Back in 1990/91 I read a book by Peter Senge called the Fifth Discipline. I have reread parts many times and focused on it in my major paper on leadership when I did my Master’s degree as I found it to be a very significant book. His focus is on the broad application of Systems Theory, more particularly in a business context. In my career I also studied Family Systems theory and decades ago in a theology course discovered that Systems Theory goes back to the early Greeks and predates Christianity. Systems theory looks at patterns that play out over time and the interrelationships between the different parts of a system that lead to these interactions.
One of the tenets of Family Systems theory is that all behaviour is positively intended, similar to the idea that people are doing the best they can with what they have. I believe neither of those tenets as life experience, history, and most importantly scripture, demonstrate them to be false. However it is clear to me that all behaviour is goal directed. Knowingly or unknowingly we are trying to accomplish something through our efforts.
Given our behaviour is goal directed I want to look at a behaviour that Senge describes as “Shifting the Burden.” The idea in shifting the burden is that we put our efforts into managing symptoms rather than addressing the real problem. Shifting the burden is a behaviour that tends to exacerbate the original problem and it shows up all through scripture. We see it in Genesis 3 when Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent and the serpent has no one to blame. In fact Adam blames both Eve and God when in Genesis 3:12 he refers to ‘the woman You gave me.’
Another example of the pattern is with Ahab and Jezebel in 1 Kings 16 and on. Ahab worships Baal and marries Jezebel, who also worships false gods. How does Ahab respond when he sees the prophet Elijah who has confronted his idolatry?
17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.” 1 Kings 18:17–18 (NKJV)
Ahab shifts the burden and blames Elijah rather than acknowledging his own culpability. Later in 1 Kings 21 Ahab pouts because Naboth refuses to sell him his ancestral land containing a vineyard that Ahab wants. So Jezebel schemes to have Naboth killed so Ahab can take possession of the vineyard. Elijah confronts their evil and pronounces judgment on both of them. Nowhere in the story do Ahab or Jezebel ever take responsibility for their behaviour. It is always someone else who is the problem.
Every time we shift the burden we exacerbate the problem and drive the roots deeper. Our goal in shifting the burden is to avoid responsibility or avoid dealing with the consequences of our behaviour. We have two types of issues, sins of omission and sins of commission. One is not doing the right thing and the other is doing the wrong thing. In either case the burden of responsibility rests in the wrong place. Those of us engaging in commission or omission need to step up. When we fail to do so we allow sin to infect or affect our lives and the lives of others. Hence it is systemic.
The key to change in this area if it is an issue in our lives, home or work culture is to turn to and address roots not fruits. A good example of addressing the roots is Jesus messages to the seven churches in the first chapters of Revelation. Jesus speaks to some symptoms but then addresses the roots. Here is one example.
20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Revelation 2:20–23 (NKJV)
The fruit here is sexual immorality and false worship. Jesus addresses the issue and His main concern is not the behaviour of Jezebel. It is the behaviour of the rest of the church. He says, ‘you allow that woman.’ The NASB says ‘tolerate’ rather than allow. The word can also be translated as ‘permit.’ In essence Jesus was telling the church in Thyatira that the root of their problem was allowing this behaviour in their midst as they gave blatant sin permission to operate. He was also clear that if they didn’t deal with the problem He would. Note, the issue of ‘Jezebel’ operating in the church isn’t about gender. It is about people allowing themselves to be led astray to false worship through seduction and manipulation.
A final example that addresses the same behaviour as the problem in Thyatira takes place in Corinth. Paul writes the following.
1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly – and indeed you do bear with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! 2 Corinthians 11:1–4 (NKJV)
Paul’s concern is the Corinthians being deceived. What opens the door to deception? Putting up with something they should not be tolerating. If we read all of 2 Corinthians we discover that some in the church were challenging Paul’s authority and apostleship, instead of testing and rejecting false teachers they shift the burden to Paul. He responds by speaking to the root. Their tolerance and acceptance of falsehood.
Given the current state of the church in North America this is a major issue. Much of the church tolerates false teaching because it is comfortable. The most outrageous example I recently encountered was something posted in an Apologetics Facebook I follow. A story was posted of a recent church plant in San Diego with a couple who co-pastor. They claim to preach the gospel but the husband is in business and seems to be promoting hype rather than truth. His wife is in an ‘actress’ in the ‘adult entertainment’ industry. A fancy euphemism for the pornography industry. I thought it was a joke, sadly it isn’t. Yet they claim to be “Christians.” Just like in Thyatira however, I think the issue is the congregation. They have shifted the responsibility for discernment elsewhere and have abandoned any commitment to the scriptures.
In this current season in the church let’s embrace the burden of following truth and reality by taking to heart Jude’s exhortation.
3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3 (NKJV)