The Oxbow Lake Syndrome


An oxbow lake is a U-shaped body of water that forms when a wide meander from the main stem of a river is cut off, creating a free-standing body of water. This landform is so named for its distinctive curved shape, resembling the bow pin of an oxbow.

That’s Wikpedia for you. All the excitement of a telephone directory.

But it’s a powerful picture of what happens when that “free-standing body” is no longer part of the flow. “Free-standing” sounds quite noble, but it means sterile,stagnant, doomed to aridity. The life is in the flow and the flow has been cut off.

When a Church forgets that it is part of the mighty flow of the Holy Spirit (that flows through all the churches of Jesus) then it becomes an oxbow lake. It becomes more defined, more “free-standing” and its inner sterility  is not immediately apparent, but sterile it is.

No fishing. Its day is done.

Jesus warned against spiritual over-definition in John 3:  “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

It is  important to remember that this is God’s church and not ours; that the river flows and where it flows there is life.

Revelation 22 begins: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

Fertility, healing, prosperity – these are the blessings of the river. But in a hundred decisions of church history (from Constantine onwards),the wisdom of men has sought to make canals and weirs and harness its power. And all they create is oxbow lakes.

The river simply flows on regardless. And the lake slowly dies.



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