Category Archives: Church/Ecclesiology

Kingdom Leaders – Part 1

 

In this Series

Recently we asked the question, “Who are your leaders?” a post in which two critical passages on Kingdom leadership were introduced,  Matthew 20:20-28 and Matthew 23:1-12.  After that post, we looked at how Jesus established a Kingdom Paradigm through which the believer is supposed to view this world and function within a Christian Community.  In this post, we’ll drill down a little more into the first of the two passage cited above and move from its introduction, in the previous posts, to its exposition in order to help us understand the nature of leadership that our Lord Jesus Christ came to establish in His kingdom.

Matthew 20:20-28 – Gentile Leadership

In our previous introduction of Matthew 20, we noted that the context is the prophetic announcement of our Lord’s pending death (Matt. 20:17-20).  It is out of this declaration of Christ’s suffering that the stench of desire for positional authority arises with the request from the mother of James and John that her sons may sit one each at Jesus’ right and left hand  in His kingdom.

The background for this request comes from Matthew 19:28,

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

However, despite their mother’s belief in the fulfillment of this promise, the request reveals some improper motivations and aspirations or at best a failure to understand the timing of the fulfillment.

Jesus’ reply, directed to the brothers, is to test the sincerity of the request (Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?), but then to deny it on the basis that it’s not a position for Him to give, to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  It’s likely that the cup of the Lord here is the cup of suffering that He would soon drink.  What our Lord would endure by drinking the cup of God’s wrath and enduring suffering on the cross, would, with regard to suffering, be expected of those who would follow Him (Matt. 20:23; 16:24-26).

With this principle firmly established, Jesus turns His response towards a rebuke of their desire for positional authority by appealing to the leadership of gentile nations

“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” Matt. 20:25

In the midst of this rebuke, Jesus looks towards the worldly leadership structure of the Gentiles (pagans), emphasizing that they “lord it over” and in doing so He provides a negative example for authority.  This particular phrase, lord it over, is also used in 1 Peter 5:3, specifically in the context of shepherding the flock of God, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”   We must ask, does this refer to the character of the authority or to the authority itself?

The word, translated as lord it over (katakurieuo), used in both passages, means “to bring under ones power; to subject to oneself; subdue; be master of”.  It appears to speak less to the character of the authority and more to the authority itself.  This becomes particularly evident in the context with the second statement, “their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Here there’s little confusion as to whether the character of authority is in view or whether authority itself is in view.   Clearly, the latter is the focus.  With this in mind, the establishment and dissemination of power in the Gentile world is held up as a an example, one not to be followed by Christ’s disciples, “It shall not be so among you.”

This passage, as I’ve been guilty of, is usually interpreted to mean that when in positions of church authority or leadership you are not to lord it over people or be domineering over people, much like a taskmaster.  However, that is not the main point, if it’s even a point at all, as we alluded to above.  Clarity is added by the kingdom paradigm that Jesus provides as an alternative to Gentile authority

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”  Matthew 20:26b-27

In opposition to the negative example, this statement sets forth a positive example of servant and slave that speaks not so much about the character of the authority, but to the position of authority itself.  The contrast is between master and servant, not between a domineering attitude and a servant-heart attitude.  Additionally, we must note that the word servant used here is the same word that is sometimes translated as deacon.  Literally it says, “whoever desires authority among you, [eimi – must be] your deacon.”  (I’m retaining deacon here for a point we’ll discuss in another post) The contrast could not be more striking.  Instead of being masters, believers are to be servants and slaves.

However, the passage does not end here.  Our Lord is not content to hold up an errant model of leadership and authority nor to simply give a commandment for His disciples to follow.  No, He provides the pattern and example of leadership through His own life as the Suffering Servant, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Literally this says, “even as the Son of Man came not to be deaconed but to deacon, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus provides a negative example, a command, and the positive example for how He has structured authority and leadership in His kingdom and it is precisely the opposite of the world’s pattern.  Genuine leadership always leads by example.

