What Is Commitment All About?
Wed., April 18, 1990
Lately I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't been sending out letters. Though I have ceased writing for a while, I wish to share with you edited excerpts from a couple of letters I recently wrote to the assistant pastor of the fellowship I have been participating in locally. He asked me specifically to write him these letters, detailing my views on commitment and my observations pertaining to the fellowship. In the process, I ended up understanding my own calling a little better as well, and found myself writing things that I felt would be profitable to all of you as well.
Read then what follows, and may you be edified. The first article discusses what true "commitment" is. (If you've ever been pressed before by people to give account for your church "commitment," this article is for you.)
The second article follows up the first presentation by presenting the calling of one who stands between his vision of perfection for the Church and the reality of the way the Church is. This is the calling of a "liberator" or a "counselor." It is a challenge to churches to take action based on the vision presented in the first article.
What Is Commitment All About?
Perhaps the most important topic we discussed yesterday is "commitment;" specifically, commitment to a body. This is a discussion I've had repeatedly with pastors and others who function in ministry. My various involvements with people, ministries, and religious organizations over the last 10 years have led me to my peculiar perceptions of what commitment is, and how it is expressed. Allow me now to share what my perception of true commitment is and how it is clothed.
I begin with a diagram using concentric circles to illustrate the various facets of commitment from central to peripheral;
I. Commitment to the Lord "In Spirit and In Truth"
This is the central facet of commitment. Indeed, it is the only final legitimate use of the word. The other facets are not really facets of direct spiritual commitment, but of indirect reflective commitment. We have to distinguish this at the start. Outside direct commitment to the Lord, all other facets are conditional, indirect, reflective. They are secondary, participatory, and incidental--- in that order.
The problem with the word "commitment" is that the distinction between direct commitment and indirect commitment is not made or clearly defined. As a result, people make indirect facets of commitment to become focal. They make the outer three ranges of reflective commitment to become central in their minds. They major on either relational bonding, or ministerial participation, or structural facilitation, or a combination of these. So they end up putting the cart before the horse.
In the plan of God, the outer three ranges of indirect commitment are to be natural expressions of central direct commitment to the Lord. They are "outgrowths" that spring from response to the direction and leading of the Spirit as He builds the Church. But man warps this order by choosing to focus on one of the outer facets instead of always returning to central focus on the Lord in the heart.
God starts from the inside out. Life begets relationship begets participation begets structure. A tree starts with the invisible life of a seed. So does a human being---out of which a body is produced. This is the formula for Liberty.
But man is always sidetracked into focusing on the outer---on something besides the center. Man tries to work, enforce, legislate life from the outside in. He thinks that making an issue of structural, participatory, or relational "commitment" will produce life.
Man builds a tree by tying an apple to a twig, a twig to a branch, and a branch to a trunk--- all of it a sure formula for legalism, bondage, and death. Every place I have ever been ("church") does this in some way. I have yet to see a body of Christ where all the ranges are developed in proper order, all of them the outgrowth of each member's sole direct commitment to the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.
Not that I can expect to see a body like this at the present time. However, until I do, it will always leave me on the outer fringe to a lesser or greater degree. I simply do not trumpet the call to reflective commitment the way most people (99%) in ministry presently do. The only call I can ever trumpet is the call to central commitment to the Lord, and then leave the development of the rest to His pure, sovereign discretion, in proper order.
II. Relational Bonding
This is the first range of reflective commitment. It is the mutual commitment that develops between individuals as they discover that their personal quests for God are taking them in the same direction spiritually. This is the level where people feel they “love” (agape) each other. It is the immediate outgrowth of love for God, the fulfilling of the second great commandment. However, because it is still reflective, it is not inviolable.
Times come when ways part, rightly or wrongly. God often leads people apart as well as together. Nevertheless, it is this level of indirect commitment that gives meaning to the outer two ranges (ministry and structure) in a "body context." Without relational bonding, ministry and structure are very dry.
