Tuesday, January 28, 2014
To understand how and why our churches should cooperate, it is worth taking a second to step inside the U. S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, while the ominous storm of angry Muslim students brews just outside the embassy gates. You probably know that the mob eventually broke into the compound, and fifty-two Americans spent 444 days as hostages in the Iran Hostage Crisis. Yet don’t focus on what eventually happened; focus on what it would have been like to be inside the embassy while the fury was still building. What would you be doing in those moments?The timing is unique. I am in the middle of reading a detailed history of Eisenhower's role as commander of the invasion of Europe. What one soon learns is that his job, essentially, was to manage enormous egos. From Patton and Montgomery to Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill. I could not help but get that same impression as I read Leeman arguing so passionately for cooperation between churches.
Presumably, you would be on the phone in a frantic search for friends. The U. S. State Department, the nearby Canadian Embassy, the Swedish Embassy in town, even sympathizers in the Iranian government—you would be grabbing for whatever friends you could find.
What you would not do is assume that your little embassy compound, floating like a storm-embattled boat in the middle of the seething urban sea that was Tehran, sat fine all by itself. You would not try to “go it alone!” as if the fate of the U.S. government’s diplomatic mission in the world depended upon your embassy’s shoulders.
It was not until 2:15 in the morning of December 18, 1944, that the orders came for the 422 and 423 regiments of 106th Division of the U. S. Army to retreat westward toward St. Vith, Belgium from their position in the German forests of Schnee Eifel. By then it was too late. The German Army had successfully executed a pincer movement, surrounding and cutting off the two American regiments. By the next day over 7000 American soldiers found themselves as German prisoners of war.
Now imagine an army regiment trying to do their work alone, without relating to other regiments or the larger division or battalion. It would be foolish.
The army analogy breaks down insofar as the division or battalion command belongs to Christ in heaven. But whether or not you are a congregationalist or a connectionalist, it should be clear that the work of our churches depends upon other churches, like one regiment depending upon another.
That made me very sad. Each church seems so convinced of it's own "rightness" that it finds it difficult to cooperate with another church, even in the face of the Great Battle. That seems to me somehow to miss a lot of the point of the gospel, you know the whole humility thing. It's like we think we should be individually humble, but corporately massive egotists. Somehow I think Christ intended the church, not just us, to model his humility.
This is, I think, the greatest leadership failure facing the church today. Pastors, unwilling to submit to the discipline of denominations, "hang out their shingle" and begin to think they are where the gospel begins and ends. Yes, denomination have turned so liberal as to almost be unrecognizable, but to make the same mistake in the opposite direction is hardly the solution.
Somewhere we need to get smarter.