Heart of Ethics (Jan-Feb 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Lynn Anderson
January – February, 2005

A HEART IN SEARCH OF INTEGRITY

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?—John 5:44

A group of respected Christian leaders sat on the platform as pugilistic preachers fired questions from both right and left. One brash cross-examiner rose and leveled a blast at the revered late Reuel Lemmons, “Has it not been historically validated, Mr. Lemmons, that movements born to laud freedom and pursue truth usually crystallize into sectarianism, which ultimately turns on those who best pursue the movement’s original aims?”

The questioner remained standing, as if he felt Lemmons was responsible for something or other. But Reuel, silvery-haired, self-made business entrepreneur, preacher, editor and for decades highly respected in his circles, sauntered to the microphone, and in his dry Texas drawl, spoke only one word.

“Yep!”

Then he sat down, to thunderous laughter and applause.

I think Lemmons was urging Christian leaders onward in search of integrity. He underscored what Jesus meant when our Lord addressed the religious leaders of his day, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). Make no mistake about it: preserving integrity is not easy. Nevertheless, this integrity is indispensable to the nurturing of healthy faith and thus to the maintenance of the kind of spiritual vitality that “God-hungry people want to imitate.” ‘Would-be-spiritual-leaders’ who surrender core convictions to under the pressure of prevailing cultural or ecclesiastical environments stymie their own faith development. What is more, they model only a superficial imitation of genuine discipleship. And they lose the winsomeness that attracts and shapes God-hungry people.

In his now classic book Will Our Children Have Faith, John Westerhoff helps clarify this. He saw faith developing through stages.

“Experienced” Faith
Westerhoff says we all begin in a faith “infancy” – which he calls ‘experienced faith.’ (That is, the faith of a little child is basically only experiencing the faith of family and significant others. This is true, whether faith begins in an infant born into a believing family, or in an unbelieving adult who becomes drawn into a community of authentic believers.

“Affiliative” Faith
Westerhoff describes a more significant second stage as “affiliative” faith. In this “childhood” of faith (which doesn’t necessarily coincide with biological childhood). At this stage of faith development, one believes what one does because of the group with which one is affiliated believes such things. A teenager, for example, may spout “the plan of salvation,” though he or she might scarcely be able to defend or explain it. Affiliative faith is a normal and healthy part of faith development provided one does not get stuck there.

“Searching” Faith
Next is ‘searching’ faith, a sort of “faith adolescence.” Remember biological adolescence, when we no longer felt compliant with parental authority or family norms, and we challenged basically everything our parents stood for. Wise parents know that adolescence, painful as it feels to both child and parent, is a healthy developmental stage.

In Westerhoff’s analogy, adolescent faith (which can occur at any biological age) is no longer willing to comply. It questions and challenges its affiliative faith. I believe the analogy is on target. Most thoughtful spiritual leaders go through times when they not only questioned their affiliative faith context, but may even downright disagree with it. And those around them who may find their sense of security in mere affiliative faith, often feel threatened by this searching: “Don’t you love the church?” “Are you trying to cause trouble?” And some of these friends who may be stuck in affiliative faith might back away from the searcher.

These social forces, inadvertently conspiring to squelch explorations at this crucial stage of faith development have driven some God-hungry searchers toward negative options. One common option, for example is to leave and go where questions are welcomed. Some rigid churches are hemorrhaging in this way.

Heart of EthicsA second option is to stay where you are-and be angry. You likely know people who can’t muster the courage to leave their church nor openly search, but at the same time, they cannot ignore their troubling doubts and questions. So they stay where they are, maybe even stay in some institutional leadership role, seething with unresolved anger, flailing about to the spiritual peril of themselves and everyone around them.

Then there is that third—and I think much larger—group lack the courage to risk relationships or reputation or rejection by honestly pursuing their questions. They don’t want to clash with friends, family or tradition. So, like the angry group, they stay. However, they are well aware that suppressed anger is toxic. Stuffed feelings can show up in some mighty destructive ways: clinical depression, sexual acting out or substance abuse, to name a few. So they stay put–but learn to unplug the force of their questions.

They refine the art of tuning out their own consciences. They simply capitulate at affiliative levels—go along to get along, and they stop growing, go spiritually numb, and play out the mundane church game. This option is of course, the most dangerous of all!

