Coercion, intimidation, harassment, abuse.
Hardly a day seems to go by at present where we don't hear something about shocking cases of such crimes in the news, rightly brought to our attention and prosecuted because of the often extraordinary cruelty they have caused to those who have become the victims of such inhumanity.
Many of us, sadly, have encountered some form of this in the world - sometimes, painfully, on numerous occasions and in many different circumstances, so we would hope to find aid and solace in the place where the goodness and mercy of God to our sin-sick world is meant to be offered and proclaimed. Again, to our dismay, we now know of many cases where this has proved to be far from true - when children especially have been abused by those in ministry - but there has also been a far wider field of abuse amongst Christians which has yet to be truly addressed and which deserves to be prosecuted (confronted and rejected) amongst us in a fashion as rigorous and comprehensive as any court of Law, because it has crippled the faith of too many and continues to kill the church from within.
Alan Jamieson's book, A Churchless Faith notes that one of the key reasons that so many today find themselves exiled from regular church attendance is because principally "charismatic and pentecostal movements brought in their wake an authoritarian leadership" which, as numerous exiles have noted, is hallmarked by domination, intrusion and unprecedented degrees of control of virtually every aspect of life, with a requirement of almost total devotion to such leaders. 'Good' service (in missions) or membership (of a local church) is termed almost entirely in the meeting of such requirements and any raising of concerns or criticism about such authority quickly leads to sanction which, if not received (i.e. repentance is made and forgiveness is sought by the person who has been critical) will quickly lead to harsher discipline (exclusion from the body of the church in its regular activities and eventually expulsion).
The grounds for such 'discipleship' are supposed to be biblical - those 'anointed' for ministry are given leadership, and the rest of the body must submit to God by yielding to the blessing that comes through them (thus, to question their role and office, is to speak against God's work and therefore you are deemed to be in rebellion, and must be disciplined or expelled). The role of a member, therefore, is to submit to the requirements and vision given by the leader(s) of their group, which are viewed as a cell of the far larger body which are doing the work of God through the anointing given to their leaders.
Perhaps, if we could find a moment in history where men placed in such roles indeed functioned as some glorious body of priests or prophets wholly given to the service of God without error or blemish, then we might just be able to conceive of a framework where such 'ministry' might be possible, but Christianity (especially in terms of scripture, which is the touchstone for our understanding of the faith) is far too honest for that. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find countless examples amongst every form of leadership of error and failure, as well as total rebellion against God's will, so having a gifted or 'anointed' leader is no guarantee that abuse will not occur. The duty of every Christian is to 'prove all things' and to 'hold fast to what is good', so if abuse is encountered or seeking to establish itself amongst us, it must be exposed and rejected (the reason, for example behind many of Paul's epistles).
The reasons for this are self-evident. If we seek to bend our lives to anything other than the Lordship of Jesus Christ (the only one who has truly given Himself for us), then we will be lead astray. The faithful servant is one who points to His calling for us (a 'yoke' that is not arduous, for He carries it with us), His discipleship of us (that we may 'go in and out' and always find nurture and grace in times of need) and His care (He keeps us and is with us always).
Jesus teaches us not to follow the abusive patterns of leadership that are exercised by the world (Luke 22:25) - it must NOT be like that amongst us - so why are there so many cases amongst Christian activity today where this still is employed as the standard pattern of service? It is not Biblical, but a terrible abuse of Christian ministry and life.
The world often has the honesty to place before us the ugliness that we find in life.
Why is it that the church cannot do the same?
Sunday, 21 July 2013
"Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun" Ecclesiastes 11:7.
It has been a very hot summer here, certainly one of the brightest and the longest we have had in the last three decades, so it's been a tad difficult to do much more after work than cool down and sleep (when possible).
One thing I have managed is a few local walks in the beautiful scenery of the country.
The woods and landscape have a beauty which is simply transformed by sunlight. Here's a few examples I've had the joy of capturing:
When I see the light working in this manner, I am so reminded of the new creation - the often sullen and sorrowful aspects of this present world will be given a new luster, a new vitality in what is approaching. That is something worth enjoying, amongst the sunshine.