Tuesday, July 31, 2007


If you've been around some circles of the "church" for a while, you've probably come across this idea that Church Leaders (or the 'Annointed') have authority over you and that you must submit to their teachings and directives.

Check out this study guide for kids which looks good on the surface but actually teaches children to obey any form of leadership no matter what they tell them to do! This is the ultimate in irresponsibility! (And some time I'll blog about the relationship of authority and responsibility).

So does the kid obey when the paedophile schoolteacher says "Come and sit on my lap"? How about when the pastor says "Come out to the front of the church and bow down to me"? (This happened recently in a church local to me). What if a parent and a pastor offer 2 contradictorary orders? How is the kid to discern what to obey and what not to? How do they learn to set boundaries and discern between good and evil with this kind of simplistic and irrational interpretation of scripture?

I asked my 11 year old son last month "If a pastor asked you to come to the front of the church and bow down to him, what would you do?" He replied "Get out of there as quick as I could!" Now that's the kind of smarts we should be encouraging in our kids...

Back to the Authority "Doctrine". My last post started this 'rant' and I'm still inviting you to add your comments to it.

I've listened to this teaching for over a decade now, and I still have problems with it. For starters, I don't remember ever hearing its proponents mention (let alone teach) Jesus' words on the subject of church authority:

"You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of all, and if he wants to be first among you, he must be your slave ..." (Matthew 20:25-27, Phillips translation)

Go ahead and look it up in other translations, it'll only enrich Jesus' meaning. (The NIV says "their high officials exercise authority over them.") It must not be so among you (ie., Christ's disciples and leaders). In fact, to lead means a level of servanthood akin to slavery.

Slaves (or servants for that matter) don't seek their own "honour". They don't demand to have the final say on something. They don't even expect to be thanked. They just do what's required and fade into the background or move on to the next task.

That's Jesus' template for church leaders and missionaries. It's a thankless, inglorious, disempowered job that results in thanks to God, glory to God and empowered disciples.

I've got lots more to say on this topic, but if you're desperate to work through this issue for yourself (and it's one that causes thousands of people a great deal of anxiety), I can recommend the following links:

  • New Testament Leadership (Steve mentions the following "In Hebrews 13:17, believers are encouraged to “obey” church leaders. Interestingly, the Greek behind “obey” is not the regular Greek word for “obey.” Instead, peitho is used, which literally means “to persuade” or “to convince.” Thus, Hebrews 13:17 should be rendered “let yourselves be persuaded by.” ")

Friday, July 20, 2007

How Do We Give Respect When The Leader's Not Respectable?

I'm trying to work something through, folks. Have been for a while. Still have more questions than answers.

In short, I'm not a believer in the Authority "doctrine" (or Submission "doctrine"), a particular feature of pentecostal christianity. But I do believe in leadership.

I'm not a fan of institutional attractional church, I'm more a missional/emerging church kind of guy, but I do believe in structure, gift-based ministry, and many "things" that belong in both styles of church.

Today, I'm struggling specifically with how to respond to leadership that is either

  • "ungodly" (terrible word and I'm sorry for it - I think I mean leaders that distort information to maintain power or the status quo, leaders that intimidate or exercise power over others, leaders that misuse their position in any way) - or
  • misguided (not as "bad" in my view - I'm refering to the basic human tendency toward personal bias - which I certainly suffer from! - but which may show up in an extreme way when a well-meaning leader nevertheless teaches or acts from a non-biblical worldview, attitude or doctrine: e.g. materialistic success; personal insecurity; prejudice; non-grace)

Phew, that was a mouthful. (Even to read!)

So how should we Christians respond to these leaders when they are plainly wrong?

I read Romans 13:1-7 this morning. If you take it on what it actually says, it seems to teach that even Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, George Bush (heh heh) or ArchBishops who don't believe the resurrection of Christ either happened or is relevant to Christianity - all of these people are simply to be obeyed, kowtowed to, not challenged, trusted. And yet, it refers to governing authorities as holding "no terror for those who do right" and agents of "wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Yet they clearly don't have a biblical morality ... or, at the very least, condone things the Christian Bible condemns.

So was Paul naive? Was the Holy Spirit suggesting that a dictator or a corrupt pastor or politician is doing the right thing simply because of their position?

Perhaps I can mount a Nuremberg defense at the final Judgement:

"I let my pastor get away with embezzling money, because I was simply following orders. I burnt witches at the stake, because I was simply following orders. I refused to vote against an unjust government, because they ARE the government and must have been put there by God. I kept tithing to my church, even though the pastor publicly intimidates, criticises and insults people while in a fit of rage, because he has the name Pastor on his office door."

I mean, if God is suggesting this, then I have to go along with it. Because I honor God.

But it just doesn't sit right. And it's not just me either.

As an example in this moment, I just picked up the first commentary on Romans on my shelf, a volume from the 1950s that my Dad has passed on to me. The author's take on this passage of scripture includes the following thoughts:

There is great necessity at this hour to emphasize to all Christians this solemn exhortation of the apostle. Lawlessness - contempt for authority - is upon us like a flood.

He is firm proponent of giving absolute fealty to government and (by implication of his writing) church leadership. He gives some familiar examples of the results of contempt for authority: crime and moral breakdown etc etc, then he makes this interesting point:

Perhaps the most glaring of all instances of last-days lawlessness is the tolerance of Red Communism. (This is the 1950s remember). We do not now speak of Russia; but of the fact that Communistic doctrines (which openly declare war upon all divinely appointed order) are held - even by professing Christians ... all over the world! ... (If you prefer communism) you are really settling in on Lenin's and Stalin's path - which ends in hell!- and makes a land a bloody horror meanwhile.