The ‘would-be church leader’ who chooses this path will eventually dismantle not only his or her own integrity but the very capacity to believe. Although these persons conform–and maybe even stay in some congregational ‘leadership role,’ something about them will no longer ring true, and they will inadvertently become a drag on the character development of people around them. They will not really have the interests of the flock at heart. Having lost character at the center of their souls, they will be vulnerable to all sorts of sin and deception–and to power plays and manipulation and face-saving devices. And the more intimately their ‘sheep’ get to know them, they less they respect them and trust them.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky paints a dark picture of where this kind of mind-set can ultimately lead us:

When we lie to ourselves, and believe our own lies, we become unable to recognize truth, either in ourselves or in anyone else, and we end up losing respect for ourselves and for others. When we have no respect for anyone, we can no longer love, and in order to divert ourselves, having no love in us, we yield to our impulses, indulge in the lowest forms of pleasure, and behave in the end like an animal, in satisfying our vices. And it all comes from lying—lying to others and to ourselves.

Of course, not every person leader who stalls at affiliative faith will wind up morally bankrupt. But at that state of ethical bankruptcy, only social pressure and fear of being found out will keep him from it.

Let me assure you, this is not merely my theory. Look carefully at John 12:36-43: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:38).

Note that I have emphasized the words “would not believe.” This describes an attitude, a mind set. They deliberately chose to squelch what they knew to be true because they might lose face, even be rejected. As John explains in verses 42-43, “for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

Again John is reminding us what he said earlier, “How can you believe if praise from one another is more important than the praise of God?” (5:44).

But John takes this warning one terrifying step further: “For this reason they could not believe . . . ” [(v. 39) Note that I have highlighted the words ‘could not’ here.] This does not merely describe an attitude or even a mindset. Rather, it describes a spiritual condition! They were no longer able to believe. And the reason they could no longer believe is that they had so long chosen to ignore the troubling truth: that they had dismantled their ability to believe anything with a passion. What a frightening possibility!

Owned Faith
Those with the heart of integrity, the faith hungry for God, will pursue Him and His will regardless of where he takes them or what it costs them or what comfort zones it disturbs. Such integrity then leads on to a more mature stage of faith development which Westerhoff calls owned faith. At this stage, one’s searching faith has found some substance, and the person owns his or her faith. He or she owns substantive understanding of it and also owns the cost and consequences of it. This does not mean all questions are answered or that all views are correct—or that all doubts are gone forever. It does, however, mean that faith is now internalized, so that the believer can say, “On this I put down my life no matter where He takes me.” Or, they might be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim 1:12).

A clear and central difference between mere religion and authentic relationship with God is precisely the difference between affiliative and owned faith. That is, a person may hold to “the full biblical truth” on doctrine (if any one person knows all that means) and still be merely religious, if his or her “views” are sourced in “affiliation” and not in the honest conviction which comes through integrity and an ever-deepening relationship with God and His truth. Whereas another person might yet hold to a number of unbiblical and ill-developed views and still find an authentic relationship with God, if indeed his or her faith is owned, it is sourced in hunger for God and that faith pursues Him, with integrity, at all costs.

However, here is the shocker: Some observers estimate that seventy percent of religious people, including churches leaders, never move past the second stage, the childhood stage of faith development. If that estimate is any where near accurate, most church leaders cling to affiliative faith! This is a sobering possibility, as it raises some integrity questions. And it means that many Churches—and their leaders—lose much of their appeal to genuinely God-hungry people.

The Cost of Integrity
The book of Acts applauds those “noble Bereans” (Acts 17:11) because of their owned faith. The Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” In fact, the apostle Paul himself would have remained a rigid, parochial rabbi till his death if he had lacked the integrity to pursue relationship with God, far beyond his affiliative faith.

I have always admired the courage of my parents and the honest frontier environment which nurtured their freedom. The mercury had dipped to thirty-two degrees below zero that cold Canadian day in 1936, when hardy homesteaders lugged a cattle trough into my homesteading parents’ kitchen. They hauled water from the well, heated it on our coal-fed stove, and then filled the trough deeply enough to baptize Mom and Dad, who had made firm personal commitment to trust Christ as their Savior and Lord, and to follow him no matter where He took them regardless of the cost.

My parents were laughed out of their social circles for a time, because they dared to leave the security of affiliative religion in order to pursue and embrace authentic relationship with God through their owned faith. I am proud of this heritage.

In moments of introspection, I am puzzled by my own attitudes: Why do I admire my parents’ courage yet get antsy when my children, in their hunger for God—and in the spirit of their grandparents—sometimes own viewpoints which don’t match mine? Would I discourage my children away from integrity and God hunger, in order to agree with me? Would I want them to stake homesteads and become permanent settlers’ on the theological territory my pilgrim parents saw only as a frontier of grace?

Don’t Shrink Back
Of course, I do cherish my understanding of the faith deeply enough that I want my children to share it. Yet, I pray that they will love God enough to pursue His truth as they understand it even if their search leads along pathways different from mine. Fact is, pursuing truth will at times crush and break all of us! But, I implore you, my shepherding friends; let us not shrink back from this pain.

