I am such a purist. Egaliterian, non-hierarchical, opposing the imperial spirit. I could go on with such an impressive resumé. (You know what I am writing is so true!) Yet when I come to how God works he is not the purist that I am. He has an amazing ability to compromise.
God shows up in the midst of Empire. Even the British Empire and the spread of missions went hand in hand… the Roman Empire with its one world government was useful for communication and the road systems for travel. The Gospel spread around the then known world at an amazing rate. (Bizarrely this was how some used to explain the phrase of Jesus coming at ‘the fullness of time’. Imagine it – God just waiting for the help he needed from those wonderful Caesars!) And the OT example of God not wanting a king (and by the third generation of kings, Solomon ‘the wise’ becomes just a new Pharaoh) yet he anoints the king. He did not want a Temple but his glory showed up… he did not want priests but… All of that just plainly narks me a lot… until I realise he has shown up once or twice with me too so I don’t complain too loudly.
Compromise. To connect we have to meet, and if for example I connect with a Roman catholic priest I do not assume they are wrong in the sense that God has not called them. But I do not kiss my brains good bye and go seek being ordained or changing my beliefs. There is an element where I have to decide what carries integrity for me, what are the lines I cannot personally cross, and at the same time I cannot draw those lines for someone else.
Here are some thoughts on where we compromise (I am not talking morally):
- We have to keep our personal integrity. We know what our personal lines are.
- We have to decide what we can do, or if there something we need to do, that is a compromise for the sake of the Gospel. (I was once challenged that I needed to take out my ear ring if I was to ‘minister’ – I simply had one internal question: for the sake of the Gospel do I refuse, or for the sake of the Gospel do I comply. The answer can differ in different situations.)
- If we make a compromise it needs to be redemptive so that we help move things forward and not leave them there in the place where we connected.
- If we put some structures in place they need to be as temporary as possible. Sadly it is easier to start something than stop it – hence I see the Sabbath, the 7 year fallow, the 50 year Jubilee being to force a break. Apostolic teams might be helpful at a stage but they quickly default to a set of churches ‘belonging’ to the apostle – Paul was clear that all ministries belong to the body of Christ, not the other way round. The default is to structural domination – as illustrated by the biblical material on ‘the city’ and exemplified by Babylon.
- Empire is a spirit. Within empires there are good kings and bad ones. But kingship was not of God – it was a rejection of God! If we do not have our eyes open to the spirit of the empire and we do something that is birthed out of a desire for position we will end up coming under that spirit. My point in my initial paragraph is that God compromises functionally for redemptive purposes, and if we decide we need do this in a given situation we have to realise what we are doing is a compromise otherwise we will come under the spirit of compromise and lose our integrity today… or tomorrow.
Not great words of wisdom in the above but simply a few thoughts. We do nothing based on that what we do is better than someone else but that we have to live out of our convictions and then interact and work with others who have different convictions.