I woke to the dog barking the other night… not his ‘bear bark’ (the bears aren’t up yet from their long winter’s nap) just a non-committal, think-I-might-see-something-in-the-moonlight-and-I’m-not-sleeping-so-well-anyway, kind of bark… annoying! And useless, and worse than useless; it was keeping me from my beauty-sleep.
A watchdog is a valuable entity when there is incipient danger. But a watchdog that barks to hear himself, or, worse yet, is fierce with family--is a hazard waiting to happen.
I’ve been thinking of this lately in terms of the Body of Christ, and that balance between watching out for wolves in sheep’s clothing, and recognizing a brother caught in an error and gently restoring such a one.
In this internet age, there’s easy access to gossip and questionable ‘facts’ that make it all too easy to become a barking watchdog that prevents us all from getting our beauty sleeps and worse, that puts us in defense mode against those who share this great Body of Christ with us, and toward whom our calling is to protect ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ Are we barking at wolves? or kin?
It’s important to distinguish the difference. One is a brother we are called to restore in a spirit of gentleness --not barking!-- and not to shun or slander… “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Gal.6:1 Even when a brother has wandered from the truth, the calling is not to throw stones, but to bring him back! “Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins”(James 5:19,20).
Why is it so much easier to point and say ‘Aha! I knew it—he’s not to be trusted; did you hear what he said?!’ Isn’t this called ‘rejoicing in wrongdoing’ (I Cor.13:6)? It is akin to envy I think. Just consider who we are most likely to critique in this fashion—the obscure and seemingly insignificant teacher or the highly successful prominent one? My guess is you could ‘google’ just about any outstanding pastor or Bible teacher and readily find someone who has something slanderous to report about them. And I’m not talking about unbelievers, but believing ‘watchdogs’.
I get the impression that in some instances, believers have made it their ‘ministry’ to point out what’s wrong with everyone but themselves in the name of warning the Body of heresy, but that they’ve lost sight of the point. Speaking the truth in love means that my objective must be the building up of the Body of Christ ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ! (Eph.4:13)-- not the tearing down of another’s credibility in the sight of others.
I have to be careful here because this quickly turns into me casting stones at fellow-believers who have a calling to discern error in the Body. This is not my intention at all. I am at heart a watchdog but have recognized in myself this tendency to bark at others to gratify myself. There’s something in our sinful natures that delights to find fault with others, especially the talented and successful. We can get so confident in our knowledge of the truth that we exclude just about everyone from our ‘club’.
We had friends years ago who grabbed this ‘speaking the truth’ concept and ran with it till they had shunned all their Bible School education, separated themselves from local believers, and set up their own exclusive clique, all based on ‘speaking the truth’—their brand of truth. They had become smugly self-righteous and stubbornly exclusive. What a shock to bump into them after years apart and find our source of unity in question. Is it your truth or my truth that we should encamp on? Or did we fail to read the rest of the verse, and for that matter, the context!
“Speaking the truth IN LOVE, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph.4:15,16) Rachel and I are working to memorize this whole passage as it seems so key to understanding how spiritual growth works. I’m a lone ranger by nature. I figure I can do this growing stuff on my own pretty much—consistent quiet times, learning to pray and to be thankful, and ingesting good teaching that encourages my faith—and voila! Spiritual growth. But the Bible always points to me being only a part of a bigger picture, a joint in a greater body.
I can appreciate the part of the Body that from afar encourages me with their writings—life stories, sound Bible teaching and the like…(i.e. good books!) But what of this Body around me, these real-life people that I don’t always see eye to eye with? Can we grow together, pray together, trust God for great things in our lives together and still disagree about doctrinal details? I’m challenged by this. And yet, in the struggle, with Ephesians 4 stamped in the forefront of my mind, I’m confident that this is the way of love. We really do need each other. We have not only a common Head but a common foe and a common purpose.
