The Manifold Nature of Understanding the Church

Beautiful church

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,  according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Ephesians 3:10-11

My life has been about the church. I have lived all of my life within the church. My folks starting taking me to church at six weeks of age and I have not stopped going since.

But here’s the truth. I have not always liked the church. I’ve seen beautiful people marred by the church and within the work of the church, I seen people shoot the wounded, not help them. They have hemorrhaged and bled and been wounded only to find people within the church still kick, abuse and kill them in God’s holy halls.

I have been on a journey in my recent years of understanding the church. I watched my own four adult children join me on this journey—because they, like me were raised in the church as well. I call myself a “recovering Baptist.” I’m recovering in most areas of my life where I messed up.

In working with thousands of leaders who work in the church, I’ve grown weary, tired and disillusioned to be honest. I’ve witnessed so much abuse by men who wear robes and leaders who wear authority that I’ve grown suspicious. Yes, suspicious is a good word to describe my taking a step back and evaluating the relevance, the need, the look and feel of the church in the 21st century.

To say that I stumbled upon a verse in the Bible is not the correct way of telling you what shifting my entire paradigm about the church today. This verse had been there all along—throughout the entire birth of the church until this very day. It’s just that I missed it. I overlooked it on my way to find what I felt might be even more verses to help me and to help others.

Ephesians 3:10-11 leaped out at me and has nearly knocked me unconscious. “The manifold wisdom of God.” I have sat with that word—“manifold”—trying my best to figure out precisely what Paul intended by choosing such a word.

The word “manifold” means: “having many different forms, features, or elements: manifold breeds of dog.” The manifold wisdom of God regarding the wisdom within and about the church is just this: The church too has many different forms, features and elements just as the breeds of the species we call dogs.

Because of my work—the work with leaders who feel called to live their life; do their life and give their life because of the church, I’ve seen passionate leaders feel like their church is the right church; the only church; the best church; the hippest church; the most multi-sited church, the largest; the fastest growing and then it morphs into something darker. Every church should be like my church. Since I am with the right church, then everyone else is experiencing something less; something outside of God’s intent.

Pride, authority and a seminary education can create the perfect storm for leaders of the church to suffer a malady that infects their own soul and the ministry to which they feel called.

Some leaders might feel like their church, call it a blue church, is the way to do church. You have to think blue. You have to be blue. You have to hang with blue people to really be in the blue movement.

Then in another state; perhaps another city or even across the street are the orange folk who think and feel exactly the same way that the blue folks do in the blue church. Then there is the red church. The green church and yes, even a pink church.

But now, let’s use this word “manifold” here…. And see if we can ease our tension a bit by embracing that from God’s perspective, it is not about the right color. And what if this is true because from God’s perspective there is no right color. There are just a manifold of colors—all seeking to do the same thing but in different ways.

As some of you will know, no person on the face of the earth, living or dead has impacted my life more than that of Dallas Willard. It was Dallas who told me years ago when I went to a Catholic (Is Catholic a color?) Monastery with him for a month to recover from my toxicity and my addiction of being a pastor, “Steve, Jesus only spoke the word, “church” two times in his entire life that we know of. Why have you made “church” your God?” That question undone me and I have never, ever recovered from his question. I don’t think I will ever recover either. Perhaps now, 20 years later, I am just now beginning to understand the depth’s of Dallas Willard’s question to me in that Prayer cell were monks fled to do their own version of church.

Now, there is more wisdom…. And it is this, if you are in a blue church and I am in a red one, can we surrender our efforts to compete against, degrade and throw rocks at the people who do their life in a yellow church?

Perhaps from God’s perspective, it takes all the reds and hues of red; all the blues and hues of blue; all the yellow and hues of yellow to express what God has intended. Perhaps this is so because no human system has dibs on the truth. Not the Lutherans, not the Presbyterians, not the Charismatics, not the Bible-believing-fundamentalist, not even my church or your church. We lay down our efforts to defend our color church and we surrender our dogmas to the fact that in history and through history—no creed has survived in all colors but Jesus. No book has been lifted higher than our Bible. No god has been worshipped but our God—the God who created the manifold ways in which we try every six days to “gather to gather to ask the Lord’s blessings. We hasten and chasten his truths to make known.”

Stephen W. Smith

Copyright 2014

All Rights Reserved.