Personal application: The first thing I look for when I become involved with a body of people is what-if-any bonding is happening. Without this, nothing else in a "body" has any lasting meaning for me. So far, I've found it very difficult to bond with people--- either because most people, whether in groups or as individuals, are not as serious about God as I am, or else because, though we are equally serious about God, we haven't shared a lot of the same sufferings in the cross to the same degree. (Mutual suffering through the work of the cross is a key ingredient of lasting bonding.)
Where bonding has taken place for me, it has been more often with scattered individuals than with people in groups. When comparing groups, it has been more often with people in smaller groups than in larger groups. Consequently, it is little surprise to me that I'm not finding a lot of bonding happening between me and people at the fellowship. As I said, there are a handful with whom I see seeds of potential bonding, but there hasn't been adequate avenue for this to be expressed. I'm also finding some bonding taking place between me and the odd person at the Christian school.
Bottom line is: I'll take bonding anywhere I can find it. Why? Because it precedes all else, and without it, the remaining stages of involvement have no lasting significance. So I don't care what visible lines of structural grouping I have to cross to have bonding. Quality of relationship, not visibility of relationship, is what counts to me.
Meanwhile, the truth is---even where I have found bonding with individuals, I've not yet been blessed to see it clothed with ministry and structure. It simply hasn't been of God to manifest it that way for me yet. Someday it will. But until it does, I'll take the bonding (which is real though invisible) over ministry and structure (which by themselves are hollow, though visible.)
III. Ministerial Participation
Ministerial participation in a body takes its final legitimacy and significance from bonded relationship under the authority of mutual direct commitment to the Lord. What people do for the Lord always takes its meaning from how rooted they are in the Lord. Similarly, what people do for the Lord among one another takes relevance only from their rootedness in the Lord among one another.
"The shepherd (minister) gives his life for the sheep." It is this commitedness through bonding that makes a shepherd's ministry relevant to his sheep. Any other foundation produces hollow ministry. It is the ministry of the "hireling." It is the "tinkling cymbal" Paul speaks of.
Yet what do we hear in the churches? Without regard for bondedness, the unfailing message is, "Get Involved, Get Involved, Get Involved -- Minister!"--- as if involvement and ministry carry their own intrinsic self-sustaining merit.
No. This is simply dead works, bondage, death, and condemnation. I contend that if bonding is present, you don't have to coerce people to minister. It flows of its own accord as a tree grows from a root. But if bonding isn't there, there's no point in laying it on people or on onesself to minister. Ministry not founded on bonding is tenuous.
"But doesn't God use ministry to create the very bonding you're talking about?"
On occasion, yes. God can use ministry in reverse this way. In fact, He can use any of the outer ranges of commitment to temporarily "aid" or "jump start" a more inward range. God can use structure to "help" ministry. He can use ministry to help bonding, And He can use bonding to help direct personal commitment to Himself.
But it is the exception for Him to do this, not the rule. God's rule of life is that all must ultimately flow from the inward to retain final validity. So, yes. Telling people to "get involved" might help in a limited way to strengthen their personal commitment to the Lord. But ultimately, that must quickly turn around so that their involvement flows from their response to their commitment to the Lord if it is to remain valid in the Spirit.
Same with me. My ministering in praise and worship at the fellowship may temporarily help "jump start" some bonding between me and the people there. But ultimately, it has to come from the other way around. And we must note that, after all this time, such possible jump-starting hasn't really happened.
What does this immediate lack of bonding with the fellowship on a whole tell me about the future of my praise and worship ministry there? It has led me to the suggestion that my ministry will not become locked into this fellowship, but will serve both this and other visible bodies in the area-- not bonded to any. It won't become bonded til the real body for which I've been prepared all these years becomes manifest.
Meanwhile, I can see myself possibly going about, aiding and instructing various bodies in using the keyboard in praise and worship. I might be associated more with one than another, but not exclusively with any. The body I'll one day be exclusively identified with does not now appear. It will when the bonding appears that is equal to it. Until then, I will minister across all body lines, offering to "whosoever will," bonding with whosoever is ordained for me from God, committing to nothing else.
IV. Structural (Organizational) Facilitation
Structural facilitation refers to operational procedures, polity, government, and tradition in the way things are done in the church. To God, this is the least important and to be the most flexible of the outer ranges of indirect commitment.
