Biblical unity is a far different thing than the unity demanded by many dominating and controlling Neo-Pentecostal church leaders.
If you did not read the previous three parts of this series, I strongly urge you to do so, because there the foundation was laid for this portion. Moreover, this portion cannot be properly understood or assessed apart from the backdrop laid out in those first three portions.
In this part we want to discuss two more elements commonly comprising the false unity that is passed of as being true unity within religious systems and cultures of domination and control of their constituents: Coerced Conformity and Required Uniformity.
There are two other distinctive characteristics of this type of false unity predicated on and supposedly emanating out of this erroneous version of “covenant relationships”—coerced conformity and required or expected uniformity. Here again the nature of a counterfeit is demonstrated. A counterfeit by definition is a fraudulent copy of an original, a mock up of the real. It has the appearance of the real thing, but it really is not the real thing. It is a pretense of the real thing, but it only feigns the nature of the real thing. It is a phony, a fake, a sham, a falsification, a fraud. The intent of the counterfeit is to defraud by making you think you have the real thing but you really don’t.
In the case of the hyper-authoritarian counterfeit of “covenant relationships” and the sham unity it engenders, the very valid principle of interdependency and fraternal responsibility among believers is extended beyond its proper import and intent to virtually nullify and eliminate any semblance of personal autonomy and individuality. Contrary to the prevailing “wisdom” within much of Christendom, “autonomy,” “individuality,” and the much-maligned “independence” are not “four-letter words.” In their proper application and context, these concepts are not at all incongruous with the Divine Nature and Christ-likeness. Ezekiel’s vision of a wheel within a wheel portrays the precept of “interdependence with independence” inherent in the Kingdom of God and which is to exist in the administration and the interrelations of the Church of God.
God has created every human-being with a will, or volition, and endowed us all with the inviolable right to self-rule, or autonomy. So inviolable is that prerogative that not even God will violate or impinge upon it. Even when we choose to subject and subordinate our will unto God’s as Jesus Himself did in the Garden of Gethsemane, that in itself is a voluntary exercising of our own free will. We choose to submit and subject our will and purposes unto God and His will and purposes, but He never coerces us to do so.
It may come as a surprise to some, but being Born Again does not mean that we forfeit our free will and right to self-rule in order to become some sort of mindless spiritual robot or zombie. Even after the Holy Spirit inhabits our being, we are still free moral agents, and are given the prerogative and privilege of operating in accordance with God’s revealed will, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us by His inner promptings and urgings, submitting to His desires, and thereby allowing Him to live His Life through us. Being a willing participant in this cooperative coexistence is the great joy and privilege of it all. We are not compelled and coerced, but entreated and enabled.
Even when we are indeed Born Again, inhabited by the Spirit of God, and have become doers of His Word—active cooperatives for God on this planet—we still are not merely a contingent of identical “clones.” Even then, we still have a certain amount of individuality, we still have the right of self-governance, or autonomy, and we are even given a certain kind and degree of latitude and independence within the bounds of righteousness. Independence is not intrinsically evil. While there is a certain amount of interdependence inherent in our relationships as members of the Body of Christ, nonetheless, God made us independent as well. Though those two concepts may sound contradictory, in fact they are not, but rather are quite congruous.
Yet in churches and ministries where predomination or hyper-authoritarianism is flowing down through the leadership unto the members, there is a definitive usurpation of their free will and right to self-governance. The followers are indoctrinated to believe that God requires them to surrender their will unto the will of their spiritual leaders, and that they must receive the approval of their leader(s) for major and in many groups even mundane decisions of life. They are taught that Scripture teaches that they must conform to the dictates and desires of their “masters in the Lord.” This “coerced conformity” often starts out small and seems somewhat innocuous, but then continues to increase and expand until it is invasive and eventually pervasive. The victim is no longer his own or even God’s, but the slave of some flesh and blood human.
The other characteristic of this fallacious unity is that of “required uniformity.” True unity is not and does require uniformity. Too often, however, people perceive unity as being uniformity. In fact, it is quite a common thing among humans to view diversity as opposition and even as a threat. People are commonly suspicious, distrusting, and unaccepting of anyone who is significantly different than they. Sadly, that is too frequently the case among believers also, both individually as well as the groups they comprise. But true “unity of the Spirit” engenders a oneness and fellowship with members of the Body of Christ actuated in the natural, physical realm, however, based purely on “likenesses” in, of, and by the Holy Spirit. True unity can never be attained on the basis of our fickle carnal personal likes and dislikes. Rather, “the unity of the Spirit” is a unanimity in, of, and by the Spirit, produced by the confluence of diversity to create a complimentary and harmonious concinnity (working together) of “the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
All of Creation itself makes it abundantly clear that uniformity is not a God thing at all. And if it’s not a God thing, it certainly is not a good thing. God, like so much of His Creation, created us all unique. There’s no carbon copy of any of us anywhere. We are all “one of a kind,” not just the “weirdos” to whom that term is often attributed. God delighted in making us all unique and so we should embrace it and learn to appreciate and like those things about us that distinguish us. It is okay to be different than everyone else. After all, even God called us “a peculiar people,” and I always like to add, “some more peculiar than others.” We all have things about us that make us “weird” to somebody else. We all have what others consider idiosyncrasies, and that’s okay, as long as it is indeed idiosyncrasies and not neurosis or psychosis.
