“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:3-7
Have the attitude of Christ Jesus…
The perception of the church, and consequently the effect of its ministry, would be remarkably different if we were only able to do that somehow. We’ve become wrapped up in many other things, most of them related to money and the things of prosperity, and because those things become essential to our identity, or at least, to the identity we seem to want to build, it becomes very easy to ignore specific instructions from the scripture with regard to how the church is to conduct itself in the public arena.
Among my Southern Baptist brethren, airing the dirty laundry in public, an analogy for bringing church conflicts out into the open and writing about them on blogs, has become a means for people to express their frustration with what they perceive as the squelching of their free speech and the conduct of their pastors and church staff that they have deemed to be inappropriate and self-benefitting.
As we approach the late autumn of what has been the first season of the megachurch in Baptist life, the wisdom of following the scriptures closely with regard to the way the church, as a local body of believers, was organized in its infancy is obvious. Small units which met in homes and started new units when the house in which they were meeting was too small to accomodate the group prevented groups from becoming unmanageable in terms of logistics and resources, and also helped the leadership remain humble and Christlike. It also helped them with other things, like discipleship and remaining faithful to the word and the Spirit, since those charged with the responsibility of teaching were able to discern the progress the membership was making.
The lines of authority and responsibility were clear and visible, and members were called to account when they did not follow them. The fact that conflicts would be inevitable was planned for by the Apostles, and by Jesus himself, who outlined the proper, Christian way of dealing with issues that came up between members of the church. Because in its early years, the church was in a precarious position in society, and its reputation among outsiders was essential to its ability to preach the gospel, conflicts were to be resolved within the body, and not in front of civil authorities. The latter could also not make proper rulings with regard to resolutions of conflict without a genuine understanding of the beliefs and principles at work within the body.
In the past few years, conflicts within some of our denomination’s megachurches has not only erupted into the secular press, but it has found its way into the blogosphere via the keyboards of computers belonging to members of the church who use it to call leaders to account for what they believe are improper actions with regard to financial decisions and other areas of church leadership in which it seems they have, as the CEO-in-residence, accorded themselves privileges without consulting the brethren.
The twelve men who spent most of the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry with him were equipped with a lot of wisdom and knowledge to enable them to handle the growth and development of the early church in the days following Pentecost. Even at that, with the Holy Spirit guiding them every step of the way, they were careful and prudent in their actions. The enemy would have loved an opportunity to squelch the church before it really got going, or capitalized on the mis-steps of its leadership. These were men who had seen miracles, who, at the Spirit’s direction, laid their hands on people who were healed through them. At one point, in Lystra, after healing a cripple, the people thought Paul and Barnabas were gods. How tempting it must have been, under such circumstances, to use this miraculous power for their own benefit and perhaps even for their own protection. Rather than living lives of prosperity and privilege, however, they were more than willing to put up with poverty and deprivation, most of them winding up in prison or executed by a hostile government, for putting the gospel message first, and treating everyone with Christlike humility.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), a product of Southern Baptist scholarship, uses the phrase “did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage,” in place of “as something to be grasped.” Think about it. The words to an old gospel song come to mind, “he could have called ten thousand angels” if he had decided that the humility and pain of the cross was too much to bear, or that he, as the Son of God, was too important and prominent to endure something so cruel, and so common.
It seems that most conflict in the church comes about when someone’s agenda is crossed up, or when something interferes with our preferences or our comfort. Most of our arguments relate to how fortunes are spent, or regarding who got the biggest golden parachute, or whether the capital campaign or multiple millions of dollars raised was spent in accordance with the intention of those who gave the money. It is not unreasonable to think that the world sees how little we really regard the scripture when it comes to our own advantages.