Typically in this devotional we take a large section of scripture from the assigned reading and narrow it down to one passage for the purpose of closer investigation. Today we are going to do just the opposite. We are going to broaden the field of our lenses and look at the entire book of Judges from a satellite view.
What happens when you take a video tape and record a program on it, then make a copy from it, then make a copy from that copy, then a copy from that copy, and so on? Each “generation” of copies gets more and more grainy and has less and less integrity to the original. If you were to continue this process of copying copies, you would eventually have nothing but a nasty blur of snow and garbled sound to show on your television screen.
This principle is true in the spiritual life as well. One of the greatest mistakes that people have made over the centuries of church history is that of copying the external patterns of someone else’s spirituality or forms of worship and trying to conform their external behavior to those patterns.
In the sixteenth century the Spirit of God poured out onto the great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin and these men forged new ground for the body of Christ. Then, within one generation, the authentic, Spirit-led ministry of the man John Calvin became Calvinism; a dogmatic, spirit-quenching legalism. In the 18th century the Spirit gripped the heart of an Anglican man named John Wesley and motivated him to pursue a life of holiness. God inspired him to create a “method” of study, prayer, and fasting that opened up the door for the Spirit to do His transforming work in him. Within a generation this “method” became “Methodism” and a member of that church became more of a “Methodist” than a Christian. At the turn of the 20th century the Spirit poured out on a group of Seminary students on Azusa Street in Los Angeles and revitalized the gifts that were mentioned in Acts on the day of Pentecost. This Sprit-led, catalytic event became the normative pattern and, within a generation, Pentecostalism was born and the “Freedom in the Spirit” became a legalistic form of bondage for many people. In 1972, the Spirit of God poured out on a group of college students, led by a man named Bill Hybels, and gave them a vision for a fresh way to present the gospel message to the people of the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The Spirit’s ministry through Willow Creek Church brought thousands of people into the Kingdom in an authentic way. Then pastors from all over the country began flocking to Willow to copy their methods and try to implement them in their own context. This inauthentic copying has led to some spiritual disasters.
What’s the point? We must remember that copies are not the original. It is not methodologies that bring people into the Kingdom of God. It is the Holy Spirit that brings people into His Kingdom. It is a broken and open heart that is the conduit through which the Holy Spirit does His work in the life of an individual. Through that individual the Spirit will reveal methodologies that will create the space for people to enter into the presence of God, know Him, and be transformed by Him.
Methodologies are not bad. They are necessary. You need to have some level of order and structure to your forms of worship and the spiritual disciplines you use to open your heart to God. Even something as “simple” as house churches need to have structure and order to them. Otherwise, there is anarchy. God is not a God of chaos. God is the God that brings order out of chaos. Yet, we need to be careful to never believe that it is our methodologies that are “saving” us, or that our methodologies are the end-all to how the church should be. The Kingdom of God never changes, but methodologies must change for every specific culture.
What does this have to do with Judges, and why are we spending a day talking about it? First of all, as you filled out the chart, you can see that each generation of Judges became increasingly wicked. The first few judges reestablished peace in the land. But then Jephthah’s ministry only provoked civil war. Samson, even though the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, was corrupt even when he was at his best. His self-centered ministry ended up in self-deception and self-destruction. Finally, at the end of the book the nation was left without a judge and left to absolute self-mutilation. I believe this happened because the nation never caught sight of what Moses and Joshua really had. It was not the Law that made Moses and Joshua great men. It was their friendship with God. It was their ability to speak with God and know His will in an authentic way that allowed them to lead the people and keep the nation between the guardrails.
Early on the people rejected the presence of God and allowed the priests to be their go-between. Once Moses and Joshua were gone the people were left with a deep separation from God and nothing but rituals performed by priests at a tent. By focusing on the methods of worship passed down to them rather than the reality of relationship with the Living, Eternal God that lie behind the methods, the people were easily distracted by the very sensual, physical worship practiced by the Canaanites.
In our church, today, we are faced with the same choices. In the wake of dying denominations and the reality of empty church buildings all around us we see new movements of God springing up with fresh new ideas on how to “do church.” There are church growth conferences in abundance. If you surf the net you will be overloaded with the ideas on the “right” way to do church. You will even find very dogmatic-sounding language coming from people who claim to be all about the freedom that comes from “simple” or house church. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the information overload and the competitive “keeping-up-with-the-Jones’” mentality that is pervasive in the arena of new ministry formation. “We’ve got to do it like those guys,” or “these guys are doing it this way so we can’t do it that way,” becomes the driving thought pattern. If you ever find yourself getting caught up in that mode…stop! Take a deep breath. The answer to your questions is on your knees. You have the scripture, you have the Holy Spirit, and you have a community of people who are faithfully committed to following God and asking Him to lead them. That is all you need. Take your eyes off someone’s method, and put your eyes on Jesus, through the study of His Word, and build a method that is authentically coming from Him to you.
That is not to say that you shouldn’t study church history or listen to the ideas of your peers in the world. Far from it. Just remember that we are all journeying together. We are not in competition. Jesus is our only shepherd and the human leaders that He raises up to shepherd His sheep are just sheep themselves in need of a shepherd. Listen to the true shepherd and follow Him.