Dallas agreed to teach separate two weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Denver, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with a “committed” group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.
Well, I wanted in this last session to try to take what we have been studying about spiritual formation and put it in a larger context of community and, really, nation and world. And I have been sort of edging up to you repeatedly about treating what we’re doing here as knowledge of reality. And that’s extremely important that we bring that home, because from the viewpoint of the general human enterprise, what we are talking about here is education. And we need to recover that, not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of the world. And education has to do with coming to grips with reality.
Now, you know, sometimes when we’re in the middle of our education, we often wonder what it has to do with reality. And there’s a famous presentation of the academy as the Ivory Tower. And I often tell my students when we come to the end of the year and everyone’s talking about commencement, that “commencement” at this point is a little late. Right? And that we need to understand our lives better.
And now what I want to talk about this morning briefly is how we fit into the picture of teaching our world. Teaching our world. And there’s so much to be said, the history of it all; for example, how it comes into the world, in 5 and 600 BC in the Gentile world through the Greeks. And short of the Bible, in the ancient literature, one of the most important things to read is Plato’s Republic, because it is simply a head on attempt to deal with the problem of forming people.
And that is what education is about; you’re forming people. And the human being is the kind of creature that has to be formed. If you’re a quail, you hatch out of the egg and you start running around and pecking immediately. Mama quail doesn’t sit you down and say, “Now, daughter, here’s how things are.” All right? And in general, the animal world is like that. And we have some instinctual aspects to ourselves, or we wouldn’t survive infancy.
So that’s important to understand, our continuity, but also the vast difference. We are the kind of being that not only needs within our own life instruction and teaching and development, but we depend upon generations before us to learn and to know so that we can harvest that and make it a part of our lives. If you take a field like mathematics and you know how it develops, you’ll understand how important the generations, the history, is to a human being. You don’t have to start trying to figure out how to develop numbers, and then numerals, and their relationships. It’s handed to you on a platter and you just pick it up and walk on.
No one can invent all of that, and our traditions are fundamentally important for the point where we pick up. No individual can invent medicine as a field, nor biblical scholarship. And we have to realize what the past gives us in ourselves, and then go on from there. And the danger is that we will be cut off from that.
[4:36] And that has largely happened in our churches. We more or less act as if, in many of our churches, we’re starting anew. We walk in, we experience God, and now we have to invent it all. And that is a disaster. And of course it never actually works that way, but the individualism in our culture and our way of thinking gives us the thought that somehow what Luther discovered about the just shall be saved by faith is the basis of where we begin. Well, of course, that happens to be a bit of tradition, and if we tried to invent it all from where we start, then we are going to lose most of it, most of what we need.
And of course if you are in a biblical tradition, that helps a lot, because the Bible brings to us a world of learning about human life, and the most important thing that it brings us is God. If you have to start from scratch with God, you won’t have much more than scratch, and that’s really where many people wind up, and that’s what they, in our culture, they have to go off and invent one of their own. And it will turn out to be an idol, and they will not be able to access the profound reality and wisdom of Christ the person and the tradition in which he stands—because, you know, even he came at a certain point. He didn’t come in the Garden; or, it was a different garden that he got to. And he brings that richness, and then his people—what has been learned since as his people have continued the mandate to go forth and multiply and subdue the earth, in a crazy kind of way because the human side gets so mixed into that. And the divine side of dominion in human life isn’t realized.
So, as we come down to the end, see, I want to try to take all we’ve been talking about and put it back in that context, the context of education. And I want to say to you because you are an amazing bunch of people, and it’s just so enriching to me to be able to have a half an hour to sit with you and listen to you. You’re an amazing bunch of people. And God has a calling on your life.
And I want to say, “This is for the world.” I said to you several times already, the Church is for discipleship and discipleship is for the world. And the only way forward is through discipleship, but you have to understand that discipleship is education for eternal living, and eternity is now running. We are now in eternity. And the Kingdom of God is from everlasting to everlasting. And it is still true that we stand in the world in the words of the old hymn: “Rescue the Perishing, care for the dying. Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.” See, that’s 21st century. And the call to make disciples is to make disciples here. It isn’t to go to another part of the world.
