It was Jack Nicholson who famously bellowed to Tom Cruise while playing Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in the courtroom scene of A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth.” I wonder if the screenwriter knew how succinctly he had summarized our culture. Individual capacity to bear the weight of truth has been mortally wounded in a world that idolizes tolerance and despises anyone who threatens our addiction to autonomy. If this were only true in society at large that would be one thing, but as Christian philosopher extraordinaire Francis Schaeffer rightly observed, “The spirit of the age becomes the spirit of the church.” For that reason I confess to wondering about the capacity of most, including many church leaders, even pastors to rightly evaluate and benefit from the content of this chapter. “Can’t you just focus on the positives of Vertical Church without exposing its absence?” Though I might prefer to avoid the refutation of error, the New Testament commands it. Yet why does it seem that most who are willing to do that work tend to call all doctrinal variance false teaching and anyone with a different view a heretic? Why isn’t failure to love and work for unity as Christ modeled considered the greatest kind of false teaching? Where rebuke comes from elders in the body of Christ it should be directed against confirmed, substantive error, not disagreement over method or minor variation in doctrine, and it should come from those qualified to give it. Even ESPN realizes that veteran NFL players are in the best position to critique those currently on the field. Spiritual gifts are dangerous when expressed in isolation and not governed by the complimentary gifts found in a healthy local church. Churches were never intended to have a single focus like Jiffy Lube or Dairy Queen but to be fully biblical in all priorities. To be Vertical and powerful in God’s strength, we must labor to be all that God commands and not crouch in any corner of mutual congratulation about an isolated biblical emphasis.
I fear that challenging the church in North America about its true condition spiritually is gonna be like getting Charlie Sheen to show up for an intervention; however, I have no choice biblically but to try. “Why can’t we just live and let live and leave the focus on the positive?”
- Because Paul and Peter and John and Jesus didn’t and taught us not to.
- Because adopting a lowest-common-denominator gospel weakens His church.
- Because no shepherd, faithful to his calling, can be silent when sheep are not well fed.
- Because the gospel fails when we hide it in a museum to admire, and don’t get it out.
- Because the glory of Jesus is at stake, and we cannot be passive if He is denied.
Everybody Get a Mirror
Second Corinthians 5:10 declares, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
On that day, I don’t expect Jesus Christ will refer casually to anything “it is written.” I doubt seriously He will affirm good motives for wrong behavior or congratulate indifference to the poor or far from God. I don’t hear Him saying, “Yeah well, it’s okay you cut the corners off My message because your heart was excited about reaching the lost,” nor do I expect Him to say, “I accept your bareness in the name of faithfulness” or “You helped the needy; that’s all I was really after.” The church’s power is not in one emphasis to the exclusion of others. We fall into that trap because fully orbed biblical ministry, fulfilling all mandates, can only be a by-product of God’s active participation. We must stop assuming God’s involvement and start inviting it.
Regardless of the kind of church we serve in, we should all be willing to evaluate our churches in a dry run through of the great accountability up ahead for each of us. Status at a denominational convention or success on the “church speaking circuit” should not insulate us from the fear of standing before Jesus Christ someday soon and accounting for our fidelity to “all in” biblical ministry. Each of us settles too easily into our extremes, of aggressive outreach that starves sheep, or passionate expression that motivates and inspires but doesn’t truly edify, or Bible explanation by itself which produces puffed-up heads and shriveled hearts. Vertical Church is about faithfulness and fruitfulness; it’s about passionate worship, biblical proclamation, fervent prayer, and effective outreach that flows into every avenue of compassion for those in need. It’s about getting out of the various horizontal extremes that excel at part of what church must be but fail at the remaining priorities.
Nobody Has It All Right, Not Me!
I was raised then educated at the college level in what would have to be termed old school fundamentalism. There were exceptions, but most were angry toward others and frustrated with themselves. The unspoken training was to doubt everyone, even our friends, and keep putting bricks in the barricade of needless separation. Hair checks in chapel, demerit point system for student-body discipline, and a list of rules as long as a legalist’s private sins. All of this was incredibly detrimental to true discipleship, but I could not see it at the time. “‘I see,’ said the blind man” is a play on the obvious reality that none of us sees our own blind spots, I did not then and surely do not now; can you admit the same? This chapter is a scary attempt to uncover what each of us may have become blind to and invite us all to move away from the destructive extremes of hyper-attractional or faithfully unfruitful or inspirational fluff, or missionally malnourished into the glorious center of the manifest presence of God. I am reaching out to those in chari$mania, or in a mainline, “We believe some of the Bible” church, and inviting you to share with us in the glory of Vertical Church. If you are trapped in my former world of rules without reasons, come with us toward a new gospel center that is uncompromisingly biblical in all the Scriptures assert but not worked up about things the Bible doesn’t mention. Let’s go together to the more joyful, the more fruitful place of not looking in any horizontal direction, but looking straight up!
Excerpted from Vertical Church.