Sunday, July 20, 2008

Loving Not Conforming

Submission allows us the joy of partnering with others in the journey. It lets us share our insights without controlling one another's actions. Unfortunately, however, more abuse travels through the body of Christ under the guise of submission than any other admonition, often making believers a battered group of individualists rather than people who can effectively help others.

Some church leaders mistakenly teach that submission demands that believers capitulate to their leadership. Since institutions need conformity to survive, the demand for submission is an easy tool for keeping people in line. Throughout church history, people's submission to Jesus Christ has been questioned if they disagreed with the established leadership of the day.

Whenever institutional needs conflict with relational priorities, it is usually the relationships that suffer. That is why relationships among many Christian groups can be so fickle. If someone asks the wrong question or points out a problem others want to ignore, an individual can move from being a wonderful gift one moment to a dangerous rebel the next.

If the church is going to demonstrate the love of Christ in this generation, we are going to have to find a way to make institutional needs a distant second to healthy and supportive relationships. I know many people who already live that way. The godliest people I know don't jump into the power plays that dominate congregational battles; instead, they step aside, seeing institutional power as insignificant in comparison with God's larger purpose. They know submission is not a power game. It never asks anyone to subordinate his or her will to another. While Hebrews 13:17 tells us to yield to those in leadership, Paul uses an entirely different word when he invites believers to the joy of mutual submission. Leaders who demand that others submit to them are usually asking for unquestioned obedience, and ultimately it is always destructive. Submission at the hands of those bent on using others to fulfill their agenda is like a kitchen knife in the hands of a four-year-old - a powerful tool becomes a terrifying danger.

One evening I joined two elders who wanted me to meet with them and a woman in our fellowship who had recently separated from her husband. Immediately they began to pressure her. "You must let him move back in," the elders told her. "Divorce is always wrong."

Linda, the wife, was gracious in response. "I don't think you know what's really going on. I have sought the Lord about this and shared it with some other believers closest to me. They believe I'm doing the right thing."

One elder, Jeff, began to argue with Linda, invoking God's judgment if she did not obey. I stopped him in mid-tirade and turned to her and said, "Linda, you know that no one has the right to demand that you deny your conscience. I know you love the Lord and are trying to follow him. If what Jeff has said is God's heart for you, I have no doubt God will show you. If not, feel free to toss it." I prayed for God to lead her with his wisdom and courage despite what others thought, and we excused ourselves.

Outside Jeff tore into me, telling me that I had defied God's will. I told him that I disagreed, that she obviously was walking this out with other believers, and that it was not his place to demand her obedience. Months later we found out what she had chosen not to tell us that evening. Her husband had made some sexual overtures to her children from a previous marriage and had persistently refused her offer to get counseling. She had separated to protect them.

(Pages 135-137 authentic relationships - discover the lost art of "one anothering"



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