Whether you’re at Jerusalem, Judea, or Samaria, or the uttermost parts of the earth depends on where you’re standing. We are standing at Jerusalem from our point of view, and that’s where we start making disciples. And then it goes out from there. And from our point of view here, Jerusalem is the uttermost parts of the earth. You understand what I’m saying? You start where you are. You seize your situation, and you say, “God is here.” And then you begin to grow in your interaction with the Kingdom of God where you are. It takes you over, inside and outside, and propagates itself to meet the desperate needs of humanity.
Disciples Who Make Disciples
[10:31] So, I wanted to talk a little bit just about disciplines and integrating them into our activities at church especially, and then talk about who has the responsibility of leadership in bringing Christ to the nations. Remember, this is a nation; the nations aren’t elsewhere. Well, they are elsewhere, but they’re here too. And how we might approach it.
So, let me just say that we are talking about learning to live in our world with God. That’s what we’re talking about. The life that came in Christ broke forth into the world and particularly in the part that we are most familiar with as Western world; it set the ideology, the idealism, the direction over a period of centuries, created institutions that then became top-heavy as institutions nearly always do, and began to serve themselves rather than serve the purposes for which they were founded. That’s a kind of law of human institutions. What happens is a discovery is made by one or more individuals, an activity is initiated, it becomes tremendously powerful, it grows, it pulls all kinds of things into it. This is Jesus’ parable of the net—the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net. This is his parable of the tares in the field. It always works that way.
And the institution grows, and then it comes to serve itself instead of serving the activity, which initially produced it. And that’s true in business, that’s true in government, that’s true in religion. So today, for example, we have many of our largest religious organizations that are obsessed with survival. They were not founded to survive—they were founded to serve. But now then they’ve created a huge structure and the rug begins to be pulled out from under them financially, and now their main thought is how are we going to survive? And of course, if they were wise, they would say, “We survive for the activity that we were founded to carry on, so let’s do that.” But unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way, except with the rare exception when there are individuals within the institution that will return to the activity. And the issue facing the world today is whether or not the church will be disciples and make disciples. That is the biggest issue for the world, not just the church. But it is an issue for the church as well.
So, making sense of that, and I hope we’ve made a little progress on that. And of course, each of us has to work out what that means and let that guide us in our own activities and in what we’re doing with others and trying to help them, and we want to be, I believe, disciples making disciples. That’s where the vision comes in; you have to have a vision for that, it has to be the right vision. You want to be teaching and presenting a vision that has a natural tendency for people to say, “That’s for me. I want that. I will become a disciple of Jesus Christ, and I will fit that into my world, whatever it is—finance, government, religion—and it will be what I hold up as the ideal in my community, in my artistic or creative activity.” Discipleship.
[15:16] Now, you know, you’re going to have to take that idea and shake a lot of nonsense out of it. Because it has been diluted and perverted and twisted, and within evangelicalism, we have a history that is very near to these grounds of understanding discipleship in a way that will defeat its purpose so far as Jesus Christ was concerned. And I don’t want to go into that, but that’s just a part—we have to take the idea and shake the nonsense out of it. And so that’s where we need to go back to our sources in history and in the Scriptures and look at the people who have even at a distance and with many misunderstandings have stood out as people who transformed their world through discipleship.
And we have many, many illustrations of that, and the Renovare Institute does some of the things in the program that help us get back to some of that. But we have to bring it up to date and say this is for me; I’m going to be today’s Teresa of Avila. I’m going to be today’s Saint Francis, or Luther, or Wesley. That’s for me, and how are we going to do that today? You can’t go back and look like them; we have to look like us. And we have to deal with the world that is there now.
The Spiritual Disciplines
Now, in doing that, you come to the issue of disciplines, and as I said yesterday, the second segment which we come back to in March, I think it is, we deal more in detail with the specific practices that constitute the fine texture of the disciple’s life. But I want to conclude our discussion in this session by just talking a moment about disciplines.
And the first thing to say is, once again, we are by nature the kinds of things that develop through disciplines. The quail, when it hatches out, doesn’t have to have a discipline of pecking that will help it to peck. And of course, you know, these little guys, they live by pecking. And so what to peck at, what not to peck at, and all that; they don’t have to have disciplines to learn that. They get that just by being a quail. But when we come into the world, what we are set for by our nature, which you understand now, is dominion. That is something that requires means and within those means fall disciplines.
