Shelf vs. Practical Ecclesiology

From Dave Black Online (used by permission):

12:40 PM Is your ecclesiology “shelf” ecclesiology or “practical” ecclesiology? In other words, is your church willing to change in obedience to truth? Henry Neufeld has a weighty response to this question in his latest post called Seven Marks: Excursus on Change. Henry suggests seven reasons why we avoid doing what we know we ought to be doing. He uses weight loss as an example. I love his reasons! They are all impeccably logical. But, as Henry notes, they are excuses nonetheless.

This leads me to add perhaps one more element into the discussion. A new lifestyle requires new people. Most of us are locked into a routine because the people all around us are locked into the same routine. Up until a few months ago I was locked into a routine that utilized only a small percentage of my muscles. I was imprisoned in a physical and professional and social existence that cared little for health and fitness. Then I began to associate with people who were health-conscious. No, they weren’t preachy about it, but the clear message they kept sending to me was: We as human beings are body, mind, and spirit. We can’t stress one function of the self to the detriment of the others. I thus began to engage in exercises intended to get the most out of the human machine and the body/mind complex.

Most of us already have this “knowledge.” But, as Henry points out, knowledge doesn’t suffice. It never has. The rules for physical fitness are well established. They haven’t changed much over the centuries. Consult any textbook or website and you’ll find the do’s and don’ts of fitness. What we need are models, people who show us, “Here is what you can become.” We need new relationships that are uncontaminated by the old guilt and unhealthy lifestyles. As I began to associate with people who were committed to physical fitness, I found a new strength in me. My new associations revived resolutions, long since dormant, and made me set my face like flint. That quality — that ability to motivate others by your own example — is what is all too often lacking today. So you believe in elders? Even, let’s say, non-stipendiary elders? Name two or three churches that practice that today. Alas, there are so few examples. But life isn’t about thinking good thoughts. Joy is always connected with action.

So, what’s on your “change agenda” for today? Maybe you were fit once but don’t exercise anymore. Maybe you are just getting started. Maybe your church is on the verge of taking a significant step of obedience. We humans are constantly resetting goals. We are always in process. Indeed, change is a good test of normalcy. The normal human being is always striving for some ideal self.

The excuse of not enough time is just that — an excuse. Never will you have enough time to do everything you want to do. You’ve got to make a choice. You have to decide what things are presumably better than all the other things in your life. But here’s what I’m discovering. Exercise may take time but it creates time as well. The more energy expended the more energy added to your machine. Likewise, when a church takes a baby step of obedience, it finds that the next step is a little bit easier to take. Above all, let’s remember that action is always impelled by some good we want to attain. The 30-some-odd books I’ve written or edited didn’t just happen. I wrote or edited them because I thought I had something of value to say to people. Fitness programs follow this line of reasoning. The long-term benefits always come from denying our present desire to enjoy ourselves this minute. Drives may push us, but desires pull us. Until you are motivated, you will never be willing to attack the problem head-on.

Thank you, Henry, for your very provocative post. Let’s all get started in the race to which Henry is calling us. When I run a 5K, I am completely unconcerned about what others are doing. I don’t care if I’m at the back of the pack. For these few moments, I am making the effort to act, and in that sense I become the equal of anyone on this earth.