How Far For The Pendulum Now?

Wednesday, 07 September 2005 11:24

Editor's note: First published in 2005, this article remains a relevant read.

The pendulum in the International Churches of Christ swung to some extremes of overreaction in various places. Where will it land?

 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes -- Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth -- John 1:14

Our fellowship suffered a firestorm in 2003. The deadwood of unresolved relationships had accumulated and was choking out the good that God had done through our movement called the International Churches of Christ. A widely distributed internet letter was one of the most obvious sparks that set our forest ablaze. Most of us are glad the fire is out, but many are exhausted emotionally from the firefighting.

Whenever any group experiences a trauma like the one that our fellowship has suffered, the first impulse is to overreact -- and to overcorrect. We readily use a singular graphic illustration to express this universally human phenomena: the pendulum swing. Shortly after the match ignited our deadwood and the fire was rapidly spreading consuming even healthy trees in its path, it occurred to me that I had seen this before. In fact, it described many of the church experiences I had growing up. Then it occurred to me that I had studied this all in church history. Finally it dawned on me that the Bible was full of incredible visions of unity among God's people and horrible examples of division. Of course, the Bible revealed it and said it much more eloquently and thousands of years before I discovered it. Solomon perfectly describes it in Ecclesiastes 7.

Overreaction is much more human than seeking the righteousness of God. Overreaction requires no spiritual depth. In fact, we have experienced first hand how both ends of the pendulum swing are loaded with sinful landmines of the tongue and the heart. As a movement we have always committed ourselves to following God's Word as our authority. We have told hundreds of thousands of people that we will change ourselves when we see something in the Bible that we are not doing or being. We currently have an incredible opportunity to "watch our life and doctrine" and to walk it like we talk it. The pendulum is swinging back from the extremes of overreaction. How far will we swing it now?

The Principle:

The man who fears God will avoid all extremes -- Proverbs 7:18. We have an unusual opportunity to change history.

The Questions:

1) Will we be humble enough to admit and understand our overreactions?

2) Will we be mature, wise and humble enough to stop swinging the pendulum to our advantage, opinion, and position?

A few years ago the smoldering, then flaming deadwood of unresolved relationships that I personally saw convicted me that I had emphasized truth over grace in my life and my teaching. I went on a search and was "totally blown away" that I had missed an incredible truth about the grace of God. The Holy Spirit himself described and defined Jesus as being "full of grace and truth." He is not a balance of grace and truth. He is not a schizophrenic swing between grace and truth. He is not a reaction to grace or truth. Jesus is full of both grace and truth. He is the perfect combination of grace and truth. If I am committed to being like Jesus, then I am committed to becoming like him. Not overreacting to one or the other.

This had such a profound impact on my relationship with God, I named my column "Grace and Truth." I sign many of my letters, "Grace and Truth." Why am I telling you this? Not to draw attention to me. But to draw my attention and your attention to Jesus, the way the truth and the life, the one filled with the Holy Spirit, the only way to the Father. Aren't we all striving for this:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified -- 1 Corinthians 2:2

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ -- 1 Corinthians 3:11

The unique opportunity at this hour:

  • God blessed us with disciples in over 150 countries who became Christians because they made Jesus Lord, died to their old life truly repenting of their sins, were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells in them. They know what they believe and have shared their faith with many more than they ever thought possible.

  • All of our top leaders resigned and repented publicly. Almost all of them stayed within our fellowship and are serving in some capacity. When have you ever heard of that happening in any organization? When I grew up, I don't remember ever hearing an elder or preacher apologize publicly, let alone admit a sin. Many disappeared, but no apologies.

  • Those still in our churches have had their faith refined by fire. They are still here for a reason. For many their faith is still weak from the heat. Others have a more purified heart, but are looking for direction and fellowship.

  • As we now form our convictions of where we go from here, our temptation will be to push the pendulum to our liking. We have an opportunity to learn from history -- our own and all the way back to Cain and Abel.

  • Will we now define ourselves by overreacting or by acting for righteousness? We will either join the ash heaps of history or we will stand out like a light set on a hill. We have a choice.

The Pendulum Swing At the Beginning of Our Movement

We must own the fact that many in our movement taught and practiced things that were reactions to others before us. These are broad general illustrations, so they do not apply in every situation, nor is this a complete list. Please read with wisdom, discernment and maturity.

  • Educated ministers with weak faith in Scriptures -TO - Weakly educated ministers with strong faith in Scriptures
  • Weak leadership in traditional churches -TO - Overly strong leadership
  • Elders ruling churches and few evangelists -TO - Evangelists ruling churches and few elders
  • Evangelism: a gift, not a purpose -TO - Evangelism:our only purpose and essential for salvation
  • Church divisions acceptable and excused -TO - Church unity is desirable at all costs.
  • Lukewarm commitment without conviction -TO - Radical commitment without wisdom
  • Christians uninvolved in each other's lives -TO - Disciples overly involved in each other's lives
  • Hardly any accountability -TO - Too often oppressive accountability
  • Sin not addressed, church discipline absent -TO - Everything is because of sin. Discipline abused.
  • Little urgency or love for the lost -TO - Compulsion to evangelize the world in one generation
  • Lack of organization hindered the gospel -TO - Over organization hindered the hearts
  • Independent, uncooperative spirit -TO - Churches and leaders not trusted as they matured
  • Group leadership afraid of a leader -TO - Individual leadership afraid of a group

The Pendulum Swing At the Transition of Our Movement

We cannot escape God's truth that we reap what we sow. Our pendulum swing to one extreme resulted in the reaction of others pushing the pendulum to another extreme. I recently heard one of our former leaders confess this list of extremes. (If you listen carefully you can just hear the swish of the pendulum):

