lost in the woods

There’s something right and something wrong about the "compass and map" analogy. The purpose of the analogy is to teach us that it is more important to have the right philosophy and direction (spiritual discernment) internally rather than depend upon uncertain and changeable labels that might be attached to various individuals in the ecclesiastical world.

I think we can agree with the point being made to this extent: it is vital that men in the ministry develop their spiritual discernment so that they can wisely guard the flocks the Lord gives them. This includes making decisions about who you might enter into ministry partnership with and who you might recommend as a resource to your people, or why you might give various levels of cautions concerning some resources.

Likewise, men in the ministry need to be able to develop the same kind of discernment in those whom they train for future ministry.

And it is more important to understand the Biblical principles of separation than it is to know exactly where every prominent figure in the current ecclesiastical landscape stands. We need to understand the principles ourselves to make good judgements and evaluations.

However, in the analogy, we are told to dispense with the map and depend upon the compass. We are told that the map is outdated and therefore undependable so our only sure guide is the compass. We are told that depending upon the ecclesiastical map is like attempting to travel through Europe today depending upon a map from the 1850s. We are told that depending on the map is to depend on old labels – we are calling Germans by the name Prussian and no one understands us.

There is something wrong with this analogy. Perhaps the most basic problem is the fact that if you try to navigate the wilderness with only a compass and no map you will most assuredly become lost. Anyone who has hiked the wilderness without a clearly marked trail will tell you that.

Traveling anywhere in the wilderness means determining where you want to go. Maps and guidebooks are the fundamental tools both for trip planning see … and while you are out on the trail. [Source – emphasis mine.]

But there are probably even greater problems with the analogy. First, the ecclesiastical map isn’t all that old nor are its borders so obviously ill-defined, except among those who seem to want to blur the borders. Second, there are many onlookers who simply don’t have the capacity (for want of time, or for want of access to information, or for want of spiritual giftedness, or for want of experience) to discern with precision the particular boundaries or points of danger that may have the most impact on their lives and ministries. Those who are gifted, those who are experienced, those who have the time, those who know the information ought to be ‘map-makers’ or ‘trail-blazers’ for those with less capacity.

To be sure, there have been problems with the old maps. In the distant past, the maps were distorted by deceitful men. From that deceit came the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. Following that time, maps were often undependable as some men changed their positions and occupied different ground or, perhaps some maps were poorly drawn – we have had some unskilled cartographers (occasionally loud, sometimes powerful, often intimidating) who may on occasion have led us astray.

But simply because there are problems with old maps, we should therefore discard all maps? Instead, shouldn’t we be in the map making business?

In making new maps, we will need to refer to old maps, to the True Map, and be skilled in using a spiritual compass. With these we will need to blaze trails and carefully construct up to date maps for those who follow.

If we do not, we shall surely become and remain lost in the woods.