The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Wah, wah, wah! Crying is the universal language and primary mode of communication for infants and toddlers. Babies cry when they are hungry, tired, cranky, wet, angry, scared, thwarted, frustrated, challenged or hit. In the self-centered, ego-centric, me/me/me, mine/mine/mine world of the absolutely immature, crying is power. Interesting how few ever truly grow out of it… Know the difference between an infant and a United Methodist? Infants cry when they need changing; United Methodists cry when required to change.
A thread running throughout Paul’s letters, literally in Ephesians, is the admonition to “grow up!” Maturing in the Christian faith is the central work of all who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ. Maturing — and in fact, discipleship — is all about change. And oh don’t we hate change? Wallowing in immaturity allows us to ignore and deny responsibility to become like Jesus. Babies just let emotions run wild, and self-control isn’t even on the table. Our current reality in The United Methodist Church is one of selfish regard, entitlement thinking, demanding our own way, and expecting “the adults” to take care of us. Of course, whenever “the adults” do something we don’t like, we throw a tantrum. We engage in a thousand and one immature behaviors whenever things don’t go the way we want them to. If we get in a disagreement, we escalate the negative emotional energy, then threaten to take our toys and walk away.
Some people may be offended by this assessment, but take a look at the list of behaviors, values and attitudes below. Which do you feel are more mature, and which less mature?
|Lying||Hitting in Anger||Mercy||Justice||Gossip|
I am going to conjecture that almost every list would pretty much match — we know mature from immature behavior. It doesn’t mean we choose maturity over immaturity, though, just because we know the difference. The way Christians who disagree with each other speak of one another is horrific. The least mature among us are squalling to take our ball and go home if we don’t get our way. We get a pastor we don’t like, and instead of committing to work together to help the pastor effectively lead, we cry to our District Superintendent, Bishop and/or anyone who will listen. Someone suggests a change to worship time or style and the bullies, whiners, gossips, and a host of other babies wail and bawl. If we don’t get our way, we stay home, or go somewhere else. And we promise not to return until our personal, selfish demands are met. If we don’t get what we want, we refuse to play.
In cases where the expectation is that people will “grow up,” “act mature,” or care more for others, you see the equivalent of arching backs, kicking feet, balled-up fists, and beet-red faces. If offered theological meat instead of Sunday school milk, we make faces and spit it out. We expect to be rewarded for every little thing, just as little children demand recognition when they brush their own teeth, dress themselves, or go potty like big people. If we don’t give a certificate and a pin, people can’t be bothered to read the Bible or pray (things every adult Christian should do without having to be rewarded or recognized).
Little children freely hit, slap, and scream things like “I hate you!” Violence, coercion, personal attack, bullying, name-calling, hating — these are the qualities of toddlerhood. We work hard with our children to help them outgrow such inappropriate behaviors. Funny how easily they seem to slip into our congregations of supposed adults. If you doubt me, sit in on a church discussion of homosexuality, abortion, gun violence, gambling or capital punishment. Immature Christians rush to these discussions the way they would when a playmate touches a favorite toy.
Crying is an essential survival tool for human children. Selfish, self-centered self-interest is imperative for infants to establish a basis of individuality in the time they are completely dependent on others. From this foundation, all growth takes place. The analogy is not strained when applied to our spiritual maturing as Christians. We do our children no favors by allowing them to hold onto sociopathic and selfish behaviors into adolescence. We are not doing our church any favors by tolerating the self-centered and immature behaviors of Christian believers with no interest in growing in their faith. Maturing in the Christian life = making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Babies can’t do it. Mature disciples can. The longer we allow ourselves to be dominated by crybaby Christians, the less likely we will ever fulfill our purpose and do God’s will. Let us no longer be children, but instead let’s work together to grow up into the adult body of Christ. And don’t forget to take your nap, so you don’t get cranky.
Categories: Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life
Crying is only one pole of a rapidly cycling phenomena. Before the crying comes all manner of power plays and accusations. When those don’t get what is wanted a cry ensues that you are taking away my Bible or Religious Liberty or whatever. When this provides space or pity, it isn’t long before the accusations again fly that you are the heretic and need to change and new rules are attempted. When caught at this, the crying game ensues again. This cycling keeps enough middle folks, triangled folks, in the game so they can be the definer, the power-broker for a religious concept, an institution, or even G*D. Blessings Janet and all who find their situation enmeshed with these behaviors. It is not easy to calmly stand your ground before a Council or Pilate. It is possible. Boning up on family systems can be helpful in the face of those practiced in divide and conquer strategies. This is not sufficient as all manner of spiritual disciplines (personal and communal) will also need to be brought to bear.
Interesting list. The items included are appropriate. Did notice, love was absent.
To agree. To disagree. To remain together. To not remain together. These are choices. God blessed the work of Paul and Barnabas as they worked together. God blessed as Barnabas chose to work with Mark and Paul chose to work with Timothy. Nothing would have been served by them sitting for decades agreeing to disagree because they were not of one mind. To stay together and work things out serves well an institution. Perhaps if there were today leaders of broadly acknowledged apostolic standing, someone of the caliber of Paul, Peter, James… things might be different. But such men are no where to be found. Sad. But, a single church or denomination is not the Church any more than Paul and Barnabas were the whole of early primitive Christian missionary work complete and entire. Their decision of conscience to separate served Christ. Today things are not any different.
Love is one of those special cases where there are as many forms of immature love, as mature. People can love for some very selfish reasons, and Agape is an ideal all too often unrealized. It is interesting the personality differences you raised from Acts and the early church. It is indeed a good illustration that when we differ, we still acknowledge the valuable place the others hold in the one, united Body of Christ. To differ and respect those who present a different approach is something the first century seems to have done much better than we can do today. We are on the verge of opting for amputation because we love our own prejudices much more than the baptism and faith we hold in common as one body.
Where there is a will, there is a way to dissect love or any word to a level of minutia that renders it just about practically irrelevant. The same can be done with forgiveness, mercy, justice and various opposites on the list. To note it’s absence from the list was simply to note its absence. Doubtless it can be used as a cloak for wrong doing.
Amputation? No. That would imply a diseased/damaged part is being removed so that what remained of the body might live. The diseased/damaged part is disposed of as after amputation it has no potential for life. Separation is not amputation. Separation is simply separation. The separation of Siamese twins allows both children to live better. The illustration of Paul and Silas demonstrates that even those highly committed to Christ will not in every point always agree. It also demonstrates that organic institutional unity will not always uniformly best serve Christ. Separation in the life of a church or denomination is certainly not to be sought without due thought and prayerful consideration. But, after due thought and prayerful consideration, it is not unreasonable to come to the conclusion that separation will best allow all to live better for Christ.
Dan, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were writing directly to a current ugly situation in my church! Thanks for this article.