Touch not the Lord's anointed

In the comments on my post In memory of David Wilkerson Mark D struck what I considered a rather discordant note, and an inappropriate one concerning someone dead but not yet buried, when he wrote:

Ive always liked David Wilkerson but could his speaking against Benny Hinn have something to do with his violent death? God said touch not my anointed! King David understood this truth and would not touch Saul even though he was trying to kill him!

However, there is an important point here. I don’t know exactly what David Wilkerson said about Benny Hinn. And I don’t think God would have struck him dead for it whatever it was – that isn’t how God works. Anyway, the breach between the two cannot have been too serious, for Hinn released a tribute to Wilkerson quickly after his death.

But it is indeed a wrong and dangerous thing to speak against those whom God has anointed for ministry. At least in some Pentecostal and charismatic Christian circles this wrongness and danger is often expressed in the sentence “Touch not the Lord’s anointed”.

This sentence has its origin as “Touch not mine anointed”, spoken by God, in Psalm 105:15 KJV. It is important to note that here “mine anointed” is plural, hence the NIV 2011 rendering of the verse:

Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.

Psalm 105:15 (NIV 2011)

The poetic parallel suggests that “my anointed ones” here refers to prophets.

The same principle was laid down several times by David when he had the chance to kill King Saul, who was hunting him down:

The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.

1 Samuel 24:6 (NIV 2011);
see also 24:10, 26:9-11,16,23, 2 Samuel 1:14-16

1 Samuel 26:7-11: David spares Saul's lifeHere the anointed one, singular, is the king of Israel, Saul. But by this time he was a disobedient and apostate king whom God has rejected (1 Samuel 15:11,26). The Holy Spirit had left him and he was under the influence of evil spirits (16:14). And David had been anointed king in his place (16:12-13). Nevertheless that same David continued to respect Saul as the Lord’s anointed. He fled from him for his own safety (19:10), but refused to take any action against him.

Contrast what happened to the person who dared to finish off the dying Saul: David showed no hesitation in killing him (2 Samuel 1:14-16).

What applicability does this have to Christians today? Who is, or are, the Lord’s anointed who should not be touched? Commenter here Andrew Price pointed out correctly that the role of the Old Testament kings was fulfilled in Jesus, whose title “Christ” or “Messiah” means “Anointed One”. The same could be said of the role of the Old Testament anointed prophets. However, the New Testament teaches that every Christian believer, everyone in Christ, has an anointing from the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20), is a potential prophet (1 Corinthians 14:31), and is even now reigning with Christ (Revelation 20:4 and Ephesians 2:6, as I explained these verses in a previous post).

So, I would argue, every true Christian is the Lord’s anointed, and so, according to David’s principle, others should not lay their hands on them. This doesn’t just mean not kill them: David would not even say anything negative about Saul. The Bible warns us against slander, gossip (2 Corinthians 12:20) and backbiting (Galatians 5:15), and this is the same principle in practical application.

Now there is a place for Christians to discern false teaching. If they do discern it, they should avoid listening to it. It might sometimes be appropriate to confront the false teacher personally, or to make a report to someone in authority over them. But, according to the principle which David set out, it is wrong to criticise them publicly – even if, like Saul, they have turned completely away from God’s path. If, on the other hand, they are truly ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak against their ministry is to risk the unforgiveable blasphemy against that Holy Spirit.

Thus, I would agree with Mark that it is wrong to make negative public statements about Benny Hinn and his ministry. It is equally wrong to make such statements about David Wilkerson or Todd Bentley, as Mark was quick to do, or about Rob Bell, as Adrian Warnock among others has done, or indeed about anyone who professes to be a Christian teacher. Each of these people is the Lord’s anointed. They would remain so even if they were to turn away from God to the extent that the Holy Spirit departed from them and they were under the control of evil spirits, as happened to Saul. I am not suggesting that this has happened in any of these cases. But if someone believes that this has happened to any teacher or preacher, the right response is that of David: distancing himself from the danger, and silence – and decisive action against those who do touch the Lord’s anointed.