Now, let’s get the concept, and thank you Pam for arranging the handouts. I’m glad that we couldn’t get the overhead. This is better. So, you have a page there, What Is A Discipline? Now, for people like you especially, but it really is important for everyone who’s going to be a disciple, it’s so important to understand the concept of the discipline. And so I’ve tried to spell it out here, and we’ll say maybe a little bit about some of the things that count as disciplines; not much. We’ve got a list here for you to look at. But just notice this: what is a discipline? It is an activity in my power, which enables me to accomplish what I cannot do by direct effort. And we have illustrated that somewhat as we have gone along through the days here, but now we just want to look at that by itself.
This is an aspect of human freedom. The range of choice for the human being includes the means to achieve the goals that we have set before us. You don’t just exercise choice at one level; you exercise choice at many levels. And you realize that your choices at some levels will be defeated if you do not make the choices at the other levels.
[20:06] Now, if you’re fortunate, you get to be raised in a situation where your elders understand discipline and enforce it before you know what it’s about. And if you are blessed and fortunate with your upbringing, your parents and your community, you will undergo discipline that is imposed. And one way of dividing disciplines—there are many—is between those that are chosen and those that are imposed. And for example, if you go to a good school, you will come out learning and knowing a lot of stuff because discipline was imposed.
And that’s one of the great changes in our educational system. It is almost impossible to impose discipline now in our education system. “Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic/taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick” is now child abuse. It’s illegal. And you know, that’s not a bad thing. There are limits to the “hick’ry stick.” But there are other ways of imposing discipline, especially through discourse and example on the part of older people that then allow the young person to come to the point where they can begin to make intelligent choices already equipped. They wind up at the age of five and six; they already know Latin or Greek. That’s not now, that’s what used to be. See?
Now, that’s not the end of the world, of course. But actually, it can turn out to be quite an advantage for other reasons. For example, if you know Latin, you probably know grammar. I never learned grammar until I came to study German. And then I learned grammar. If I had learned that earlier, it would have been a great benefit. Now, not everyone needs to know that, you see. But what I’m saying is, if you have a system of education that would include, of course, Christian teaching and religion, then just by being brought up, you wind up with a lot of the benefits of discipline because someone else imposed the discipline.
Now then, at that point, you don’t say, “Hallelujah, I’m done with discipline.” Right? You say, “Now, I get to undertake that as a part of my own project.” And it is at the point that we begin to understand discipline and take it upon ourselves to enter into the activities that are discipline here, that are spelled out in this concept, that we begin to really make progress. And that is true in no place more true than in following Christ. It is not the imposed disciplines, but the chosen disciplines as a part of discipleship.
And now, one might think, then, that that would be the main business of the disciple-making group or church. Of course, discipline narrowed down to our purposes as disciples making disciples is in terms of Christ, and I’ve written here, a spiritual discipline on the Christian understanding. And today, of course, you have to sort all that out because now spirituality is on the mall, and everywhere else, and you have all kinds of it, and they always involve disciplines of one sort or another. And so now one of the things that the Christian teacher, leader, disciple—one of the things they have to do is to recognize the competition for what it is.
And when you begin to think about that then you realize that life is full of discipline, sometimes opposed to Christianity. And so many of our leaders and speakers in the last 25 years have not been able to come to grips with this. And they don’t know how to position what they’re doing in relationship to what other people are doing, they don’t know how to say, “Well now, look at Oprah and what she does, and compare that to what we’re doing in Sunday school.”
[25:15] Well actually, Oprah came out in reaction to what people did to her in Sunday School. And I don’t want to come down on her; I think Oprah is a well-intentioned, good person as far as things go in that direction. I think she has a good heart and she does good things. But the teaching of spirituality that she brings is in direct confrontation to discipleship to Christ. And actually, many of the things that she would like to see happen could only come out of that.
