Summary: Counterfeit unity occurs in the relationships between people who want and like to have control and people who don’t mind being controlled. This relational setup seems like it benefits everyone involved and it keeps things in order. It does result in unity. But it’s not of the Spirit. You find this in concocted forms of church leadership or government over the years like one-bishop rule, one-pastor rule and elder rule that are formulated from erroneous interpretations of Scripture.
There are two ways there can be unity in the church. One of those ways is a spiritual counterfeit. The other is the unity of the Spirit.
The counterfeit (and most common) way to unity in the Body of Christ is by means of controlling relationships. Counterfeit unity occurs in the relationships between people who want and like to have control and people who don’t mind being controlled.
In this set up, those who want and like to have control (leader types) typically do so with the best of intentions. Usually those intentions are to make the church, or any relationship for that matter, the best it can be. Their motives seem pure to them. They tend to be gifted, talented and charismatic; and they have a strong natural tendency to work hard to serve the Lord.
Why is this so appealing? Namely, it massages self-esteem through various ways – like feelings of pre-eminence and being in the spotlight.
This works well for certain people.
Those who don’t mind being controlled also typically do so with the best of intentions. They also want the church to be the best it can be. Their motives seem pure to them as well. But they have a tendency to follow along after the leader types as they do the hard work. If the leader types are doing the work, then they should have more control…or so the thinking can be.
Why is this so appealing? Namely, It’s an easier way to be a part of the group. This works well for other people.
This relational set up seems like it benefits everyone involved and it keeps things in order. It does result in unity. But it’s not of the Spirit.
The One in control in Kingdom community
The unity of the Spirit is found in a group of people who are not seeking control or to be controlled. Check out what Paul says about how the Kingdom of God operates in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18…
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Kingdom relationships and community are embodied by people choosing to behold the Lord’s glory in and through one another in absolute freedom. The only one in control is the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Historically, verses like this have focused on the vertical aspect of the human relationship with God. While this is true, we must not forget the one-another horizontal aspect as well.
The unity of the Spirit in a church is found where order emerges from seeking, pursuing and beholding the Lord and His Kingdom together in freedom.
Not only does order emerge, but as Paul points out, we are “transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.”
Why control is preferred
From my studies, it seems that counterfeit unity through control in a church most of the time appears and sticks as a remedy or solution to the fear that it won’t hold to sound doctrine and desirable behavior. If a person or a select group isn’t calling the shots, the fear is this will lead to bad results, which are defined by those calling the shots of course.
If a church doesn’t start with a control set up, it usually morphs into one as undesirable things happen. Generally speaking in the world, when things go awry, the human solution is to centralize and institute more control to prevent undesirable things from happening.
Again, this results in unity, but it comes at the expense of freedom and transformation.
You find this in concocted forms of church leadership or government over the years like one-bishop rule, one-pastor rule and elder rule that are formulated from erroneous interpretations of Scripture. All of these setups are different variations of the same thing – a control/controlled set up of relationships.
They all use this as their paradigm or lens through which they interpret verses in the Bible. Those verses are put forward as supporting the philosophy that special people or groups should have more control over the direction and decisions of churches in the name of protection and guidance.
All of these basically adhere to the philosophy is that if a church is to make sure it upholds sound doctrine and behavior, then it’s better if that happens through a select few mature people who are models for knowing correct doctrine and behaving like Christ. If you allow only those people to set the direction of the church, it’s safer and wiser. (I debunk this in this series of posts.)
If you involve less mature people equally, you’re opening the church up to danger because they are more likely to insert incorrect doctrine and bad behavior into the decision-making processes. It’s seen not only as a danger, but also quite an inconvenience.
In this paradigm, it’s less efficient to try and come to consensus with less mature people. It’s more efficient and safer to just pick people you know are godly, let them make decisions, and then everyone else just submits to them.
These are all classic cases of taking what you want the Bible to say and molding the meanings of Scripture verses by taking them out of context and cutting and pasting them together.
We’re to walk by the Spirit
But when you understand the biblical story correctly, it becomes clear that the remedy given by Christ and the apostles is not control. It’s seeking, pursuing and beholding the Lord together in freedom as a group learns together how to operate by their new instincts given by the Spirit. They learn together what Bible authors call “walking by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) and staying “in step with the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25)
Those that are more mature do this well and they will naturally protect and guide by upholding the truth and behaving like Christ within the groups they’re a part of. But they never take more control than anyone else. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
A person that walks in the Spirit consistently will be giving people absolute freedom. In fact, they will actually be intentional about refusing to take control. Because they walk by the Spirit, they’re unable to.
