MentorNet #25 Integrating Truth and Task
George Patterson & Galen Currah
This message is longer than usual; it challenges some sacred cows that need ampler clarification.
While coaching new church leaders, you will meet some who imagine that their task is to think true thoughts and to explain those thoughts to passive listeners. Therefore, you must explain and demonstrate that truth must be experienced and that it must be experienced in loving relationships with God and with one another. Teachers, churches and small groups can make this experience easy by following biblical guidelines.
1. Help disciples to experience God’s Person and not simply learn facts about Him
This conversation with Billy Sunday, an evangelist of the First World War era, reflected an attitude that is now strong and growing stronger among young Western Christians. Sunday’s sweeping rejection of theology was unfortunate, for sincere Christians love to learn about God and that is essentially what theology does. Its rejection may reflect a rebellious spirit, but more often is due to the approach to theology that unwise educators have inflicted upon sincere believers.
The ‘portrait’ that believers enjoy contemplating is that of God Himself. Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh and gave us the most complete image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). We ‘see’ Christ not by indexing details of His Person and work, but by entering into a relationship with Him, and thus with the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms all aspects of our lives.
When ‘postmodern’ people put their faith in Christ, they seldom attend more than a few traditional worship services—except a few who already had been exposed to traditional worship and became inured to it. It is too painful for them. To turn their pain into a wholesome experience churches must apply God’s Word in the same way that Jesus and His apostles did so.
George Patterson recalls, “Training pastors in
2. Let the Holy Spirit integrate different disciplines, ministries and truths in the body
Let us bring cohesion to Christian teaching, worship and ministry. May we call this kind of fusion integrated theology? Integrating theological truths and works of God is not merely a mental exertion. It requires purposeful interaction in churches and the lives of believers. For example, we grasp the death and resurrection of Jesus as the two sides of one saving work. His death makes forgiveness possible, but does not impart life by itself. Eternal, holy life comes by being united with Jesus in His resurrection; our mortal bodies will be clothed in His immortality (1 Cor. 15). To teach Jesus’ crucifixion as His entire saving work neglects His resurrection that was the event that the apostles emphasized more when they announced the gospel. Let us proclaim salvation not as abstract ‘doctrine’ but as our entrance into a new family and an eternal life of constant transformation.
Integrated thinking does not oppose system but the lack of a whole system. Theology that isolates divine truths destroys the grand theological system that exalts our Lord Jesus Christ as the Head in whom all things exist and hold together. To isolate theological details is the opposite of a true system.
Webster’s dictionary defines system as “an assemblage of objects united by some form of regular interaction or interdependence; an organic or organized whole; as, the solar system; a communications system.” What some erroneously call systematic theology is technically a perversion of the term systematic. True system requires integration, such as seen in the human nervous system. God’s whole, beautiful, interactive, interdependent system becomes fragmented in student’s minds by the fragmented way in which teachers present it. Let us do the right kind of analysis:
Many of us who love analytical theology have seen in pastoral and missionary ministries that its neatly categorized details fail to meet the current needs of God’s people as well as simply teaching God’s Word does. Doctrines listed analytically do not flow easily from one person to another. People communicate more effectively by teaching in the way that Scripture does.
George Patterson confesses, “When I trained new pastors to think in an analytical way, their teaching failed to touch people’s hearts. To correct this, I pictured an army tank on a conveyer belt moving backwards, disassembling the tank into neatly sorted piles of wheels, gears and canon barrels. I explained that good teaching moves towards cohesiveness. The pastors understood this, except one who refused to flex. His ministry proved short lived.”
Educators should teach in a way that the average Christian worker can easily imitate and apply at once, passing it on to other leaders who train still others, as 2 Timothy 2:2 requires. Some educators show the relationship between two or three areas of theology, but they should integrate many more disciplines. The Holy Spirit harmonizes different ministries if we let Him (1 Cor. 12). Ministries that need to be integrated include history, prayer, spiritual warfare, serving the needy and other social duties, Bible, evangelism, stewardship, relationships, character transformation, worship, discipling, new churches, small groups, organizing, missions, family life and spiritual care.
3. Discern the difference between integration and merely keeping two things in mind
· Let believers teach and serve one another in small groups (search for all the occurrences of ‘one another’ in your concordance’). Avoid teaching only by monologue, and let the Holy Spirit harmonize the various gift-based ministries in love (one Cor. 12; Rom. 12:1-13; Eph. 4:11-16).
· Let Jesus act as the Head of the body. He is the unifying factor. “In Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Col. 2:10). “By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). If Jesus is our Head, then we must learn to obey His commands, building all ministries on this foundation (Matt. 7:24-29; 28:18-20).
Jesus showed how to integrate relationships, revelation and service. God the Father exercises loving authority, the Son the lovingly submits to work out the Father’s will on earth within time and space, and the Holy Spirit lovingly and powerfully applies the Son’s work to our lives and ministries. Each Person of the Trinity was and is co-active in every aspect of redemption.
· Train leaders on the job in their church body where God harmonizes various ministries.
· Avoid abusing the gift of teaching by letting it eclipse others’ ministries. Avoid the arrogant ‘omniscience’ of some who impose the last word on every point.
· Teach a doctrine by helping people to apply its moral obligations (Eph. 4:11-16; and 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Scriptural doctrines include duties. For example, the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s filling in Scripture is not to grant an ‘experience’ but to enable believers to serve others in practical ways.
· Organize in a way that brings people together who have different ministries, rather than by isolating the people and their ministries in separate programs. A church’s greatest weakness is often its greatest strength taken to excess, which leads to imbalance. A good way to maintain balance is to let a small group practice all the ministries that the New Testament requires.
· Discern between true theology and merely advertising a denominational dogma. Unbalanced theologians defend their denomination’s doctrines, or the current views of their associates. Loyalty to one’s peers is admirable, but does not necessarily produce honest theological research.
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