Friday, May 19, 2017

The story of two beaches

There are two popular beaches patronised by swimmers that have these common attributes:
·         In daylight hours the beaches are patrolled. 
·         The people who attend the beaches have all the skills they need to swim at the beach. 
·         Flags mark the zone in which it is safe to swim.

The beaches have unique characteristics as follows:
Beach 1
Swimmers merrily approach from the beach precinct from the south or the north.  Some jump merrily to the sand from the boardwalk wall instead of walking down one of few staircases. While it is convenience that the life guards have placed the flags, the swimmers themselves make their own cursory assessment of safety before they enter to swim.  When entering the water a good proportion of swimmers enter between the flags yet others are content to cruise into the flagged area from an entry that is slightly to the side of the flags.  They swim at varying depths.  Confident in their skills they cast the odd eye to the lifeguard yet are largely content just enjoying themselves.  If the current occasionally puts them outside the flagged area the swimmers return at their own leisure to the flagged area.  If a rescue of a swimmer is required, the swimmers can commence rescue themselves in full confidence that the lifeguards will soon be on hand. 
The swimmers go home most rewarded when they can remember that they, and others, had a wonderful day at the beach.
The chief lifeguard gets his esteem in seeing the quality of the swimmer’s skills and the swimmer’s confidence.  He sees himself as a facilitator.  He judges himself against other lifeguards in terms of how much enjoyment the swimmers have and how their skills grow.
Beach 2
Swimmers enter the beach from a single path aligned with the flagged area.  This requires strict passage down a single staircase from the broadwalk to the sand.  It is essential to the swimmers that the lifeguards have placed the flags.  The swimmers absolutely rely on the lifeguards for their safety. When entering the water all swimmers enter between the flags.  The swimmers are repulsed if a swimmer strays from the flagged area and a lifeguard is immediately attached to correct the person’s position.  The swimmers never swim in more than waist deep water.  While the swimmers are confident in their skills they never stray their eye from the lifeguards.  If the current occasionally puts the swimmers outside the flagged area they are inclined to depart the water rather than face leaving the flagged area again.  If a rescue of a swimmer is required, then the swimmers focus all their attention on alerting the lifeguards.
The swimmers go home most rewarded when they can remember that during their day on the beach they, and no others, incurred the scowl of the lifeguards.
The chief lifeguard gets his esteem in setting the rules and making sure that no-one steps out of line.  He sees himself as a leader.  He judges himself against other lifeguards in terms of how compliant all the swimmers are.
We can bring the analogy of these two beaches into a church setting.  The Holy Spirit has given all Christians (swimmers) all the necessary skills.  Christians are confident using their skills (Beach 1) or very measured in using their skills (Beach 2).  The swimmers are rewarded for life in the Spirit (Beach 1), or in compliance to norms (Beach 2).  The Senior Minister (chief lifeguard) can be an enabler – as is seen in Beach 1 – or a controller – as seen in Beach 2. 
Analogies are rarely perfect. This analogy fails in many respects.  Yet, many churches seem closer to Beach 2 churches.   Beach 2 churches do not allow Christians to have full life in the Spirit.  A strict Beach 2 church imprisons people and strangles the Spirit.  Some people never enter deeper water.
I’m not against control: for control is a necessity of all human communities.  I am for consideration of how control is established and exercised.
A key to knowing that you are in a Beach 2 church is whether there are some particular customs or practices that are sub-Biblical –local etiquettes – that must be adhered to.  In a worst case they will depict an unwavering dedication to their leader and doctrine at the cost of grace and love (refer this Desiring God article).

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