This morning as I continued my study in First Chronicles, my attention was drawn again to the story of Uzzah and the tragic loss of his life when the “oxen stumbled.” The task of moving the ark back to its rightful place in the temple is not unlike the challenge of transforming today’s church.
Somewhere over time we have allowed the enemy of God, much as did the Philistines with Israel, to steal away the treasures of God’s people, the values of our nation, framing a different culture, with the church soon enticed to follow. The way things are done in the church and in our nation have changed greatly during my own lifetime, even splitting the church into two camps it would seem, those who “do church” almost the same as it has been done for centuries, seemingly proud of its ability to archive empty vessels in some museum setting; then others so radical in their attempts at reaching culture that there are no visible differences and possibly no more of God’s presence than displayed by the former “archival” approach.
This is neither an old man calling for a return to the “good old days”, nor a cry to throw both baby and wash out the window. However, relating to culture and replicating culture are two different things.
David attempted to replicate culture, after all, the ox cart devised by the Philistines seemed not all that bad! A new technology is not to be rejected just because it is a new technology. Yet, this case was quite different, in that clear instructions had been given earlier that David somehow in his excitement (see 13:8) and desire to please God and men overlooked. Is God some tyrant that rails out against failure? Absolutely not, for He “gave His only begotten Son, that….” However, delivery of the gospel without the redemption of the hearer, soon manifests more pageantry than power, approaching amusement and that may not be what God is after? Crowded churches in ailing cities are not necessarily the measure of success.
I am always amazed at the ‘spirituality’ of the Philistines in their original design of this novel ox-cart technology, it had little to do with transportation but more about an experiment with beasts of burden who’s instincts they knew God would have to override. They attached two heifers, never before hitched to a cart and separated them from their newborn calves. If these cows walked away from the camp, surely the God of Israel was real and if He were real then they did not want to defy Him, welcoming the loss of this gold covered box that brought them only suffering. In their own way, they feared God more than these overly celebratory Israelites.
What is the leadership learning in all this? Spiritual leaders cannot be drawn into drama, short term needs or cultural preferences. David was on a roll, surrounded by men who would fall on a sword for him and his causes, his arch rival Saul was dead and the Kingdom was his. These are the vulnerable times when leaders may least trust their instincts, as Bathsheba would also soon expose.
The decisions and challenges for the transformation of the church today are no less critical than in David’s day. The necessary repositioning of the Body of Christ in our post-Christian country, if America is to ever again know God, must be done under the guidance of men and women who know how to hear from God. The leadership of the church, both from pulpit and pew cannot afford to be caught up in new technologies, dramatic worship events or novel means of “transporting” the gospel. Lives are at stake and often it is the best that are struck down when leaders fail.
Leadership has its consequences!