DECENTLY AND IN ORDER

Let all things be done decently and in order.

I Corinthians 14: 40

INTRODUCTION

O

rganization just seems to come naturally to some people. For my part, I have to work at it. Don't get me wrong. I do work at it. It just seems that it comes more easily for some others than for me.

Growing up, my older brother always had his things organized so neatly. I would try to imitate his example, but somehow it just never looked quite as sharp when I did it. Studying for the ministry, as I struggled to maintain my devotional life, keep up with my classes and work a job, that old childhood nemesis of mine, Disorganization, came back to haunt me. In my haste to get to class, something would get left on my bed or on my dresser. When I checked my box after chapel, there would be a yellow slip waiting for me.

Finally, one of my teachers sat me down in his office and showed me some basic principles for staying organized. Simple as it may seem, it was an invaluable lesson for me, and one that I've never forgotten. To this day, I look to those principles as guiding lights to ensure that in my own life, all things are done "decently and in order".

Some people never see the value in this. Some even seem to glory in disorganization. Many of us, if we haven't witnessed it firsthand, have heard reports about the goings on in Pentecostal Churches, Charismatic Churches and Apostolic Churches. These denominations seem to assume that disorganization is synonymous with spirituality and that organization is somehow synonymous with dead ritualism. The modern Separate Baptists seem to share a similar ideology. But it's worth observing that those men whom God has blessed and used most mightily throughout history demonstrate a pattern of organization that cannot be found in the outlook of the abovementioned denominations.

I. THE PRECEDENT OF ORDER
The reason for this is, of course, that disorganization is unscriptural and unspiritual. Throughout the Word of God, we find that God emphasizes the importance of maintaining organization. This is true of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

A. THE CHRONOLOGICAL EXAMPLE

We don't finish reading the first chapter of Genesis, before we see God establishing and illustrating in the most vivid manner his emphases and expectation that we be organized, specifically in relationship to our time. His great purpose in creating the stars and other heavenly bodies was not that of beautifying the nighttime sky. It was not even to give us light after sunset. God created the stars and other heavenly bodies for the purpose of time management. Let's read the first statement of purpose in relationship to the creation of the stars and heavenly bodies in Genesis 1: 14. Here it is:

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years".

In other words, God gave us the stars and heavenly bodies for the purpose of time management.

In the following books of the Pentateuch, we find this reemphasized. Pay close attention to God's insistence that every sacrifice, every ceremony take place in its appointed season. He did not just leave these things to the discretion of the worshipper or even of the High Priest. The worship of the worshipper could only please God if it was offered in its divinely-appointed season. Anything out of order would be rejected, and quite possibly punished.

Later on Solomon reemphasized this again. It was during the Golden Era of Jewish history, when at last all of the land promises of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been completely fulfilled (Joshua 21: 43 - 45) and were being enjoyed, that God, through Solomon, gave us what is perhaps his most well-known reminder that he expects everything to be done in its appropriate season. How many times have we all heard this famous passage of Solomon's from the book of Ecclesiastes?

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace." (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 - 8).

It's highly significant that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary when he was. Perhaps we would have expected God to act more swiftly, sending him to be born in the immediate aftermath of man's fall in the Garden of Eden. But he didn't. He waited. He waited until just the right time.

" But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Galatians 4: 4 5).

This matter of the fulness of time was so important to Christ, that he directly associated the coming judgment of God upon national Israel with their failure to discern the times. Listen to the weeping voice of our Saviour as he grieves over this tragic failure on the part of those who assumed that they were God's people as a result of their fleshly lineage:

"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." (Luke 19: 41 - 44)

What a powerful lesson to learn about the importance of timing in the mind and heart of God (and what a blessing to know that we are now living in the fulness of time and not looking for some other fulness besides Christ, such as a rebuilt Temple or animal sacrifices sometime off in the future)!

B. THE CLASSIFICATION EXAMPLE

We have another example of God's emphases on decency and order in Genesis 2. Notice God's delegation to Adam in verse 19:

"And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof."

