Minister’s forum: Don’t fall victim to complexity
By Bill Kimball
What are you afraid of? We all have our own private phobias. Some are afraid of spiders, some are terrified of heights, others are afraid of being confined. I’m claustrophobic myself. Even the Apostle Paul had something he feared. He was as fearless as they came in his apostolic missions, his passion for the Gospel and his tireless confrontation with the undermining influences of the Judiazers.
However, there was one thing he was afraid of. What do you think was Paul’s greatest fear? Was it persecution? Was it the ruthless opposition of the Roman government? Was it the physical infirmities he endured? No, it was none of the obvious. What Paul feared most is found in his statement; ” … I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the Simplicity that is in Christ.”
The glory of the Gospel is in its simplicity. The glory of the Christian life is found in our abiding simplicity in Christ. In spite of this, most of church history has been a chronicle of complexity. There’s an intoxicating allurement to take what is simple and to complicate it. This was at the heart of Satan’s temptation to Eve. In effect, he was enticing her to embrace something deeper, something more intriguing, something more complex. This is what Paul feared most for the church.
If you spiritually discern the pulse of many churches, whether they are old line, evangelical, independent, charismatic, even the contemporary ones that “hustle and bustle” the most, what you find is complexity.
Simple Bible study has often turned into complex, systematized and arcane forms of study. Simple prayer has often turned into an endless series of prayer formulas and “how tos.” Worship and praise have often become so complex that we’ve lost the heart of Jesus. Songs and musical progressions have too often become so complicated that the congregation is more focused on the power point projection and the subtleties of the musical arrangement than on true, Christ-centered worship. Evangelism has often drifted from a simple vibrant witness of everyday faith to a set of techniques, rules of presentation, gimmicks and methodology. And so the list goes on and on. Quite frankly, a candid appraisal of church history as a whole shows us that we’ve pretty much managed to complicate just about every aspect of the Christian life.
Not only that, but vast multitudes of sincere, dedicated, zealous Christians have unwittingly fallen prey to the temptation to complicate our lives with “spiritual” busyness. This pitfall is especially attractive to those who want “to be about our Father’s business.” Why? Because it is so easy to justify and defend. In the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) we see a glaring contrast between these two sisters. Martha is frantically “distracted with much serving.” She’d fallen prey to the lure of busyness. What is so telling in this portrait of opposites is the fact that she was actually, physically serving Jesus.
How many of us have fallen into this trap with such catch phrases as, “get plugged in, find your place in the body, get involved, get committed, get busy serving the Lord.”
These are all wholesome in the proper context, but as a general rule most Christians are so busy and their lives are so cluttered with busyness that we, like Martha, have lost sight of our simple relationship with Christ. We’ve become so involved with church commitments, church programs, and ministerial activities that Jesus has often been lost in the shuffle.
Many Christian lives have fallen prey to the “Martha Syndrome.” In the process, we have mistakenly assumed that “spiritual busyness” is the true test of Christianity. As a consequence, we’ve inadvertently bought into the model of the “program-driven church.” We’ve mistakenly substituted ministerial agendas, spiritual disciplines, “how tos,” religious formulas and church programs rather than relationship-driven Christianity.
In contrast, we find Mary sitting at Christ’s feet. Much could be said about this story, but the obvious lesson is the priority of simple relationship – of a personal relationship with Jesus, with a relationship of hearing His word as opposed to a complicated and distracted spiritual lifestyle.
Having said the above, our conclusions naturally lead us to a thoughtful consideration of the simple house church. This is a return to basics found in the early church before complexity set in. It is in this crucible that simplicity is forged. It offers us the fertile soil to cultivate authentic relationships with others, with the lost and with Christ. It offers us the pathway to a more biblically and experientially New Testament pattern of involvement, accountability, and interaction. It is God’s antidote for complexity. It may not have all the answers, but it’s a pretty good start.
If there is one clarion call today which God echoes through his church, it is the call to return to simplicity.
-Bill Kimball is a former teacher at Sierra Community Church. He was also a pastor at Glad Tidings in the 1980s.
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