Kingdom leadership as defined by our Lord is not one of ascension to a position of authority, as with the Gentile nations, but one of descension existing among those who are functioning as servants and slaves.

 

A Three Pronged Assault on Unity

 

It’s been a few months since I posted a video in which Todd Friel, of Wretched Radio and Wretched TV summarizes some recent, troubling events within Evangelicalism.  As I’ve stated before, I don’t believe that the term Evangelicalism really has any meaning these days, but is instead better qualified as an American subset under Christendom, that which is Christian in name only.  Specifically, the troubling events that Friel highlights are occurring with the “Reformed” branch of Evangelicalism.  This group can be summarized as essentially those who hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation, which has sadly become the only qualifier necessary to call oneself reformed.

I don’t want to rehash all that Friel discusses (you can view it for yourself here The Gathering Storm) because he does an excellent job of introducing and over-viewing the landscape of these issues, including The Players, The Events, The Worldviews, and The Future.  However, in this post, I’d like to simply highlight the three primary issues which have surfaced recently that will likely have, and have had, significant impact on the remnant of what calls itself Evangelicalism.

Before we begin, I also want to draw attention again to the viral post from 2009 by the late Michael Spencer, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”  Recall that in that post, Spencer points out 7 critical factors that he believed would contribute to the downfall of evangelicalism, 2 of which have a remarkably profound link to the current issues that we’ll define below.  By the way, Spencer thought that this evangelical collapse would come within 10 years.  Next March will be ten years since he penned the article.  The foundations are already crumbling and becoming irreparable.

Here are Spencer’s words:

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

Without commenting further, let’s look at the current issues that are contributing to an evangelical divide at break-neck speeds and will likely lead to its continued demise.

Homosexuality

This first issue has garnered most of the attention over the last decade.  However in this short period there has been much evolution on the views and positions of so-called (self-appointed) leaders within evangelicalism and church pastors.  The issue of marriage, more specifically homosexual marriage, has naturally led to broader discussions on the sin of homosexuality.  I fear that the pendulum is tilting towards supporting a “born this way” biological view of homosexuality that will lead to unrecoverable ground in this discussion.

Even if born this way, biologically, is not fully embraced, nevertheless a shift has already been taking place in clear acceptance of same-sex attractedness. While there is a wide-range of views on this, from those who openly believe that one can be in a monogamous, homosexual relationship to those who believe one can be gay, or same-sex attracted, and simply be celibate while still claiming to be Christian, nevertheless there has been a tendency to soften on the view that homsexuality, even the desires, are sinful and therefore need to be mortified.

Additionally, and equally as troubling, is the effort to normalize the identification of gay or homosexual or same-sex attracted as an adjective describing a Christian.  The remarkable thing is that even since the first draft of this post, which began in July 2018, this trend has been increasing to accept same-sex attraction Christian and gay Christian as simply normal, regardless of the end of the spectrum views one holds to.  This is a slippery slope, unless of course we are prepared to normalize paedo-attracted Christianity or beastial-attracted Christianity.

Race

The second issue that is and will continue to drive a wedge among remnant evangelicalism, broadly, and the reformed movement, specifically, is race.  Over the last few years American society has been shaken and divided over issues of race, specifically in matters involving law enforcement.  It was only a matter of time before the social/cultural movements migrated into evangelicalism.  The election of a president, by the overwhelming majority of evangelicalism,  at least as we have been told, has predictably contributed to this division.  Evangelicals continue to hitch their wagon to the political golden-calf in the hopes that government and policy will somehow restrain sin and make this a Christian nation.  Law cannot convert hearts.  This has kept them comfortable enough not to feel the urgency of spreading the Gospel, so long as  a particular party is in charge.  The fact that our sitting president has been painted (whether fairly or unfairly) as racist and a white supremacist sympathizer, has predictably led to an overreaction that evangelicalism is inherently racist, has always been, and thereby should repent of their sins and the sins of their fathers.

