The Doctrine of Ultimate Excellence

Many times over the years in my Pente churches, I was taught that as Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, we have an access to the divine Creator that no unsaved person has. Therefore, we (the church) should be able to produce results that are more amazing, more creative, more wonderful than a non-saved person can.

A couple of examples – worship music. Our original music, because of the indwelling and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had the potential to be at least equal to, and ultimately better than, music ‘of the world’. Another example – as a creative person, your designs, whether they be engineering, business, architectural, graphic or whatever, all had this greater potential.

There was an aspiration for great achievements. We were encouraged to settle for nothing less. This was sometimes kind of difficult, when despite praying and putting in every effort, you might produce good work, but not the amazing top of the league stuff that you felt could be achieved if you really heard from God during the process. Of course, there were some very talented people to be seen within the church, in their different fields, but the result of being clearly better than anyone ‘in the world’ (or even ‘as good as’ at times) was somewhat elusive. Plus to be honest, while sometimes the music was excellent, somehow I could always point to something just as or more impressive ‘in the world’ – the church didn’t seem to have this outstanding ‘betterness’ in its achievements that it preached should be achievable in theory.

I did test this out myself. I certainly put my best efforts in. Despite achieving competence, praying with all my heart, and giving my absolute best efforts, being the best was (to be honest) not something that I could achieve when comparing myself with the top students at university or the greatest professionals in my field. Although by the time I finished uni I had realised that there might be some problems with this doctrine! Being competent, professional, doing a good job and delivering exceptional client service certainly were achievable – it was just this notion of access to the ultimate Creator delivering the ideal of the ultimate result that seemed elusive.

And one other thing – tithing my time didn’t seem to work either. Strangely. The idea here was that time spent on ‘God’, or church related activities, would be returned to me ten or one hundred fold, so my work or study would not suffer as a result of spending time on those particular other things. In fact my work should in theory be blessed as a result.

So why is this stuff taught? And why is it so important? Does the Bible emphasis that the body of Christ should deliver the ultimate achievements in a material sense?

Danny Nalliah’s comments to the students at Lighthouse Christian College (highlighted on Lance’s blog) reminded me of all this, when he urged the kids to be doctors, not nurses; directors, not clerks, and leaders, not followers. This could be a great way for a church to have more power in society, but is it what God wants for us?

Is it OK if you find that you are not in a ‘significant’ job; not producing ‘amazing’ results, though putting in your best and competent effort; and in fact growing in the fruit of the Spirit and following the Lord in your daily life – but perhaps in a quieter kind of a way. If it is OK – why do we hear so much that says otherwise from these people looked up to by many as leaders in the Christian walk? Are they denying the real world for many people and will it come back to bite their followers? Does it even matter?


23 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Ultimate Excellence

  1. I may be just rambling to myself here, but I found another linked concept to the above – gratitude. If we believe we ‘should’ be achieving some ultimate ideal in our career or achievements, and that anything less than that is missing out on tapping into God, then we can fail to be grateful for all things, big and small…

    Here is Henri Nouwen’s thought on gratitude:

    Henri Nouwen Meditation: The Spiritual Work of Gratitude
    “To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.
    Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.”

    So the quest for the ideal presented in the teachings I heard potentially misses the peace and blessing of the attitude above. To do one’s best always is a good thing, but to belittle those results that are less than an ultimate ideal is to be ungrateful for what how we have been blessed already, and for what God has enabled us to do and learn. Far better to appreciate the wonky worship band doing its very best; the person doing a great job as a clerk, rather than only appreciating their boss; the small groups within a congregation who are growing in loving one another, rather than being frustrated at an apparent lack of new members.

  2. At some point in the next day or two, I will disappear from the internet.

    Either I have been raptured and you have been left behind…

    …or I could be moving house and be temporarily bereft of an internet connection. In which case, I’ll be back in a few days.

  3. Prosperity theology tells us that the reason you are not achieving God’s favor and promises is due to your lack of faith or some hidden sin that you have not yet confessed.

  4. Can’t help myself here.

    If that is being taught explicitly or implicitly it is so much BS.

    Completely ignores the concept of the body of Christ, and that each occupies a different place within that body whether they be a garbo or a rocket scientist.

    Agree with your musings about being being grateful for what we have and letting gOd beour sufficiency in all things.

    Think of the widow who have all in her two copper coins.