On the other hand, David’s example shows that it is also wrong for Christians to invoke “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” to stop others criticising them. David could have claimed his own rights as the Lord’s anointed, and denounced Saul and others for “touching” him. But he never did so. While believers should not criticise their leaders, it is wrong for leaders to put themselves above criticism.

Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, part 3

This post continues (after rather too long a delay) and concludes the series in part 1 and part 2, in which I looked at the New Testament use of exousia and related words concerning authority and rights. I included “power” in the series title, but in fact this would seem to be a good rendering only in a few cases in Revelation (6:8, 9:3,10,19), and perhaps also in references to Roman authority (e.g. John 19:10,11), as only here does the word have any real connotations of physical ability or coercive power.

I will continue by looking at the “authority” given to believers in Jesus.

First we note that the most basic exousia given to believers is to become the children of God (John 1:12).

Then we see that Jesus, while he was still alive on earth, gave exousia to his disciples, not just the Twelve, and that this authority was to cast out evil spirits (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:15, 6:7; Luke 9:1, 10:19). In two of these places, in fact referring only to the Twelve, this is linked with the exousia to heal (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1). In parables this was likened to the exousia of servants to do the work assigned to them (Mark 13:34; Luke 19:17).

In the post-Resurrection parts of the New Testament it is rare for exousia to be attributed to believers, apart from the sense “right” found mainly in 1 Corinthians (also Acts 5:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 22:14). Simon the magician desires the exousia which he sees in Peter and John, referring to how they could confer the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:19). Faithful believers at Thyatira are promised exousia over the nations (Revelation 2:26). The two witnesses have exousia to shut the sky and over the waters (Revelation 11:6). And besides these three we have only the two cases where Paul claims exousia concerning the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10), which are the only cases in the New Testament of one believer having any kind of exousia relating to specific other believers.

So what is this exousia which Paul had? It was not authority over the Corinthians, but it was authority “for building you up, not for tearing you down” (13:10, TNIV). In fact in Greek the phrase is almost the same in 10:8 and 13:10, literally “for building and not for destroying”, with “of you” added only in 10:8, so perhaps Paul’s exousia here is to be understood as more general, to build up the church as a whole.. Paul does not claim any absolute authority over the Corinthians, to choose for himself whether to build them up or tear them down, but only the specific authority or commission which God gave him to build them up. Even so he is reluctant to invoke this authority, choosing to encourage or beg (parakaleo) his listeners to do what is right and refraining from ordering them to do anything.

Thus Paul’s attitude to authority in the church is entirely consistent with that of Jesus, who told his disciples not to be like the rulers of the Gentiles who exercise authority (exousiazo) but to lead by serving (Luke 22:25-26).

To summarise, in the New Testament we see a hierarchy of authority only among secular leaders. Gentile rulers like Pilate have exousia over their subjects, given to them by the emperor (and ultimately by God); military officers are under their ruler’s exousia and have others under them. But there is no trace of this kind of hierarchy of authority in the New Testament picture of how Christian believers should relate to one another.

Certain Christians, complementarians, try to teach some kind of hierarchy for the church: God the Father > God the Son > the Church > church leaders > husbands > wives > children. But there is hardly a trace of this picture in the Bible. The only places where words in the exousia group are used in this connection are when Jesus explains how he is turning this picture upside down:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority (katexousiazo) 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)

Should errant Christian leaders be restored?

While I am taking a break from my series on Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, my near neighbour (at least from a global perspective, but we have never met) Sam Norton has started a series on a related topic: Does the priest have to be pure? In this he talks about the Donatists, whom I discussed here nearly two years ago. Sam gives an excellent explanation of why they were wrong to teach that the ministry of a Christian leader is invalidated by their personal sin.

This doesn’t mean that the sins of Christian leaders should simply be ignored. Unrepentant sinners like Michael Reid certainly should not be allowed to continue in ministry. But it does mean that those who fall should be allowed to repent and be restored, the process which was at least starting with Todd Bentley (but I haven’t kept up with that story) – and which the Donatists did not allow with the original traditores in late Roman times.

