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...


Mike said...

I just came across this blog. This stuff is great. I will be back.

markk said...

Good topic. I'm better at Bible trivia than I am at theology, but I'll make a few stabs at this:

1. Generally speaking, we are to obey and honour those in authority over us (that Romans passage you mentioned)

2. Exception #1: "Judge for yourselves whether it is right to listen to you rather than obey God" Acts 4:19 - we are not to obey authorities when it would make it impossible for us to obey God.

3. Exception #2: "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face" Acts 2:11 - we are to speak out when church leaders are clearly in the wrong.

That's my two cents.

Pete Aldin said...

Saint Markk, good comments. This is good. I love this.

I think your reference at #3 is Galatians, but I often think of that example. Paul is an Apostle, but a JUNIOR one by any standards of the time.

Keep the conversation going people, PLEASE

matjnewton said...

As I tell the people who are currently close to the centre of the issue than me:

"You gave your heart to God, not your pastor"

Good two posts on this topic Pete

Fake Brian Houston said...

Peter, Peter, Peter... when are you gonna make like your namesake and GET IT?!

God put people like me into authority so that we can rule over the schmucks like you. As soon as you question my authority, you question God. That can't be a good thing (I say it intentionally like that because God and I have an arrangement - he talks, I debate... I talk, he listens).

It really doesn't matter what is said in the bible because a good preacher can take half a verse and make it say whatever they [--want it to--] think God is telling them... so your points, while valid and biblical, don't hold water with me.

That said, why don't you and whoever you live with get to one of my churches this weekend. Sounds like you could do with:
a) some more money;
b) some more vacuous friends; &
c) some decent theology... like mine.

Pete Aldin said...

Brian, I don't know what I was thinking. Thanks for setting me straight.

The cheque is in the mail.

Fake Brian Houston said...

I'm feeling your love (masked with disappointment). Don't be like that. We need good leaders like you to be shaped by better leaders like me.