Go simple with me for a minute or two. Let's just agree that God did ordain three institutions to govern his world. You know, the family, the state, and the church. Let's also agree that "the human element", that is, sinful mankind, has botched them up. We've re-defined them according to our cultural whims and steered them in directions that suit our warped preferences and not his. As a result, they're all in a down time, distant from the intentions of the one who instituted them. Since this space is mine let's limit the discussion today to two of them, government and the church.
We humans are so obsessed with separating them. But, honestly, the one who created them and ordained them to provide guidance over life also put the sun and the moon in place to govern time. They're not the same but are similar. So, separating them may be one of those tasks that humans cannot facilitate. Take the state of government in the United States of America right now. Washington is in an uproar. Like most governments it moves slowly, runs in circles, and really gets very little done. Yes, of course, they manufacture reams of paper, crank out laws and procedures and legalease by notebooks full, and put on a pretty good party every night. But, the jokes about bureaucracy are usually on point. Most of us know that the gears of this mammoth machine just plod along at a routine pace and are in a comfort zone of sorts that is off limits to us common folk. Then, without warning, the business man Donald Trump gets elected by rank and file voters because we want the government to function as God intended. As a result Washington is turned on it's ear. Draining the swamp is serious work and this business man seems to know how to make it happen. As you might guess, the bureaucrats and professional politicians and their media mouthpieces hate it. They liked it best when none of us knew that was going on inside the Beltway. Now, their tactics are on the news every night, or some form of it. Enter gridlock.
Forgive the comparison, but it reminds me of a lot of churches I know. They've been in their own little comfort zone for many years. The budget functions, committees keep the action moving in the familiar circles, the numbers are declining slowly or at best holding their own, and they're pretty much settled into a life that suits them. That is, until the pastor retires, moves, gets fired, or dies. Then, this new, usually younger version arrives and wants to get the church back on mission again. There's a new sense of mission awareness, budgeting with a purpose, old worn by-laws reviewed and re-written, the Doxology removed from the order of worship, and a lot of fine-tuning to re-state or re-capture the passions that once lit everybody's fire. And, a lot of folk, especially the gatekeepers of the church, just don't like this newly discovered vision and outreach. So, the protests of dissent throw the place out of sync. No, they don't break windows or set fires or damage property, or even blockade the worship services and teaching times. It's a more passive aggressive sense of disorder, like withholding offerings, or boycotting teaching sessions, or activating the church grapevine.
It's called, in either of these two distant kin, loss of mission. In government it's circular motion of bureaucracy. I love the definition Parkinson's Law of 1000 attaches to the bureaucratic mess that governs the nation, most states, and even local governments. It is that, an enterprise employing more than 1000 people becomes a self-perpetuating empire, creating so much internal work that it no longer needs any contact with the outside world. Sounds a lot like Washington to me and maybe a church or two or several hundred. And, politicians? They're elected by the voting population to represent them. More to the point, they're elected, spend half of their tenure stealing all they can, and the other half of their term getting re-elected. At church, mission has become the simple act of keeping everyone on the roll happy by keeping everything the same as it was.
In a brilliant article at www.billygraham.org (October 3,2013) John Stonestreet simplifies the role of government in our lives. He wrote, "Chuck Colson summarized the role of the state as preserving order and promoting justice. When the government oversteps this role, the other important institutions in society—especially the church and the family—are squeezed out of their proper role. Citizens suffer as a result, because the government cannot do what the family and the church are designed to do." The strength of this statement for me in the inter-dependent role of the three institutions ordained by God, especially government and the church. What is more, how often these institutions are out of sync with their intended purposes because their purpose has shifted to maintaining what they have become. And, the uproar that happens in each when someone from outside the system triers to restore them to the purpose for which they were created.
The politicians are in a mess right now because someone unschooled in their system has invaded it and is trying to get it back in order. Just like what happens so often in a church that is adrift. No, they're not the same. But, speaking of comfort zones they are kin. The prayers for times such as this for me include---
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and
thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions,
that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his
calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,
so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him,
according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, ESV
The boundaries of comfort zones are hard to break. Let's pray for the spiritual courage and direction from on high as we endure these challenging times.