But this argument against the Donatists has its limitations in that it is not really applicable when a Christian leader not only falls into sin but also teaches that that sin is in fact right. This, arguably, is what many of the practising homosexuals in Anglican and other churches are doing: they are not only sinning (at least according to traditional biblical standards) but also teaching that what they are doing is right. But the argument against Donatism doesn’t mean that these people should be accepted, because unlike the traditores they are unrepentant.

Indeed the same can be said corporately of The Episcopal Church, which has this week demonstrated its lack of repentance over the Gene Robinson affair, as well as its contempt for the Archbishop of Canterbury, by approving the consecration of another practising homosexual bishop. This is a direct challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion, which will renew the tensions which have brought it close to falling apart. But this teaching in effect approved by TEC is also rife in the Church of England.

I am now looking forward to the continuation of Sam Norton’s series. He promises to answer the question “what do we do when the priest isn’t pure?” In a comment I challenged him also to consider what happens when the priest is not “holding fast to the truth of the faith”. I hope he also applies these principles to the current situation in the church and the Communion in which he is a priest.

PS: I will not allow any comments here concerning Todd Bentley, unless they include significant and verifiable new information about him.

Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, part 2

In part 1 of this series I looked at the various occurrences of words for “authority” in the New Testament, primarily exousia and exestin. I only began to consider their significance for wider biblical teaching. In this post I am continuing that process.

As I noted, exestin is commonly used in the gospels and in Acts of an activity which is permitted, by religious or secular law. This also seems to be the sense in which the noun derived from this verb, exousia, is sometimes used in those books. For example, Saul of Tarsus was given exousia, permission or the right, to arrest Jewish believers in Jesus (Acts 9:14, 26:10,12). And the opponents of Jesus asked him who gave him the exousia, permission or the right, to do what he was doing (Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:28; Luke 20:2).

This use of exousia and exestin leads naturally into the usage, mainly in 1 Corinthians, concerning the rights of Christians. Paul appears to be teaching that God has given to those in Christ permission, or the right, to do anything they want – but that doesn’t mean that they should do what is unhelpful. To put it another way, we are no longer bound by a whole lot of “Thou shalt not” laws, but we are expected to behave in ways which build up others and glorify God. Understood in this way this exousia is at the heart of Paul’s gospel message.

This kind of exousia is hierarchical in a sense, in that it derives ultimately from God and is mediated through the people and institutions called authorities, exousia in the plural. But it is not a hierarchy of command on the military model, but the opposite – a hierarchy of giving up the right to command by granting permission and rights.

In the New Testament we also see another kind of exousia, authority, that of people who are recognised as having authority in themselves. This is what, according to John Richardson, John Goldingay calls Authority B, distinct from Authority A which is conferred by a hierarchy. This Authority B is what the crowds in Galilee saw in Jesus (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32). But these are the only clear cases in the New Testament of exousia being used of this kind of authority, and related words are never used in this sense. Whereas there clearly is a sense in which some believers are recognised as charismatically empowered to teach and lead, the exousia word group is never used of this. Whenever exousia is attributed to believers, it is given to them by the Lord and so of the hierarchical type.

Indeed most commonly when exousia is attributed to Jesus it is something he has inherently or as the gift of God the Father. This is the basis of his authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6,8; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24), to drive out evil spirits (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36), to judge (John 5:27), and to die and rise again (John 10:18). It is not humans, or evil forces, who gave him the authority referred to in the famous Great Commission passage: “All authority [exousia] in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18, TNIV; cf. John 17:2).

But here we must avoid any misunderstanding by noting that this Christian authority is never over other people. It is interesting to analyse the phrases used with exousia which might mean this. Most frequently exousia is specified by an infinitive of an activity, suggesting a basically dynamic concept, permission or right to do something, not the static concept of authority over something or someone. But in some cases a prepositional phrase is used, and there is a wide variation:

With genitive alone:

  • Matthew 10:1 and Mark 6:7: Jesus’ disciples are given exousia “of” evil spirits.
  • John 17:2: Jesus has exousia “of” all flesh.
  • Romans 9:21: the potter has exousia “of” the clay.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:4: a husband and a wife exousiazo “of” one another’s bodies.

