Friday, August 24, 2007

Pattern or Passion (Part 2)

In 1988 Ruel Lemmons wrote this editorial. From the day I read it, it has had a profound influence on me. So, here it is for your weekend's enjoyment: Pattern or Passion?

"In Egypt, near the banks of the Nile, I one time saw an ox hitched to a water-pumping device. The ox has a leader pole attached to the water mill. When the ox pulled the beam to which it was hitched, it in turn advanced the lead pole, and the pole pulled the ox forward. The ox wore a blindfold, and in total darkness he plodded, onward, day after endless day, not knowing where he was going. He had done it so long that the circle in which he plodded had become a rut so deep the ground level was well up the body of the ox. The ox knew the pattern alright. It had traveled on for years in the same circle and had never gotten fifty feet from where it started as a young ox years ago. Now it was a gaunt and grizzly old ox whose days were surely numbered. It knew the pattern alright, but it had no passion. And so it plodded on--aimlessly--all its life.

We have become a church noted for its pattern rather than its passion. We have turned inward and we consume our energies in going around in a circle. I have seen churches just like that ox. They meet every Sunday. They read the same book regularly. They are sticklers for the pattern. They boast of their soundness and their loyalty, but they are going nowhere. The rut they are in is belly deep, and they have blinders over their eyes--put there by cruel masters, usually elders and preachers who boast of their authority--and like dumb driven cattle, they pull the load which also becomes their lead pole--but they are simply wearing their rut deeper. One thing I decided early in life as a preacher: nobody was going to own me--no eldership, no membership, no boss, no brotherhood clique--no nothing. I developed several different skills for making a living just so that no one could cut off my thinking processes by intimidation. I do not have to parrot a party line. I count my freedom in Christ a precious thing and will be free to do so or die. I will not live in slavery. Any time I find myself in a situation where I feel my ability to act in good conscience is being limited, I will change it and do something else. I will wear no blinders. I will tread no mill. I still feel that way about it. I may be mistaken about what the Bible says, but I believe strongly what I think it says. And no man will bind upon me an understanding of the Scriptures further than I myself perceive them to teach. And I am bound to preach it that way. I have too little patience, I suppose, with those who have to be told how to do the details of everything and exactly what they can and cannot believe. I wouldn't hire a man who couldn't figure out how to do what he was told to do on his own.

Following the Scripture is not a circular walk. The Scriptures point a straight line to glory. We don't simply pull the mill in order to be led by the pole. We don't wear blinders lest we launch out in a new direction. We must not lose our passion in our obsession with the pattern. It is easy for us to become lulled into semi-unconsciousness by a false sense of well-being. We can plod in our circle, never knowing how wretched, poor, naked, and blind we really are; or we can stay awake and alive and aggressive and passionate and make progress not in a circle.

We will never produce the dynamic growth we need as we push into the twenty-first century unless we get out of our rut, cast off our blinders, and quit being led by the nose by a few who think they have all the answers. We need to double the number of congregations we now have. We will never do that going around in a circle. We need to see the lost with a world vision. We will never do that with blinders on. We need to blaze new pathways. We will never do that hitched to a pole. Planting new churches and saving souls is exciting work. World evangelism is thing of passion. Christians today are not being evangelistically oriented. It is basic to church growth that every individual be evangelistically trained and evangelism inspired. Obsession with the pattern to the neglect of the passion is destroying us. As long as Christians are vital and active, they are deterred from falling away. All the knowledge in the world will not substitute for passion. It takes a faith strong enough to make us alter our lives, get out of our ruts, and seek new pastures. By such a faith, Abraham left Ur, not knowing where he was going. It was passion, rather than pattern, that drove him. We desperately need to find some new ways of doing the things the Bible teaches us to do."


ChristianTechonlogist said...

I love Abraham’s faith – being less concerned with the destination and more concerned with obedience. I think we often times worry more about the destination and less about growing journey God has us on…

Joe D said...

I love the quote, Charles. And I think it verbalizes in a very graphic way how I currently feel and HAVE felt for a very long time. I suppose that there is some twisted sense of security in a pattern way of life. There is much less security and really much fear and anxiety for living and functioning outside of the pattern way of life and spirituality. In some ways, we are no better that the Old Testament Jews who would cling to the rules, regulations and policies of life and find comfort there. I suppose that there is much to learn from "patterns", but it simply can not be the basis of our spirituality and approach to the scriptures. We must develop a passion to live beyond the pattern theology that has stylized our lives and our Churches. I suppose it will take more "pain in leadership" to make that hard church leap from pattern to passion.

Great blog-- it has really caused me to think.

Charles North said...

Thanks Joe (& Joe). It's nice to be encouraged. You need to know that I have had to delete some anonymous comments from people who like to quote scripture in anger. We're not playing that game here.

jenn said...

I admire the passion you have for the church! I have watched you and listened to you over the years and I have never known anyone so passionate about the church or the history of the church! Thank you for opening my eyes and realizing that I have been in a rut and it's time to get out and get moving! I have felt the need to follow the pattern my parents and grandparents set for me a long time ago, but have recently decided the pattern is not my passion and I do not believe it is God's passion either. And, just as Joe mentioned, it will be painful to make a leap from pattern to passion.