"The wind blows where it wants to and you hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where its going. That's how it is with everyone who has been born of the Spirit."
What a double-edged sword. Used one way, control allows us to make fire useful. It harnesses electricity, keeps floods from seasonally sweeping down rivers, keeps criminals in check.
Used in a wrong way or in a wrong context, control makes marionettes out of people, destroys their creativity, stifles their emotions and leaves them dependant on those who wield the control.
For lovers of God, the question to answer is: in what context is control permissible, necessary or desirable in the Body of Christ and when will its exercise result in spiritual dependency or even in spiritual abuse?
Answering this question thoroughly would require several blogs, so I want to focus in on one aspect: is control - or to define this word more clearly, leadership structures that lead by issuing commands, basing their authority on position - is such control a natural part of God's creation? Or does it stifle what the church was meant to become?
I'm going to narrow the topic down even further, because I find myself tempted to make too many good points that might distract from the main point. I want to look at our meetings. Not just any meeting (such as to organize a food drive or an evangelistic event), but those meetings in which the body of Jesus meets to fellowship together with Him (most people call these events "church services," just to be clear, although the action mentioned is not always part of them).
There is not much in the New Testament which tells us what to do in these meetings or describes what the first Christians did. Yet there is more than most church leaders will usually admit. For example, 1 Corithians 14:26-32:
Whenver you come together, let everyone be ready with a psalm, or a teaching or a revelation, or ready to use his gift of tongues or give an interpretation; but let everything be done for edification. If the gift of tongues is exercised, let it be by two or at most three, and each in turn; and let someone interpret. And if there is no one present who can interpret, let the people who speak in tongues keep silent when the congregation meets - they can speak to themselves and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, while the others weigh what is said. And if something is revealed to a prophet who is sitting down, let the first one be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, with the result that all will learn something and all will be encouraged. Also, the prophet's spirits are under the prophet's control; for God is not a God of unrulyness but of shalom!
This passage is strewn with landmines, such as the instructions about speaking in tongues. I don't want to address all that, and I hope we'll all be willing for the moment to set our own convictions about certain points aside, so that we can recognize the bigger picture.
Paul is describing a meeting of the family of God, where each person comes ready to give and to use his gifting to serve others. The expectation is that each person has touched God during the week and has something to share. It may be something regular and natural, like an encouragement or a song to share, or something the Holy Spirit gave them supernaturally, like a prophecy or (dare I say it) a message in tongues.
What especially stands out to me in reading this, is that there is a dynamic back and forth interaction between any or even possibly all of the persons present. There is no sense of a single person or team of people who stand up front and direct the proceedings. No, they are all involved because 1. each has been walking with Jesus during the week and so has something to share, or 2. each is presently able to sense what the Holy Spirit is saying and willing to receive a message and bring it right then, or act upon an impulse given (such as to pray for a healing).
The statement "And if something is revealed to a prophet who is sitting down, let the first one be silent." has long puzzled me. I've never experienced a meeting where something like that happened. Normally that would be considered "out of order" or chaotic.
Now however, I see something new: They had respect for the leadership of the Holy Spirit, who they saw as leading the meeting - through each one of them by his inner nudges. By giving place to the person receiving new input, they were letting the Holy Spirit break in and speak whenever he chose. We can't relate to that because few of us have ever experienced anything other than human leadership of meetings. At best we pray, as leaders, and expect to have our plan for the meeting initiated and blessed by the Holy Spirit, but the meeting remains in human hands.
Friends, I want to suggest to you that such meetings where the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit leads are not only possible, but they are better and more fulfilling!
What is more, they are the most natural thing in the world.
A few years ago if I had read these words I would have been saying, "Uh-uh, no chance. If there is a vacuum of power unsavory, undisciplined and controlling personalities will always insert themselves." And yes, that is possible, if the group has not learned how to lovingly correct each other. But let me ask a penetrating question: Do you, do I, have more faith in the ability of human frailty or even demonic disturbance to disrupt our meetings, than in the willingness of the Holy Spirit to lead and protect what is His?
Let me show you why I think it is natural for us to let the Holy Spirit lead our meetings through whomever he chooses, meetings in which the input can come spontaneously from the newest convert or the wisest elder.
