CCEF has always had an eye for future generations. We are in the business of applying Scripture to everyday life, and since there is certainly no end to its applications, we hope to be an institution with longevity. Christian institutions, however, do not always last. There are various reasons for this of course—and not all of them are bad. For some, the work is completed or taken over by new institutions. For others, fiscal struggles or mismanagement interrupt what might have been a fruitful ministry. But of greatest concern are institutions that fail because of spiritual waywardness. For these ministries, spiritual problems have broken trust with the wider church or have gradually created a secular institution that is unrecognizable from the original.
No institution, CCEF included, is immune to this threat.
Here are three questions that we must always keep in front of us.
Question 1: Are we growing in personal and corporate piety?
“Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).
Is any counselor or teacher at CCEF, for even a moment, approaching Scripture as a textbook filled with interesting ideas instead of as God’s communication to us? In our counseling, is Scripture ever partitioned from our own lives in that it is good for the other person but not as relevant to us? Do we ever think of ourselves as doctors who prescribe medication for the sick but don’t take it ourselves because we are healthy? Can we talk about, on a moment’s notice, how we are growing in our knowledge of the Lord, our love for him, and our love for others? Can we identify one area in which the Spirit is convicting us? Are we part of a local church?
These questions are aimed at each of us personally. Yet we also want to grow in our corporate piety.
Are we praying together? Loving each other? Considering the interests of others? Do we practice with each other what we write, teach and counsel? Are we on high alert for gossip, divisions or factions?
A Christian institution grows, both individually and corporately, by loving God and neighbor. If we are not loving God and neighbor, we should not and will not have longevity.
Question 2: Do we understand life as either for Jesus Christ or against him?
“Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).
Life is fundamentally about allegiances. It is either/or. We are either for the true God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, or we are for ourselves. Apart from the focused gaze of Scripture, everything is blurred and we are a heterogeneous, eclectic mess of humanity. But God’s Word helps us to see clearly. There is an antithesis: God’s kingdom or the world. This is played out in every heart and every area of study. For CCEF, it is played out in the differences between—the conflict between—the biblical approach to counseling and the secular approach.
This dividing line must be approached with humility and grace, but it also must be clear. It is not enough that our spiritual allegiances are expressed in our personal piety. We must also be constantly aware that our counseling theory and practice, though having formal similarities with many secular approaches, comes from a different world. Personal identity, change, suffering, purpose, and meaning—the basic stuff of counseling—are radically re-interpreted by the cross of Jesus.
This position is difficult to maintain in a culture whose ethic is that love must validate all points of view. In the future it will only be more difficult. No one enjoys being identified as a nay-saying contrarian, especially counselors. As such, future generations at CCEF, if God gives us future generations, might waver here. Yet without a keen sense of our differentness, we have no reason to exist and we will gradually become a secular institution. Our task is not to soften the antithesis but to grow in presenting the beauty of Christ in both word and deed. We do not want the name of Jesus slandered by our work; we want to do everything we can to proclaim the inviting love of Jesus.
Question 3: Do we engage with all of God’s world?
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7).
God created, sustains, and leaves his mark on all of humanity. We can see good all around us, in the unbelieving neighbor who blesses our community by shoveling sidewalks during winter, in an American Psychological Association journal article, in a recent memoir or best-selling fiction. Our common lineage in God gives us a point of contact. We can recognize and enjoy our joint humanity because of God’s creation and common grace; we can learn from almost anyone.
We are citizens of particular towns, states and countries, and we want our work to benefit these communities. CCEF has the church of Christ as its first priority, but we are also looking to bless the world around us. To this end, we want to avoid language that is insensitive or parochial. We hope to capture the experience of life and its problems in a way that others say, “yes, that’s me,” and we want to present Christ in a way that makes sense to someone who does not know him.
We are missionary-citizens who engage the world around as we represent the One who purchased us at a great price.
Start with personal piety
These questions are difficult to balance. No doubt, we need prayer and the watching eyes of others to help us answer each of them well. But they can be simplified.
Start with personal piety. I once had a meeting scheduled with someone at CCEF and the person never showed. I was a bit miffed. When I asked where he was he said that his busy schedule over the last few days had kept him from more extended time in the Word and prayer—he was having his devotions.
He was also extending the life of our institution.