    Etc etc etc

    Such doctrine or teaching is simply off the reservation and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.


  5. I think there is a frustration amongst churches that what they do or what they see as Christian is often second rate and as ambassadors for Christ we should be aiming to be the best (Head not the tail).

    I think there is a problem in the labelling of things as Christian (eg Christian Music). Music is something that God has created for us to enjoy and engage with and though it we can know more about Him. However, being a good musician is a matter of talent and experience etc. God could fill me with His Spirit but I’m not going to suddenly be gifted in music. The best musicians will produce the best music. We can therefore celebrate music for what it is – a gift from God. It is an unrealistic pressure to put on musicians who happen to be Christians that they should automatically be the best. I’m not saying they wont be, they do have a good motive in wanting to be a good steward of any natural talent God has given them. But to be the best they will still have to work and practice harder than anyone else.

    So what if you love music, but you are less talented? Music still remains what it is – a creation of God for us to enjoy. Just because someone is not as good at singing doesn’t mean their singing of songs is any less important. Just like anyone else, the more the put into it, the more reward and pleasure they will get out of it.

    I have a business, and I run it the best I can before God, but that doesn’t make it a Christian business – there’s no such thing. I do the best I can do with whatever mine hands find to do. I did this on the factory line, I did it whilst cleaning toilets for a job and I do it now. Each job had its own testimonies, meetings with God, trials and lessons learnt etc.

    Is my business the best in its field? – No where near!
    Do I earn lots of money? – Definately not!
    Am I impacting leaders of society? – no!
    But I am excited about it, continually challenged by God through it, totally aware of His dealing with me and others as a result of it and looking forward to my continuing journey with Him in it!

  6. I think there is a link sometimes in this ‘Christians should be able to be the ultimate whatever’ thinking, with dominionism (which admittedly I knew little about until others here started raising the subject). Part of having church members achieving the best things is marketing, other times it is achieving more power and influence. But the idea of achieving the best because you are connected to the power and ultimate creativity of God is very appealing, also. It does link well with the appeal of prosperity doctrine, and has a certain logical sound to it.

    I really agree with your post, Pom. Doing our best in whatever we do (as to the Lord) is a wonderful aim. God has definitely used my work to show me and teach me things; as a mother, I must say that I am now learning a whole bag of different things that weren’t such an obvious challenge when I was more career focussed (especially certain temperament challenges!). God is with me in all of it, and I can really see His working in my life. The nature of what I do has changed many times, but regardless, God keeps on working in me and through me.

    I do feel that that teaching above perhaps caused some people to devalue the ‘ordinary’ things they did, and that’s one of the problems with it. Some people do seem to feel that what they do has little value unless they can attach some sense of greater significance to it.

    Brian Houston maybe referred to this in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day, when he commented on people being involved in something greater than themselves (ie: bigger things being achieved via the church, I guess). I felt that the way he expressed it to the newspaper implied that an individual’s efforts were unlikely to have much value on their own. Yet I don’t think that’s the case in the Kingdom of God. Not that I mean to imply there is no value in teamwork – just that this huge sense of significance; of being involved in something that ‘big’, can devalue other efforts or activities that are in fact equally or even more important.

    I couldn’t help thinking of some of the things that might not have been achieved if individuals hadn’t pursued their particular individual interests and gifts at times – gifts that seemed ‘secular’, and individual, yet eventually turned out to be gifts to the human race. Now I am thinking of great achievements, like the invention of the telephone or the light bulb. But at some point these people were individuals pursuing their eccentric interests, with no glory attached.

    So God gifts people everywhere, Christian or not, and is really gifting the human race, I think. So there
    should be no monopoly on ‘the best’ by the church.

    Well, I’ve been rambling on again. Must be getting tired. At least I’ve moved house, though everything is still in dire need of sorting out. So I might be a bit sporadic here while I get organised. 🙂

  7. I am pretty sure this dominionism has been driving Phil Pringle and Brian Houston for many years. That is why they are heavily focussing on the arts. Especially Phil. His drive with SCA is to demostrate that Christian artists can be more successful and outstanding then secular artists. It definitely is competition to outdo the secular world in the arts.

    I’ve always seen why it was their focus, but when I discovered ‘dominion theology’, I can see why it’s an unhealthy one.

