Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Brief Theology of Administration

It seems that in this last quarter the administrative aspect of my job has demanded a larger slice of time than it has in two decades of ministry. At the beginning of that two decades I was convinced I would never make it as a pastor because of committee meetings, deacons’ meetings, and business meetings. Thankfully, things are a little different now. No, I haven’t come anywhere close to mastering Robert’s Rules of Order, and I don’t believe meetings to be a means of grace like preaching, prayer, or the ordinances. But I do understand that in Baptist life the committee and its meetings are the rallying point for involvement in the cooperative. The committee and its meetings are a tool to involve “the saints [in] the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12,13). There is a collectivism in the Baptist Church that necessitates some means of organization (“A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord,” Baptist Faith & Message 2000, VI). This increased time in administrative duties and the fact that I am introducing the business session of our State Convention next week with a Scripture reading and prayer have me reading and meditating on “administration” as a theological concept.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, Who is our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:1-5).

“Administration” (οικονομια) literally means “house-law” or “house-rule.” It is usually rendered “stewardship.” Notice that the ruling of the house according to laws is “of God,” and “by faith.” This ought to change everything. General Robert may guide us in our parliamentary procedure, but he’s not the goal or the motivation (the good General, by the way, wrote his “rules” after a calamitous experience leading a meeting at a Baptist church...I’m not making that up!). I think he’d agree. The apostle Paul introduces this letter (and this paragraph) by a focus on the command-Giver (“God our Savior”) and Hope (“Christ Jesus”) of himself and the Christian congregation. He reminds us of the ideal of the Church – that we are family (“Timothy, my true child in the faith”). I’m jealous for that kind of view of the Church for our congregation. After a mostly standard blessing from the Father and Son (notice, though, that he adds “mercy” to his usual “grace and peace”), he gets into the administrative stuff, along with its motivation and goal.

Timothy has been stationed in Ephesus to fight false doctrine and bad teaching. These things, Paul says, hinder the house-law of God which is according to faith (and biblical faith is always based on the Word of God). God says there is a certain way we live and grow together as His people (house-law), and we believe and obey it (faith) for His glory. “Strange doctrines,” “myths,” “endless genealogies,” and “speculation” hinder that life together as the covenant people of God. Timothy’s task is to make sure that God’s reign is firmly established in the congregation by putting down insurrection (“with gentleness,” 2 Timothy 2:25). The apostle’s goal is not just orderliness for its own sake, but the preservation of the means by which God rules His household: the proclamation, teaching, reading, praying, singing, meditation upon, and living out of His Word (“the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”). If the order does not serve the Word, it is vanity at best and idolatry at worst.

Committee meetings and the business of the congregation (or convention) need to have this in mind: our goal in all we do is to lift up the reign of God over us through His Word for our involvement in the “work of service,” our further unity as the Body, growth in obedience-producing faith, and the glory of God in His Son. Administration is good when it is “Great Commission” administration, the teaching of all the commands of the One Who has been given “all authority...in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18,20).

This is not optional for me as the vocational elder called to “shepherd” and serve as an “example” to “those allotted to [my] charge” (1 Peter 5:2,3). I must do all I can to lead us into a collective obedience to Christ to the glory of the Father (this is the practical application of Philippians 2:10,11). In a Church with congregational polity, this happens through administration, meetings, councils, committees, etc. But we cannot lose sight of the purpose. I cannot lose sight.

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7-11). Part of God’s job description for me is that I’m to be “above reproach as God’s steward,” or οικονομος (house-ruler, enforcer of the laws of the house)...administrator. Again, this is founded upon and carried out through “the faithful word which is in accordance with teaching” and “sound doctrine.” It is the preservation of the reign of God over and through the congregation by His Word. That’s the job description. Don’t overlook (pun intended) the job title: “overseer” (a good, literal rendering of επισκοπος). I love teaching and preaching. I would do it all day long every day until I was so emptied that the great New Mexican winds would blow my rattling husk to the heavenly country. But this teaching and preaching must be done as one called to overlook the congregation – not any congregation, but this one currently “allotted to [my] charge.” Untrue beliefs and practices must be deterred, and the reign of Jesus in our lives must be lifted up above all. I must administrate from here.

The apostle Peter agrees: “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards [οικονομος] of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to Whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-11). The pressure of the “end of all things” is a motivation to “good administration” by the gifting of God. And, once again, it is manifested in a corporate setting (“serving one another”) through teaching (“speaking the utterances of God”) to the glory of God “through Jesus Christ,” Who alone is worthy of “dominion.” There is, further, a plurality of “good stewards.” God willing, there are several men gifted and called to serve the congregation in this way, vocationally and/or non-vocationally.

Returning to 1 Timothy, this is why Paul writes to Timothy: “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household [the οικος of the οικονομια we’ve been considering] of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14,15). The administration of the Church is based on the “writing” inspired by God for our “conduct.” It is molded by the reality that this house is “the pillar and support of the truth,” that is, the Word of God.

Is the “house” a building? No, of course not. As our confession stated above (a “congregation of baptized believers”), the “house” is made up of those holding “fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:6). The goal of our “business” in meetings and committees is “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 – the text prior to this, 1:22-2:3, shows us that we are governed by the Word in this).

The ordering (administration) of the house of God must be done according to an obedience-producing faith by the authority of the Word of God for the purpose of bringing glory to God in Christ together as His people. This is the goal and the prayer of this steward. It requires more than I have in myself (and more than General Robert had in himself, for that matter). Thankfully, God the Son, the Lord of the manor, is faithful to accomplish His purpose for His house.
Maybe this is General Robert's real secret to orderly meetings...a uniform!

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