
It is said that when God announced to the Angels His purpose to create man in His own image Lucifer, who was not yet fallen from heaven, cried, "Surely He will not give them power to disobey Him." And the Son answered him "Power to fall is power to rise." Lucifer knew neither power to rise, nor power to fall, but that word "power to fall" sunk deep into his heart, and he began to desire to know that power, and he plotted from that day forward the fall of man. He fell himself, and he taught man to know his power and to use his power to fall. When in the fullness of time he saw the Redemption wrought by Christ, he began dimly to understand that power to fall is power to rise; but he understood it crookedly. Hence, as Christ's disciples began to multiply, and his own kingdom to be minished, his mind turned instinctively again to this power to fall. If he could check, or hinder, the power to fall, he might also, he thought, check the power to rise. He began by trying to induce the Apostles to bind all the Gentile converts within the hedge of the Mosaic law, and he was foiled by the boldness of the faith of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. But ever since he has sought to attain his end, striving to induce the servants of Christ to deprive new converts of the power to fall, by hedging them round with laws of one kind or another, in the hope that so he might deprive them of the power to rise: and men, knowing the terrors of falling, and dreading the power to fall for new converts, are only too ready to listen to him; for he plays upon their fears.
To make matters worse, quelling the zeal of new converts because we deem them ill-prepared also hinders the gospel in the community, and the growth of the church in both number and depth. Allen explains why it is vital that we allow nationals to spread the gospel through their witness of their own volition and zeal rather than us micromanaging and being the face of the church.
Spontaneous expansion begins with individual expression, it proceeds to corporate expression, and if the corporate expression is checked there is again a danger of disorder. The denial of native Episcopate, the denial of self-government, seems at the moment to be a great security for order, and for the moment it is; but it represses the instinct for self-propagation and mars the fullness of life. For the instinct must then be stifled. That it should be stifled is a grievous loss to the whole body, for it means stagnation, and the stagnation of a part is a source of poison to the whole.
Restraint forces godly zeal into opposition to order: sooner or later it must break forth and, if it breaks forth in opposition to order, self-will and self-assertion appear as its allies and flaunt themselves in the guise of the deliverers of godly zeal. It is dangerous to restrain what cannot be permanently crushed: Naturam expellas furca tamen usque recurret. We are in far greater danger of serious disorder when, in fear of the expression of self-will, we restrain a God-given instinct, than when we accept the risks involved in giving it free play. Yet because we can for the moment by an exercise of authority, or by our influence, or by the influence of the conditions which we create, or by an insistence upon Law, avoid the obvious present dangers of freedom, we naturally tend to think this the safer course…
Upon the speaker, too, the effort to express his truth exercises a profound effect. The expression of his experience intensifies it; it renews it; it repeats it; it enlightens it. In speaking of it he goes through it again; in setting it before another he sets it before himself in a new light. He gets a deeper sense of its reality and power and meaning. In speaking of it he pledges himself to the conduct and life which it involves. He proclaims himself bound by it, and every time that his speech produces an effect upon another, that effect reacts upon himself, making his hold upon his truth surer and stronger. But this only if his speech is voluntary and spontaneous. If he is a paid agent both speaker and hearer are affected by that fact. The speaker knows, and knows that the other knows, that he is employed by a mission to speak. He is not delivering his own message because he cannot help it. He is not speaking of Christ, because Christ alone impels him. Do men not ask our paid agents, How much are you paid for this work? And must they not answer? And does not the answer destroy the effect of which we have been thinking?
We cannot possibly open the door to an unrestricted freedom for the expression of the natural instinct and the spiritual grace without opening it also to the expression of self-will; and that we dare not do. That is quite true; but unhappily it is also true that we cannot check the licence of self-will without checking at the same time the zeal which springs from the natural instinct and the grace of the Gospel. We cannot distinguish the activity of the one from the activity of the other. The motives which influence the action of human beings are very mixed. Any one who has tried to analyse his motives for any single action must be conscious of it. Those who exercise authority are not free from mixed motives any more than those who submit to, or resist, the authority. We cannot, then, root up the tares without rooting up the wheat with them. The same action which represses an exhibition of self-will represses also an exhibition of godly zeal. Indeed godly zeal can generally be restrained with a far lighter curb than self-assertion. An exercise of authority sufficiently strong to hold self-will within bounds is often sufficiently strong to suppress zeal altogether. If new converts once receive the impression that they should express the natural instinct to impart a new-found joy, the divine desire for the salvation of others only under direction they are in bonds, cramped and shackled. The zeal dies away, and the Church is robbed of the inspiration which comes from the sense that men are being converted and the Church enlarged no one knows quite how or by whom.
It is our desire, then, to ensure that as we seek to edify the church here in Romania, we avoid doing so from a platform of control. While God may have provided us with the passions, gifts, and experiences that allow us to impart wisdom and knowledge into the community, we are also aware that we enter this community with our own set of biases, faults, and misplaced values. We are as much learners as we are teachers. This is especially true as we have entered a whole new culture and a whole new community, where we not only have new people to grow with, but a new culture to learn. And even if we live here in Romania for the rest of our lives, we know that ultimately it is the Romanian church that must provide the zeal for growing the church. There is no one better to reach a Romanian than another Romanian. We want to do whatever we need to do to identify and acknowledge the Spirit of God as he works, to work diligently as we know how but always with a willingness to lay our plans aside for God’s work, and to encourage the zeal of the national church here rather than discouraging anyone’s faith as unusable by God.
PART 4: OVERBEARING MORALITY