We have been in the middle of a series stemming from church split and division in five congregations where I have friends involved. The last couple of posts I have been trying to outline a biblical understanding of church and especially pastoral leadership by looking at Ephesians chapter. 4.
So far from this chapter we have learned that God we have learned that pastors and other church leaders are “gifts” from God to the body to equip the body to live a life worthy of its calling, by living in unity and growing in maturity. Church leaders are the “ligaments” of the body that provide stability and flexibility while holding the members together so that the body can build itself up in love. And that church leaders function as “ligaments” by “speaking the truth in love”.
As I wrote in the last post, “speaking the truth in love” is the primary call of the pastor. We pastors are to teach the body how to “speak the truth in love” so we can “grow up in every way” into Christ who is the head of the body. As we speak the truth in love the body grows stronger, more unified, works properly, promotes growth within itself and builds “itself” up. So, what does “speaking the truth in love” mean?
Last post I told you what I think it doesn’t mean, and most specifically it doesn’t pit love and truth against each other. Nor does it mean what most people think, which is “to speak the truth I have found nicely” (Emphasis here both on “my” truth and on being “nice”).
In his book The Closing of the American Mind, Harold Bloom wrote that for a generation now Americans have become so mired in the value of “openness” that we now can’t express any conviction of truth. We see the mistakes of the past based on dogmatic and wrong-headed expressions of xenophobia, racism, chauvinism and the like and we declare that the only way to live is not to think that we are right or can grasp the truth, but that there really is no truth. And since there really is no truth all that matters is getting along with myriads of people who can’t agree on anything important.
What Bloom reveals is that in the absence of genuine differences and distinctions we don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate respect, humility and conviction, but instead the prevailing ethic of the day is to be “nice.”
In many ways, I believe that both the relativism of our culture and “ethic of niceness” have become so prevalent in the church that we have lost the ability to “speak the truth in love” to each other.
We become mired in insecurity and passivity. We feel the effects of a vacuum of shared convictions and deep relationships.
Often that vacuum is then filled by strong leaders whose personality becomes the mediator of “truth” to a congregation that is unable to evaluate, correct or confront with biblical truth in required love. Before long the pastor becomes the “head” of the church and not the “ligament” and the unity and strength of the church is measured by adherence and loyalty to the pastor and not to the truth of the head, Christ.
This is especially dangerous in churches where the pastor is more dynamic, charismatic and perceived as being clearly trustworthy in his or her proclamation of the truth. Even pastors who are personally faithful to the truth of the gospel, if they do not equip the body to know the truth, can lead the body becomes overly dependent on the pastor and the church can divide over the pastor.
While this problem was evident even in the first century, it is exactly the opposite of the New Testament commendation of church leadership. In Ephesians 4 “speaking the truth in love” is not a vague admonition but a very specific exhortation to speak the truth of the gospel (v. 4-5) so that the body will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (v. 15) and “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming (v. 14). (Notice also that the truth here is not “my” truth, but instead an adherence to what is agreed upon as “the” truth.)
In the New Testament, Paul is not lauded for his dynamism or charisma (in fact he must defend himself from charges that he is not a strong enough leader—see 2 Cor 11:5-6). Instead he insists that his ministry should be measured by its adherence to the truth of God (Galatians 1:6-9, Acts 17:11).
In short, the first job of pastors is to insure that the body knows the truth of the head, Christ and will therefore be able to confront any other teacher or leader who brings different doctrine or manipulation through personal charisma.
But, notice also that “the truth” does not lead to a stagnant, rigid body that is so mired in “holding fast” and “holding on” that it is unable to flex or move. Instead like a healthy body that is functioning properly, the muscles and bones have “strength” “alignment” and full “range of motion” to be able perform almost without thinking. When pastors have equipped the body with the truth of the head, then the body is more free to move, adapt, correct, respond and extend itself. When the body is aligned in the truth of the gospel it is freer to function well, almost effortlessly with every nerve and muscle receiving instantaneous messages from the head and moving with ease and grace.
But for the body to function effectively and grow healthy it takes more than just a commitment to the truth, the truth needs to be communicated “in love” and that so often misunderstood phrase (and the wisdom, discernment and maturity that it requires, and the need for pastors to equip the body in it) will be our focus tomorrow.
Indeed, understanding the “in love” part may be even more important than the “the truth” part in many of our churches.