Chaos in the Church

Time to learn another big word: entropy.

Entropy is the second law of thermodynamics. It’s one of the great laws of the universe. Without getting too science-y, it basically means that without some kind of an influence that brings order, things tend toward chaos, randomness, decay, and disorder. The normal state of the universe is chaos, not order. By contrast, God’s influence invites order; it brings organization to things that would otherwise exist in chaos.

My mission leaders used to ask a simple question that is really helpful for discerning between God’s influence and forces of entropy in the church: If everyone in the church were to approach faith and church participation the way you do, what kind of a church would we have?

If my approach to faith and church participation reflects God’s ordering influence, then the answer to that question is a happy one. We would have a cohesive, thriving community that connects people to God, manifests the gifts of the spirit, and is capable of achieving great things together.

On the other hand, if my approach to faith and church participation is entropic, then church would be a chaotic bunch of individuals who are never able to suspend their own judgments in favor of collective understanding. Everyone would do their own thing, have their own agenda, be their “authentic self,” and would be unable to come together to build anything lasting or meaningful. Charles Darwin was alluding to entropy when he said that “Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected.”

Much of the pattern of the Old Testament is God giving Israel order in the form of law and covenants, then the people choosing entropy, then God’s prophets warning about entropy, then finally God allowing the people to have the full hellish consequences of the entropy they have chosen. In the New Testament, Christ’s prophecy of no temple stones left standing is a frightening warning of entropy.

But where do we see it now?

So, what are some counter-entropic forces that bring order to individuals and to the church?

  1. Sustaining. Ask yourself If everyone held my definition of what it means to sustain, what kind of a church would we have? If the answer is chaos, then your definition of sustaining is entropic. Try this definition of sustaining instead.
  2. Exercising some process discipline in our seeking answers to gospel questions. What process do you follow in seeking answers? If the answer to that question is “no particular process,” then your approach to gospel inquiry is probably entropic. And as a result, your understanding of the gospel is probably entropic, too. Try this process instead:

3. Relationship discipline. Marriage is the most obvious domain for exercising relationship discipline, but there are other domains. Our choices around friendships and social media activity can bring order to our lives, or keep us in entropy. People who are entropic cannot help us make sense of the gospel, because they are in chaos.

4. Councils. The use of councils in decision-making is a powerful approach to church governance. Councils are not free of entropy; in fact, they model an appropriate role for entropy in the church, in challenging our biases and our individual tendencies. In other words, councils actually use entropy in a healthy way to counter chaotic entropy in the church. Even outside of formal church councils, anytime we have a BIG IDEA regarding something church-related, it’s a good idea to counsel with wise people before taking action.

5. Correlation. The system of correlation in the church imposes discipline in church communications and teachings.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: Am I entropic? Am I a force of chaos in the church?

Well, only you can answer that. But here are a few inventory questions:

  • Am I resistant to any kind of correction?
  • Do I hold a weak, vague, slippery definition of what it means to sustain church leaders?
  • Am I allergic to any kind of hierarchies, roles, councils, structure, and order? Do I see those as unfair or oppressive?
  • Do I refuse to follow actual processes in my living of the gospel?
  • Do I hate clarity? If someone were to ask me what I believe, would it be like trying to nail jello to a wall?
  • Do I consider myself to be the final authority on everything?

And finally, once again, if everyone in the church were to live their faith and engage with the church like I do, would we have a cohesive community? Considering my wish list of changes for the church, have those kinds of changes been implemented elsewhere? What has been the result?

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