Jesus taught us almost exclusively through parables. These parables were taken out of life, but not out of just any aspect of life. The vast majority have to do with nature, usually out of the world of agriculture, because the rural people of that time - and even the city people - were very connected to the land. I do not think, however, that their familiarity with nature was the sole reason Jesus used nature as a teaching tool. Rather, nature was created in such a way as to reflect spiritual truths.
The following are concepts that I am using with permission from a botanist friend of mine, Dr. Zoltan Szocs, who himself developed these ideas from conversations with Dr. Ferenc Sebestyen, a Hungarian theoretical biologist who did his doctoral thesis on this topic in the 60's at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Both the biological examples and the later living organ parable are theirs.
An amazing number of natural systems are harmony based, rather than central-control based. Let's look at a few biological systems.
Why? Because when the first cell begins to divide and become two, and then four, etc., the information is transferred unaltered into the new cells. At the beginning every cell is the same inside and outside - how than could the individual cells develop into all of the many different body parts?
How could one group of cells begin to develop into bone structure, another group into heart muscle, etc.? Notice that they completed this amazingly complicated task in COMPLETE HARMONY with each other without a centralized control center directing their actions!
This harmony is possible because the creator, like a master composer, wrote the whole script of the song into each cell from the beginning. He wrote a code into each cell, the DNA, which instructs each individual cell in its task.
Actually, cells function like minature factories, each capable of producing a range of products. The cells next to the wound concentrate directly on rebuilding the tissue and fighting infection. This weakens their own natural processes and without help they would be in danger of exhaustion, starvation or death. Therefore, the cells a little further in, which are not affected by the cut stand in a supporting role, and send nutrients and other help which builds those healing cells back up.
All of this transpires without any direction or suggestions from the brain, the body's control center. Each has the code of the song of life hardwired into it, and is capable of sensing when its help is needed and of knowing what it should do.
Instead, only a certain percentage of each kind of seeds will sprout, depending on how much room there is and how many seeds there are available for the plot of land.
It is as if the seeds are able to sense how many of each kind are competing for the space and a certain number of each will NOT sprout, but wait for another opportunity. All this takes place without a central meadow intelligence directing the growth.
This model can be recognized throughout nature, especially in the biological world. There must be some essential truth and message in it which reflects our creator. As I said before, nature was created to reveal spiritual truths. Since the church is called the Body of Christ - inherently a biological organism - we should pay attention.
Technical systems in contrast function very differently. Consider your car, computer, a robot, a mechanized factory. Each requires a centralized control unit and an operator. These systems reflect their creators, humans, which have gotten away from the natural way of things. See "The Church - Institution or Living Body," section "Roots of Babylon."
Because of this human shift away from God's natural way, human organizational systems are also now centralized. Look at any corporation and with few exceptions they are heavily hierarchical and directional. It goes without saying that every army is based on hierarchical control structures. Other examples hold true, such as the educational system, the government and far too often, the church.
These are man-made organizations. They are very different from living organisms (I think this is an understatement). They reflect a different ideal, not the one which governs living organisms on earth, the way our Creator designed them to work!
There are of course exceptions to the rule, exceptions in which de-centralization and harmony are showcased together in their simplicity and beauty. A well-trained football team (soccer) requires no direct command structure. The players work together, react off of the movements and actions of each other and of their opponents to move the ball to the goal.
The same could be said about a good chamber orchestra (playing without conductor) - they all know the whole symphony, but also their individual role to play in it. They are sensitive to the play of their colleagues - listening to each other continuously, knowing when to play their notes because they have internalized the score.
I read once about an Israeli tank unit in the Yom Kippur war which got separated from other units and whose communications link to central command was wiped out. The officers were dead, but the soldiers remaining - all of similar rank - chose to keep fighting. As the battlefield situation unfolded the tanks communicated with each other, watching each other's backs, warning of incoming danger, suggesting actions to each other.
After the battle was over the successful action was reviewed by headquarters. They had to recognize that without central control the units were able to operate much more effectively.
In order to better communicate how natural systems work, Drs. Sebestyen and Szocs worked up a simple parable.
You know of course how a pipe organ works. There is a console, from our perspective the heart of the organ with its keys, pedals and motor (formerly bellows) for a source of air. The keys and pedals are connected either electrically or with rods to stops which control the flow of wind to the selected pipes.