Merle Crowell tells a story about a Greenland Eskimo who joined an Arctic expedition. For his faithful guide service he was rewarded with a visit to New York City. Dazzled by the wonders, he couldn’t wait to tell the folks back home in Greenland. He described “stacks of igloos that reached the clouds” and “crowded igloos moving along the trail,” and “lamps that burned without seal oil.”

But the village people did not share his excitement. Instead, they listened with fish-eyed stares, tagged him “Sagdluk” (that is “The Liar”), and shunned him. By the time of his death, his original name had long been forgotten, and he carried the name “Liar” to his grave.

Later, Knud Rasmussen made his trip to the frozen North, guided by another Greenland Eskimo named Mitek. Mitek, too, was rewarded with a trip to New York. Although he too was dazzled by the city, Mitek, remembering Sagdluk’s fate, covered his backside by cooking up stories that his villagers could swallow. He and Rasmussen had only “paddled a big kayak on a wide river called Hudson, among plentiful flocks of geese and large herds of seals.”

Thus, Mitek, who was the real liar, gained a place of extraordinary respect among his home villagers. The man who had told the real truth was called “Liar” and died in ignominy.

Face the Chill Wind
But this should not surprise us. Those hardy souls who exercise the integrity to pursue truth often face such a chill wind. As my dear friend Ann Silkman says, “People who dance to a different beat have always been called insane by those who can’t hear the music.” However, when their integrity marches to the cadence of God’s glory, it will look like total sanity to God-hungry people.

Remember, for example, Jeremiah, in the well? And Stephen, stoned? Luther at the Council of Worms? My parents, and possibly yours? Most specially, Jesus on the cross? Can we expect to obtain freedom of conscience through some ecclesiastical fiat? Will humankind one day automatically reward such integrity? I doubt it! Washington cannot provide integrity by legislation. The church or seminary cannot guarantee freedom of thought through some ingenious movement. Freedom is in the heart—rooted in integrity. And it demands choices of the will. We must choose to be free before God’s will, no matter what the cost. This is a painful choice for the Spiritual leaders. There is no denying that. But it is nonetheless absolutely essential to authentic ministry.

As Oswald Sanders said, “No one need aspire to leadership in the work of God who is not prepared to pay a price greater than his contemporaries and colleagues are ready to pay. True leadership always exacts a heavy toll on the whole man, and the more effective the leadership is, the higher the price to be paid” (Sanders, J. Oswald, As a Word in Season, trans. Ilse Lasche (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963).

Those who best pursue God do so even in the face of a hostile environment. To them, a relationship with Christ means more than keeping a job or holding an audience or receiving accolades from their fellows (though all these may be precious). To be able to stand before the smiling countenance of Jesus means far more to them that their security or their forum or the affirmation of their fellows. They seem strangely hungry for “the praise that comes from the only God.” “How can you believe” without such hunger? Without such integrity? Without such raw integrity, we Christian leaders may not even be real believers! Remember, it was Jesus who said, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another,” but do not ask the praise that comes “from the only God?”

For three thousand years, spiritual leaders have prayed for integrity of heart. That first major human shepherd of God’s people, King David, was chosen for his integrity which he actually learned among literal sheep. “From [shepherding] the sheep he brought [David] to be the shepherd of his people . . . and David shepherded them with integrity of heart” (Psalm 78:70-71).

When dangers threatened his father’s sheep, David might just as easily have fled–his father would have been none the wiser. But he stayed and fought the lions and bears even though no one was watching. Integrity after all, is measured by what one does in a pinch, when no one else will know. In the absolute anonymity of the sheep pasture, when no one saw and no one knew, David repeatedly risked his life for a few stinking, stubborn sheep that could give him no personal rewards.

But God was his audience. And David’s own heart was his supervisor, so this great Shepherd of God’s people prays so fervently for a heart wide open to God’s searching eye. David prayed, “… you desire truth in the inmost parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” (Psalm 51:6-7). “Search me, O God, and know my heart … see if there is any offensive way in me” (Ps 139:23-24). And he tells us that God will use a man,” in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2).

Our world is cynical. Even kids are wise to the duplicity of government leaders, televangelists and Madison Avenue. Most folks desperately need to know a few good people, who are straight shooters to the core. Schools need them too–and governments–and most of all, the flock of God need shepherds of authentic God-shaped integrity. But of what value to a God-hungry person is a spiritual leader with little integrity–like the stressed out ‘Christian’ woman who was tail-gaiting a man’s car at rush hour on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light in front the man turned yellow. Even though he could probably have beaten the red light, he did the honest thing, and stopped at the crosswalk.

