Saturday, March 19, 2005

Whence come our 'leaders'?

OUTLINE

I. Introduction to the Problem

II. The Words of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts
A. Matthew
B. Mark
C. Luke
D. John/Acts

III. The Pauline Epistles

IV. The Catholic Epistles

V. The Jewish Epistles

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction to the Problem

It has become an unending source of bewilderment for me to see how many people admit that the instruction coming from the pulpits of "other" churches is un-edifying, but respond quickly with, “But mine is different.” Yet, when you visit their church you are greeted with the same spiritless pabulum. How can we explain this? What was the difference?

I suggest that the answer to this question is ‘Them’.

It is suggested here that what has actually been found in these cases is not the good or bad preacher, but the tendency of people to acquiesce to mediocrity out of fear of the likelyhood of futility in the hunt for true quality. The thought that the Church just might be biblically out of step, systemically wrong, or downright deceived, rarely occurs with any conviction. Or, if it does, it does so without an anchor in hope. The result is no action taken.

Tragically, the result of such a decision to acquiesce often means the cessation of Christian growth, an unconvincing witness to the community, the possible loss of children to secularity or even to another religion, or worse, the irrecoverable fall into a decaying life among the church’s living dead never again to hear the word ‘Arise!’ Clearly, this is not how the Church was described in the New Testament. Nor does it need to be this way today.

For our purposes here, we will begin with the supposition that the 'church' (people of God) of Jesus' day is in many ways analogous to our own. As such, just as He did then, so now He again desires to offer a "new wineskin" to replace the one being abused. This 'new wineskin' - it will be argued - happens to be identical with the "new wineskin" Jesus offered at His first coming, that first one now having been mauled and devoured by the "ravenous wolves" (Read: professionals) who "came in not sparing the flock." The position taken here is a severe one. It begins with the truth that there is little hope remaining for these bastard institutions that have usurped Christ's purposes. This conclusion is drawn from an analogy made between the today's church and the situation that developed within ancient Israel, which, despite the calls of the prophets, refused to recognize its fallen state and chose destruction over repentance and mercy.

As worrisome as it may sound, G-D is not bound in any sense to these perversions called 'churches' - despite their claims that He is - and is ready to start again with anyone who hungers with an obedient faith, like Anna and Simeon. Thus, hope is only as far away as God Himself, and if you hold a Bible in front of you, that same living God is ready to renew the foundation of your faith, if you're ready to do the work. A real "Reformation" awaits. Not a new denomination or cult - but a resurrection of Christ's Kingdom. A "latter rain," if you will.

To proceed forward, we will need to keep some important questions in the back of our minds as we hunt down Jesus' conception of the Church. Will God provide His Spirit to a model that is in direct disobedience to his Word? In other words, will He bless something that mirrors mankind and its machinations rather than the subversive message of Christ? Will God gift the man/woman with wisdom to teach the Church who has obtained his/her position through personal wealth or wealthy benefactors? Perhaps these can be summed up in: Will God approve a plan if the Cross was not the paradigm for creating it? Lastly: Could it be that the loss of the New Testament spiritual experience – as amazing as it was – is directly related to the placement of ‘hirelings’ in its pulpits?

For the next several blog entries we will try to show a solution to these questions as we move through the New Testament witness beginning with the first and true witness of Jesus. What we hope to show is that there is a generally homogenous pattern of historical precedent that offers hope for a new beginning - if heeded.

II. The Words of Jesus

“Everyone who hears these words of mine
and does not act to come in line,
shall be likened to a foolish man,
who built his house upon the sand.” Mt 7:26 [1]


If the command to be like Christ is to have any punch, it must be relevant to every aspect of the Christian’s life. A whollistic example selectively used is no example, but a tool of hubris. It allows the abuser to use his religion when convenient, turning the purpose of faith into personal merchandise. What will be argued here is that the example once given was meant as much for the Church and its 'structure' as it does for His ethical admonitions. Yet while most in the Church nod their heads in a solemn ‘amen’ to the latter, the search for the same response to the former finds the same heads nodded off. “Has it not always been as it is done today?” most would ask. No, it has not. Most church folk would be surprised to learn that the first church buildings did not appear till around AD 200; before that the Church knew only their homes. These homes, as our New Testament instructs us, were ‘administered’ by a charismatically endowed laity whose scholarshipwas G-D-breathed and focused around the application of God's acts in history to their daily lives; maintenance of the Scriptures; and their subsequent reading, teaching and exhortation. Their wisdom and knowledge were provided by the supernatural work of the Spirit. The same Spirit that supplied Jesus with His.

So, what was this pattern? What did Jesus intend? Lets look at the four Gospels in turn...

Matthew

We will begin by looking at Matthew, not merely because he is first, but also because of his extensive instructional corpus where we find teachings about the nature of the soon-coming Church and its ‘leaders’.[2] On a simple read through one notices that there actually is very little straightforward teaching on the formation of church leaders, and when it does take place it takes a decidedly hostile approach, even redefining the role in its entirety. This almost always occurs in the training of the Twelve. We shall look at some of these texts, with no need to be exhaustive, because while the texts are few, they are decisive.

Beginning with Jesus’ birth, we see the irony of a miraculous birth in the humblest of circumstances. He is not of the priestly class, or of the ruling religious authorities of his days. As such he received no scholarly education, giving us no real expection for profundity. The difference between Him and the religious authorities was an apocalyptic experience of the Spirit, repleat with all the signs and symbols. This beginning seemed tailor made to produce the military Messiah they had expected: the brawny obscure carpenter with an endowment of the Spirit of God, so much like Samson of old. But the Spirit will use this man in a decidedly different way, yet like Samson, the Spirit will be definitive and sufficient.