When a piece is to be played, the organist sets himself down at the console, starts the motor and the piece is played - either masterfully or poorly - according to his skill, timing and mood. Everything happens or doesn't happen according to his desire and ability.
The pipes are not very intelligent tools. There is only one thing they can do: give their tone at the command of the organist and for as long as the organist chooses. This is the model of pipe organ that we all are familiar with, a very centralized control system. This is the way we do things today.
But let's imagine for a moment that this pipe organ were constructed according to God's model for nature and natural organisms. How would it be different?
Each pipe is a separate, stand-alone unit. There is no connection to the central console, in fact there is no longer a central keyboard. Each pipe contains its own control unit enabling it to make decisions and act, a memory unit to store coded music (like the DNA of organisms) and an "ear" or listening device in order to hear and detect what other units are doing. Each is able to take advantage of the wind that is blowing from the motor, but also to decide when to let the wind blow through or to hold it back.
In essence the pipes give the same sound as in the first model, but the decision to play or how to play no longer resides with the organist, but with each individual pipe. They have the autonomy and ability to play well or to make mistakes, but each individual pipe is involved, not a central authority.
All that is needed for a song to be played is for the pipes to be together in one place, connected to the source of wind, and for the signal to start to be given. The music has already been received and recorded in the memory when their Maker created them, so they already know the score and their part in it. Now each pipe simply has listen to the others, follow the flow of the music and give the proper sound at the right moment.
Pipe C knows, for example, that it has to give three short notes right after Pipe G. He hears the progression of the music, hears G give his note, and then it's his turn. This organ is very flexible: the pipes can move around even right in the middle of a performance, because there are no physical connections between the pipes. It might sound complicated, but it has to do with harmony, freedom and growing into maturity, all important values in God's creation.
You know, we probably have the technological know-how to build such an instrument. We don't, because we have learned a different value system ... and we like to be in control, and possibly to receive the praise for our own performance.
Church lived according the the living organ principle can be harmonious and natural or tedious and combative. It all depends on the individual pipes and their dedication to the music.
We were meant to be living pipes, autonomous in worship, playing the tune written on our hearts. Unfortunately we have become caricatures of God's intention, with rods bolted on tight connecting us to the leadership's keyboard. The beauty of the tune we play is too often not one in which each pipe has its part, becoming a spontaneous outburst of love, adoration and fellowship with our Creator, but is now all under the direction of the organist, subject to his genius and flaws.
I believe that there is a musical score prepared for each meeting of God's holy ones, a very special flow of events, made up of prayer, worship, sharing, teaching, encouragement, singing, spontanous singing from the heart, confession, reconciliation, correction, prophetic words and so on, in which every part falls into place with a fitness and rightness that is beautiful. Each part fits and serves the whole, each word said supports and prepares the way for the next word or prayer said by the next person.
But we will only experience this harmonious and beautiful music when we learn how to let the Spirit of the living God lead us, when we, especially us leaders, stop getting in the way. It requires a measure of trust, in God, that he is able to teach us how to meet this way.
It also requires us to believe, deeply, that God is able to shape and mold a group of people into a composition that is able to make this beautiful music together. I know, that sounds corny, but I have experienced it. I've had a taste of what meetings can be like when each person is submitted to the Holy Spirit's leading and open to each other, when we are reacting off of what the other said and to what we sense in our hearts is next or right on for this moment.
In those moments you feel like you are following a script, but until you felt the impulse of the Spirit to speak those words and saw how fit and right they were in the context, you may not have been sure if it was the Lord speaking or last night's pizza. And the more you obey, the more you "practice", the easier and more natural it becomes.
"The wind blows where it wants to and you hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where its going. That's how it is with everyone who has been born of the Spirit." John 3:8
That's what these words mean. The Holy Spirit is the wind, the power source for each pipe, who will blow into each person what He wants to come out during the meeting. Since you haven't planned the script in advance, during the meetings it seems as if the inputs are coming from every which way - until they begin to fall in to place and into a rhythm that is beautiful and uplifting.
Once you have experienced a taste of fellowship like this with God and with your spiritual brothers and sisters, you won't really be satisfied with the show from the stage any more.
Our God is a master Creator and a master Composer. Let the living organ play!