With epi + genitive:

  • 1 Corinthians 11:10: a woman has exousia “on” or over her head.
  • Revelation 2:26: believers receive exousia “on” the nations.
  • Revelation 11:6: the two witnesses have exousia “on” the waters.
  • Revelation 14:18: an angel has exousia “on” the fire.

With epi + accusative:

  • Luke 9:1: Jesus’ disciples have exousia “on” evil spirits.
  • Revelation 6:8: death has exousia “on” a quarter of the earth.
  • Revelation 13:7: the beast receives exousia “on” everyone.
  • Revelation 22:14: the blessed have exousia “on” the tree of life.

With peri + genitive:

  • 1 Corinthians 7:37: a man has exousia “about” his desire.

With epano + genitive:

  • Luke 19:17: the faithful servant is given exousia “over” ten cities.

Similarly a variety of prepositions are used with exousia:

en + dative:

  • Acts 5:4: Ananias’ property was “in” his exousia.

hupo + accusative

  • Matthew 8:9 and Luke 7:8: the officer is “under” exousia, secular authority.

ek + genitive:

  • Luke 23:7: Jesus is “from” Herod’s exousia (perhaps here meaning the territory Herod ruled).

Finally we have the only place in the whole New Testament (with the possible exception of Revelation 2:26, a clear allusion to Psalm 2:8 – a careful read of 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10 will show that these are not exceptions) where it is said that any one human has exousia over any other one:

kata + genitive:

  • John 19:11: Jesus recognises that Pilate has secular exousia “against” him.

So what of the authority given to believers in Jesus? This post is already too long, so I will go on to that in the next part.

Continued and concluded in part 3.

Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, part 1

Sorry for the break in blogging. I have been working hard, and then there were technical problems with my site last night. Here we go again…

The issue of New Testament teaching on authority and rights has come up in a number of places recently. In my post Complementarianism is fundamentally flawed and anti-Christian I pointed out how central a non-Christian concept of authority is to complementarian thinking. A couple of weeks ago John Richardson compared two different kinds of authority, and how they relate to Anglican ministry. And Dave Faulkner, while discussing the question Is Internet Access A Human Right?, suggested that there was something fundamentally non-Christian in the concept of human rights, a position with which I disagreed in a comment.

The biblical material on this subject centres on two word groups, exousia and authentein. In discussions over the latter, which occurs only once in the Bible (1 Timothy 2:12), huge amounts of virtual ink have been spilled on various blogs. I have little to add here except to say that I don’t think anyone has bettered the KJV rendering “usurp authority”. But exousia and related words are much more common, and commonly misunderstood, and so deserve a closer study. I restrict my study to usage in the New Testament largely because that is what I can do easily with the tools I have at hand.

The noun exousia, generally translated “authority” or “power”, occurs just over 100 times in the New Testament. At least in its form it is derived from the impersonal verb exestin, often rendered “it is permitted” or “it is lawful”, which is found 32 times in the New Testament, either in this present tense form or as the neuter participle exon. Also found are the derived verbs exousiazo, four times, and katexousiazo, twice.

It makes sense to start with the basic form, exestin. This is found most commonly in the gospels, in discussions between Jesus and his opponents over what is permitted under Jewish law (Matthew 12:2,4,10,12, 14:4, 19:3, 22:17, 27:6; Mark 2:24,26, 3:4, 6:18, 10:2, 12:14; Luke 6:2,4,9, 14:3, 20:22; John 5:10). Occasionally it is used for what is permitted by the Roman authorities, either by their general law (John 18:31; Acts 16:21, 22:25) or in a particular case (Acts 21:37). This same concept is conveyed by the noun exousia when it is used in these same discussions (Matthew 21:23,23,24,27, 28:18; Mark 11:28,28,29,33; Luke 20:2,2,8): Jesus’ enemies wanted to know what permission he had to do what he was doing.