So now, “A spiritual discipline is a discipline focused upon enhancement of the interactive life of grace in the spiritual kingdom of the heavens.” That’s Christian discipline. It enables us to grow in grace, and that’s why the old Wesleyan term “a means of grace” which wasn’t his uniquely; we want to understand that. Discipline does not dispense with grace; it accentuates and mobilizes and potentializes grace. It’s grace and discipline together. Grace and discipline are not exclusive but complimentary. And that’s where the saying I have laid on you repeatedly about grace not being opposed to effort comes in. It’s actually the way you make effort count in the highest degree.
Now, the concept is important. I’ve given you a list of disciplines here, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time on them except to point out there is a difference between a discipline of abstinence and a discipline of engagement. You see, the disciplines of engagement there—I thought that was where the action was, and what I will say to you simply is, if you do the disciplines of engagement intensely without the disciplines of abstinence, burnout is at hand. It’s at hand. And you will probably not understand the disciplines of engagement as disciplines unless you see the larger picture that the concept brings with it, and then you will see—“ok, there are some things that are disciplines that are more than that.”
Worship, for example, is more than a discipline; it’s a duty and a virtue, but its disciplinary effects are incredible. What do I mean by that? Go back to the concept. A discipline is an activity I engage in that enables me to do what I can’t do by direct effort. If you engage in worship, and especially if you learn to cultivate it where it is a constant attitude, it transforms everything, because it is a way of keeping the Lord always before you, in his magnificence and in his greatness. And the effect of that on what you do, or what you don’t do, is simply transformative.
And go back to the lady in Texas and thinking about her dealing with her suffering; well, basically what she was talking about was worship. Concentrating on the attributes of God. Now, worship sometimes is different; sometimes when you worship, sometimes God runs into you. That’s what happened to Isaiah as recorded in chapter six. “The year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord”—I love the old translation, because it kind of indicates he wasn’t seeing the Lord. As long as he had Uzziah to think of as the leader. “The year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord.” He walked into the temple one day and blew his little mind.
That happens. That’s not worship, but it really accentuates worship. But it doesn’t exist that way all the time, because that would wipe out human personality and choice. Imagine living with that in your house or your office; that would be the end of work. And that distance that God keeps from us, we deal with by choice by cultivating worship.
[29:58] Am I making any sense on that? You see, because we have the choice to keep the Lord always before us, and we can learn how to do that and discipline helps us do that. And disciplines of engagement, for example, are really important because the disciplines of abstinence, they’re like offloading the stuff from our red blood cells in our lungs so that our blood cells can be replenished with oxygen. And you have to have the breathing out and the breathing in, you’ve got to have both of those. And so it is important to understand that they have a different function and to make a place for them.
Now, the only other quick thing I want to say about the list is these are not laws. Disciplines are not acts of righteousness. That means among other things if you try one and it doesn’t go, you haven’t sinned. If you decide to learn to fast and you don’t make it, you haven’t sinned. The response is not guilt, but learning—what was it that tripped me up? And in the early stages of fasting, what will trip you up is thinking too much about not eating.
And so you learn that. And when you are doing a discipline, and in the early stages, they require some effort, but you’re going to learn how to do that. And you will come to the place to where when you fast, you don’t think about food. And actually you won’t be hungry. So that’s something you can look forward to, to learning if you haven’t learned that already. And you won’t be hungry because you’re being nourished. Fasting is feasting, just different food. And you learn that as you go along, but it’s important to know these are not acts of righteousness.
Now, when I go around the world in places presenting this, you go into groups and you’ll almost see someone sitting there like when they see you say “discipline,” they just say [shudders], you know, I’ve been there. Because someone disciplined them. And they learned that discipline was punishment. And it was associated with condemnation, because if you didn’t do the discipline, then you were condemned. And it’s so important to get entirely away from that sort of thing. Cultivate a sense of humor. Learn from your failures. Don’t be a hero. See, when you go into this, don’t be a hero. This is not the Army. Right? Learn, little by little.
And then these will be tremendous help, tremendous aids to you as you grow. And you will see how good and how easy it is to live with Christ in the kingdom, and simply do without a fuss the things that are good and things that are right because you have now trained those dimensions of the personality that I put on the board in the big circle. They are all trained now, and they are working with you in following Christ, not working against you. And that overcomes temptation, for example, because now you know that if you do what is right and good you will not miss out on something good. Actually, you will get something good. And that where you can’t deal with that, God is dealing with it. God has got your back; he’s looking out for you, and all you have to do is follow Jesus. Be with him, and God will take care of the rest.