Perhaps if we kept our mission in mind we would be less of a stench to each other, and more of a blessing to the world—kinda’ like manure. Heap it in a pile and it gives off a stench. Spread it around and it makes things grow! Are we too comfortable in our composting piles? The world looks on with puzzlement and disgust at our divisiveness. It’s not at all obvious to them that we have any truth in common worth believing. Our love for one another is supposed to be the signal that we are genuine disciples of Jesus (John 13:35). Instead they see indistinguishable religion of all sorts and lump it into one messy ball to disdain.
So what’s to be done? There are lots of legitimate reasons for differing denominations. Different kinds of people migrating to the emphasis of different truths. Different personalities expressing worship and life with Christ in tangibly different styles. Different emphases. Different callings. But sometimes we forget that we have more in common than we do at odds. For a start, we have a common calling to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. This is a calling to remember there is really only one Body of Christ, (despite its fractured appearance in any given neighborhood and around the world), only one Holy Spirit that resides in every true believer, only one hope of eternal life, only one Lord Jesus Christ, only one saving faith, one baptism by the Spirit into the Body of Christ, one God who is the Father of all of us and is over all, through all and in all. These are things we have in common!
Our individual giftings are another thing. They make us both unique and essential to other members of the Body. Nobody’s got them all. I even wonder whether any given denomination can lay claim to them all? Could it be that the Body of Christ worldwide needs to have a closer look at how we can contribute to each other’s growth? Could it be we are made to need each other? The North Korean brother under life-crushing persecution, the Japanese believer isolated by a godless culture, and the church down the street from our own that makes us raise our eyebrows or furrow a figurative brow as we drive past (or that we simply ignore) without a thought to what God’s doing among them… these are all joints in the Body designed to contribute to our mutual growth into the beautiful Bride that will welcome Christ’s return.
OK, so where am I going with this? I’m putting it out there as a call to remember who we are, corporately, you and me and all the rest of the believers in your town, country and world (and on the Internet!). We are members one of another called to unity by our common love for God. We're in this thing together! Critiquing is easier than commending for some of us. Envy, easier than love. Insisting I’m right is easier than protecting the unity of the Spirit. Some intellectual controversies will never be settled this side of eternity but love never fails. In his book, Love Covers, Paul Billheimer reminds us to consider that God has not broken fellowship with each of us over our opinions on non-essentials, why then should we think these things worthy cause to break fellowship with each other? “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Rom.15:7)
Yep, there are dangers within and without the church to watch out for; I don’t mean to minimize these. False doctrine abounds and is bound to spread as we get closer to Christ’s coming. But let’s have the heart of Jesus, as reflected in these parting words of Paul as we do our watch-dogging.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. Acts 20:28-32
Let’s determine not to bark at family and to reserve our bite for the bears and the wolves. In the case of family, maybe hanging out together and listening for the opportunity to speak a word of truth in love would be more effective. And have you seen a golden retriever’s perpetual smile and wag? Now there’s a commendable attitude!
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give [us] a spirit of unity among [ourselves] as [we] follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth [we] may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom.15:5,6)
If I can speak in all manner of languages…have prophetic powers and understand just about everything!…have faith that moves mountains…and live in sacrificial abandon but don’t live a life of love, I am a zero and have accomplished nothing.
Love is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insistent on its own point of view, not irritable or resentful, not happy when others fall but only rejoicing when truth prevails.
Love bears all, believes all, hopes always and endures to the end. It never fails. Prophecy will. Tongues will. Braininess will. We only see a piece of the big picture and it’s going to pass too. One day we’ll see each other as God sees us. In the meantime, let’s hang on to faith, hope and most of all LOVE!
(free paraphrase from I Cor.13 by LS)
( I welcome your feedback. How do you see things where you are? Lend me your eyes, please.)
EXTRAS from Billheimer's book, Love Covers:A Viable Platform for Christian Unity
"While no nonessential within itself needs to be divisive, practically all divisions in the true Church have arisen from doctrines that are not essential to salvation." (87)
"Is it possible to be right theoretically and theologically while at the same time being wrong in spirit?" (88)
"If God will not break fellowship with us over opinions on non-essentials, why should we break fellowship with one another." (88)
"Love for God 'must exceed my love for my own opinion and judgment." (90)
"Everyone that loves Him who begot, loves him that is begotten." I Jn.5:1