However, the rendering of exestin as “it is lawful” is misleading, as this was not a legal term, but a general one concerning permission. This becomes clear in a few other cases (Matthew 20:15; Acts 2:9; 2 Corinthians 12:4) where it is refers to what is allowed or right in a more general sense.

This leaves only the occurrences of exestin in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23, twice in each verse. These need to be understood in the light of what exousia and exousiazo mean in the same letter, where they occur nine times (7:37, 8:9, 9:4,5,6,12,12,18, 11:10) and three times (6:12, 7:4,4) respectively. All of this is in the course of an extended discussion about the freedom that Christians have but also how they should use these freedoms in a responsible way. Within this context exousia seems to mean something like “right”, and indeed the whole passage is reminiscent of contemporary discussions about human rights. It seems to have a similar meaning in a few other places (Acts 5:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 22:14).

In 1 Corinthians the derived verb exousiazo must mean something like “have rights over”.

One possible exception is exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10. This has sometimes been understood as “a sign of authority”, on no good exegetical basis, but in the context of the letter and the usage of exousia in it the meaning must be something like that the woman has the right to choose her own hairstyle.

Exousia does have a quite different use in the context of secular authority, where it refers not to permission obtained but to the right to give permission to others or withhold it. The word is used in this sense nine times (Matthew 8:9; Luke 7:8, 20:20, 23:7; John 19:10,10,11; Revelation 17:12,13) as a general abstract noun, and six times (Luke 12:11; Romans 13:1,1,2,3, Titus 3:1) personified, and mostly plural, referring to people having this kind of authority. Three times (Acts 9:14, 26:10,12) exousia is used of the authority given to Saul of Tarsus by the Jewish religious authorities.

The personified use of exousia, mostly in the plural, is also found referring to spiritual beings possessing authority, eight times (1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21, 3:10, 6:12, Colossians 1:16, 2:10,15; 1 Peter 3:22).

Four times in Revelation (6:8, 9:3,10,19) exousia refers to the power of messengers of evil to cause harm. Twice in the same book (14:18, 18:1) it refers to the authority of an angel.

The verbs katexousiazo (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42) and exousiazo (Luke 22:25) are used of wrong human exercise of authority.

Many of the remaining occurrences of exousia refer to the authority of Jesus: in his teaching (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32); to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6,8; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24); to drive out evil spirits (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36); and more generally (Matthew 28:18; John 5:27, 10:18,18, 17:2; Revelation 12:10). Some occurrences refer to the authority of God the Father (Luke 12:5; Acts 1:7; Rom 9:21 (in a parable); Jude 25; Revelation 16:9).

There are a few cases of exousia attributed to or claimed by forces of evil (Luke 4:6, 22:53; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 13:2,4,5,7,12, 20:6).

Then the word is sometimes used for the authority of believers in a general sense (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:15, 6:7, 13:34 (in a parable); Luke 9:1, 10:19, 19:17 (in a parable); John 1:12; Acts 8:19; Revelation 2:26, 11:6,6).

And then we are left with just two places where exousia is used to refer to the authority which one Christian, in this case an apostle, has over other Christians (2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10). Nowhere at all are any of these words used to refer to any kind of authority of a husband over his wife – except in the perfectly symmetrical 1 Corinthians 7:4. But if you listen to some Christians talking about the authority of Christian leaders and Christian husbands, you would think that this was a major theme of the Bible. Hasn’t something got a bit out of proportion here?

So we need to look more closely at what these words actually mean in the Christian context – but I will leave that for a further post.

Continued in part 2 and concluded in part 3.

Complementarianism is fundamentally flawed and anti-Christian

I have had a busy few days, so no time to write anything new. But there is something which I wrote, in a comment on my recent post asking whether women will ever be equal, which I think deserves to be upgraded to a post. Here is what I wrote:

To me the whole of complementarianism, as I see it, is fundamentally flawed and anti-Christian because it is predicated on a concept of authority which is completely opposed to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. I don’t mean to say that all complementarians are anti-Christian, but I do say that their thinking has been taken captive by an anti-Christian worldly philosophy of authority, which has its roots more in Machiavelli and Nietzsche than in Jesus.