    The school OFGS, also promotes this dominion drive too. Their motto used to be ‘For Greatness. For excellence. For Christ.'”; the school anthem emphasising ‘for excellence and greatness’, to ‘we will become a mighty generation’, and to ‘uphold all truth and righteousness’.

    Might be reading too much into that one. But it’s… odd to have primary and kindergarten singing a song like that.

  8. That’s really interesting. I wonder if this is particular to PP’s church – he is the one who was preaching this doctrine to me years ago. When I changed churches, I didn’t hear it again until the senior pastor changed, and even then, it was snippets in passing (probably picked up at the CCC pastor’s conferences) rather than a major focus.

    Because I was in a creative field, I remember PP’s emphasis well, as it was relevant.

    I don’t have any issue with a school promoting the concept of excellence. I’d love to see everyone aiming for excellence – in the sense that they are finding out what they are good at or interested in, working at it hard; giving it their personal best. If everyone everywhere did that, we’d be living in a wonderful service society. I truly appreciate it for example when occasionally I come across someone that I’ve bought a service from, who genuinely gives whatever it is their professional best, and even goes beyond the job description in delivering what the client needs. I’ve dealt with a couple of people like this lately, and its been a pleasure. I use these people again and again, and recommend them to others, when I find them.

    But greatness… what does that mean? Does it mean that even your best isn’t good enough if you aren’t able to go that extra step beyond the rest of the people around you to achieve something of more import, impact and significance?

    I remember that PP used to dwell a lot on people in the Bible such as David – great men of God. But not everyone can be a David. Jesus spent a lot of time with the poor, the hurting and the outcasts, who weren’t great by any measure. Yet clearly He valued each one of them. So to value ourselves as God does, would not be to measure ourselves according to ‘greatness’.

    I’d be interested to know what the schools actually teach about greatness (without having a go at any of the students). ‘Greatness’ would have a synergy with dominionism, for sure.

  9. Well these great men of God in the old testament … rarely the new testament … were flawed individuals.

    David’s problem was women. Solomon’s problem was boredom. He did everything to excess until he was completely bored with everything … reached the end of himself and said “it’s all been pointless”.

    Elijah had a nervous breakdown and complained to God about being the only faithful person left in the whole world. God had to tell him off and informed him “I have reserved for myself 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

    Jonah ran away, as he was told that God would Judge Nineveh and because he was prejudiced he didn’t want God to be merciful. So he ran, and died at the bottom of the Med. Swallowed by a whale, after three days he was resurrected. With a ghastly appearance, he went to Nineveh and they repented and God had mercy on them.
    However, 150 years later, God sent Nahum to tell them they were out of time and then God destroyed them.

    The prophets were struck down, assassinated, executed, murdered, cast out, condemned, ignored, persecuted. They did not have a popular message and frankly, were not popular, exciting preachers.

    You go into a pulpit today and tell the people they need to repent. You probably won’t be asked back. Fewer people next week, less in the offering bowl, it’s all doom and gloom at that point.

    Only positive sermons please. Pep talks are in, Systematic bible teaching is out. Itching ears need to be tickled after all.

    Jeremiah rocks!

  10. It’s simple.

    We love Jesus. He loves us. Our singers and musicians that love Jesus are loved by him and therefore must be more successful otherwise how will they make all the money they need? We have to be right, and we have to have all the talent, otherwise my whole theology is wrong…

    …and that’s just never gonna happen.

  11. Is my business the best in its field? – No where near!
    Do I earn lots of money? – Definately not!
    Am I impacting leaders of society? – no!
    But I am excited about it, continually challenged by God through it, totally aware of His dealing with me and others as a result of it and looking forward to my continuing journey with Him in it!

    – POM

    This really speaks to me. I had a g.friend who really wanted me to be a pastor when I had no interest at all (she married someone else and encouraged him into the ministry). I have had the preachers at my ex-“church” telling me they know more about what Father wants me to do than I do because of their job title (OK, “anointing”). I have had a person at dinner say that she was serving God and the rest of the table were not because she worked for scripture union. (Not that I’m bitter 🙂 )

    But I believe I am called to be a software developer. I don’t have any great Christian statistics to show for it (money raised, souls saved, wrongs righted, corporations renewed, staff barking like dogs or falling over (OH&S issue in the somewhere anyway)).

