It has been suggested an adult is a child in stretched skin. While that may be an exaggeration, adults and children do have much in common. Both, to varying degrees, are shepherded through life by the expectations of others.
The university graduate was, probably, expected to become a university graduate, while the minimum wage guy, probably, was not. The expectations placed on a child often determine the outcome of the adult.
Pre-christian believers were shepherded through life by “the law”. (“Now we have been delivered from the law.”) The evangelical (etcetera) should be guided through life by the Holy Spirit, but instead has given himself over to the governance of christians (who have given themselves over to the governance of christians).
Pulpits and pews, while practical things, emit harmful inferences. For example, the pulpit guy is stationed behind the pulpit by divine appointment, and pew people are his audience by God’s decree. The pew people look to their spokesman to determine what is expected of them; the response seems to be, “Not much.”
To escape this harmful mentality (“Not much.”), it would be helpful to understand the power of the way it is. We have been (mis-) taught the sovereignty of God. We have learned that ‘God has everything under control’ and therefore the way it is must be God’s doing. Concerning the affairs of the church, our Jesus has high expectations for ‘the man of God’, and much less for the rest.
Merf and Mannie (See note.) help give a contrary spiritual overview of the local church.
Church and Merf don’t get along too good simply because church and Merf are going different directions. Everybody (and every group) is on the move, becoming, changing, either losing ground or gaining. No one is fixed. Merf is gaining Christ, church is descending deeper into lukewarmness.
It’s not a steady backsliding; there are times when church bounces back heading for higher ground they once held. They had even brought in a revivalist, but he seemed to cause division, and church decided they would rather be united than fervent. If one could chart the spirituality of Merf’s church, like most churches it would look like a failing stock that has occasional upward bounces, but the general trend is down, down, down.
People going down resent people going up, sibling jealousy perhaps. Christians who do not want (an intimate and meaningful relationship with) Christ don’t want to hang with those who do. Water seeks its own level.
The pastor is resentful because he senses Merf doesn’t need him. Pastor’s perspective: If we are all going in the right direction (and of course we are), and Merf is going in a different direction, Merf must be going the wrong way. He’s nervous that whatever Merf’s got might be contagious, and he is quite protective of the flock in his charge.
Now everyone knows when the pastor is less than enthusiastic about someone, and making buds with that someone puts them at risk; no one wants the pastor’s disapproval – all need his approval to serve and be accepted. So poor Merf is a bit lonely and getting lonelier.
Merf threatens unity because he doesn’t place himself under the authority (yes, the black kind) of leadership. Not that Merf would ever be disruptive or do anything dumb, but he has this air of independence, seems to live in another world. Whatever makes him tick, it certainly isn’t church.
Not that Merf doesn’t enjoy church, he does…. somewhat. He looks forward to praise and worship time when heaven seems to open up a bit. And he does learn from the man behind the pulpit, especially guest speakers. He likes to linger after a good service and bask in the manifested Presence. On the other hand….
Merf just doesn’t fit in, doesn’t want to fit in, finds himself being critical of just about everything. Why do we have to have the same guy preaching sunday after sunday after sunday? How can a man preach for almost an hour and rarely mention Christ? Is this what the New Testament church was like? Seems to me if the Holy Spirit were really in control the service wouldn’t be so boring. Why don’t we experience the power of God instead of just reading about it? “Shut up, Merf!” Merf says to Merf.
Often Merf daydreams while the pastor preaches. Quite an imagination, that boy….
He sees each in the congregation, after praise time, reach for a muzzle from the row of black muzzles hanging neatly on the back of the pews in front of the pew-warmers, watches them all put the muzzle over their mouths, quite proficiently Merf notices, like they’ve done this a thousand times. They sure look silly, Merf chuckles to himself, and he knows if he had a mirror he would see himself equally so. Mannie can’t figure why her man has that silly little grin during preach time. And, Why does he look at me like that, like there’s something wrong with my face?