This issue has been gaining massive speed and I simply do not see reconciliation coming any time soon, if ever.  In fact, the division is deepening even in recent days.  Earlier this year with the T4G and MLK50 conferences, the issues of systematic racism and white privilege, along with the call for repentance from every non-black  white person’s role, and their parent’s role, in racism, hit  mainstream evangelicalism.  However, I went back and looked at some of the key speakers trajectories over the last few years and this was the path they were on, it was just largely unnoticed.

On the one side, that of racial reconciliation and systematic racism is some of the T4G members (perhaps John MacArthur as the lone exception), MLK50, The Southern Baptist Convention and their seminaries (including the flagship -Southern Seminary), 9 Marks, The Gospel Coalition, the ERLC, Acts 29, Sojourners, and a host of others (essentially all major seminaries, though I’m sure there are exceptions), all represent the recent push for racial reconciliation and an emphasis on social justice.  Clearly they hold the majority of the evangelical power, particularly those in the reformed camp.

On the other side, the ever-shrinking minority, John MacArthur,  Voddie Baucham, James White, and others who have authored and signed a recent statement on the Social Justice Movement explicitly stating that an emphasis on social justice, whatever that even means, is an assault on the gospel.  The outcries, hatred, and downright sinful responses to this statement have been telling of the path that Evangelicalism is on.  If a Christian finds themself on the side of hate-filled, liberal, unbelievers, a reassessment is necessary.  Additionally, what speaks louder is the silence that those in the first group above have had on their various media platforms regarding this statement.  Of all of their blogs that I follow, there has been zero commentary.

The Role of Women

This final issue is one that has been on-going, but honestly the issue I’m least familiar with.  Typically, it is broken down into complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.  That is, that men and women are different but complement each other perfectly in their various roles vs. a more egalitarian view that says their roles are equal.  In the past, these views usually manifest themselves in divisions over whether women can be pastors, but more recently the #metoo movement has begun to percolate throughout evangelicalism, which will, and has, inevitably lead to an overreaction (see the firing of Paige Patterson).  Don’t get me wrong on this point.  I abhor any use of power for sexual gain, as well as sexual harassment, and especially assault.  What I’m more pointing out here is the pendulum swing, rather than a balanced approach to these issues.

For some time, I have felt that a minority of those who label themselves as complementarian have painted with broad strokes and have a tendency to come across as heavy handed and domineering over women.  This certainly has not been true of all and there are those who hold to a more balanced view of biblical complementarianism, but predictably, this has led to the overreactions that we’re witnessing.

Ironically, some of the publications and outcries for the advancement of complementarianism were themselves a reaction to the influx of feminism.  Since I’m not as familiar with this movement, as with the others, I will simply defer additional comment.

Regardless of where one’s views fall on any of these issues, it is impossible to justify the divisions and disunity that is taking place.  In fact, what we’re witnessing should cause every genuine believer’s heart to ache for the reproach being brought to the name of Christ.  Every day that these issues continue to fester is another day that division widens.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones often said that church history can be boiled down to excesses and then subsequent overreactions, in contrast to consistently holding to the pattern of the New Testament.  This is precisely what we are seeing today.  Excesses in political involvement and engagement with culture have led Evangelicalism down a path of gospel neglect.  In turn, by attempting to address or confront culture on its terms, it has resulted in a watered down gospel message, one that now associates the Gospel with republicanism, racism, homophobia, and patriarchy.  This is what happens when you soft-peddle the gospel on the back of winning the culture wars.  Man cannot serve two masters. Evangelicalism has tried to serve both Christ and culture and it has resulted in an abject failure.

A final word from Spencer on his predicted evangelical collapse,

Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.”

May God have mercy on us, but brothers and sisters, judgment begins in the house of the Lord (1 Peter 4:17).  Make no mistake, its here.

Of Passion and Power

 

In this Series

Building on a recent post where we looked at the development of a Kingdom Leadership Paradigm through the teaching of Jesus, in this post we’ll look at how the Gospel of Mark presents contrasts between the predicted passion (sufferings) of our Lord with His disciples desire for power and authority.  This overview will, hopefully, further elucidate the paradigm that was introduced earlier.