Spiritual Disciplines In The Church
[34:48] So these disciplines are very important, and one of the things that we need to say is how are we going to work these into our roles as pastors, teachers, counselors, leaders? Because they have to be a part of our church activities. They have to be. But they have to be at the level of self-imposed. So our churches or our groups don’t come down on you and say, “Now, you must be frugal. And if you’re not frugal, we’re going to reproach you, and we’re going to lean on you and make you ashamed of yourself.” Or whatever else the discipline is. So when we begin to integrate them into our programs of training, remember, they have to be self-imposed. That is to say, the individual has to say, “This is a good thing. I’m going to do this.”
And then they learn, and now that’s back to the plan of God for us, is we have to be freely choosing to be his sub-kings and -queens. We’re freely choosing that. You cannot impose it. And that’s where the whole “VIM” thing comes back in, vision, intention, all of that you lead people through; you don’t impose it, you can’t impose it. But you present it in such a way that it is then freely chosen.
I’ve included in this a little poem that you’ll find here that gives you the picture of the person who does not take charge of their soul under God.
You are in charge of your soul. You can’t do it on your own, but don’t let that mislead you; you’re still in charge. What God gets out of your life is the person you become, and what you get out of your life is the person you become.
Now, thinking about that, you know, you can write a book on The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. Isn’t that the title? Yeah? See, you all know that book. What is that book about? It’s about discipline. You’re confronting a world that recognizes the absolute necessity of this. But religion as it has been practiced and presented doesn’t deal with that.
Now, actually—what’s his name, the author? [Stephen R. Covey]—he’s a Mormon. And what you read in the Seven Habits are things that he has picked up from the Christian tradition. And this tells us something very deep, and that is really, this is the only game going. And the rest of it’s a wreck.
[39:46] And you want to say to yourself when you think about Jesus and his people and his teachings; you want to say it’s all true. It’s all true. What Jesus brings, that’s it. It works. You want to say that. It’s accessible to anyone; you want to say that. And there’s nothing on earth that competes with that.
Now, you say that, not arrogantly, but responsibly. And you look at any other alternative that presents itself and you deal with it fairly and openly, and you say, “Whatever I can learn, wherever I can learn it, if it’s true, it belongs to us.” It belongs to anyone who wants to do it. And one of the things that will stop you when you begin to think about bringing this into your institutions and your churches is someone will say, “Well, isn’t that a little Buddhist?” You know? And…[shudders]. Now, the fact that someone else practices something good is not a reason for giving it up. Should I say that again? Because you’ll confront people who actually think that. The fact that someone else practices something good is not a reason for giving it up. You see, that comes from a pinched, narrow, blinded attitude, not only towards life but towards Jesus. And if you think about Jesus, you’ll realize that if you found something better than what he’s saying, he’d be the first to tell you to take it. That’s where he is. He is the man of truth. He’s the man of reality. He’s not trying to control access.
See, one of the things that human beings like to do is play Monopoly. And we do that in religion. We say, “I’ve got the goods. If you don’t come to me, you’re probably going to go to hell.” And so we get a picture of God as someone who’s sort of standing there at heaven’s door with his foot against it, trying to keep people out. “Oh, don’t let ‘em in!”
Ok, I know I’m getting down here to the root canal on this, but I just plead with you to think about it. God is trying to get everyone into heaven he can. Everyone. If God can find the slightest reason to let someone in he will do it. Now, that’s shocking, because many people are so used to playing Monopoly. And the need to control it, and often good motives are involved in that, because after all, the risk of losing your soul forever is a heavy, heavy thing.
But we don’t control the access; God does. He’s the one who’s in charge of this, and he’s not trying to keep people out, he’s trying to get people in. I think it’s really true that God will let anyone in who, in his considered opinion, can stand it. But that’s not going to be easy. It’s not for nothing that God presents a fearsome aspect. And we learn in scripture among many things that our God is a consuming fire. And the prophets Malachi, Haggai, they all talk about this. Who can stand when he appears? And not everyone can; not everyone will.
