With all the talk of ‘accountability’ and ‘submission’ in modern evangelical circles it strikes me that according to the biblical texts we have, Jesus never joined the “church” of the time. In terms of his Hebrew lineage he was born into the ‘family’ but there is no record of him being linked in to a local body or being answerable and submissive to its leadership – whether a single rabbi, priest, or team of religious leaders. There is also no record of him asking for permission from the religious rulers of the day to start his public ministry nor him submitting his plans or teaching strategies to them. Had he done so they most surely would have rejected him and tried to block him in every way. This could well be a key concept to consider. I suspect it may even be a big part of our redemption as a body of enthusiasts who desire to follow the ways of the lowly carpenter from Nazareth. A life of vibrant Kingdom activity free from the chains of dogma, religious bondage and human control.
Now I’m not advocating anarchy nor am I suggesting any form of rebellion. I am simply looking at what we have as a guideline from scripture and comparing it to what we have in the present church systems. And yes, I do think we need to be accountable – but what I see in the text as well as in the heart and attitude of Christ is a mutual accountability and that to one another, not in any hierarchical vertical line with some individuals positioned higher than others.
In terms of the basis for the gift of God’s undeserved favour to all mankind there are clearly no mortals who are better or worse than any other. All have missed the mark and fall short of the standard God demands. Even Jesus himself clearly redefined the concept of active and effective deviance as an ‘all or nothing’ and not in varying degrees of shady misconduct. So for me, how we come in as equals, all needing the same grace and divine intervention, and then somehow develop a righteous pecking order that makes some more righteous than others is a complete mystery. Nothing short of diabolical if I have to say so myself. It’s also my opinion that if we even begin to think there are people who are in any way better or worse than others it’s because we have been thoroughly deceived and led astray by vain imaginations, even delusions of grandeur and self-righteousness. Perhaps this ‘papal’ concept of one superior leader under God is more in line with a long ago social development in Roman political history than in line with any teaching that Jesus ever uttered. It also clearly cuts against the writer of the letter to the Hebrews who wrote that there is only one mediator between God and man and this is Christ alone. Now Jesus was not against individual greatness nor was he against striving to be excellent or even striving to be the greater amongst peers. He just very boldly and articulately redefined greatness as being the opposite of what we to this day practice and understand it to be. He declared greatness as the path of extreme servanthood, self denial, self sacrifice, acts of extreme humility. There’s not a lot of that going around in church leadership today.
Supreme greatness was bestowed on Christ specifically because he emptied himself of all status and personal glory and it was God alone who exalted him in the end because of this personal self-denial. After all, Jesus was only doing what he himself taught and proclaimed – that the man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it.
Social significance, privilege and political power is part of the so-called good life, not the life of a disciple of Christ. Entitlement and social control are the treasures of a temporal existence. These are in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed in word and deed. I battle to see where anyone can get the idea that some of us can bypass this selfless path and assume positions of superiority, social privilege and political power in the body?
As I read through the scriptures I am amazed at how things have turned around so radically. I am even more amazed at how this reverse revolution has been not only embraced in the church by its leadership, but defended passionately. Or perhaps I shouldn’t be so amazed as it’s the norm in dirty, street-level politics these days?
I cannot help but ask what right some dare to assume when they expect other fellow disciples for whom Chris also died, to submit to them directly as well as be accountable to them in issues of life and godliness? Now this may sound like a good idea from a worldly, strategic business perspective of thought and process, but I battle to find it anywhere in the teachings of Jesus. If ever there was clear conduct unfitting for a follower of Christ this would surely be it.