So they are all muzzled, all except one, the pastor. No one muzzles the pastor, not even his wife. He gets to say funny things, talk about what a good week he has had – though very busy doing his pastoral duties – and expound his spiritual insights. He pampers, jokes, corrects and scolds to his heart’s content.
Merf is the only one in the church who sees the denominational biggies seated behind the pastor, each suited and tie-d and sparkly and somber. Only Merf and the pastor know these guys follow the pastor around wherever he goes, be it preaching, counseling, playing tennis, relaxing in his recliner soaking in unbelief from the box, whatever. They are his lord, and to them does he bow, and in them he abides.
P a u l : To whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves. (Rom.6:6)
Also, Merf is the only one to notice the ball and chain attached to the pastor’s ankle. And the men behind him, they have one too. As does almost everyone in the congregation (almost everyone, there are exceptions in every church), including the little lady beside him.
Mannie? Little? You see, Mannie is a midget, just like most others in the building, including the guys in front. The midgets, though midgets, are not all the same height, all are according to their spiritual maturity. As Merf scans the people he spots the few giants, their grand stature obvious only to him and to each other.
Merf notices the pastor getting annoyed whenever one of the midgets carelessly crosses his legs and rattles his chain. The men behind him are careful to cross their legs soundlessly, not wanting anyone to know they are in the building.
Merf’s ball and chain lies stretched out on the stage next to the pulpit, M E R F in bold letters on the ball, ankle-lock wide open, pining the return of its once captive. And then Merf’s imagination really gets going. The pastor picks up the ball and chain in outstretched hands and looks longingly at Merf. All the muzzled midgets, always so very supportive of their pastor, noisily stand and turn – clink, clink, clink, clink – to gaze at Merf with equal longing, all silently chorusing their plea, “Won’t you join us, Merf? Won’t you come back?”
To Merf’s horror he feels himself drawn to the ball and chain he recently escaped. The muzzled, distraught faces, the pleading eyes, the outstretched arms of welcome even from the dignitaries up front, magnified the drawing power humans have upon humans. The people began to rattle their chains in unison, and mesmerized Merf slowly rises from his seat, makes his way to the aisle and heads repentantly to the altar. (Not your typical altar call, is it?)
Mannie’s elbow in Merf’s ribs saved Merf from the M E R F ball and chain, waking him from his terror. “What’s with you, Merf?” now muzzleless Mannie demands. “You’ve got beads of sweat on your forehead!”
Songs sung, tithes taken, announcements announced, preaching preached, the people, muzzleless and shackleless and tall once again, are rejuvenated for at least a couple of hours, and the released chatterers chatter enthusiastically in the large foyer about nothing spiritually relevant.
- W. T o z e r : It is hard to have any insight and not be considered a cynic. It is hard to be a realist and not be classed with the pessimists. (Who Put Jesus On the Cross)
C h a l l e n g e : If you follow the crowd and the crowd is not following Christ, neither are you. Jesus said, “Come, follow Me.”
P r a y e r : Lord Jesus, we say, “Yes, Lord.” By the grace You so freely give we respond to Your beckoning. And we say, “More grace, Jesus.” (And hopefully the reader says, “Amen!”)
Thanks, Merf. You too, Mannie.
Perspective must come from the Bible. One cannot allow the expectations of peers-in-Christ to shepherd us through our christianity. Defective perspectives have seriously damaged the evangelical, making her to be something she ain’t, and hindering her from being what Christ called her to be.
Intangible fences are as confining as those topped with barbed wire. Overcomers are those who overcome illicit restrictions of the way it is, this accomplished by the power released at Calvary on our behalf.
To escape embarrassment at “the judgment seat”, we must build our lives on the rock of His words, not the sands of traditional reasoning.
Note: Merf and Mannie are imaginary friends who have agreed to star in the series of articles, “Far and Near”, available at larryjones.ca