We all, as human beings, have within us common traits. Some of those traits serve us better than others, and some are like weapons which can be wilded for our good or our downfall, or sometimes both. One of those traits I want to speak of here is the desire to build empires.
Before I continue, however, let me refine what I mean by “empire”. We generally think of kingdoms that extend across the globe when we hear that word, and that is a correct meaning, but not necessarily what I’m talking about here. Rather, I want to focus on more of a micro level of empire building. One example of this could be something so small as a man’s desire to build his own little empire within, say, a medium sized corporation, where he is the only go-to guy in his little realm. Or it could be a man who is starting a business and wants to grow it into multiple locations around town, or maybe state-wide and beyond. It could be the desire to grow a club based on some sort of hobby. The minute you become interested in a hobby you can count on discovering an “Association” that oversees or governs your hobby in some form or another. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these empires are a bad thing, only that they are empires. We can safely assume that every national association, organization or corporation had its meager beginnings somewhere, and then it expanded, much like a kingdom expands.
To dig a little deeper into my point here, let us consider that the driving force behind the expansion is rarely never the stated goal of the growth and expansion. There’s something else within us all that drives this empiricism, just as it drove the builders of the Tower Of Babel who’s noble goal it was to keep themselves from being scattered across the earth. But was that their real goal, or was it something else, like, say, making a name for themselves?
As empires go, large and small, there is one characteristic of them that I’d like to point out, and that is that empires have a lifespan. They grow, then they become corrupted, then they die, or are swallowed up by a larger empire and then used for the larger empire’s ends. Indeed the study of history might well be described as the cataloging of the pulse that is the expansion and retraction of layers upon layers of empires.
Whether this inner drive has been a net benefit to man-kind or not, I’m not sure. They bring their fair share of pain as well as gain in the business world I suppose. Notably, however, as we consider these empires, there is the realm of charities that seems to spawn its own fair share of these entities. You have organizations like United Way, The Komen Foundation, The March of Dimes, to name a few. These all were noble causes in their inception Im sure. But as empires go, they are soon beset by corruption, or working for a cause foreign to their founding.
But there is one place that we can know for sure that man’s empires don’t belong, and that is in the body of Christ, which sadly, has not escaped empire building. The reformation was a protest against a massive empire that had gone the way of other empires. But the protest against this empire served to spawn yet more empires. I refer to these as denominations, but not so much because their founders were necessarily setting out to build an empire, but rather because of the common course that they took through their short histories to land them, at least to one degree or another at their heads, in the same place, apostasy. Where there’s the promise of cash and power, even on varying scales, you’ll find empire builders, and those who are on board with them. Soon their stated goals have nothing to do with the goals that reside in the hearts of the builders. It’s not about charity, it’s certainly not about the Gospel. Rather, it more about making a name for themselves.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:4)
The denominations were fairly big empires. But to qualify for an empire, scales is irrelevant, it’s the heart of the builders that matter. Consider the Church plant. What is the desire for a Church plant if not to grow? And the sinister thing about the desire to grow is that it seems so noble. For one, there’s no Biblical mandate to grow a church. No, the mandate is to make disciples, and that’s a much slower process than building an empire. Jesus, on the other hand, had a much different approach than empire building. He preached sermons that resulted in a Church shrinking program. He said you must eat my flesh and drink my blood, you must pick up your cross and follow me, I came to bring division, and to become great you must become the least. He side-steped every effort by those around him to use him and his name in the building of their empires.
One of my favorite sayings is that a fish doesn’t realize he’s wet. In regard to empires, man-kind has never not been soaking in them as a fish soaks in water. But once the fish sees the water, he then sees it everywhere. The same goes for empires. Once you realize they’re all around you in myriad sizes and fashions, then you begin to see them everywhere. So then, it is my hope and prayer for you that this little letter might start you down that road of discovery, and that you will not only see such empires, but that you would also eschew them, both within and outwardly in your Church life, as much as you possibly can.