In Mark’s divinely inspired gospel account, we find our Lord prophesying of His imminent death on three separate occasions.  In each of these passages there is a general pattern followed: the prophecy, the reaction, a correction, and a new paradigm.  In each of the prophecies, the Lord describes His being handed over to men (elders, scribes and priests), suffering unto death, and subsequently His resurrection.  Typically, the reaction by the disciples provides evidence that they’ve misunderstood the nature of Christ’s predicted suffering and instead move to assert, posture towards, or request positions of power.  These misunderstandings are then followed up by a rebuke or correction by the Lord, who then subsequently establishes of a new way of looking at kingdom relationships, particularly as it relates to authority.

Prophecy #1

The first of the passion prophecies comes in Mark 8:31

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Subsequent to this announcement, the self-appointed spokesman of the disciples, Peter, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.  We need to pause here and consider the weightiness of this situation.  Jesus has just announced to His disciples that His life will soon end in suffering and death, followed by the prophecy of His three-days resurrection.  Peter, obviously disliking or disagreeing with this prophecy, asserts himself as the authority over Jesus, essentially attempting to establish His own superiority prior to Jesus’ death, “And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

In turn, this garners its own rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me Satan.”  This scene is especially striking when we consider that just prior to his rebuke, Peter had made his familiar statement that Jesus was the Christ (Mark 8:27-30).  Following upon His rebuke of Peter, Jesus, having laid down the pattern of suffering to come in His own life, then sets forth the expectation of suffering and self-denial for those who would follow after Him

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

This statement on the necessity of self-denial for the followers of Christ is a further statement on the Kingdom Paradigm that inverts the normal societal structure.  In this case, whoever wants to live, must die.

Prophecy #2

Next, we arrive at the second prophecy of Jesus’ death in Mark 9:30-32

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Following in the the steps of their self-appointed leader after Jesus’ earlier prophecy, the disciples again do not understand what Jesus is saying regarding His death and again, we find them jockeying for power following the predicted passion of our Lord

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Mark 9:33-34

Here in these first two passages under our consideration, the contrast could not be more striking.  Jesus announces His pending suffering, death, and resurrection and the disciples are concerned with earthly authority and power, perhaps even as it relates to who would be in charge after Jesus’s death.

Once again we find a rebuke coming from our Lord and a reordering of expectations (Note the related event in Mark 10:13-16)

35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Mark 9:35-37

With this particular correction Jesus reverses the assumed order of societal structure, leadership, and ambition i.e. last will be first.  In order to drive this point home, He places a child in their midst.  Just after this, Mark 10:13-16, Jesus again uses the physical example of a child to establish the point that one must be child-like to enter into the Kingdom.

Prophecy #3

The third prophecy that our Lord makes, concerning His passion occurs in Mark 10:33-34

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

As if having nothing better to say on the matter, the disciples once again prove that they do not yet understand what Jesus is prophesying, rather they are more interested in seeking individual power and authority.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37

Notice the contrast between the predicted suffering of Christ and the power-play by two of the disciples.  After commenting that the disciples would likewise follow the Lord in suffering, and noting the indignation of the other disciples, the passage shifts towards another example of the overturned structural norms, specifically patterns of authority.

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Perhaps here in this final passage we have yet the strongest statement on the nature of leadership and authoritarian structures within Christ’s Kingdom.  Specifically, Gentile leadership is held up as an example of dysfunctional leadership, namely that of a top-down authority which our Lord directly contradicts by His establishment of servants being leaders.

In Mark’s gospel account, the contrast between suffering and servanthood with exaltation and authority could not be more striking.  With this, as with our previous post, we may clearly see that Jesus was reordering priorities, ambitions, and the nature of authority or leadership. His new Kingdom Paradigm establishes how we are called to live in our Christian communities and how we are called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.