by Bruce M. Burkett
Standing Together for our Generation
Bruce M. Burkett | April 12, 2018
What happened? This is often the question that comes to my mind when I consider the condition of so many young leaders in my generation (and many in the generation before mine as well). It seems like every time I get on social media my feed is flooded with reports of high school friends, fellow Bible college graduates/attendees, and ministry colleagues who have gone hook, line, and sinker for some trendy, new philosophy of ministry.
While, on one hand, it would be easy to get frustrated, I have had to pause before getting too worked up. Because, while it seems like so many are jumping on the bandwagon of compromise, I also hear another group chirping their agenda of which I want no part. This is the group that also demands loyalty to a man-centered system of ministry. Some call it the “old paths”; but, sadly, more often than not it really is nothing more than just a philosophy of ministry centered around a strong, dominant leader. And, if your ministry does not fit into their cookie-cutter version of what it should be, all of the sudden, you are a compromiser.
As I sit here considering both sides (some might call them the “right” and the “left” of our movement), I begin to realize that neither are where I want to be. Certainly, there are aspects of both groups that are good; but there are also aspects of both groups that are very negative and blatantly wrong. As I consider where God wants me to stand, the place I am being led to is somewhere in-between — a place where, like Jesus, there is a balance of grace and truth.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
What’s the answer? Some tell me to get involved with both “groups” in order to keep a good balance. Yet, this seems to be a very dangerous mindset; for, it is the people I associate myself with that I will eventually identify myself with.
“He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20)
As I have prayerfully been seeking out this answer, the Lord has directed my attention to the epistle of Galatians. This epistle, unlike any other epistle God used Paul to write, was addressed to the “churches of Galatia.” It was not written to one specific church, but to many. The reason was because the issues that were being addressed had not just affected one church, but many throughout that region. (Much like this issue is affecting so many churches today.)
Paul quickly identified the two primary issues the Galatian churches were facing.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)
The issue was “another gospel”; yet the issue was also “not another.” At first glance, this passage seems very confusing. But consider what is meant by these two phrases.
The first phrase “another gospel” is the Greek heteron meaning another of a different kind. In this statement, Paul was speaking of the legalism that had infiltrated so many of the Galatian churches. This legalism required believers to live by a particular set of rules in order to be saved or spiritual. It was a religious system of works-sanctification and works-assurance (i.e., “If you live this particular way, then you are saved or spiritual, but if you don’t you are not.”) This was a false gospel. It’s aim was flesh dependence (“works”). The result was bondage and hypocrisy.
On the other hand was the second phrase “not another.” Though it is the same English word a different Greek word is used, allo, which means “another of the same kind.” Here, Paul was referencing the license that had compromised so many of the Galatians churches. This license was manifesting itself as believers began abusing the grace of God and using it as an excuse to live however they wanted. This was a counterfeit gospel. It’s aim was flesh-indulgence (“liberty”). The result was compromise and carnality in the churches.
As I look at the issues Paul is speaking of to these churches, it led me back to the same question I asked before — What happened? How had they allowed for such issues to creep in? Yet, Paul makes it clear that this was not really a question of what had happened, but a question of who had happened.
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 5:7)
Where the Galatians got off in their doctrine and philosophy is the same place so many of us have gotten off today. It isn’t God’s Word or God’s Spirit that led us to the place we now stand (though that is what many of us would like to think); but it was someone.
Perhaps it was a ministry friend. Maybe it was a dynamic young leader. For some, it was a dominant leader from some institution or church. But, regardless of who it was, if we would be honest with ourselves, many of us would have to admit that the reason we are standing where we are standing today is not because God’s Word led us to this place, but because “so-and-so” did.
How could we fall for something so blatantly wrong? Most of us would agree that the church ought not be modeled after man, but after Jesus. Yet, day after day, so many busy themselves with modeling the church God has called them to serve in after another man’s model, instead of what God’s model is for them. We limit the direction and growth of God’s church in which we serve to whatever “ideas” we as men can come up with. This is the egregious error of our generation.
But, would it surprise you if I told you that we are not the first generation of Christ’s disciples to make this mistake? Indeed, the very first disciples of Jesus got this wrong!
“And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And he was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” (Matthew 17:1-8)
Peter, James, and John saw the glory of Christ manifested unlike any other man ever had. In that experience, God had included Moses and Elijah to further exalt Christ (which the “law” and the “prophets” do). Yet, in response to it, Peter got the idea in his head that temples needed to be made to Jesus, to Moses, and to Elijah. But then God stepped in, and by the end of that time on the mountain, those men had eyes for Jesus only.
Looking back on this, we wonder how these men could become so man-centered. How could one possibly even think about building a place of worship to anyone except Jesus? Yet, even as we think this, so often the churches we are building today reflect the same fundamental flaw. We do more to pattern our churches after a man-centered culture than we do to pattern them after a Christ-exalting culture. All of the sudden, our music becomes more about what the people like than what honors God. All of the sudden, our programs become more about fitting into a certain group than what is more glorifying to God.
Truth be told, this is an easy trap to fall into. More of us are falling into it than we would like to admit. And, no matter which ditch along the pathway of a balanced Christian life and ministry we have fallen into (i.e., right or left, legalism or license), when we fall we find ourselves out of touch with a life and ministry that is truly glorifying to God.
It’s time for us as God’s people to get out of whatever ditch we find ourselves in. It’s time for us to stop throwing bombs at each other across the way, get back up on the Christ-centered pathway, and bring the battle to our real enemy. There is too much at stake and far too little time left to concern ourselves with anything less. It’s time for us as God’s people to stand together with God’s Word as our sole guide for the cause of Christ!