God is a polyglot: He speaks to different people different ways.
Some primarily hear Him through the language of their heart and feelings, some analytically through their mind, some through the dynamics of action, some through the identity of relationships, and some through the passion of mercy and justice – among other ways.
Problems often arise among His people, however, when we think that our primary language for hearing God is His only language, or is superior to other languages He uses with others.
I see it all too often these days: Those who hear God through their feelings think everyone should be about heart. It’s the same with those who hear God analytically with their minds, or through action, or in relationships, or via passion for mercy and justice, or whatever…
When we naively conclude – through ignorance or benign arrogance – that God’s way of speaking to us is the best way, or even the only legitimate way, we box Him in and limit His voice. In so doing, we also put His people in a box.
If we are not careful, our box then becomes legalism – as we insist (or more subtly presume) that everyone must comply with how, and what, God speaks to us.
When this happens, the new legalism of making God and His church all about “heart” and “feelings”, for example, becomes just as oppressive as the old legalism of everything being about “mind” and “truth”.
The Unity of Diversity
In our fellowships, we are seeing God do amazing things as we each learn to respect God’s many languages as He speaks to each of us in different ways. But this is rare.
The legalism of expecting others to hear God our way – or dismissively rejecting the equal validity of how God speaks differently to others – limits the Body of Christ. It denies God’s wonderful diversity of gifts, callings, perspectives and motivations among us.
For example, I have seen some of the worse abuse arise in churches where God’s voice, heard through the language of relationships, prevails over all the other ways He speaks to His people.
When we favor the language of relationships over all else, it can become very oppressive as manipulation and weird doctrines are tolerated in the name of love and unity. Ultimately, that love and those relationships become pathological, and people get hurt.
I also have seen problems with emphasizing one of His other languages. It is popular today for some to promote the subjectivity of the heart over all else, the action of mission over all else, the affirmation of relationships over all else, the analytical need for doctrine over all else, or the passion of mercy and justice over all else.
A healthy church, however, reflects all these things as God is allowed to speak through each other in all those languages – and more!
Love Fosters Diversity
Authentic church and community must allow God to speak in all the wonderfully different ways He wants – through one another, without favoring one over the other.
Only then can we hope to hear the whole counsel of God – both for ourselves, and collectively.
For example, God primarily speaks to me analytically, through my passion for redemption. My wife, Marianne, hears God primarily in the language of her heart, through her subjective feelings. God likewise speaks to others in our fellowships in other languages that resonate with the unique gifts, motivations and perspectives He’s given them.
As we respect and make room for God’s different languages among us, we are all strengthened. Others need to hear what God says to me analytically and through my passion for redemption, while I need to hear what God says to them in the unique language of their own God-given gifts, perspectives and motivations.
I think that learning this lesson has been key to many of the amazing things I’m seeing happen among our fellowships. Folks are encouraging each other through ministry one to another – as we listen to God’s diverse ways of speaking among us.
In the diversity of that unity, we are then equipped to move out – into the different things God calls each of us to be and do. We go forth, however, with the balance and maturity that comes from hearing all the wonderful ways God speaks – including those ways that may not naturally resonate with me, but do resonate with others.
This is true love in action, as we care enough to pursue God’s voice in us for the benefit of all, while affirming His diverse voice in others.
May we all learn to respect God’s many languages among us – by all favoring each other, but without favoring one over all others.
Great post. Just last week I was telling some of the elders (the mature) of Connections that have been tying to identify ourselves as a “family” – placing an emphasis on relationships. Although you and I would certainly subscribe to the idea that relationships are critical in any gathering, it has become problematic. We have become somewhat limited, and to some degree legalistic, about flowing in one certain language of God. We’ve reminded one another to stay open to how God may be speaking to us – and to be sure that a religious spirit doesn’t arise that may, inadvertently, reject the manner is which God may want to speak through His people.
As Ravi Zacharias often says, Unity “in” Diversity.
It is the diversity which provides the stuff of which unity is made.
I think I understand your post in how God uses the diversity of his body to touch our lives but I am concern that we are placing a greater emphasis on these experiences versus how God has spoken to us by the scriptures. These accounts recorded in the scriptures are the primary means that God has spoken to us which are the message given from Christ, the apostles and the prophets. Even Peter in Chapter two of his book after seeing the transfiguration tells us that the prophetic scripture must be paid close attention because they are light for our paths. I personally know that without the scriptures I personally would have not known the reality of Christ and would have been at the mercy of personal experience which easily can mislead us. I have seen the tragic consequences of experience and personal opinions destroying the faith of many and how these can lead people away from the truth about Christ. People are fallible but God’s truth revealed in the scripture is unshakable and will last forever. We must be careful to build our lives and our churches on the right foundation. The foundation should be the scriptures which point a clear path to Christ and when we by the power of Holy Spirit allowed these truth to be lived in us then we are the witness of Christ to each other and the lost in this dark world. I am saying that I recently to a woman who prefer to hear from God in her own way not the scriptures but now she has awaken to the reality that God has given us the scriptures so we can know with certainty his will. These are the last days and one of the indicators of that is that many churches are creating their own paths to God using their own logic versus the commands given to us from Christ and the apostles.
Albert, I have vigorously opposed the existentialists who have deceived large segments of the Body of Christ, as they elevate their own subjective perceptions of Christ over the plenary authority of scripture.
I have many blogs on that point.
However, I also have consistently affirmed the need for us to allow Christ to be dynamically expressed in our lives and in our fellowships.
We will see aspects of scripture, and hear the Lord dynamically in our lives and fellowships, differently depending on our diverse gifts, callings, motivations and perspectives. Those differences are not contradictory, but complementary.
As I have repeatedly emphasized in my blogs, we need a vibrant relationship with the Living Word, in submission to the authority and discipline of His written Word.
The great error of the existentialists is that they want the former to the exclusion of the later. The great error of the legalists is that they want the later to the exclusion of the former.
Health and maturity in the Lord comes from both being fully operative in the life each believer, and in the life of each fellowship.
Thank you for the clarification. I understand better now and I did note that you had addressed this issue so this is why I was confused a bit.
“We need a vibrant relationship with the living word, in submission to the authority and discipline of His written word.” Although I greatly enjoyed this particular blog, these few lines summed it up. There is a great danger for anyone not yet firmly planted on the rock discerning such things, mainly matters of the heart. Adam and his female counterpart were the first to be overcome by that old shining one in all his seeming wisdom and vibrant suggestions. I agree, a relationship with the Lord and how one is used effectively by him is not void of variety and shouldnt be viewed as such. I must agree that no matter what, all things, intellectually, heartfelt, or somewhere in between should be checked out in scripture with the greatest of care.