Some Christians are always going on about asserting authority – the authority which they claim to have as pastors over their congregations, as parents over their family, as husbands over their wives, etc.
This morning I heard a talk which turns this completely upside down. On a DVD, Danny Silk, from Bethel Church in Redding, California (where Bill Johnson is senior pastor), was talking about a Culture of Honour. Indeed he has written a book with this title (in the American spelling) – and like so many books these days it has its own website, which features the foreword by Bill Johnson, endorsements, and some video clips. I presume the series of talks, of which I have so far heard only the first of three, covers the same material as the book, which I have not yet read.
One thing which Danny said in the talk sounded shocking:
God is not in control of everything.
Really? Is this guy an orthodox Christian at all? Is this his response to questions like why God allowed the Haiti earthquake? (The DVD was in fact recorded a few months before that.) No, I don’t think so. Danny’s approach can help to explain such disasters, but that was not his main focus. After a pause he continued with this explanation:
He is charge, but doesn’t want to control. You can’t make someone love you. … God doesn’t want a bunch of obedient robots.
Indeed. Danny didn’t quote Psalm 32:9, but he could well have done, especially as he showed the major part of this astonishing video of a woman riding a horse not “controlled by bit and bridle”.
Now undoubtedly God has authority over everything, over the material universe which he created and over the whole spiritual world. But he chooses not to exercise that authority where it is incompatible with love – with his love for the people he created and with his desire to receive their love in return. Instead, as Danny put it, he shows honour towards human beings, as illustrated by the story of the woman taken in adultery.
The main point of Danny’s teaching, as I have heard it so far, is the application of this principle to ourselves. As Christians, who should we honour? In the New Testament (these are relevant occurrences of the Greek timao and time) we are taught to honour our parents (Matthew 15:4 etc), God and Jesus (John 5:23 etc), one another (Romans 12:10), governing authorities (Romans 13:7), widows (1 Timothy 5:3), elders (1 Timothy 5:17), masters (1 Timothy 6:1), the emperor (1 Peter 2:17) and (also in 1 Peter 2:17, but here for some unaccountable reason many translations avoid the word “honour”) EVERYONE.
So the Bible teaches us not just to honour those who expect honour because of their position or authority, or who deserve honour because of their good works, but to honour EVERYONE, whether or not they deserve it, even those in the lowest positions, even those caught in sin, like the adulterous woman whom Jesus honoured and forgave.
In this talk which was intended primarily for leaders, Danny defined honouring others as elevating the status of those around us, so that people feel valuable in our presence. He contrasted this with the attitude of trying to protect one’s own power. In particular, he saw ordering others around by using explicit or implicit threats as bringing dishonour into relationships, because it is based on fear rather than love. He quoted 1 John 4:18: “Perfect love casts out all fear”, because in love there is no fear of punishment. Thus, he said, honour is displayed when we elevate the status of those we have power to punish.
What does this mean in practice? I shared the scepticism of some parents who watched the DVD with me about how Danny seemed to apply this principle in passing to parenting of young children – is it possible to get them to behave well without punishments and threats of it? But as a model for relationships between adults in the church this makes a lot of sense, and has a good biblical basis. It ties up well with the model of leadership which Jesus taught:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:42-45 (TNIV)
Yes, there is such a thing as authority in the church, in the kingdom of God. But it is not something to be asserted or used arbitrarily. God has given this authority not to tear his people down but to build them up (2 Corinthians 13:10). The way to build people up, to elevate their status, is to treat them with honour and with genuine love.
I will finish where Danny started his talk: Jesus said (John 13:35) that people will know us as Christians, as different from others, not by our teaching or the signs and wonders we perform but by the way we treat one another, that is, by our love.