Several months ago, I read an insight from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. (This is an excellent book, but I fear that the title alone will turn many away from picking it up, particularly those who (1)don’t believe there is such a thing as spiritual abuse and (2)those who may not have experienced spiritual abuse and think the book to deal only with that subject. The book is written with an audience of both church leadership and lay membership in mind, and deals with a larger picture than just spiritual abuse. Perhaps a misleading title?) This advice was directed primarily at pastors and church leadership, but I found the application far-reaching into the church universal:
We should be willing to learn from others who have tested and lived out their faith in ways God may never choose to lead us through.
“From Moses, we must draw this conclusion: Though people may honor us with a position of leadership, we do not have authority in God’s eyes simply because we are named the pastor, the elder, or the chairman. We are going to have to speak the truth to have authority. We are going to have to be sensitive to the Spirit to have authority. We are going to have to be wise, and seek to know and say what God says clearly and accurately.
Is it possible for any one person to have such a strong record of leading and governing in God’s authority? Yes, but this is rare. Is it possible that a small group of elders can have such a record on behalf of a whole group of people? Yes, but again this is rare. The point here is that it is also possible that God speaks, in some way, by His Spirit, through every man and woman in a given body, contributing various facets of God’s will, so that the leaders can gain an even clearer picture of what God wants to accomplish. In fact, this is what Acts 2 indicates.”
“Is it possible for one person, or one group of leaders, to comprehend all that’s in God’s Word? Not likely. God’s living Word is demonstrated through all who are seeking Him, regardless of “rank.” In some areas of life, many areas perhaps, those in the pews will have more real authority from having tested and lived out God’s Word in situations God will never choose to lead the pastor through. If He is the Shepherd of the flock, then I as a pastor must listen to what He is saying through the flock, remembering that I too am a follower of Him.”
And while the above counsel to church leadership is applicable to all, I think this quote (via Hannah Rice) sums up a same similar in fewer words:
Learning Beyond Our Tradition
“Brothers and sisters, I beseech you: don’t be so locked into your own tradition that you miss lessons God has to teach you through saints beyond your tradition…. It takes the whole church to begin to grasp the totality of Christ.”
~Knox Chamblin (commenting on Eph 3:14-19🙂
A Prayer for Spiritual Strength: “To Comprehend with All the Saints”
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
It is the nature of man to gravitate toward people like himself, and to raise an eyebrow at those who are not like him. (This is easily observed in a crowd of people.) We often drag this into the practice of our Christian beliefs and call it virtue. Yet, learning more about God and seeing His Word and His acts through fresh and varying perspectives of fellow believers is essential as we see more of the breadth and length and height and depth of the fullness of God. Fellowship with “like-minded” believers may indeed be fruitful, but learning to fellowship and learn from fellow believers who may not be exactly like us is where the test of true Gospel unity lies. For we are not one in whether we share nuanced persuasions on pet issues; no, we are one in Christ.
Christian unity is not unity for the sake of unity itself, but unity in the Gospel: unity in Christ. And when our unity stems from the Gospel, we are able to learn from others from whom we might otherwise shy away. Unity is the illogical reaction to our pride and narcissism; divisiveness is our natural fallen bent. How oft we are prone to pursue elitism under the guise of Christian purity, and to push away a fuller knowledge of the fullness of God and the love of Christ. For indeed, “It takes the whole church to begin to grasp the totality of Christ.”.