[45:01] So this is a serious matter. And what we want to do is to bring a message to people that allows them to begin living with God now. And for those people, the afterlife will be a glorious fulfillment. Not because they have earned it; that’s off the board. It will be because of grace always. And that will be a part of the goodness, of now and of later.
So we need to understand how we live and grow in God now, and the place of disciplines in that. And if we find that some other, something that we’re led into or we see present in some of the great ones that have hit a home run in a way of speaking in the spiritual life, we see some practice that perhaps non-Christians practice, we don’t want to write that off on that basis. We want to see how does it fit into Christ, and maybe they have picked up something that God has made available, because God actually does love everyone.
So we have to broaden our perspective on this. And I’m not going to give up eating breakfast just because Confucians eat breakfast. It’s a good idea, and God will bless it. And so we want to expand our horizon now, because we are actually engaging in a practice; we go to church, we recommend various things, and when it comes to thinking about disciplines, our question is, is what we do really adequate?
Now, if it’s adequate, then don’t do anything else. Disciplines are like medicine. You don’t take medicine just because it’s wonderful to take medicine. If you don’t need them, don’t use them. That’s the rule. And actually, a kind of ideal condition would be if we got where we didn’t need them. That’s not in the foreseeable future so far as I can tell.
Now, from the secular point of view there’s a lot of criticism of spiritual disciplines and spirituality. I wanted to read you just a few words from an old Christian renegade named John Dewey. Because he was a serious young man, a Christian as a young man, and gradually he thought he found his way out of it. But he tries to carry over something, then, into his theory of education and of society. And here’s some things he says:
The idea of perfecting an ‘inner’ personality is a sure sign of social division. What is called ‘inner’ is simply that which does not connect with others—which is not capable of free and full communication.
Listen to this.
What is termed spiritual culture has usually been futile, with something rotten about it…
[48:44] Something rotten about it,
just because it has been conceived as a thing, which a man might have internally—and therefore exclusively.
That is, it’s his own precious little thing. “What one is as a person,” to the contrary, he says,
is what one is as associated with others in a free give and take of intercourse. This transcends both the efficiency, which consists in supplying products to others and the culture, which is an exclusive refinement and polish.
Any individual has missed his calling, farmer, physician, teacher, student, who does not find that the accomplishments of results of value to others is an accomplishment of a process of experience of what is inherently worth while.
[49:37] And so then he goes on to talk about how people get boxed into an opposition of sacrificing themselves for others are just pursuing their own ends. Why do I read that to you? Because you are in a social context that believes this. They do not believe in the cultivating of personal morality, holiness. They think they believe in programs.
I like to quote a statement by T.S. Eliot where he says, “We’re all looking for a program so effective that we don’t have to be good.” And that’s a battle that’s being fought constantly. There is currently a revival of interest in character, and that’s a good thing, but people don’t know how to handle it. And that’s where the people of Christ need to step in to the public arena—which actually they do every day we go to church, because the folks in our churches are the public.
And one of the things that we need to think about is reaching them, not reaching the people who aren’t there. And we need to pay more attention to the people who come than we do to the ones who aren’t coming. And unfortunately that often is not the case. But given just the contents of the New Testament, this is one of the sheets you now have, given the contents of the New Testament one might expect local congregations of Christians to be entirely devoted to the spiritual formation of those in attendance.
You might expect that. You read all these wonderful passages of progression, of growth in grace and knowledge of the truth in the New Testament. You watch Paul saying, “I show you a better way; though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am nothing,” and so on. You read all that, and what’s that for? Why is that in there? To make us feel guilty so we will depend on grace? Is that it? Do you think we’re actually supposed to do that? My goodness, if Dr. Angeltongue comes to our congregation, we’ll make him the pastor. You know? See, we aren’t focused on this. We’d rather have him than Paul, because Paul wasn’t a good speaker. And he might not be able to “reach the lost” because he wasn’t a good speaker, right?
Now, what we actually find in most cases is constant distraction from this as the central task. And I talk about this in the last chapter of Renovation of the Heart, so I won’t dwell on it that greatly, but the last chapter of Renovation of the Heart, so I won’t dwell on it at great lengths, but the last chapter of Renovation of the Heart is taking the VIM model now and applying it to the group, the vision, intention, and means. But the demands of the organization and often that comes in the form of the requirements of our faith and practice, our traditions, is what usually distracts us from saying, “Well, we’re just all going to learn to do what Paul said, what Jesus said.” We’re just going to learn to do that. Right?