Why? Because it is furthest from the root and center of direct commitment to Him. Structural facilitation is simply for the purpose of giving order and definition to ministry against the context of the chaos and sin of the outer world-at-large. As the dynamic of God's Spirit moves through the church, beginning with the people's direct commitment to Himself, then rippling out through bonded relationship and then to ministry, the structural facilitation that houses this movement ought to be able to freely change. It is the most dispensable aspect of commitment.
God simply does not call his people to commitment to organizational facilitation. He does not call us to loyalty to institution, to tradition, or to a particular order of the way something is done in the church. As God moves, He expects structure to move with him. When the cloud moves, the tent of structural facilitation is supposed to move with it! And if it doesn't, it is overthrown in the wilderness, left to die.
Then why is structural facilitation so slow to change? Why is the religious landscape dotted with denominations past and present filled with intractable traditions?
It’s because man focuses commitment on the most outward aspect of reflective commitment. Man does not base his primary evaluation of spiritual life in heart reality in a people, but in visible manifestation of what he can see with his own two eyes.
Even the most "spiritually advanced" churches focus men's attention on their visible structure in some way. (The bottom line of such focus is usually money relative to the upkeep of some physical building which almost all men now call "church".) Most people's idea of giving to the church is linked to giving money to preserve a building, promote programs, and preserve structures of church offices, procedures, etc., etc. In turn, a name is tacked onto the whole "shebang" --- whether "Faith Christian Center," or "Grace Baptist Church" or whatever you want to call it.
For years and generations, the scribes and Pharisees of the Church Age (including me) have labored through their unbelief to identify the exact structure of the New Testament Church and then duplicate it in their own time. Personally, after over ten years of this fruitlessness, I finally came to see the revelation that was so obvious, so simple, no scribe or Pharisee would see it.
What was it? Namely, the New Testament Church didn't start with structure. It started with life which birthed structure as the Word "grew and multiplied." Therefore, to be a true New Testament church, any people of any generation in the Church Age must begin the same way--- with Life---and then let that Life dictate the structure for that generation---not go back and imitate the structure of Acts.
If we want to be New Testament people, we must not copy Peter and Paul. We must become the Peter and Paul of our day who, like our predecessors, also had no blueprint to copy but instead received their direction from God.
Once one enters into the revelation of what I've just shared, he can never again center his identification of the local church on any one group's visible expression of it through a certain polity and structure, nor can he ever give his allegiance to any such polity and structure. He realizes that organizational and physical structure is the least important reflection of true commitment to the Lord and His People.
Therefore he can never again let himself get close enough to it so as to ensnare him and threaten the liberty of his true inner commitment to the invisible Pillar of Fire he follows in his heart. He will almost never again "sign a membership card" or put his name "on a roll" that subjects him to a political "constitution" that corrupts from simplicity in Christ.
What I've said here sounds quite "anti-structural." Not really. It's simply a balance against the obsession with commitment to structure that has characterized the church for 2,000 years. Actually, I'm quite in favor of structure, of government, of operating procedure. But the kind of structure I favor I don't have to talk about.
Why? Because it takes care of itself by the Spirit of God wherever the need arises at the time. It doesn't need me to advocate it or write a book about it. Indeed, no book can be written about it. It is ever changing.
The kind of structure I believe in is so flexible and sensitive to the daily direction of God that it defies definition. It simply moves as the Cloud moves. It requires no attention. It's the Cloud that gets the attention. God takes care of the structure. This is the New Testament Church. And we have yet to see it,.. but we will. And until....
This letter should thoroughly acquaint you with my view of commitment. To my knowledge, very few people believe in "marriage at gunpoint." Yet every time people in ministry start talking about commitment and "covenant" etc., it's like waving a loaded gun and does more to damage potential relationship than to build it. (I can't count the number of personal relationships I've destroyed marriage-wise and otherwise by waving the same gun.)
I believe in simply letting commitment come of its own. The less said, the better. True commitment may be sealed by the human word, but not legislated by it. And until it is ready to be sealed, it can only be exemplified, not talked about. During that period, the best word is the word from Solomon: "Awake not love til it please."
(end of first article)
written from Merrimack, New Hampshire
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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