Adam was given the responsibility to name the animals. What was that? It was categorization. It was classification. It was organization. It was Adam going around and identifying the categories of the animal kingdom and putting labels on them. God didn't want the animal kingdom to be an indiscernible mass of confusion. He wanted everything to be properly identified and categorized.

C. THE CEREMONIAL EXAMPLE

We have already alluded to God's example of organization under the Levitical priesthood. But it is well worth repeating. What an illustration we have there of God's orderliness in that whole system of typological ceremonies and sacrifices! Everything had, not only its appropriate time, but its designated place. We even find exact materials being insisted upon by God. The Old Testament Jews couldn't just use whatever they wanted to use or offer whatever they felt like offering. They had to use exactly what God had commanded them to use. If we are too blind to see the Christological symbolism in Old Testament Israel and Old Testament worship which anticipated the true Lamb (John 1: 29, 36; Revelation 5: 6, 8, 13; 6: 1, 16, 17, 7: 9, 10, 14, 17), the true Passover (I Corinthians 5: 7 - 8), the true Temple (Ephesians 2: 19 - 22; Hebrews 8: 2; I Peter 2: 4 - 5) the true Altar (Hebrews 13: 10), the true unchangeable priesthood (Hebrews 7: 1 - 28; 10: 11 - 22; I Peter 2: 4 - 5) and the true Israel, the Church (Romans 2: 28 - 29; 9: 6 - 8; Galatians 3: 28 - 29; 6: 16), we can at least recognize the more pragmatic lesson to be learned from them, namely that God is a God of decency and order.

D. THE CHRISTOLOGICAL EXAMPLE

We notice this same pattern in the life of Christ. It is specifically stated that before Christ demonstrated his supernatural power in feeding the five thousand, he made them "all sit down by companies upon the green grass". Which is just to say that before Christ performed the miracle of feeding the multitudes, he

got them organized first! I wonder how many churches today don't ever see the miraculous, the supernatural power of God demonstrated in their midst because they never get organized?

II. THE PRACTICALITY OF ORDER
Now organization is a very practical thing. It helps immensely to have everything sorted out, labeled and in its proper place. What kind housewife would store the Clorox and Drano in the refrigerator and the eggs in the home entertainment center? What kind of people would store the power tools in the kitchen cabinets and the dishware and eating utensils in the bed of the truck? Can you imagine a house being run in that manner? Yet this is exactly how many pastors today are running the churches that Christ entrusted to their care!

So it does make a difference how the local church is organized. A Baptist is not a Presbyterian and a Lutheran is not a Pentecostal. All of these people may genuinely love the Lord, but they believe different things and consequently they practice different approaches of worship. Now if you lump everybody all together and say that it doesn't matter because we're all born-again children of God, who is to say which practice of baptism will be instituted? Who is to say which policy of communion will be practiced? Who is to say whether the church will have a soulwinning program or support world missions? Who is to say if the leadership will be pastor-led, congregational, presbyterian or otherwise? Who is to say if the church will be autonomous or part of a convention or denominational superstructure? And how will visitors searching for a church know if they will fit in or not?

I know well enough that denominational identity does not gage spirituality. I can easily differentiate between a dog and a cat, and even between different breeds of dogs, but I can't necessarily tell whether the dog that I'm looking at is really healthy or not. It can be boxer born and boxer bred, but before long it may be boxer dead, because it has a serious health condition that I can't identify just by looking at it. Still, it helps a great deal to know a dog from a cat when it comes time to dish out the pet food.

