It’s good to be back. Looking forward to seeing you Sunday. In the meantime, let me urge you to consider joining us to pray for missions, Sunday evening at 6:30. Blake Purcell and his son Graham will be with us. You will want to meet Graham, a former combat artillery officer in Afghanistan, seminary graduate (and friend of my son Luke), and now with his wife the first MTW missionaries to Russia. This is someone we want to encourage. You and I both know our souls, and the kingdom of God, could use a great deal more prayer. You can do something about that this Sunday evening.
This is a two-part note on gender equality in Church leadership. Maybe it’s a three-part note. Today I’m speaking more to the many unquestioned assumptions people make coming to the discussion.
Over the past year I’ve been turning in my mind the current debate on the role of women in the Church, specifically how we think about ordination to the offices (or whatever leadership looks like in other Protestant traditions). While it’s obvious that women bring profound influence to bear on the course of events in the Kingdom of God (testimony to which is throughout Scripture), there are assumptions underlying the current debate that are at best confused and at worst simply wrong. The essence of the problem is this: we have come to think about authority and power, and even esteem and honor, in the way the world thinks about those things.
I sometimes ask people, “who was the person who had authority over Mother Theresa and served as her spiritual advisor in her most influential years?” They always answer, “I don’t know,” to which I respond, “no one does.” The fact that this is true should tell us something about the way God ordains genuine power and influence. In God’s economy, which is not only distinct from but in conflict with the system of the world, power and influence (by which I mean fruitfulness) are not connected to formal titles and assigned roles within the hierarchy of the Church, but to the working of the Spirit through people who love the Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love (Eph 6:24) and understand themselves to be unworthy servants (Luke 17:10). You might shoot back at me, a pastor, “well, easy for you to say.” But it’s just as true for me. We’ve all known the phenomenon of the pastor who had relatively little influence over his flock because neither his life nor his words had any inherent spiritual force. The only people who regarded him were those who esteemed his title in a worldly sense and wanted to be close to what they considered to be power. But in fact both that kind of pastor, and his followers, are ultimately powerless.
Regarding “power” think of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-14). What Satan offers him is power in the pattern of the world, beginning with an existential power, that is, power over his own bodily needs and cravings (v.3); then geo-political power (v.5); and finally a metaphysical power over death (v.9). All of these Jesus rejects and (v.14) returns “in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” Rather than the expansive, cinematic powers Satan offers, Jesus’ power is employed sitting in synagogues teaching small crowds. This is how the kingdom advances, this is fruitfulness, this is kingdom power.
None of this should surprise us if we remember Jesus’ words to Pilate. Pilate has spoken his ominous warning, “don’t you know I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” to which Jesus answers, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Jn. 19:10-11). On paper, Pilate is the supreme authority in Palestine. In reality, he has a key but small role in God’s plan of redemption, about on par with the roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet.
In God’s economy, people don’t “give” other people power and influence; a church’s elders have no power to make another person fruitful. Real influence and fruitfulness happen between the believer and her Master. And of course, it’s the same with men, even men with big titles.
Next week(s): “lording it over” the gentiles (Luke 22); why men are the leaders in the NT (think Adam); the difference between a system of power and the economy of God; why God’s economy is not an assignment of value.