About 1 1/2 years ago, I wrote a post called “More ready to submit than to impose.” The post was in response to a book by Lesslie Newbigin. It seems that in our current “church order,” leader impose on the freedoms of others. Meanwhile, Newbigin says it should be just the opposite. Anyway, I thought this would be a fitting end to our week-long discussion on spiritual gifts and serving others.
I recently read Lesslie Newbigin’s book The Household of God (Friendship Press, 1954). KÃ¤rkkÃ¤inen describes Newbigin’s ecclesiology as a “missionary ecclesiology” – “The new conciliar understanding of mission is based on the idea that the essential nature of the church is missionary, rather than mission being a task given to the church. (Velli-Matti KÃ¤rkkÃ¤inen, Introduction to Ecclesiology, Downers Grove: IVP, 2002, pg. 151).
However, Newbigin does not begin his book with mission. Instead, he begins with the essence or nature of the church:
We are to be speaking about the Church, and it is necessary at the outset to say that this means a society of human beings, whichâ€”so far as those still living in the flesh are concernedâ€”is a visible community among the other human communities. The question, â€˜What are its boundaries?,â€™ is part of the question we have to discuss, but just for that reason it is important to make clear that we are speaking of a society which has discernible boundaries. We are not speaking of an abstract noun, or of an invisible platonic ideaâ€¦ We are called to recognize and join ourselves to Godâ€™s visible congregation here on earth. This congregation is truly known only to faith, because it is constituted in and by the Holy Spirit. (19-20)
According to Newbigin, the Spirit plays an essential role in the constitution, nature, and task of the church. The Spirit primarily functions through his abiding presence:
The Holy Spirit is now [in contrast with what was described in the OT] no more an occasional visitant to a favored individual, but the abiding and indwelling principle of life in a fellowship. The supreme gift of the Spirit is not the spectacular power by which an individual may gain preeminence, but the humble and self-effacing love by which the body is built up and knit together. (115)
Finally, the Spirit also functions during the meeting of the church, not only through the gifts that he gives to those he indwells, but also – and primarily – through the manner of life of the believers who are meeting together:
In the building up of the common life of the body there will be need for the due operation of the principles both of order and of freedom. Where these clash with one another there will be room for honest difference of opinion, and there will need for a common seeking of the Spiritâ€™s guidance. But the mark of the man in Christ will be that he is more eager to claim freedom for his brother than for himself, and more ready to submit himself to good order than to impose it on his brother. In any case the fundamental principle will always be the love which seeks not its own good, but the common good of the body. (116)
I believe this is one of the most best explanations of the work of the Spirit among the body of Christ while the church meets! When the church meets, if each individual – or any one particular individual – is seeking to exercise his or her own spiritual gifts without first considering and giving preference to other present, then this is a clear indication that there is a lack of “a common seeking of the Spirit’s guidance.”
It seems that the mark of the church today is that some people have freedom to exercise their gifts – and are even required to by the church – while others do not have that freedom. It also seems that very little “submission” is done when it comes to spiritual gifts. Certain people exercise their gifts and impose those gifts on others every time the church meets. Thus, some claim and even demand freedom for themselves, while imposing “order” on others at the same time. This is backwards!
In fact, I believe that the common, traditional way the church meets – one or a few people exercising their gifts week after week while the others watch or listen – is detrimental to the spiritual health of the church. In order for us to seek the “common good of the body” we (especially leaders – who are supposed to be mature) must submit to others and allow the Spirit to work through them – even if their “offering” is less than “excellent”.
Read and ponder this sentence from Newbigin one more time: “But the mark of the man in Christ will be that he is more eager to claim freedom for his brother than for himself, and more ready to submit himself to good order than to impose it on his brother.” May God change us – especially us leaders – so that we are more ready to submit to others than to impose ourselves on others!