Recently I was asked to present to a large church that is having real trouble financially because it was so far in debt, and they were having a struggle. And some had said, well, the key to our situation is to return to discipleship. But others were saying, well, if we do that, then we won’t do mission, we won’t do outreach.
[54:58] See? And there’s this myth that you see in what I just read from John Dewey—and by the way, that’s in a book of his that you might find useful…well, maybe not. But it’s just called Democracy in Education. Because, you see, Dewey’s version of salvation was democracy. And that lives on in our culture. And the idealization that drives our institution tends to be in that same direction. In any case, you might like to look at that.
So there’s this idea that somehow if we do discipleship, it will leave the world untouched. It’s the only thing that has ever changed the world. That’s the true fact of the matter. And that’s what Jesus said when he gave the Great Commission. He said make disciples of all nations, and teach them to do everything I said. Do you think things would go differently in this world if we did that?
See, if you want to stop evil in this world, what you do is get individuals who won’t do it. They just won’t do it. They’re working on the British Petroleum rig and they have someone come up and say, “We’ve got a mechanism here that’s very likely going to fail, and what are we going to do about it?” and they say, “We’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to slow this operation down, we’re going to stop it, and we’re going to fix that.” And then we have someone over here saying, “Yeah, but we’re going to lose several million dollars if we do that.” And they say, “Well, we do what is right.” Just do what is right! Do the right thing! That’s simple, isn’t it?
And all the messes that we spend in public cleaning up, almost all are due to people doing what they know to be wrong. Is that inner? Is that inner? Is that some precious little inner treasure that I go off and hide in a corner, and I’m just looking at my spiritual navel and just—oooh, precious! You know, what’s that guy in the Ring trilogy? “Precious!” Gollum! I love Gollum. He’s wonderful! “Precious, precious.” See, the only thing that really transforms the outer is the inner. And what the people were doing that gave this reputation to the inner, that brands it as irrelevant, was not inner. If they had been dealing with the inner it would have turned out to be something quite—it wasn’t inner. And nearly 100% of what John Dewey is reacting against is a brand of American religion of which he was a part, and he knew it well, and what was called inner in that context was not inner, it was a certain form of conformism. A certain form of conformism that resulted in people saying, “Well, we are a people of love,” but no one around them would have known it.
You can’t love your neighbor as yourself and keep it a secret. You can’t love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and keep it a secret. What happens is people substitute some easier version that’s under their control and it’s social conformity. And unfortunately in so many of our Christian organizations, conformity is what rules.
[59:46] So, last paragraph on that sheet. Often there is recognition that what we wind up “having to do” is not what we really feel it should all be about. And we have some wonderful people here that in our conversations have contributed to how that works in their field—medicine, law. And that’s the curse of the professions. The professions viewed ideally are organizations designed to serve the public good. That’s their only justification. But then they turn inward on themselves and become places where people pursue careers, and then different careers begin to impinge on one another, and health care agencies, for example, become businesses.
That can even happen at church. And I meet many people in ministry who tell me that the grief of their heart is they’re not really able to do the things they were called into ministry to do. They’re not really able to do the things that they believe God wants them to do, because they have to serve the organization, the career interest in the particular line of work.
The Role Of Pastors
Ok. Is there any hope? Well, I think there is, and on the last page, just a word about this: who is going to lead? Guess who? You! I use the word pastor here and don’t interpret it narrowly. Of course there is a very special responsibility that falls on the people in the official position of pastor in the church and the community, because of their position. They have a very special position and a very special responsibility, but I use that word as I explain in the last chapter of the book on Knowing Christ Today, to refer simply as spokespeople for Christ. One of the best pastors in the room is Jan Johnson, and I don’t think—she doesn’t even have any fringe benefits, do you? But she is tremendously influential. She is a spokesperson for Christ. Keith here in a very important institution. He’s not a pastor, but he’s a spokesperson for Christ. You are a spokesperson for Christ. You working in student life at Emmanuel College. You don’t want to be led into the misunderstanding that somehow the real stuff is going on in the faculty. You’re teaching; you’re leading.