Jesus’ own disciples, like Him, come from the class of ordinary Jews, even perhaps a bit ragtag. His very choice of disciples was meant to be instructive as Jesus’ prayer would highlight:

“I give thanks to You, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth,
that You hide these things from the wise and intelligent,
and revealed them to infants.” Mt. 11:25 [3]

From Jesus' own prayer, then, we see that the plan from the beginning was to subvert the normal order of things. This event of ragtag election was to become paradigmatic for the Church in all ages as we shall see while moving through the texts. By the time we get to the Pauline epistles, it will become glaringly obvious as to what Jesus wanted. But we will have to wait on this. Until then let’s see how far Jesus goes with this theme. Rest assured, we will find nothing in Paul that does not have its root in Jesus.

Probably the most decisive moment in redefining the Church comes when James and John try a coup attempt over their brethren. In Mt.20:20, they (their mother in Matthew) approach Jesus and ask to be given primary status in Jesus' Kingdom. This request comes on the tail of Jesus' answer to a previous question in chapter 18: “Who then is greater in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus lengthy reply to this first question begins with, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become as children, you shall in no way enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Clearly, James and John did not get it. Possibly it made no sense to them, afterall, infants held the lowest social status. And besides, how could such a kingdom even function?! Children can't fight, can they? You have to have leaders, right?

Jesus' new response to these usurpers begins with His radical reformation of the idea of 'leadership'. The new leaders will be those who drink Jesus' "cup" with Him. 'Cup' here, of course, is symbolic for death - something they failed to grasp. Thus, their ironic cry, "We can do it!"

Solidifying His redefinition of leadership and kingdom participation, Jesus is found in Mt. 19:16-20 deflating the bold confidence of a rich man who thought religious observance would turn the trick. Jesus’ statement that “it is easier for a camel to enter into the eye of a needle, than for a rich man into the Kingdom of God” made the same point as above but from a different direction as it also seriously undermined the Jewish cultural elite and all those who had become accustomed to using positions of power and wealth and a tawdry religious commitement to attain a religious status. That His statement left the disciples in shock, speaks volumes about what the people of that day thought with regard to the kind of person God looked favorably upon.

Comparing this radical new outlook to today's churches, any honest person realizes that they may be crying, “Lord, Lord” but it’s not from a position of obedience to any of these texts. This leaves us to ask, "To which texts would it be then?"

The first time we see any significant religious figures in Matthew is when John the Baptist is immersing in the Jordan. Coming to be baptized, the Pharisees and Sadducees are greeted with, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the approaching wrath?” This rebuke sets the stage for all that follows as they become the foils to Jesus, who bests these ‘highly trained’ men in both wisdom and power, despite His being uncredentialed and unauthorized. Matthew’s readers are expected to notice this, the highly educated and trained versus the inspirited nobody - the new paradigm.

When we reach chapter 23 (the fifth and final teaching cycle), we are not surprised by the final dressing down that Jesus renders to the religious elites (23:13-36), but it is the preceding verses (8-12) that must draw our attention:

“Do not be called Rabbi,
for One is your Teacher,
and you are all brothers,
and do not name your father on earth,
for One is your Father, He who is in Heaven.
And do not be called leaders,
for One is your Leader, Christ.
But the greater of you shall be your servant,
and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled.”

Because of these verses, some make great issue over the institutional churches use of titles, and they are not often wrong in what they say, but the real point is not mere titles, but the fact that Jesus intended to undermine any notion of a religious ruling class. Its not just Rabbis that He seeks to remove, but self-appointed authority figures. By removing the opportunity for religious recognition, Jesus seeks to purge the Church of ruling elites who would abuse His Church for their own purposes and subjugate His followers to an earthly agenda. With the coming of the Spirit, His Church would not need these types. His Kingdom would be defined by a hierarchy of servanthood. Any personal exhaltation would come by way of humility. For those who seek the recognition of men, this type of service is not very tempting. (By the way, for anyone who may think this is only good advice, Jesus’ followup admonitions on the certainty of hell for all those not heeding His word should be quite sobering.)

Conclusion

This concludes our look at Matthew. It is never long enough, but a blog is not a book. Let's lay down some principles from Jesus' teaching and example:

1) First, the servanthood of Jesus will be paradigmatic for all.
2) The new "wineskin" will have no clergy or ruling class. [5]
3) Jesus' own example teaches us that the Spirit will be the difference, not ecclesiastical education.
4) Jesus Himself laid down the paradigm, and we cannot change it without being subject to His wrath. (This, of course leads us to a frightening thought about the post-apostolic church.)

One last exhortation: In the modern church these verses are rarely brought up and if they are, great effort is made to explain them away and absolve the institutions. I suggest that this is done to our peril. We owe it to our children to be honest.

He who has ears let him hear.

[1] All translations mine.
[2] As we shall see, this term shall soon be put off-limits by Jesus Himself.
[3] This is not to say that we are overlooking the obvious in the training of the twelve.
[4] One wonders how it is that the “wise and intelligent” have now come to be telling us what Jesus meant. A wise man/woman should be suspect of this change.
[5] We will learn later that this is because there will be no cultus to orchestrate and no official educational system because of the death of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit

4 Comments:

Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Strong post and awesome beginning. I'll be writing about it this evening at Transforming Sermons. Peace.

3:32 AM  
Blogger John Schroeder said...

Great Series. I've linked to it here

6:13 AM  
Blogger Johannus Bifrons said...

Thank you both - Milton and John -for your kind words.
WLK (JB)

3:51 AM  
Blogger ark said...

thank you brother in Christ for writing this, truth is coming clearer more and more and the Holy Spirit is stirring up people to know these truths..thank you keep writing.

1:39 PM  

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