I did not think I was going to write another post on church rules, but as I read the comments and emails following my simple story, one piece of the whole subject kept peskily scratching at the door of my mind.
My story left out important parts of the church rules discussion because I cannot do justice to every aspect in one post.
However, I’d like to talk about an important missing piece. A verse from Galatians gives a clue:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Galatians 6:1 (ESV) emphasis mine
The church is often faced with situations that require solutions that aren’t clearly spelled out in the Bible.
What do you do when you have a church member who is not overtly disobeying anything in the Bible, who keeps the church rules, but somehow is still a troublemaker and causes a spirit of dissension in the church?
What if you get a sense of manipulation or dishonesty from someone, but you can’t prove from the Bible or from facts that you know with certainty that he/she is doing anything wrong?
Or perhaps someone is doing something obviously wrong, but won’t admit to any fault. What should you do about it?
Make some more rules to hopefully take care of the problem?
On the other hand, you might also have people in the church who are “Spirit-led” but who live unwisely, being careless in their understanding and application of the Bible. What do you do? Make some rules to get them back in line?
Does making more rules ever work?
This is the piece that I think is missing in many church situations: spiritual discernment.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV) emphasis mine
Once you start seeing it, it’s all through the Bible.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 (ESV) emphasis mine
We go round and round and round in our churches, unable to solve problems because our natural minds are not able to understand what can only be understood in the spiritual realm.
This is a big reason why sexual abuse is so prevalent in the church: the church has no spiritual power to deal with a problem deeper than surface regulation. Abusers innately know that they are protected by such a system. It’s easy–just follow the rules!
But a spiritual person knows when someone has a wicked heart.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
I Corinthians 2: 14-16 (ESV) emphasis mine
Discernment is something all Christians should grow in, but God also gives a special gift called “the discerning of spirits” to some believers for the purpose of building up the church.
For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
I Corinthians 12:8-11 (ESV) emphasis mine
It’s a gift close to my heart–in fact, the one I asked for when I received the Holy Spirit.
Yet many churches have no concept of solving problems from a spiritual standpoint, thus no platform for people with the gift of discernment.
When a spiritual problem arises, usually whoever happens to be in administration is responsible to do something about it, whether or not they have any spiritual skill to solve the problem.
In addition to that, sometimes people with this gift are women. Some of my mentors are extremely skilled at discernment, but as single women, they don’t have a voice in church issues.
This enormous need for spiritual discernment in God’s church has often left me with a helpless longing to be more discerning myself. I feel like a kindergartener in my ability to discern. I can’t do much about the church as a whole, but how could I grow in this area personally?
First of all, I’m seeing that discernment is a gift, something only God can give through the Holy Spirit.
None of us deserve this gift, but God loves to give His children good things if we ask Him. And He loves to give wisdom!
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
James 1:5 (ESV)
Last Sunday, another part of my question of how to become more discerning was answered for me. As I listened to a Sunday School class discussing Hebrews 5, I almost jumped out of my seat when I read verse 14!
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:14 (ESV)
Excitedly I found Will after church and told him what I had read: Discernment is a gift from God that can be trained by constant practice.
How could this look in a church?
How would a church look that valued the gift of spiritual discernment? What would it mean for a church to work together so that each member could have his or her ability to discern trained by constant practice? What if those who are wise and experienced would mentor those of us who need practice?
What if, when the church encountered a problem, we all got together and prayed for God to speak to us individually and as a group, for supernatural wisdom and insight into the spiritual realm?
Our words could be tested in the group, and spiritual solutions applied to correct spiritual problems. For we can never legislate what only the Holy Spirit can do. We can never see ourselves or others in the church with clarity as the Holy Spirit can.
I can’t tell you how much I long to see that kind of power exploding in our churches!
Whether we believe in rules or not, we need this missing piece. We need God’s gift of discernment so that we may be blameless for the day of Christ.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
Philippians 1:9-10 (ESV) emphasis mine
I feel the need to give my husband Will some credit for this post, because he has helped me a great deal to think through this subject over the last few years. I’m lucky to be married to him!