Summary: A study of pitch, roll, and yaw in the New Testament church.



Colossians, 1 Corinthians, & Galatians

Theme: Inattention to the different forces acting upon Christianity puts to risk the unity of the saints.




It was reported that the pilot of a NATO F-16 aircraft in Turkey was taking a leak into the fighter-jet equivalent of a urinal when somehow it got tangled with his seatbelt and joystick. The result? The jet slammed into the side of a mountain, and the pilot paid with his life for that moment of piddlebag distraction. It is also fairly easy to make a wreck of Christian unity, if we don't pay attention to how we pilot our lives. I'm told that there are traditionally three ways this happens with a plane. First, you can point the plane's nose up or down by pulling or pushing the yoke; second, you can control the roll of the plane by turning the yoke just as you would a steering wheel; and third, you can steer the plane's path to the right or left by moving the pedals with your feet. Colossians 3:15 says that each of us is a part of Christ's body, and that we were chosen to live together in peace. It is interesting that three of Paul's epistles (Colossians, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians) reflect movements and tensions similar to those in aeronautics.

I. PITCH (rotation on the lateral axis, nose up or nose down)--the "Colossian Force"

[Explanation: Going up and up is not always a happy thing for a plane. The engine could stall, and then the whole plane could slide earthwards in what is known as a tailspin. The result can be disastrous.]

Descriptors: False teaching that we should pursue the "richer/deeper/fuller/victorious" life, a spirituality beyond the fulness of Christ; it is a force originating from within one's self/psyche.

How it was practised:

Going beyond Christ and right living (2:8f.)

Angel worship and angels (2:18)

[Illustration: Untethered from the Scriptures, there's no limit to the heresies one can engage in. Examples include veneration and hyperveneration of deceased personalities; the quest for mystical, New Age-like inner light; ascetic practices to generate a spiritual "high," etc. Moderns, too, need to heed the point that Christ is the all-sufficient end.]

II. ROLL (rotation on the longitudinal axis, wings tipping up or down)--the "Corinthian Force"

Descriptors: Church politics dominate, fracturing the unity of the church body; it is a force originating from within the church.

How it was practised:

Party politics (1:10f.)

Sniping at genuinely God-called leaders (4:9f.; 9:3f.)

Blatantly disobedient members tolerated (5:1f.)

Mutual suing (6:1f.)

Ostentatious display of spiritual gifts (12-14)

[Illustration: Politics is a bad word, more so in church. Preachers insisting on the reliability of the Bible in denominational churches at the height of the modernist/fundamentalist controversy are known to have their salaries cut or thrown out of their congregations. Nor is such competition lacking more recently, when health and wealth televangelists attempt to outdo one another in terms of multimillion-dollar projects attempted.]

III. YAW (rotation on the vertical axis, nose pointing left or right)--the "Galatian Force"

How it was practised: Descriptors: Leftist vs. rightist, conservative vs. liberal, legalist vs. worldly; it is a force that comes from outside the church.

[Example: The illustration of the Irish employer who hired the guy who drove wagon farthest from the edge of the cliff while coming down the side of a mountain is one that has been flogged to death. The solution is to change the script to that of a rice paddy field. The field is waterlogged and crisscrossed with narrow bunds on which one must tread to avoid falling into the water. Staying too close either to the left or right is not a safe option. One need not go far in Church history for examples of how the church swung from legalism to worldliness and back again.]

How it was practised:

A mediated gospel (1:6-9 vs. 1:11-12)

Faith, love, and freedom plus works, obedience, and the Mosaic Law (3:1-4)

[Illustration: Culture, or subculture, is in view here. There was a time when NOT wearing powdered wigs was considered uncouth behaviour unbecoming of Christians. In the Sixties, in reaction to the hippie hairstyle, many churches and even some secular states advocated the tapered hairstyle for men. The same can be said of musical tastes (or "standards"), choice of recreation or entertainment, dress, etc. One of the most divisive issues confronting today's churches comes from the King James Only movement.]


In an age of moral relativity and a near-blind emphasis on praise and worship, it is easy to ignore the forces pulling upon Christians and churches from all directions. It is also easy to assume that all will go well or to wish away the turbulence. That's simply not good enough. We need to be alert to the gyroscope of God's Word to avoid stalling or crashing into the terrain. St. Paul's farewell to the leaders of the church in Ephesus reminds us of the efficacy of God and His Word (Acts 20:29-32 NIV) in bringing about a safe landing:

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