Vision and Order

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 — Week of Proper 3, Year Two

Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), Mystic and Soldier, 1431

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 969)

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Proverbs 17:1-20

1 Timothy 3:1-16

Matthew 12:43-50

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

There is something disappointing, but understandable, that happens when we move from reading the letters from the apostle Paul to reading letters like 1 Timothy, written by a later generation’s leader invoking Paul’s authority. We sense the development of a different focus and vision and structure.

In Paul’s letters we feel the tension and excitement of the expected imminent return of Jesus. Long-term institutions like marriage have little interest to Paul since they are part of the passing age; Paul encourages sexual passion to be diverted into passion for the Lord. Paul welcomes charismatic leadership — let anyone with gifts use them for the common good. Women host churches and have active leadership. Faith is a verb. Faith is our active trust in God, who has made us righteous, who gives us the gift of an intimate, alive relationship with God in the living Christ. There is a new energy and vision in Paul that is dynamic and expansive.

In the letters to Timothy and Titus we see the church at a later point of evolution. Jesus is no longer expected to return at any moment, but we celebrate his remembered appearance, as we await with patient endurance his eventual postponed manifestation “at the right time.” It is a time of institutional focus — the time of making by-laws and constitutions. Leaders are less charismatic and more respectable. Marriage is the honored estate for enfolding passion and raising children. Faith is a noun, a collection of traditions to be guarded and preserved. Women are silenced. There is a defensive establishment of order and authority to protect and administer the institutional church.

Some evolution is necessary when any movement becomes an institution. When vision becomes established norms, there is a needed entrenchment of structure and order for the continuation of the work and identity.

Healthy institutions need both kinds of leaders — the visionary and the orderly. Often they exist side-by-side with one another, usually with some tension. “Respond now to this compelling need!” cries the visionary, connecting the original spirit of Jesus’ calling to the circumstances of the present age. “How will we pay for it and maintain it?” asks the orderly leader who creates foundation and structure for an ongoing ministry of presence and service.

There is a cross-like creative tension when we live in visionary institutions like the church, as we hold on to both demands. Too much energetic vision creates chaos. Too much orderly structure make a deadened institution.

How can structure serve vision? How can institution promote inspiration and service? How can tradition support renewal? That is our constant quest in the church. We see the same dynamic in our political and social institutions, even in our marriages. Energy and stability. Innovation and continuity. Risk and endurance. Nearly anything with life and durability needs both vision and order.

Past Posts