In the first century many of the churches and would-be believers twisted Paul’s work. Peter states this twice in the texts that we have. Once in his second ministry epilogue – 2 Peter 3.15-16 – and once in Act’s 21.21 where teachers of the Law are not only twisting Paul’s teaching but also have an orderly system of teaching – lit. A catechism1 – drawn up against him and his work. Paul felt this opposition physically, spiritually, emotionally – in every way possible and yet he knew from the beginning that his task was going to be incredibly difficult2.
Niccolo Macheiavelli 1513 has a few favourite quotes of mine: “There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new order of things... Whenever his enemies have the ability to attack the innovator, they do so with the passion of partisans, while the others defend him sluggishly, so the innovator and his party alike are vulnerable.”3 We see this vulnerability in the work of Christ and His apostles. Another quote:
“How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.” Obviously Niccolo’s emphasis is wrong in the second quote but it serves to show how dangerous healthy innovation is for the innovator.
Real leadership is rare within evangelicalism. More often than not a pastor is a facilitator of routines rather than a leader. Leadership is not really needed on Sunday morning, rather just a smooth presentation of each element of the routine. Leadership is not really needed throughout the week, rather just a careful consideration of how to encourage and maintain the individual, family and church routine we are all familiar with. If further teaching is needed to strengthen the routine then he simply applies the global evangelical catechism – although we certainly
don’t call it such. But we certainly do have one, and as leaders [as well as those who pursue theology in any form], we know the evangelical ‘biblical’ arguments that relate to each element of the routine. These are the arguments that can be quoted as firm biblical basis whenever that element of the routine is threatened. Although you most certainly know them all, some of these arguments are:
That we meet together – Heb 10.25
That we meet in a large building – references to ‘sanctuary’ in the OT or ‘house’ in the NT
That we have an order of service and sit in rows – 1 Cor 14.33
The need for a sermon – verses including the English word ‘preaching’
That family’s pray and read the bible at meal times. Deut 6 and Eph 6.1-4
These are powerful ecumenical teachings, the unifying principle of which is the preservation of the routine. Let me illustrate from something a little safer that sits just outside the routines. In evangelicalism nobody [globally] smokes because the proof-text 1 Cor 3.16-17 says our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Take a good look at this passage. In 1 Cor 3 Paul is directly addressing the sects that are forming within the Corinthian Church and particularly each ones orientation to unity / division within their work. Its stretching things very thin to suggest that Paul was addressing such behaviour as smoking... So why do we [everyone globally] use this verse to underpin our teaching related to smoking? – Simply because we cannot find any other scripture which will say what we want it to say to preserve our stance on smoking. If it could be proved that Paul was clearly not talking about smoking here, would the church change its mind about the subject? To be clear, my purpose is not to advocate smoking, but rather to show the depth of instability within the ‘catechism’ of evangelicalism. Through such a stance the 20% of Australians who are addicted to smoking believe there is no possibility that they could ever be saved. Are we so certain that the Bible forbids smoking that we keep such an insurmountable stumbling block to the gospel in place even though our theology on such is an embarrassment to hermeneutical judgement? This is the strength of the teaching.
Let me say 2 things, 1: Clearly we twist these texts away from the original intent of the author with the purpose of keeping the routine of evangelicalism in place. 2: I know that even what I have written here, would likely be enough to make believers wary as they read on. This is unlikely to be because I am in error of Scripture – in fact most would note what I’ve written as biblically plausible – but more because if that scripture is not linked to that tradition then believers might just start smoking and who could stop them? And if we begin to show the error in theology under other elements – particularly of the routine – then that would undoubtedly produce a strong feeling of foundationlessness which is simply too great to bear for the vast majority of believers. The highest level of righteousness and wisdom is required to innovate and carefully implement ‘a new order of things’. But regardless, the qualms or anxiety that you may have just felt are inevitable if we are to allow innovation – or real leadership for that matter. A far more valuable pathway is to teach what is right rather than that which is wrong.