The pastor is the spokesperson for Christ, see. And only the pastors, spokespersons for Christ, can be the teachers of this nation and of the nations. And that’s because they alone have the knowledge. Now many of them don’t know that, because pastors have been beaten down, beaten into submission, told that they have something called faith but no knowledge, that knowledge is secular; they’re automatically out of the game. They’re persons of faith.
Well, whoop-de-do! That really let the world off the hook, didn’t it? Because what that means is you don’t really have any knowledge to communicate as a spokesperson for Christ. That’s all in the hands of people who are godless or professing to be godless, and they assume the position of responsibility for being teachers of the nations, and that was never given to them; that was never their job. The university systems in general, in the Western world, took over the institutions that thought their main business was to teach people simply how to live a good life in the kingdom of God. And that’s still written on the walls and in the papers.
If you ever want to see this, read a little book by Julie Rubin called The Making Of The Modern University. They took over the role and then found they didn’t have the content to do it, and so those four great questions that I imposed upon your earlier, they don’t have an answer. Their only role is to tell the Church, “You don’t have an answer either.” That’s their job. And they actually teach theology up to the ears by teaching their content as something independent of God. Well, how’d they find that out? All these fields teach theology, but not responsibly. You would think the first thing that a secular university would do would be to establish secularism as truth. They don’t do that. But they use it.
[1:05:39] And that’s where pastors come in. They do have the knowledge content that is needed to guide lives, but they often don’t understand it and they don’t represent it as knowledge. They represent it as something they say, and perhaps a divine lightning will strike people and they’ll become converts and church members. We have to stand as people who represent knowledge, and that’s a big battle within our own circles. They also have the social position in many different ways.
But frankly, just in terms of our church. Our churches are not private things; the public shows up in the congregation. When you stand up to speak in a church, you’re already speaking in the public square because the people you’re talking to live there. So when we’re thinking about what I’m talking about now, we don’t want to start in thinking about how we’re going to go outside and straighten all the people out, you work with the people who are there. And then you let them take that into their world. And that’s how Christianity spread, and that’s the only reliable method of spreading it today, is through the lives and examples and understandings of individuals who are there. The spread of Christianity has almost never been through large meetings, and for much of the history of this, they couldn’t have large meetings. It wouldn’t be tolerated. Think of China in the recent past, to give you a good model. How did that spread? It spread skin to skin.
So, now, the pastor has an audience. They have a social position and it goes beyond the people who come to church, but they have to be bold enough to address the rest of the world. And when they stand to speak to the people who are there, they speak in the presence of the world, and they assume that what they are saying is for everybody. That is vital knowledge for life. And then they have the power from God, the position in God, and they alone have that. You have that; that’s you. You have that position; you have that power. Because you are in the kingdom of God, and that’s why you’re greater than John the Baptist.
Have you all internalized that? You know, you need—now you can take a few things that you recite in the morning when you get up and you look in the mirror before you do your ‘do. You haven’t even fixed your hair. That’s the point, you say. “I’m greater than John the Baptist.” Now, I can tell some of you haven’t done that yet. So you say that right with “I am the salt of the earth. I am the light of the world.” It’s good to say that before you fix your hair, because that’ll help you remember where your greatness really is. It’s not in your looks.
So, the Great Commission is what pastors are called to do and empowered to do. But if you don’t step into it, it won’t happen. We have to step into it; we have to say, “God help me, this is what I do. I make disciples. I gather in the power of the Trinity. I teach people to do what Jesus said because I’ve already learned how to do it.”
[1:09:57] And if you say, “Well, that’s not humble enough,” well, get humble and do it. Right? You’re told to be humble. “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that when the time is right, he will exalt you.” God wants to exalt you. He’s not looking for a better program. There are all kinds of programs that will work if they just have the right people. Remember what I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with the Church that discipleship wouldn’t fix. But if you do something else and call it church and it doesn’t have discipleship, it won’t work either. It’ll just be another human arena of arrogance and failure and harm. That’s all it will be.
So, that’s enough. Thank you.
 Dewey, John. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. Macmillan Company, 1916, pg. 143.