This has application to a church's doctrinal statement as well. The recent trend has been to downplay doctrinal statements, creeds, confessions and systematic theology and to have these terse, abbreviated doctrinal statements that don't say much of anything at all and leave a lot of subject matter unspecified. That is what the non-denominational churches have been doing for a great while now, and it really goes back a long way, even to Scofield's day, when Scofield was criticized for submitting a vague doctrinal statement to his ordination counsel. Thankfully, the New Calvinism is changing that now, and while I disagree with New Calvinism broadly speaking and could echo (and have echoed) with emphases what

Peter Masters has already said negatively against it, I am at least glad to see an emphases being placed upon careful, systematic theology once again. Creeds, confessions, doctrinal statements and systematic theologies are simply the more thorough declaration that is basically summed up in one's denominational label. Of course it's good to qualify what you believe with a denominational label, but that really can't cover in detail what a thorough doctrinal statement or confession of faith will cover.

III. THE PRIORITY OF ORDER
Perhaps the most important principle of decency and order is the principle of prioritization. This is where most churches today are failing. Christianity, like life in general, has its priority structure. If you get your priorities wrong, your life will be a disaster. And if you have your spiritual priorities wrong, your spiritual life will be a disaster as well.

Churches today are touting a number of different issues. One church has a big emphases on leadership. Another church puts all the emphases on soulwinning and bus ministry. Another focuses on the Baptist faith, Baptist heritage and preserving the Baptist identity. Still another that deals almost constantly with the Bible version issue and modern textual debates. And then you've got one that always focuses on the family and everything is constantly about the home and familial relationships and responsibilities all of the time. Then you've got one that has a big emphases on counseling and has a number of counseling ministries for various people with addictions and other special needs. And we can't forget the one that's got all of those great big prophecy charts all over the walls and an endless supply of prophecy books such as "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988" in their bookstore.

Now all of these churches are wrong. I do not say that they are made up of bad people or led by bad pastors, certainly not in terms of deliberate wrongdoing. But they are wrong because their emphases is wrong, their priorities are wrong. They are wrong about the most important thing that a person or church can be wrong about, and that is the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and his place in the Church and in the hearts and minds of God's people. They have left their first love.

You remember the church of Ephesus as described in the second chapter of Revelation. If we could somehow visit that church today, we would all be amazed! We would be staggered by everything that they were doing, by the sheer number of ministries and programs, and by the vigorous involvement of the membership! Everyone would be so busy, doing something, serving in some ministry of the local church! There would hardly be any idle members at all, if any. And they would have high standards of practical piety and separation from the world! We would come away and we would say, "What a great

soulwinning church! Look at all the ministries and programs! Look at how involved everyone is! Look at how separated they are! God must be so thrilled with it all!"

And we would be completely wrong. Because the Lord Jesus Christ was not thrilled at all with the church at Ephesus as described in Revelation 2. In fact, he was highly displeased. He was so displeased that he assured them that he would take away their candlestick unless they repented, unless they got their priorities in order and returned to their first love (Revelation 2: 4 - 5).

But churches all around us today are repeating the same mistake. Somehow we get the idea that we can discover some new truth, some new "key" that will really make us spiritual. And of course, these things never make us more spiritual. They always make us less spiritual, at least when we make them the priority and the litmus test of our newfound spiritual elitism.

I'm not saying that these various things are unimportant. They all have their place and all deserve their due attention. After our first love. Under our first love. In all things Christ is to have the preeminence (Colossians 1: 18).

That means that Christ is more important than leadership. He is more important than soulwinning and bus ministry. He is more important than the Baptist faith, heritage and identity. He is more important than the Bible Version issue and the textual debates of our day. He is more important than the structure of the home. He is more important than pinpointing the day of the Rapture or the bloodline of the Antichrist. And if any of these things usurp his preeminence, they have become idols, and Christ will assuredly judge that, even to the point of allowing a local congregation to pass off of the scene.

CONCLUSION
It's been often said that God won't bless a mess. There's a great deal of truth in that statement. And what we can say axiomatically with even greater confidence is that God will not bless a church with wrong priorities, a church that has left its first love. On the doctrinal level, Dispensationalism is unquestionably to blame for the current decline of the Church in the United States of America. But on the heart level, it's something else: a mess of wrong priorities, an unbiblical value system. May God forgive us, and may God restore us to our first love.