Today, with the prevalence of amateur psychology in our culture, it is common for people to try make a character issue out of what is in reality merely a personality issue. I enjoyed immensely what Graham Cooke said in different contexts concerning the uniqueness of his personality, in his book, A Divine Confrontation, which I highly recommend:
It is too easy to make a character issue out of a personality trait. I am an introvert; that is my personality. I like who I am. I am pleased with how God made me. I am quiet, shy, and can be difficult to get to know on a personal level. I do confide in people, but I have to know them really well. I have been accused of being secretive and evasive about my private life. Some of that was due to lack of rapport and trust. Mostly it was because people expected self-disclosure from me in the manner that an extrovert would share.
Introverts share differently. We perceive, speak, and act quite differently from outgoing, expressive people. Extroverts may talk very freely when they are comfortable with people. They can share their life story in an hour. Introverts will drop clues that need following up. They need to see ongoing evidence of love, concern, and affirmation as they disclose themselves.1
Who am I, Graham Cooke? I’m an introvert, and I love my personality. It is a gift of God to me. I’m quite shy and reflective by nature. I adore silence. I have my moments of madness in humor and can be quite funny. I know hundreds of people who are better than me at what I do, but I do not feel inferior to them. I love being with them, and I actively seek out my betters to learn from them.
I love depending totally on the Lord. My personality tends to sit easily with God’s requirements for vulnerability, inadequacy, and weakness as prerequisites for knowing His strengths. I do not like platforms, and I do not find it easy to be a speaker on public view, though I am often told that I am good at it. I blame God for that.
I work best under pressure. I do not mind tough situations. I relish the battle. For me, spiritual warfare is about the majesty and supremacy of Jesus, not the power of the devil. I like cold beer. And soccer. I don’t want recognition; I prefer anonymity. I want to beat the devil, to make him pay. I like a glass of wine with a meal and lots of friends to share it with. I love the way the Irish speak.2
Perhaps the reason I loved what Graham wrote so much is that every word and sentence through the last one I quoted described me to a “T” (except the part about soccer, sorry, I’m an old school three sports guy). To be honest, though, until I read his book, I was not as liberated as he is concerning self-disclosure, but I think his writing what he did has helped me in that department. The point is, though, that we are all unique and God has made our personalities what they are, so just relax in them, and be at peace.
A few years back the Lord did begin to liberate me internally about how that even my likes and dislikes—my personal preferences—were part of how He has made me. That was liberating. More and more, I am coming to be at peace with who God has made me. It hasn’t been easy, and I haven’t arrived fully yet, but I think the rest of the journey is pretty much downhill from here.
Let me say that I highly recommend that you too take a cue from this discussion about personality for your own life if you are at the place in your life that you can do that, because the benefit is that the more the God-kind of love for ourself increases, the more capacity we have to love others unfiltered and unfettered, for Jesus taught that we love others AS we love ourselves.
It is important to keep in mind that personality traits are not the same thing as character traits. Personality is innate; character is cultivated. Personality is inward; character is outward. Personality is about ourselves; character is about others. And, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free, so keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 6:1). Freedom is now a choice for those in Christ. We are the only ones who can make us slaves again. Most of us have kept the yoke of slavery upon our own necks by being a slave to what others think about us. That is such bondage! One of the toughest, yet most rewarding pursuits of life is the quest to be ourselves! Be who God has made you! The two great quests of life in Christ is to learn who God is in us and who we are in Him! The greatest freedom is the freedom to be yourself! Be you!
We have to remember that most people, especially before they die to themselves in Christ, are narcissists, who only love themselves, and therefore dislike anyone who is different than they. Insecure and inferiority-minded people are threatened by anyone that is significantly different than themselves as well. The spirit of religion makes people internally insecure, fearful, and inferiority-minded, so they are threatened by anyone who dares to live outside the box of their “god.” But, we serve that “unknown God” Paul told the Greeks he served. We’re His bond-slave, and none others. So, let us throw off the bonds of slavery. Let us praise and worship our God in the midnight hour, not only for who HE is, but who WE are in Him, and bring about such a shaking all around us that like Peter and James our prison cell doors will be jolted open and we can walk out of our prison cells of our own making free men and women of God, bound to no one except God Himself, and determined to become conformed into the Image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), and equally determined to resist all pressures to be conformed into anyone else’s image! Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we refuse to bow down to any other self-deified image!
If each of us will walk in who we are in Christ, walk in the Divine Nature of which we have been made partakers, walk by the Spirit, then we will not be carrying out the divisive deeds of the flesh that separate us and preclude us from walking in oneness, and then we will automatically be walking in “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” for we will have “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14).
1 Graham Cooke, A Divine Confrontation, p. 106; Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA.
2 Ibid, p. 241.
[Original Post Date on Real Truth Digest E-zine: 11/08/2003]
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION, by Dr. Steven Lambert. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of a false movement known as the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement (1970-77). References to “Discipleship” or “Shepherding” (and variables) doctrines, teachings, proponents and participants, and so forth, allude to the pertinences associated with that movement.