Now we have clearly identified that practical discipleship revolves around the routine and that one strong agenda of evangelicalism is the preservation of the routine through fragmented but catechetical teaching – more in the catholic ‘rote’ sense of the word than the true. Now we have the greater task of clearly identifying the infinitely more powerful agenda and practical instruction that Christ and the Apostles taught – essentially identifying and implementing Paul’s dynamic ‘catechism’. Should this be possible – and I’m convinced of biblical
‘great commission’ necessity that it is – the principles surfaced would be those that the Apostles outline to undergird every contemporary situation within the mission of the first century and the twenty first century; one enduring eternal agenda; one righteous and empowering core set of principles. The truth is, once we see beyond our routine, these untwisted principles are so very simple to grasp, and so powerful that Satan’s main strategy is to hide them deep under tradition - once unearthed they will again turn the world upside down.
Paul’s chief practical agenda that he received from Christ was that every believer in Christ must be vitally involved in and learn to contribute to the churches as of highest priority. His reasoning is simple – Jesus was willing to utterly give Himself for her4, we likewise glorify Him by sacrificing our time, energy, money etc. to do the same – to ‘wash her with the water of the word’ and to strengthening her as His ‘rich and glorious inheritance5’ in perfect obedient to her Lord. This is the unwavering example of all of the Apostles. According to the Apostles outworking of the great commission in Acts and the Epistles, it is the Church rather than individuals who must be taught everything that Christ commanded. According to Rom 12.1-8 it is each believer’s spiritual responsibility to renew their minds about how to offer their unique strength to the body of Christ6 which is a very different way of thinking to that of the world. This is what Paul means by his use of the words ‘in Christ’7. God’s eternal agenda for The Church is a stunningly powerful inspiration for each uniquely cherished individual – each of whom has been given a distinctive contribution that the body [local national and global] needs so must be taught the principles necessary to continually offer their contribution in a richly rewarding and sustainable [intergenerational] manner. The 3rd paper in this series will outline ways and methods for introducing these principles.
Innovation therefore, must come from learning these at all levels – learning together as the churches8, so that as we move, we move together. The goal of this learning is that we would move in a unified manner, not only as individuals, nor only as individual families, nor individual churches, nor only as individual church networks, but as whole cultures and whole civilisations9 of churches that are again learning to keep hold10 of everything that Christ has commanded. In learning together we have a pathway to effectiveness. In learning together we have a pathway to unity – not only with one another, but also with Jesus Christ Himself11.
If further teaching is needed to strengthen the routine then we can simply apply the global evangelical catechism – although we certainly don’t call it such.
Innovation therefore, must come from learning Paul’s principles at all levels – learning together as the churches
1 Katechethesan / katechentai Acts 21.21 and 21.24. I think it is the twisted questions and categories of this Jewish catechism that Paul systematically straightens out throughout the first 11 chapters of Romans. Rom 3.5-8 esp 8.
2 Col 1.24 – a verse that we understand on the surface but simply doesn’t fit evangelical theology – it obviously fitted Paul’s.
3 Quoted from ‘Diffusion of Innovation” P1. Everett M Rogers – a very insightful work!
4 Eph 5.25, 30-33
5 Eph 5.26-27, 1.18-23
6 Rom 12.1 Bodies is plural, living sacrifice is singular. 12.4-5 emphasise the same again, 6-8 explains it more completely.
7 See ReDiscovering the Churches – Essay 2 of 4 part mini series - How the Churches give shape to my identity. Posted here Ai.org.au/blog
8 Eph 3.14-21
9 The Clash of civilisations – Huntington, is worth reading on current global government and organisation.
10 Matt 28.18-20 ‘Obey’ or ‘Observe’ is tereo lit. ‘Keep hold of’ ‘to retain’ - e.g. to keep a prisoner secure.