Life in the Kingdom is filled with irony.
The first is last (Matt 20:16).
The greatest is like a little child (Matt 18:4).
The cheek is turned (Matt 5:39).
The extra mile is traveled (Matt 5:41).
We should not be surprised by this Ethic. Yet, an unnecessary tension is found among some people in the West: simplicity and depth are believed to be competitors when it comes to disciple making movements.
One party says, “When you spend too much time in deep teaching, you create a bunch of new believers with much head knowledge and little obedience–like the multitude of Western church members. You hinder multiplication!”
The other party says, “Look at Africa (or pick a continent), and the damage done by the Prosperity Gospel Movement, or the damage of syncretism. A focus on simplicity and speed leads to anemic churches–and groups that are not churches at all!”
As with many debates, anecdotal evidence and caricatures (and sometimes straw men) are developed by both sides (Even this post could become a distortion of reality, if not careful.). The writer of Proverbs was correct: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17, ESV).
Both sides have truth in them. However, they have revealed a dichotomy known in this world but not necessarily found in Kingdom life: simplicity and depth are mutually exclusive.
The irony in the Kingdom is that simplicity is found in depth.
The same apostle who desired prayer that the Word would speed ahead, was the same apostle who desired that the Word would be honored (2 Thes 3:1). In Ephesus, this man reasoned daily from the Hall of Tyrannus so that all of Asia heard the Word (Acts 19:10). Yet, it was also in this city that this man declared the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). He had no place left (simplicity?) in his area of the world to preach and plant churches so he wrote the book of Romans (depth?) (Rom 15:23).
Could it be what we have come to believe as depth in our discipling is more about cultural preferences, extra-biblical traditions, and contemporary methods that hinder the urgent dissemination of the gospel and apostolic church planting?
Moses had no problem noting the commandment was not too hard or distant (Deu 30:11). The New Testament writers did not see a conflict between biblical simplicity and maturity, represented by apostles described as agrammatoi and idiotai (Acts 4:13). These early believers also turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Could it be what we have come to believe as healthy simplicity in our discipling is actually a failure to ground people in the Word. Do we believe the Great Commission is to go and make converts? Have we disobeyed our Lord, thinking more professions of faith are a substitute for teaching new professors to obey? Have we (or the home office) castrated the Great Commission? Have we committed the sin of Uzzah (1. Chr 13:10), believing we have a more excellent way?
Simplicity and depth, movement and maturity are not mutually exclusive. If we have come to believe they are, then maybe our definitions are more aligned with the kingdoms of this world and not the Kingdom.
This post written by J.D. Payne and originally posted at https://www.jdpayne.org/2020/08/simplicity-of-depth/, and used by permission of J.D. Payne.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.