I had a dream the other night that seems worth sharing. Dreams seem pretty personal; you might as, why would I share a dream? Well, I lay in bed for a while just thinking about it, before realizing that the Holy Spirit was nudging me that it was basically a parable, not just a dream. Maybe it’s a bit more complex than the typical parable that Jesus told, but I think it’s still pretty straightforward.
So here it is. I dreamed that my wife and I were visiting a facility for some kind of consulting psychology visit. She was there as a consultant, not a patient, and I was there to support her. For a time we waited outside a doorway before she was called back, and I started to follow her into what seemed like a giant empty room – like a building that was just a shell, nothing but four walls and a roof. Whatever we were going to do was on the far side of the building.
But sitting at the doorway, on the ground, were two ladies. One of them challenged my right to enter with my wife, asking who I was and why I was there. She wouldn’t listen to my assertion that I was part of the team going in, or that this was my wife. She wanted to see some identification or proof that I had a right to be there, and tried to keep me from proceeding, threatening me with calling security if I didn’t come back to the door and satisfy her demands to show my right to proceed.
I began to try and figure out just what documentation would suffice, but something in me rose up about this request. She hadn’t challenged my wife – just me. I couldn’t initially understand why I was refusing; I didn’t think it was just my American sense of “I have a right to do what I want.” It felt more righteous than that.
Then I realized that actually these two women didn’t have the right to challenge me. They were claiming authority over a counselor team’s access to this treatment facility, but it was a claim without merit. They carried no badges, and had no table or desk or titles or signs indicating authority. I pointed out to the ladies that instead of me showing my right to proceed, they were the ones that needed to show a right to be a gatekeeper. I told them as graciously as possible that I was going to simply proceed with what I needed to do, and if they wanted to get security involved then I would demonstrate to the real officials why I was right and they were wrong.
This dream story is a parable about the self-appointed gatekeepers of our culture’s religious and moral systems.
The real security risk in this situation was not me; it was this self-appointed gatekeeper. She was claiming ungranted authority. She was operating without any proof of right. She was setting up a situation where the actual, real signs of authority were lacking, and thereby creating a culture that allowed anyone to claim authority. This was convenient for her, but wrong for the security posture of the facility, for if she could do it, so could anyone else.
In our culture of Christianity in America, there are far too many people sitting around in the dust at the gates to places where people are supposed to go be healed, and they are refusing access to the very ones who have something to offer the needy. They make these claims of gatekeeper privilege – in absence of any real authority. They don’t have any credentials of consequence, only a self-determined idea that they can and should guard the gates against what they see as the “wrong” people doing ministry.
The worst part is that those approaching the doors for healing don’t see the error in these claims of authority. These gatekeepers seem somehow official merely based on their own self-positioning in the gate, combined with their officious bearing and demand for proof of the right to minister. Their actions not only undercut the real ministry, but also incorrectly train the people to give away their rights and privileges to either minister or be ministered to. It creates and maintains a false understanding of who’s really authorized to minister.
So it’s our duty to call out this invalid gatekeeping, reject it where necessary, and otherwise ignore it and proceed to do the work that the Lord has given us to do, despite the protestations. No actual authority with any power will come against those who boldly carry out their duly authorized and appointed ministry.
The Response of Real Authority
One might ask why the real authority in this real situation in today’s word – who is the Lord Himself – stands by and lets these folks gatekeep without authority.
Well, that’s a good question. But at some level, I don’t think He is actually letting them gatekeep anything. They’re sitting on the floor, in the dust, at the entrance to a building, having the appearance of power but none in reality. They truly don’t have authority or recognition from the credentialed authorities that do exist. They are just asserting it, albeit very loudly and emphatically.
And pointing back to my dream, perhaps you noticed that I said the large building was empty. It was really just a pathway through to a very different-looking ministry on the far side of the building. These folks are so far removed from the actual ministry that they don’t realize the thing that they are guarding is itself empty. The Lord removed their ministry credentials some time before. What’s left is an empty shell that looks like a place of ministry to the undiscerning – and to those who think they’re guarding something valuable.
Some prophetic yet humble and soft voices that I trust have been saying for a couple years now that the Lord has withdrawn His grace from a lot of the institutional religious systems in this nation. As such, any activity that remains is just “coasting” forward from the inertia and momentum it accumulated for centuries. Many people are stuck in those systems, with no awareness of the possibility of anything different, and those institutions will continue to minister as best as they can with those old, dying paradigms. But the real ministry, the real motion in the Kingdom, has left those giant empty buildings in favor of the small, living cells of the Body of Christ.
So the gatekeepers are hapless but unaware of their lack of authority. They do have power over those who don’t know better, and who thus defer to them. And that power those gatekeepers have, and the unwitting deference to them, convinces the gatekeepers of their right.
Consider that this is effectively the same situation that we see in the Book of Acts: the Lord had withdrawn His grace from the Temple ministry, and the priests and Pharisees and Sadducees were desperately trying to hold on to a now-empty model for which they couldn’t see any other alternative. But the newly anointed Christians still had to deal with these gatekeepers, with pushback, oppression, and even outright persecution, such as Saul (before he met Jesus and was renamed to Paul) carried out violently against the new believers. But they had to choose to move forward in ministry, despite the attempts by the gatekeepers to block access to the people and to the real ministry of the Lord among the people. And the results, of course, are obvious. The church grew.
So the rest of us have valuable ministry to do, and the best we can do is simply refuse to abide by invalid gatekeeping and carry on with what we’ve been appointed to do. The protests will be loud and frequent, but they ultimately don’t matter, because our ministry will be meeting real needs. Eventually, some of those milling around these empty, powerless buildings will see the ministry happening just beyond their walls, and wander over into the light, away from the false gatekeepers, and begin taking part. And we need to pray for this to happen, even as we otherwise let the error happen. It’s not our place, for most of us, anyway, to try to shut down these powerless systems. We need to let the tares or weeds continue to grow, so that we don’t rip up the crop that will be harvested someday. Many people don’t yet know better, but some will eventually catch on and also walk away from the gatekeepers, and the Lord will then have full access to their hearts and minds for His Kingdom.
Lord, preserve us from invalid gatekeepers. Teach us discernment when we’re confronted, to recognize which challenges are from Your Holy Spirit, and which are actually secular despite their churchy language. May Your Kingdom continue to grow, and may Your ministry flourish in the small cells and beyond the doors of the halls from which Your Holy Spirit has withdrawn. And may even those who continue in those empty halls nonetheless meet You and grow and mature. Please open their eyes to the lifegiving ministry just outside, and teach them discernment too. I praise you for Your infinite patience and grace and love.