A pastor friend began serving a plateaued traditional church many years ago. He helped the church grow tremendously, and the church continues to thrive under his leadership today. In the process of leading the change, he had to get rid of the old church constitution and bylaws. He persuaded some key people to just ignore the old rules and let the church write some new ones. It worked. He got away with it.
When Franklin Roosevelt came into office, he proposed sweeping legislation to begin government entitlement programs and work programs. Collectively, we call these programs The New Deal. He got away with changing the role of government in the lives of American citizens. When Congress and the courts challenged some of his other initiatives, the president tried to increase the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, from nine to fifteen. This would have allowed him to stack the new court with jurists sympathetic to his agenda and to remove the legal hurdles. He did not get away with expanding the Supreme Court.
In 2010 President Obama pushed legislation through the Congress called the Affordable Health Care Act. By working with majority leadership of his own party in the House and Senate, the president narrowly won passage of his legislation. When normal legislative methods would not work, the president employed the “reconciliation” process for passing his bill. The process was never intended to be used in this manner, but it appeared to follow the letter of the law. By hook or by crook, the president’s bill became law. He got away with it. No one believes that the process followed the intent of the rules of reconciliation, but the letter of the law was followed. And the president got away with it.
History is a recounting of what people have (and have not) gotten away with. Jacob got away with stealing his brother’s birthright and blessing. David got away with stealing another man’s wife, although David and his family paid dearly for it. The Jewish authorities got away with putting Jesus to death.
The American Founding Fathers got away with seceding from England. The Confederate States of America did not get away with seceding from the Union. Henry Ford got away with mass producing low-priced vehicles and paying his employees extremely high wages. Hitler got away with becoming Chancellor of Germany without ever being elected.
People get away with good things and bad things. We “get away with” something when we break the rules, whether written or unwritten. We also get away with something when we think of a new model for doing things. For example, Henry Ford broke no written rules; he just thought in big, fresh ways. He changed the rules of manufacturing by bringing in a new paradigm.
When we look at history in terms of what people do and do not get away with, it helps us see how we can shape history. On the negative side, we need to stop people from getting away with evil. We need to stand up. Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We cannot right every injustice, but we certainly cannot ignore all the evil in this world. We need to decide when and where we will take a stand.
I need the Spirit’s leadership to know where He wants me to stand up for truth and goodness. He is helping me understand, for example, that the wealth we enjoy can be used to fight poverty around the world.
On the positive side, we need to see what we can get away with for Jesus. Jesus did not mind breaking rules. He let His disciples break Sabbath rules, and He sometimes skipped the ceremonial hand washing before eating. Jesus’ disregard for traditions irked the Jews of the religious establishment. Jesus believed that some traditions hinder the gospel.
Again, I need the Spirit’s leadership. I do not want to break rules and society’s mores just for sport (although I have been known to do that). I need to be free to think about outward focused ministry, leading believers to use their gifts to make a difference, caring about the poor and oppressed. We need to see what we can get away with to share the love and truth of Christ around the world.
Maybe we can get away with a new vision of church. Maybe we can see the goal of church as more than gathering large crowds for worship. Maybe we can get away with leading people to engage the world with the love of Christ, practically, daily. Then we will have more to celebrate when we gather with a crowd to sing His praise.