If these words sound strong, contrast what some complementarians have to say about the authority given to husbands and pastors with the concept of Christian authority I have put forward in my previous posts on this subject. See the contrast made especially plain here. The following is an example of the complementarian position, as put forward by Bruce Ware quoted here:

It is God-like to submit to rightful authority with joy and gladness as it is God-like to exert wise and beneficial rightful authority.

But where does the Bible say anything about humans exerting this kind of authority, which is indeed God’s prerogative?

Does it matter how we pronounce Jesus' or God's name?

A Facebook friend writes:

some people in our church have recently been insisting on pronouncing Jesus’ name in the Hebrew tongue, something like Yesu. They believe this is important …

He doesn’t agree, but he asks for my thoughts on the matter. What follows is an edited and expanded version of my Facebook reply to him. I have widened the issue to cover also pronunciation of God’s name, the Tetragrammaton.

I don’t see any biblical warrant for Christians worrying about exactly how to pronounce Jesus’ name or God’s name. When we are told to pray etc in God’s name or in Jesus’ name, that doesn’t mean that we have to pronounce the actual sounds of either name as a kind of magic spell. So while the pronunciations of the name vary from language to language (the Greek form of “Jesus” is very different from the Hebrew form), and the precise Hebrew pronunciation of the divine name (the tetragrammaton) is unknown, that really doesn’t matter.

What praying etc in God’s name or in Jesus’ name does mean is that we are claiming the authority that we have from God through Jesus. It is like when an ambassador or a government official does something in the name of the Queen or of their President. That is nothing to do with pronouncing the Queen’s or the President’s name. What it means is that the ambassador or official is acting under the authority vested in them by the Queen or President. Similarly we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and so we can act and make pronouncements “in his name”, meaning by the authority vested in us by him.

Note that this authority is held by all Christians, not only by pastors, teachers or even apostles. It is not authority over other people. But it is authority to declare the word of God and to make the appeal to others “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Similarly when we pray in Jesus’ name we have this authority, and so when we ask for anything in his name and for his glory he will do it for us (John 14:13-14).

God will understand the intentions of our heart whatever name we call him. But what does matter is that what we say is understood by the humans we are speaking to. So while it is not a big deal to use “Yeshua” or something else instead of “Jesus”, it is likely to confuse the people we talk to, who even in the secularised western world have some idea of who Jesus is. So in our language, especially to outsiders and all the more when appealing to them “be reconciled to God”, we need to speak so that we will be understood. That probably means that, when speaking English, we would do best to stick with “Jesus”.

Honour, not asserting authority

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.

You Cannot Pastor for God and Mammon

Essex vicars Sam Norton and Tim Goodbody have both posted about the difficulties of their tasks as Church of England incumbents. Sam memorably compares his job with piloting a plane and trying, not always successfully, to avoid crashing it. Tim, apparently facing similar issues, writes of the stresses of balancing “great new ideas” for the work of a parish with the preferences of “the elements of the congregation who make it their business to keep the church the same as it has always been.”

Tim also speaks of this as “the paradox of collaborative ministry”. But I disagree. I tried to disagree with a comment on his post, but Tim quite reasonably responded

Sorry mate, I reserve the right to be the only one who rants here; if you want to rant feel free to do so at GW

I wonder, would he have allowed Jesus to comment on his blog? Certainly not along the lines of Matthew 23! But I am taking his advice and responding here at Gentle Wisdom, and in more depth than in my rejected comment. Judge for yourselves whether this is balanced or a “rant”.

This is how it seems to me, from the limited details which they give and from my own experience of life in various Anglican churches: the problem which Sam and Tim have, and which probably nearly every Church of England incumbent (i.e. pastor in charge of a church) has, is that they are trying to reconcile the wishes of those who genuinely want to serve God with the wishes of people who do not. The latter are people who, while claiming to serve the true God, are in fact serving other gods like mammon (materialism), their families, their culture and traditions, or their personal comfort. For example, it is clear that Tim’s “elements of the congregation who make it their business to keep the church the same as it has always been” are not serving the God who makes it his business to make all things new.

