However, an event in Joshua 7 occurred which resulted in the following:
- The People of God are taking casualities.
- The People of God are stopped in their tracks and are dead in the water.
- The People of God are now walled off from the blessings and victories of the Kingdom War against darkness.
What happened? The Word of God was being ignored.
- The requirement of God’s instruction may have, in fact, been somewhat confusing to the People. After all, it was the normal process in war for the conquering nation to keep the spoils for itself. The truth is that some of the People might have felt that “it just seemed right” to keep the spoils even though the Lord had said otherwise.
- It should be noted that not only a few folks were involved with the disobedience. Many of the People were unaware of the disobedience.
- The disobedience was “covered-up”. In other words, the sin became a “rotten apple core” which was not perceived by many but was, in fact, spreading its tentacles of impact upon the entire congregation of God’s People.
- None of the consequences upon God’s People were going to be removed until the “covered-up” rottenness was uncovered, addressed, and removed. Then, and only then, the blessings would return to the Kingdom People.
So, over the decades, as I have participated in trying to help struggling churches, I have become alert to those three telltale signs of Joshua 7.
- the church is taking casualities
- the church seems stopped in its tracks, unfruitful, not growing, etc.
- the church seems walled off from Kingdom blessings and Kingdom victories
When I see these signs, it is usually time to start looking and digging for the “Sin of Achan” which the Lord wants uncovered, addressed, and changed.
My experience with these past churches is that the bulk of the churches had a similar “buried” disobedience—the disobedience was the hidden “non-biblical” polity within their churches.
As I alluded to earlier, many of the members of the church may be totally unaware of the “disobedience “which has been buried in their midst. For many people in these churches, they just accepted the polity of their church because that is the way it has always been done, and “it just seems right” to them. A very helpful book, “Who Runs the Church?” discussed it in this way:
“There is a familiar and traditional way that individual churches (and denominations) conduct their polity, but there is little or no theological reflection on that tradition. Things are done a certain way because that’s the way they have always been done.”--Who Runs the Church? (WRTC), p. 7.
“…many evangelicals tell us by their conduct that they have not even heard whether there is a biblical church government. Without shame, many act as if they were allowed to order ‘the house of God, which is the church of the living God’ (1 Tim 3:15) according to human tradition, personal tastes, and natural reason.” WRTC p. 298
Answer: In our constitutions and bylaws.
I have had the opportunity to read and to study probably 10-12 of the constitutions and bylaws of our 35 churches. I must confess that more than a few of these documents seemed to have all “borrowed” precepts and terminologies from a couple of sources which were obviously written some 40-70 years ago. In many cases, the words are identical.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of those original documents seemed to have more principles which “just seemed right” to the original writers rather than principles which were rooted in the biblical teachings on church polity.
Many of our churches which are struggling have some of these para-biblical and even unbiblical axioms buried deep within their constitution and bylaws.
OK, as you sit and read this and may be experiencing “discomfort” as you read my words, please allow me to remind you of the fundamental premise of our polity that each and every one of our churches are an autonomous fellowship which will make its own decisions about its leadership and governance paradigms. No one else can instruct a church on how it must or even should frame its polity—certainly not some “over the hill”, washed-up, ole-fogey Director of Missions.
I would, however, simply ask any of our churches which may be facing decline and/or plateau as to whether or not you would be at least willing to sift your constitution and bylaws through the biblical paradigm? And, if you find something para-biblical or un-biblical in your documents, would you be willing to consider making a change to your documents?
This is tough for many of us because we are very committed to keep doing church just as we have always done it. Our present constitution insures this reality. As one of our pastors told the Executive Team once, an unnamed parishioner told him:
“Pastor, if it comes down to a choice of going with the constitution or going with the Bible, I am going with the constitution.”
I do hope that will not be the perspective for many of our believers, but I do realize that for many parishioners messing with the constitution is like declaring war—because the polity documents have become a sacred cow for some of us.
As we go forward with this series, I will try to discuss a number of specific biblical polity principles which might be helpful for our congregations to consider.
Again, please feel free for any of you to share with me your differing understanding of the biblical principles for church polity.