Leaning over the railing of the San Clemente pier this weekend, I noticed thousands and thousands of minnows swimming around right below. Matthew asked, “Why do you think they swim right here where they know there are predators?” We’d already seen bigger fish and a diving duck, and everyone knows Jaws could be lurking nearby! Then he answered his own question: “I guess they’re just counting on their friends getting eaten instead!”Now as the church, we don’t want to rely on our friends getting eaten instead—I hate to break it to you, but God doesn’t compare your sin to your friend’s and pick the better of you two, “the best of the worst.” Eternal life with God is not like college where the top 10% automatically get in—“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and only Jesus can save.
That said, the group mentality that guides the minnows has some value and represents the corporate discipline of guidance. When I say “corporate guidance,” I’m not talking about peer pressure (or should I say, “pier” pressure). I’m not talking about “group think” where a group is lulled into making a less-than-creative decision (because group decisions can sometimes take away individual responsibility). I’m talking about the concept from Ecclesiastes 4:12, which says, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” The concept of strength in numbers is the discipline of guidance.
You see, the church is the body of Christ. Any body—from that of a human to that of the smallest organism—has to operate as one creature. An arm can’t decide to go off to the zoo while a leg goes to the beach. An arm and a leg can refuse to work together, but that leaves the body stranded on the couch (ok, so maybe the legs can work together to get up, but that’s not doing much without the rest of the body to help)! A body has to operate as one unified creature, and so should the church. Yet to operate as one unified creature, the church can’t be fighting itself.
In discussing guidance, Foster references Acts 15, where the early church meets to make a decision corporately. The actual passage says, “The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them….The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul.” Foster elaborates on page 178 of Celebration of Discipline: “Under corporate guidance the early Church faced and resolved its most explosive issue…Appointed elders and apostles gathered in the power of the Lord not to jockey for position or to play one side against another, but to hear the mind of the Spirit. It was no small task. There was intense debate. Then in a beautiful example of how individual guidance impinges upon corporate guidance, Peter told about his experience with the Italian centurion Cornelius. As he spoke, the ever-brooding Spirit of God did a wonderful work. When Peter finished, the entire assembly fell into silence (Acts 15:12). Finally, the gathered group came into what must be called a glorious, heaven-sent, unified commitment to reject cultural religion and to hold to the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ. They concluded, ‘It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’ (Acts 15:28). They had faced the toughest issue of their day and had discerned the voice from on high.”
Corporate guidance isn’t group think or the popular vote. In fact, corporate guidance might lead us to a rather culturally unpopular vote. But, this discipline means seeking the guidance of the One who really matters, together.
I think of it kind of like a jury. A jury relies on the backgrounds and individuality and different ways of thinking of each of the 12 members to make the best possible decision. Sometimes juries get it wrong, and I’m not saying a group of Christians can’t get it wrong with corporate guidance, too—we are imperfect people, and any discipline can get skewed or misused. But Christians have something that secular juries may not have—a relationship with an all-knowing Creator. Through corporate guidance, we can use common sense and have logical debates, all while being guided by the Holy Spirit, who “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Seeking His guidance with our brothers and sisters in Christ isn’t something that I think the church does particularly well—we tend to spend more time fighting and bickering. But if we want to see His power in our decision-making and our world, corporate guidance is a good place to start. After all, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken,” and, as Jesus himself said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
Jesus in a room full of people seeking His guidance. Jesus’ whole church seeking His guidance. I’m pretty sure that’s how we’ll begin to see a unified church. And what a unified church can do through Christ? I’m pretty sure we’ve yet to see such power unleashed.