Thursday, August 8, 2013

Truth in Tension.

Most leaders know and love the promise in Isaiah 54 where God says, ‘Enlarge the place of your dwelling, for you will spread out to the right and the left.’ It speaks of expansion, growth, and multiplication. However, many ignore the little precursor to the promise, in which God counsels, “Lengthen your chords, strengthen your stakes. ” Using the metaphor of a tent, God is saying that for enlargement  to take place in a sustainable way, we will need longer tent chords and  stronger stakes.
In other words,  greater growth will require greater tension.

Andy Stanley, alludes to this in his book Deep and Wide. “Most situations in church are not problems to solve. They are tensions to manage.” When leaders have an aversion to tension, they tend towards simplistic solutions to any situation that challenges the status quo. They try and resolve that which is not meant to be resolved. This invariably means that they have a smaller tent or sphere of influence. The idea of healthy tension can apply to finance, vision, relationships and administration. Growth places a healthy tension upon all of these. But I want to look specifically at managing  truth in tension as a precursor to expansion.

Not all truth is truth in tension. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are martyred every year for their faith in Jesus. There may not be many truths that are ‘hills to die on’, but there should be some that we are so deeply convicted about that we say like Martin Luther and countless others, “Here I stand I can do no other. The 5 Solas of the Reformation are a good place to start. Sola Fide. We are justified by faith alone. We do not hold faith in tension with good works when it comes to salvation. We are saved by faith for good works, not by good works. Sola Gracia. We are saved by grace alone. We do not hold grace in tension with the law. We treasure grace because we know that we are law breakers. Sola Scriptura. The Holy Scriptures are God’s inspired self- revelation. Although He also reveals Himself through nature, and culture and reason, the Scriptures tower over every other revelation as God’s final authority for all life and doctrine. Sola Christo. All of Scripture points ultimately to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.  He is not held in tension with any other philosophy or deity. He is all-sufficient and all-supreme. Sola Deo Gloria. Although God has crowned man with glory and honor, His glory is all-surpassing, and any glory that creation possesses, ultimately reflects the glory of the Creator.

As I said, not all truth is truth in tension.
There should be some truths which are hills to die on.

But most truth is truth in tension. It is not simply a stake we hammer into the ground. It is managing the tension between too seemingly opposing truths. As we manage this tension, we create a safe and sane space in which people can live with freedom and conviction. This is a key to expansion.
There are many leaders who are people of great conviction, but who refuse to manage truth in tension. This is ultimately an enemy to growth and expansion.

Here 7 truths in tension which we are trying to manage well as a community.

1. Grace and Truth
Jesus came full of grace and truth. It wasn’t a little bit of both. It was full doses of both. In fact, grace makes no sense unless we have heard the truth that we have sinned and are in need of a Savior.
We want to be kind and generous in the way we think and speak about others whether they agree or disagree with us, while also clearly communicating what we believe and why we believe it.
Building around truth without grace leads to condemnation. Building around grace without truth leads to license; what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace.
Grace and truth call people to repent, but allow them space and time to work out their repentance. Grace and Truth allow people to belong before they believe or know how to behave. They call everyone to enjoy the pleasure of God in Jesus Christ, even while they are in the process of becoming like Him. Living in Grace and Truth will mean less policies and more conversations.

2.Faithfulness and flexibility– we want to be faithful guardians of an unchanging message about the person and work of Jesus, and the need for personal salvation and sanctification, while also adapting ways of worship, teaching, being church and doing mission according to culture and context. We also want to be faithful stewards of what God has done in the past in our community, while leaning into the new things that God is doing.

3. Charismatic and Evangelistic
We want to be a community reliant on the power and leading of the Holy Spirit so that we can be bold witnesses of Jesus in order that people may be saved. Although we recognize that the Holy Spirit’s gifts are also for the encouragement of the Church, we will be will be watchful and willing to give up  cultural charismatic vocabulary and traditions that may in some way hinder the expansion of the Gospel.

4. Communal and Missional
We want to see the church become a missionary movement to love and reach the lost, to care for the poor and to bring justice to our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and nations, while also being a grace-filled community in which people can find relationship, healing, and hope. We do not want to neglect the gathering of the believers in our quest to reach the world. “After we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” Francis Schaeffer

5. Now and Not Yet - we want to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and to see that confirmed by miraculous signs and wonders, while also ministering grace to all, knowing that suffering will be part of life until
Christ returns.

6. Transcendence & Presence – We want to live lives that celebrate God’s awesome power, transcendent majesty and sovereign work, while at the same time experiencing his intimate presence and power. We also want to be in the world but not of it,  like Jesus, who ‘took on flesh and dwelt among us,’ but who was without sin. We know that true religion is to look after widows and orphans but also to avoid being stained by the world.

7. Unity and Diversity – we want to maintain the unity of the Spirit while we attain to the unity of the faith. While there are some truths which are foundational to the life of our community,  many are at different places on the continuum of these truths in tension. Unity does not equal conformity. It simply requires that we all keep learning, moving and growing in humility as we follow Christ together.

(Acknowledgement to New Wine Network and Andy Stanley’s ‘Deep and Wide’ for some of these.)

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