  • Idolizing leadership -TO - Strike Down the Leaders
  • Culture of silence -TO - Open Forums -- confess each others sins
  • Leaders harsh toward the weak -TO - The weak harsh towards the leaders
  • Psychiatry and psychology no answers -TO - Psychiatry, psychology have all the answers
  • Guilt about our salvation -TO - "Freedom in Christ" abused -- no guilt over sin
  • Bound opinions -TO - No discipling, no one another relationships
  • Over-extended women with children in ministry -TO - No women's ministry
  • Focus on baptisms -- not making disciples -TO - No evangelism -- excuse "God bears the fruit"
  • Leaders over discipling outside churches -TO - No overseeing leaders among churches
  • Preachers made mistakes -TO - Strong preachers not wanted

Each of us will answer to God for how we swing the pendulum.

Did you react differently when you found out who made those comments? If those who reacted against Kip and other leaders by pushing the pendulum the other way will be as honest and committed to the center of God's Word, God will be glorified by our unity. (John 17:23) Chances are all of us are in the spectrum of the pendulum somewhere. Are we pushing for reaction or centering on the Word of God?

Consider adding these overreactions to this list:

  • Truth -- with hardly any grace -TO - Grace with little stand for the truth
  • Works without faith -TO - Faith without works
  • Love the church more than God -TO - Love God, but not the church
  • Leaders don't respect the members -TO - Members don't respect the leaders
  • Lead by command instead of faith and love -TO - Lead by fear instead of faith and love
  • Sacrifice without heart -TO - Heart without sacrifice

Where Is The Cross In All This?

Where is the cross of Jesus in any of this reacting and extremism? Many confuse commitment with extremism. Jesus called extremists to be his disciples -- from the petulant Peter to the Sons of Thunder to Simon the zealot to doubting Thomas -- and betrayer Judas. No one was closer to God than Jesus. No one was more committed to God than Jesus. No one has radically changed the world than Jesus. But Jesus was not an extremist. "The man who fears God will avoid all extremes." No one feared God more in the right way. That's why Jesus defined himself by his life and actions, not his reactions.

Was Jesus An Either/Or Thinker?

We put ourselves in a terrible bind when we think of Jesus as an extemist. Then everything must look like an "either/or" situation. When we read the gospels we see that he spent much of his ministry dealing with people who tried to trap him by either/or thinking. He even turned it back on them when he told them he would answer them when they answered his question. Jesus was not "grace" or "truth"; he is "grace and truth." Jesus is both/and.

Much of the pain, death and destruction that is manmade today is caused by "either/or" thinking. Consider the Middle East conflict, etc. Our first thought is that God and the Devil define the two ends of the extreme spectrum of life. Actually that type thinking gives the Devil way too much credit and empowers him. God told us that we are "more than conquerors" in Jesus Christ and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. The actual battle between two truths: we are sinners and God loved us enough to die for us. Both/and are the secret to the power of the gospel. Many people can quote Romans 3:23 or Romans 3:24. God is found in the power of the combination of them.

Can I be a radical Christian and still not be an extremist? In man's eyes: probably never. In God's eyes: he said both, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." and "The man who fears God will avoid all extremes. (Ecclesiastes 7:18) Apparently he means both die to myself, taking up my cross daily and avoid all extremes.

Exceptions To The Pendulum Principle:

Here are two things that defy the pendulum principle: pride and humility. Pride reacts to pride by producing pride. Humility reacts to humility to produce more humility. Pride is humiliated. Humility is humbled. It remains to be seen if each of us will react in pride or humility as we move on to the next stage in our history.

As The Smoke Clears

The smoke from the fires are going out. What will we see when the smoke clears? Our structure burned early and now many relationships were the casualty of the firestorm. Some of our churches were apparently built with hay and straw and others have stood because they were built with gold, silver and costly stones. (1 Corinthians 3)

Our fellowship is already beginning to divide into camps and loyalties according to people and conferences and, in some case, nationalities and languages. Is this of the Spirit or is it of the flesh? Over the next several months God will move the hearts of many to seek unity. Our flesh will tell us to react. The Spirit of God will tell us to act. Our tongues will betray the thoughts of our hearts.

Can we radically repent and radically commit to God without overreacting? Jesus did. He is the one who is calling us to follow his example and teach it in every church.

One year, five years and ten years from now, what will we see as we look back? Will we see that we were men and women of God who avoided all extremes? Will we be blaming others for "causing us to react"? Will we be feeling guilty for unresolved conflict we create now? Will we be apologizing for how we quenched the Spirit and gave vent to our flesh? My prayer is that we will learn from the mistakes of our past -- and have an entirely new set of mistakes to apologize for.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it -- Hebrews 12:11

As disciples today, let's commit to God and to each other that we refuse to react and resolve to act as disciples of Jesus. Let's grow up and get rid of jealousy and quarreling. Let's quit fighting each other and get back to fighting Satan. Let's add wisdom and mature love to our passion.

Let's stop the pendulum when it is full of grace and truth.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth -- John 1:14

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?"
For it is not wise to ask such questions.

Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing
and benefits those who see the sun.

Wisdom is a shelter
as money is a shelter,
but the advantage of knowledge is this:
that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.

Consider what God has done:
Who can straighten
what he has made crooked?

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, a man cannot discover
anything about his future.

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
a righteous man perishing in his righteousness,
and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.

Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?

Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?

It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

Ecclesiastes 7:8-18

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