But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20
Daniel was not a dietician. He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity. All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world. He knew God’s law. He trusted it. And that was enough for him.
In my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated. This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships. It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications. It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues. It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues. Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist. I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.
When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work. We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.
For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order and procedural trickery when we should be calling our people to prayer and to oneness in Christ. In other instances, we fall back on secular human resources processes of talking about a problem employee, when scriptural models tell us we should be talking to that employee. Even in matters of theology, our tendency is to navigate through suspected false teaching by bringing in the resident “expert” and leaving him/her to sort it out, rather than trusting Paul’s counsel in Ephesians 4 that the best defense against false teaching is NOT our theological prowess, but our unity and our corporate spiritual maturity.
As with Daniel, there are times (more than we can imagine) in the church where we may not necessarily be able to explain why Biblical processes and God’s wisdom works. There are times when the Bible flies in the face of conventional worldly wisdom. Those are the times which truly test our resolve, our faith in God’s Word. We can enter the difficult waters with clean hands or we can dirty our hands with the ways of the world. The choice is always ours.