Instead, they will help facilitate listening – of the group to its Source – of the Body to its Head.
Paul was a servant and slave
If you do a deep examination of how Paul worked with churches, this is exactly what you find. You’d think if any human was fit to have more control over the direction and decisions of a church, it would be him. But instead, he saw his role as a servant and slave that communicated the gospel of the Kingdom and upheld the truth of it’s implications.
No matter how passionately he did so in the strong relationships he formed with the churches he worked with, he didn’t go beyond that. He never took control of congregations by making decisions for them. In fact, the apostle Paul even repeatedly used language in his letters like “I beg of you.” (Galatians 4:12, I Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 10:2)
Was he stern with churches in his begging? Absolutely. He had earned trust over time and was like a servant father to the churches he planted. So, he could be stern with them. But, that’s not the language of someone telling people what to do or making decisions FOR people.
Instead, he says things like…
‘Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith,’ (2 Cor. 1:24).
What churches did was up to them.
Jon Zens gives a great summary of the very heart of Paul’s purpose and mission in his book 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through The One Anothers when he says…
However imperiously Paul the apostle may demand a hearing for Christ, however ingeniously he may put himself forward as a pattern for imitation, yet he simply cannot give orders. He does not himself create the norm, which is then to be obeyed without further ado, but instead those who possess the Spirit must follow him in freedom; and it is this freedom which he has in mind when he addresses them.
They must themselves recognize in his instructions the ‘standard of teaching’ to which they are committed, and to which Paul in a sense merely ‘recalls’ them, in order that they may affirm it for themselves, and freely and joyfully make it their own once more.
A Kingdom servant equipper will act as a member of the Body of Christ with a special focus on upholding the Truth. They do this as one body part within the process of the whole Body working to lay hold of Christ the Head of the Body for direction. This is where authentic unity in a church by the Spirit comes from.
When it comes to direction and decisions, a leader type’s function is not to act as a more mature, safer, more convenient decision-making representative for a church to submit to. If they’re truly more mature and not just deceptively giving off that aura through their personality; their function is to serve with guidance, protection, facilitation, encouragement, admonishing, and equipping in the posture and status of a servant and slave. These people are a critical part of that process.
But they don’t do these things through the use of control. They do them through their co-equal participation.
This isn’t only biblical, it’s also scientific. It’s how humans best flourish naturally; and even more so with the Lord leading the way.
Mutual submission is the foundation
Experiencing the unity of the Spirit does not come about by casting aside sound doctrine and right behavior. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Authentic unity in the Body of Christ is the result of seeking, pursuing and beholding sound doctrine and right behavior together as one.
It doesn’t come from one person or some people telling other people what to do and expecting them to submit because they have more authority and are models of sound doctrine and right behavior. It comes from a group that mutually submits to each other out of reverence for Christ in and through each one (Eph. 5:21).
In the former, the few make decisions for the whole. In the latter, the whole makes decisions together.
When people are treated like who they are in Christ (not as a maturity level), they open themselves up and are more likely to submit to sound doctrine and right behavior from those with the gifts to dispense it. This is how people are brought to full maturity.
When people fall into the trap of counterfeit unity through control, there are many unhealthy by-products that are all too familiar. I’ll end this post with some of them…
- Unity is gained at the expense of freedom.
- Oneness is broken. It fosters a lack of trust. A lack of equality, involvement and communication in a church family leads to people “filling in the blanks” and creating conflict out of unhealthy frustrations rather than creating unity from healthy communication.
- People compete with each other. Who is going to control and be controlled? It can be a competition between some to find out.
- Strong personalities that lose or are willing to lose the competition leave. It leads to church-dividing conflict, rather than church-uniting conflict.
- Weaker personalities willing to be controlled will freeload. It de-motivates them to work toward maturity. They see themselves as a cog in a machine rather than a vital co-equal part of the church body.
- People don’t truly understand or learn what it means to be a priest unto God (I Peter 2:9). It damages self-esteem by communicating that they are not an equal member of the church family.
- The church operates by the “priesthood of some believers” rather than the “priesthood of all believers.”
- The voice of Christ is quenched and wisdom is limited. See the scientific reason why. It limits possibilities, and therefore the overall quality of decisions.
- Leader types become overworked. They tend to burnout and be over-stressed because they carry too much of the load.
- Leader types struggle with pride. They tend to think more highly of themselves than they ought.
These could be avoided if we’d keep mutual submission from disappearing in our churches.
The rest of the posts in the Servants and Slaves series are here.