The woman hit the roof, and the horn, screaming in frustration at her missed chance to get through the intersection. Then at in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the very serious face of a police officer. He ordered her out, hand-cuffed her and took her to the station where she is searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and locked in a cell.

In a while the cell opened and she was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.

“I’m very sorry for this mistake,” the arresting officer explained, “You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cursing a blue streak. When I noticed the “Choose Life” license plate holder, the “What Would Jesus Do” bumper sticker, the “Follow Me to Sunday School” window-sticker, and the chrome plated fish emblem on the trunk, I just knew this had to be a stolen car … ”

On a very practical level, my friend Terry Yarborough, himself a shepherd of a church, spells out what such a man of integrity looks like:

The person that stands out more than any other is Joe Hall a former Elder, the only thing that he doesn’t have is the title of shepherd. Joe was one of the top dogs at the Federal Center here in Denver and spent a lot of time in Washington D.C. So he has probably been the top income person in our church for quite some time. I can remember after an entire week in Washington he would call me up Friday night or Saturday morning to ask me to help someone in need. Just simple things such as golf, in which we do a lot of, if we only have tee time for five he’ll be the first person to bow out and let the others play. This is just a small example of a man that I believe that has been a great mentor and shepherd for me and others.

The true shepherd lives his or her life with integrity and is guided by principles, not politics. He or she is not threatened by group pressure or intimidated by public opinion. That shepherd is far more concerned about the needs of the flock and what is spiritually beneficial than about avoiding criticism. He or she will never, ever knowingly hurt an individual to elevate himself with the group. The shepherd of courage will unflinchingly do the will of God as he understands it, no matter what comes. Bottom line, a man of integrity is a man who is authentic and who genuinely seeks to be God’s man. This gives him the courage to do God’s will and to love and serve God’s people—no matter what it costs him personally—even when no one is looking!New Wineskins


ResourcesLonging For A Homeland

Longing for a Homeland
by Lynn Anderson
Howard Publishing, 2004

As you wander through the pages of this compelling book, you’ll find a melody of the heart that will resonate with your own homesick soul. You’ll discover the joys of life in the present, as well as your sweet connection with the past. But above all else, you’ll find your way home. You’ll find the place you belong.

The Jesus TouchThe Jesus Touch
by Lynn Anderson
Howard Publishing, 2002

Lynn Anderson shares profound insights as he explores Jesus’ method of evaluating the needs of each person he encountered and tailoring His interaction with them accordingly. The Jesus Touch is a must read for everyone.

Navigating the Winds of ChangeNavigating the Winds of Change
by Lynn Anderson
Howard Publishing, 1995

Helpful insights and strategies for managing change in the church, Navigating the Winds of Change is a must read for church leaders.

The Shepherds SongThe Shepherd’s Song
by Lynn Anderson
Howard Publishing, 1996

Formerly published as Finding the Heart to Go On, The Shepherd’s Song explores the heart of God’s leader, King David.

In Search of WonderIn Search of Wonder
edited by Lynn Anderson
Howard Publishing, 1996

A collective theology of worship for today’s church, In Search of Wonder is edited by Lynn Anderson with chapters written by Max Lucado, Mike Cope, Rubel Shelly, Randy Harris, Harold Shank and Jack Reese.

They Smell Like SheepThey Smell Like Sheep
by Lynn Anderson
Howard Publishing, 1997

Exploring the biblical models of shepherding, mentoring and equipping, They Smell Like Sheep is a master key that unlocks the secrets of leadership for anyone.

If I Really Believe Why Do I Have These Doubts?
by Lynn Anderson
Howard Publishing, 2000 (revised)

If I Really Believe Why Do I Have These Doubts?: Overcoming Obstacles to Faith will help you answer some of life’s toughest questions. Revised and updated from the 1992 version.

The Transforming of a TraditionThe Transforming of a Tradition: Churches of Christ in the New Millennium
edited by Lynn Anderson
Leafwood Publishers, 2001

In the shake-up that comes with the passing of one era and the emergence of another, there is an opening for new and exciting possibilities. In this powerful book, fifteen church leaders speak out about the challenges of a new millennium.

Freshness for the Far Journey
by Lynn Anderson
Abilene Christian University Press

How do preachers in the 21st century stay spiritually and professionally alive in the midst of a hurried and overcommitted life? How do they keep all the plates spinning, yet remain fresh over the long haul? Lynn’s reflections in Freshness for the Far Journey will inspire and uplift ministers of the Word to more effectively service in the sweet agony of preaching. A “must have” for your library, this book will keep you growing in your ability to connect with your congregation, yourself and your God.New Wineskins

Lynn AndersonLynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching and equipping church leaders. [Lynnanderson.org]

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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