Monday, June 24, 2013

Vision: Proverbs 29:18

The entrepreneurial mindset is working its way into the American church. Actually, I take that back. As a young person, I believe I've missed the boat: the entrepreneurial mindset has already worked itself into church culture, starting with the Church Growth Movement in the 1970s. Over 40 years later, those methods are the foundation, refined by many years of experience, and now the normal perspective is to optimize the business case for the local ministry. There is no need to ponder church growth theory; we have fully matured into the Age of the Megachurch. It has taken vision and mission, pairing the wisdom of the free market with the shelter of the church, and these behemoths have become everything they ever dreamed.

All too often I've heard Proverbs 29:18 used as the basis for the church growth platform if not the justification for all manner of missional pursuits. Conversely, it has been used to condemn the faithful local church as having an unbiblical foundation, or at least an unwise one, if they are not emulating the larger ministries:
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18, ESV)
The initial reaction to this verse is that a church must have a charismatic leader or board who can cast a vision for where they will take the church, otherwise the church will flounder as all manner of people 'cast off restraint'. This is especially true with older translations of Proverbs that did not include the adjective 'prophetic' next to 'vision'. I'm thankful that the ESV translation committee was thoughtful in its wording, though based on how I hear this verse still used today (as recently as one week ago), I'm still not sure people read closely enough.

While there may be some wisdom in drawing the parallel to organizational direction, Proverbs 29:18 has nothing to do with vision as we envision it today. There really is no relation to strategic planning or managerial competence. The verse entirely refers to the application of the Scriptures to the lives the people. The vision referred to in the first half of the verse is set against the law in the second half of the verse. In other words, where God's Word is lacking, anarchy ensues.

To see application of this Proverb, read Lamentations 2:9-14. Because Israel chose to follow the visions of the false prophets--casting off restraint of their Torah--God sent Babylon as his instrument of discipline. This Lamentation is the woe of a city as it reaps the consequence of disobeying God and his Law for so long.

Church leaders must be careful how they explain and apply God's Word. There is a danger of promoting a deceptive vision when using a verse to support a personal agenda, even if that agenda has 40 years of wind at its back. It was not overnight that Israel drifted from the false prophets speaking their soothing, damnable lies to their exile, yet the grand drama began with the smallest whispers of misdirection.

Remain faithful to the prophetic vision of the Word. Do not cast off the restraints of proper exegesis. The devastation in the church may be great. Though outward appearances may suggest success, the day will come when each local body will reap what it has sown: spiritual anarchy or blessing.