Now this is not a peculiarly Anglican problem. Many other church congregations are mixed multitudes of the same kind. But it is perhaps especially serious in the established Church of England because of its parish system and its claim to represent in some way all the people of England. These make it all the harder for a vicar to suggest that a difficult congregation member find a different church where they might be more at home.

Of course I realise that it is not possible to divide congregations neatly into those who serve God and those who put other gods first. Any attempt to do this is bound to fail, not least because many people are genuinely torn between two different allegiances. Indeed we all need to examine ourselves to check that we are not slipping in this way.

Nevertheless there must be something wrong when an incumbent gets to the position that Tim is in, in which he has to reject “great new ideas” “because he knew he would get it in the neck from the elements of the congregation who make it their business to keep the church the same as it has always been.” Of course not every great new idea is from God. But if Tim is finding himself rejecting ideas which are from God to avoid criticism from people who quite clearly do not have in mind the things of God, then I would want to suggest that he has abandoned serving God for serving the gods of his congregation members. This is not at all to single Tim out, for his point is that this is what the Church of England system more or less forces incumbents like himself to do.

To put it bluntly, what is happening here is that the servants of mammon and of other idols are being given a veto over the work of God in his church. This cannot be! As Jesus said, it is impossible to serve both God and mammon, and that applies also when that service is directed through their worshippers. So every pastor, in the Church of England and elsewhere, needs to decide which they will serve, the true God or the idols of their congregation members. If they try to serve both, not only will God’s work be thwarted, but also a plane crash is inevitable.

Yes, of course a pastor needs to show love and be pastorally sensitive towards those difficult or unbelieving congregation members. But that is quite a different matter from allowing them to control the church. Jesus was pastorally sensitive to individual Pharisees like Nicodemus and Simon, but he didn’t bend an inch to their model of religious practice.

So I call on Tim, Sam and all others in similar positions to take a stand for the “great new ideas” which they really believe are from God, and ignore the protestations of the “keep the church the same as it has always been” brigade. Or if they are unable to do so because those people have a majority in the PCC or whatever, or because those in higher authority, bishops etc, intervene, then they should accept that their position is untenable and resign. Perhaps they will be forced to conclude that the Church of England is not the place for them if they are not to compromise their position.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”
17 Therefore,
“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
18 And,
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
7:1 Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 (TNIV)

P.S. In case any of you wonder why despite this I remain an Anglican, I will point you to this post. I wrote it nearly two years ago, but I stand by most of it now. The main change since then is that there is now a greater chance of me moving on from my current congregation in the rather near future.

A New Take on 1 Timothy 2:12

I love the way that blogger Bill Heroman is prepared to think outside the box, and by doing so comes up with interpretations of Bible passages which just may be correct, even though they are quite different from the generally accepted ones. He is not a scholar of biblical languages, but he still manages to come up with exegesis which makes sense. I have previously linked to Bill’s posts here, here, here and here.

Bill has now thrown his hat into the ring on the controversial passage in 1 Timothy 2 which is often understood as banning women from having authority or teaching in the church. In Bill’s two posts (so far – part 1, part 2, and I suspect more to follow) he puts forward a new suggestion, based on the singular nouns “woman” and “man” in verse 12, that what Paul wants to ban here is one-to-one discipling of men on their own by women on their own.

Many churches today very sensibly ban mixed gender one-to-one ministry, because of sexual temptations and the danger of false accusations. Bill suggests that the apostle Paul was imposing just the same ban. He summarises this as

The male/female intimacy of a one-on-one discipling relationship may be all Paul is really afraid of.

In that case it is not clear why he didn’t also ban men teaching women one-to-one – perhaps because there weren’t enough women able to teach other women?

Does this suggestion make sense? It certainly explains the otherwise rather odd singular in this verse. It seems to make sense of the following reference to Eve leading Adam astray, which was in a one-to-one situation. But I’m not sure how the last part of verse 12, “she must be quiet” (TNIV), fits into the picture.

Bill’s suggestion certainly deserves further consideration. So read it on his blog, and comment there.