But, weren't Lenin and Stalin leaders, authorities?

Then why weren't they "Divinely appointed order?" Where is the line at which we can say, "This leader is appointed by God and to be spken well of and submitted to" and "This leader is against God's order or standards and must be condemned"?

And am I as bad as the Archbishop I linked to above, refusing to accept the parts of scripture that disturb me personally?

I really am in limbo on this issue and would value your conversation. I mean, I do have very strong views on it - I could just spout them - but I'm wanting to run them through scripture ... and this is where it's becoming very very worrying... your conversation would help...

I don't even know what question to level at y'all - I guess any and every response will be valued...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Gadgets for God...

Following on from the last post about Christian merchandising (shudder), The Molk has kindly alerted us to Ship of Fools (dot com) who have a whole section on Christian Merchandising (shudder) - or Gadgets for God, as they call it.

Here's my favourite 3:

(If only these things were satirical. Then they'd be funny.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

THY-Space: oh ye of little brains & too much disposable income

Christian merchandising. Is there any oxymoron more nauseating?

I regularly read the blog of a writer's agent and publisher (Chip McGregor). Chip represents several Christian authors, which is cool. As their agent, he gets to attend the Christian Book Publishers conference annually where he gets to check out (and laugh at) the latest in Christian novelties.

Read this excerpt and gag, laugh or weep as the Spirit leads :) ...

The whole thing is back to back meetings, talking about books, and if you're a book guy like me, you just love it. But, at the same time, each year I try to find the worst, most bile-inducing piece of religious crud at the show. There are always some doozies.

Last year it was the famous "Armor of God Pajamas," which say "Righteousness" across the chest and feature a "Helmet of Salvation" nightcap and "Peace" footies. They were fun, cute, and completely stoopid. (I also hold a warm spot in my heart for the Gospel Golf Balls, which are just normal golf balls except they have Bible verses printed on them -- that way you don't have to fret over losing a ball on the course, because in the immortal words of the sales woman, "You just chalk it up to helping spread the Good News.") The year before it was the "genuine ash from Sodom and Gomorrah" display, which is sure to teach you never to invite your gay friends over unless you've checked the pressure on your fire extinguisher.

This year had some real weiners -- er, I mean "winners." I liked the "New Life Gummie Caterpillars," which teach young children the joys of salvation as well as getting them addicted to sugar. Speaking of sugar, "Scripture Candy" was back, along with their slogan: "Reaching the World...One Piece at a Time." (Nope. I'm not making that up.) For those of a more natural bent, you could just buy holy honey -- "Bee-lieve Honey" was there. The woman running the booth was extremely, um, sweet. Oh, and somebody came up with the notion of doing a Christian version
of MySpace, only they promised it would be cleaned up ("No Britney Spears," the sales guy told me), and of course they gave it the spiritual name "THY Space." Gag.
But it was footwear department that really captured me this year.

First, there was the "Not Of This World Footwear Company," reminding us of that
great truth: "If you want to witness to the world, have religious symbols imbedded on your shoes" (from the Book of Formica 3:13). The shoes were actually of a nice design -- but do we need inspirational sayings on everything? Can't we just have clothing that doesn't say anything? (Answer: "No. You're obviously an idiot. God expects everything from underwear to shoes to have religious slogans on them. That's why He invented 'Praise Panties.'")

Second, there was the company that invented insoles that also have Scripture verses printed on them. Why? So that we can joke about "walking the way of the Lord?" Of course not! It's so that we can all be "Standing On the Promises"! (It's a hymn! One of those insider Christian jokes we all like so well, and that so endear us to those outside the church who sometimes think we've lost our collective minds.) Right now YOU could be standing on the promises (For example, the promise that "thou shalt never have bunions" -- Hez. 3:13) instead of sitting in the chair like a heathen lout. (You never heard anybody read any verses about "sitting on the statutes" did you? I'll bet not -- praise panties or no.) But when it comes to cheesy religious footwear, the champ has got to be the In-Souls company. (In-Souls! Get it?) For years I've made a joke about the demeaning of CBA. As we've moved away from being an industry focused on creating great books, and toward an organization looking to move things like Thomas Kinkade postcards and Jesus soap-on-a-rope, I've said, "If you can get past the gospel ties and the John 3:16 socks...", and of course I meant it as a gag. Faithful readers have heard me use that line (to appropriate laughter) for the last decade. But it was a joke! A laugher! Nobody would really create John 3:16 socks, right? Wrong, oh ye of faithless footwear. For at this convention, some bright boy stole my idea! No kidding. There they were, in all their glory: John 3:16 socks! Footies that have "John 3:16" on the roll and the words on the body of the sock.

Glory! I have seen the light, and it is footwear!

"And lo, the salesclerk appeared in a bright light, singing praise to Bally and saying,
'Espadrille!', which is Greek for 'Glory' or maybe
'rope-sole-with-canvas-uppers.' And suddenly, the clerk was surrounded by a great cloud of clerks, all carrying Prada and Bruno Magli, though they had pumps
and not the loafers I wanted.

And the store did carry Allen Edmonds.
And they did have it in my size. And it was good. And he placed the shoehorn in my hand and said, "Take. Wear." And I took. And I wore. And it was comfortable. In fact,
they gave me no blisters. A miracle."
--The Kiltie Gospel