    But work is not about that. It is about interacting with people, learning the Father’s wisdom in what he has made, putting what I know about Him and His into action. Then getting feedback from Father about how I am doing what I am doing.

    I don’t think it is what I might achieve at work that gives the work meaning. I think it is just an opportunity to depend on Father in real situations with real tensions where people have to work together (or against each other) to survive and grow. And my need to depend on him in these trials deepens my relationship with him just by me being in the world with all that entails.


  12. It’s a hard path to tread heretic, while everyone is telling you that you’re wrong. But there is nothing more liberating than knowing that you are in the right place before God.

    I was on staff in a larger church for a while with the pastor credentials etc but God led me in a different direction at a stage when a lot of things were opening up in the “ministry”.

    Obviously, not everyone agreed with the move and initially it was quite hard to feel comfortable with my decision. Working for the church at the time I did was definately right for me. I got to travel, meet many interesting people and see different congregations around the world. So leaving appeared a peculiar choice, but then God sometimes leads us on peculiar paths.

    In working in business now, it is hard to compare to anything else, it feels like I have found my place in life. This may change again later, but for now this is right for me and I don’t for one second regret not being a “Pastor”. There are plenty of opportunities to let that pastor gifting express it self with people in the business anyway.

    By the way Heretic, I didn’t mean to talk about myself again but this is a long winded way of saying you have permission to be who God has made you to be. It helps to know that others face the same decisions and choices that you do and that they are going forward in an exciting journey with God.

    Enjoy being a software developer, be a blessing to those around you and you’ll be amazed and what seeds you plant over time simply being the person that God had intended from the begining.

  13. Yes, we should be actually helping people who are down and out.

    Come to help the sick. ive bee working with drug addicts and they are some of the most nicest people, usually they hard upbringings or none at all. There is always that exception but mostly they are broken people, been unloved.

  14. Someone once told me that “there is nothing secular except sin”

    Thanks Heretic for reminding us that whatever job we do, we can for the Lord.

    The Father would rather have a good taxi driver than a bad missionary. So unless the job you do is immoral or illegal, you can sanctify it and do it for God’s glory.

    Instead we ask, “How many in the church are in full time Christian Service” and only a handful of people stand up as they work for the church. But WE are FULL-TIME Christians.

    I once spoke to a man who had given up his ‘fantastic’ (I would have loved it!) physics-based job to become a debt-councilor in his church.

    Why does a church need a full-time debt councilor? Well, it is a C3i church so if people, who are encouraged to live beyond their means, can’t afford the tithe and the interest payments on their credit cards, somethings got to give …

    Instead of telling people to be content with their wages and not to go into debt at all, some churches are encouraging their members to give on credit.

    Absolute Insanity.

    I could go on and on … but the elitist idea that you can only be a full time christian if you are working for the church is dead wrong. We are all priests, we are all apostles in the world. We are priests of Christ in our place of work. How can we turn our backs on our fellow workers and run away to the circus … er … I mean become church workers. Or go and work only with other Christians in Christian companies.

    We are ignoring Jesus when he says to us “go OUT and make disciples of all ethnic groups.”

    Instead we go IN and pray for a revival that will never happen. Hey, we need to repent don’t we?


  15. “Well, it is a C3i church so if people, who are encouraged to live beyond their means, can’t afford the tithe and the interest payments on their credit cards, somethings got to give …”

    Somethings got to give? Was that meant to be a pun or a play on words?

    “I once spoke to a man who had given up his ‘fantastic’ (I would have loved it!) physics-based job to become a debt-councilor in his church.”

    I think I know him actually. I think he works for CAP (Christians Against Poverty) which is on campus at CCC. They do a fantastic job at CCC and to Christians and non-Christian’s who are in financial difficulty.

    They really do a wonderful job at CCC and really hope they don’t move off any time soon. Some of my friends have gone to them for help and are going much better now.

  16. At school we were taught Treat others how you would like them to treat you. fullstop. Lies were definately out and of course stealing. I think God honours a pure and open heart and compassion. I hadn’t thought about the excellence type doctrine before. But I do remember echoes of it at previous church.

  17. And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

    Luke 3:10-14

    And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.

    Luke 20:44-45

    “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

    John 15:18-20

    Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you,O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

    1 Tim 6:6-13

    Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

    Phillipians 4:11-13

    To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

    1 Corinthians 4:11-13
    The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

    1 Corinthians 12:21-26

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