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June 2010

When church leadership "falls," pt 3

Let's look at what may happen when leaders actually despise God. This post will include a lot of scripture.

Matthew 21:33-39
33"Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35"The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said.

38"But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Look at the different groups in this scripture. You have the landowner (God), the farmers (the Pharisees), the servants (prophets, teachers), and the son (Jesus). The farmers were leaders charged with tending the vineyard. The servants were leaders charged with manifesting what was in peoples' lives (wine, fruit). The landowner and the son were in authority over all of them.

When Jesus dealt with the Pharisees he wasn't dealing with religious leaders or a government. He was dealing with people who were under his authority and who had been set over his vineyard, over his sheep, by God. The Pharisees were accountable to Jesus. They were supposed to deliver a wine and had instead consumed it themselves. Even the servants that were sent were sent to help manifest the wine, or fruit, God was looking for.They weren't sent to condemn the farmers.

My point here is that we don't have the authority to talk to religious leaders the way Jesus did. Even churches that vote to put someone in leadership don't have the authority over those leaders like Jesus. But if we are not careful we can usurp Jesus' authority over leadership and end up falling into arrogance. Be careful with your words.

Matthew 23:1-12
 1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

 5"Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'

 8"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Two things here. One is the recognition that there is authority in leadership. In all that Jesus said about the Pharisees he never said they didn't have authority. God may put someone in a leadership role with an amount of authority. Their falling into sin does not change that. Only God can remove the authority he has given. We need to recognize that.

Second is, again, the recognition that we are all accountable for what is happening. Some people read verses 8-12 and decide that no one is over them, no one is their teacher. These people ignore verses 11-12. If no one is over you, if no one is your teacher, then you are no one's servant. This goes back to what I discussed in pt 1. We are all accountable. We are all brothers. We have been graced with different ministries to build each other up. Leaders are not people we follow as if we are dumb sheep. That is what Jesus is talking about here. When leaders have a servant's heart they will serve the local church. When we have a servant's heart we will respond to these human gifts God has given us. If someone in leadership looses their servant's heart the rest of the church can still operate in a servant's heart. We can keep our peace. Do not act like a "Rabbi" is responsible, or a "father" is responsible, or a "teacher" is responsible. We are all responsible. We are all brothers.

We can keep our peace.

When church leadership "falls," pt 2

Every time I start working on this post I get sidetracked by the same thing, so I'm going to go down a rabbit trail for a moment to emphasis a foundational principle. Salvation is personal with God.

John 5:38-40
38nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Many people have a law or "pattern" way of thinking. All of us tend to see things as cause and effect; understandably because this type of thinking is an essential part of early learning. It is also very comfortable if we fill like we are following the rules. And it can destroy our faith when we fill like we are failing the rules.

Salvation is personal with God, it is not rule based. Life is not found in the written word of God except as it draws us personally to Jesus. Life comes from Jesus. It is not in the law; keeping it or breaking it. 

Romans 9:14-16
14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.

Hebrews 11:4-6
4By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

5By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Abel and Enoch pleased God because of their faith. It was not faith in a promise or faith in a covenant or faith in a sacrifice. It was faith in God personally. The promises and covenants of God are not given to be the objects of faith, they are given to help us know and understand God. And when I say "God" I mean our Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

My point here is that we grow in knowledge and understanding of God, not in knowledge and understanding of promises, covenants, and laws (though we do learn from them and they help us understand the nature of God).

Now we can get back on topic.

2 Samuel 24 describes an event where God was angry with Israel and incited King David to act in a way that brought judgment upon the nation. Many people died and David felt it was all his fault. Yet God's anger wasn't with David, it was with Israel (which does include David). David, in his reaction to judgment, was an example to Israel on repentance and humility towards God which is exactly what God wanted from Israel.

I'm sure many in Israel at that time blamed David for the judgment and deaths. People who are rule or law oriented in their thinking would have said something like, "if David had not done this no one would have died." Cause and effect. But those who understood the nature of God would have recognized that God was doing something here; it wasn't about David's "sin". This was God's hand. And the correct response on Israel's part was to follow David's example in repentance and humility towards God.

The same applies to a church or group, sometimes, when leadership "sins" and that church or group suffers for it. If the leader repents and is humble before God then it may be a good idea to follow that example.

More examples in the next post.