Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Tradition of Sedition

1 Chronicles 16:15-22 (New Living Translation)

15 “He always stands by his covenant[
a]-- the commitment he made to a thousand generations.
16 This is the covenant he made with Abraham and the oath he swore to Isaac.
17 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to the people of Israel as a never-ending treaty:
18 "I will give you the land of Canaan as your special possession."
19 He said this when they were few in number, a tiny group of strangers in Canaan.
20 They wandered back and forth between nations, from one kingdom to another.
21 Yet he did not let anyone oppress them. He warned kings on their behalf:
22 “Do not touch these people I have chosen, and do not hurt my prophets.”

We’re reading Edwin Louis Cole’s “Real Man” in our Wednesday night group. There was a portion of what the author had to say in chapter nine, which we read through last night, that got my wheels turning:

“The other element of faithfulness is submission. Personal submission is willingly yielding, giving, or offering yourself to an authority. Conversely, sedition is revolting against authority to which one owes allegiance. Submission is God’s answer to sedition. Sedition in the Church today is ripping apart congregations, tearing down families, and crushing friendships. To remain faithful today, a man must beware of the subtlety of sedition.”

There’s a lot of truth in what Cole said. In both conduct and language there is a some rebellion afoot in society and the Church. Cole believes it stems from a failure on the part of many to submit to authority. I also think there’s a lot of truth in that.

Having said that, however, I think there’s even more to the problem than that. There’s a part of me that stops short of trying to purge the rebels from the flock, seeing even legitimate dissent as sedition. I think it stems partly from my journey, and partly from my read of Holy Writ.

First, I’d like to examine this from the point of view of personal experience. If you’ve read my blog for any period of time you know that I spent a good part of the seventies in a large Charismatic church in Kansas City. It was a church with an international reputation and in the time I was there I served faithfully. But, there came times when, on matters of conscience, I found myself at odds with the leadership of the church. I’ll briefly recount what happened now.

It was really a little thing. I’d gotten out of class early one day and stopped by the church. After a few minutes of conversation one of the leaders asked me if I would go and pick up some “goodies” from a bakery south of downtown. It was a personal favor. The stuff I was to get was for a party. It was not related to any official business of the church! I agreed. I was then told that I would need to get some money for them from the church secretary, who was going to take the funds (about three hundred dollars) from the church’s general fund. I felt uncomfortable about doing something like that and said so. The conversation then took an ominous turn. “What’s the big deal, Phil? It’s only three hundred dollars.”
“It’s not the amount. It’s the manner here. I just don’t think that anyone should take general operating funds and use them for personal things. That’s what salaries are for.”
My response didn’t sit well at all and I got this fired right back at me. “Look Phil, don’t moralize. This is not a big deal. Just go get the stuff and stop being a rebel.” I refused as politely as I could and was then told that I shouldn’t be touching “God’s anointed.” The reference was pointed, telling me that I was in rebellion to appointed leadership. I reminded him that, while almost anything in the Bible has individual dimensions to it; his reference was not meant to be appropriated by individuals at the expense of the welfare of the body. I cited this reference at the beginning of this post and I’ll let you be the judge.

We never resolved the matter.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this was such a small thing. Perhaps you’re right. But the big problems almost always begin with small ones. I’m sure it all started with something very small and grew into one of the biggest Church scandals in the last half of the twentieth century. Little things grew into big ones, as evidenced by this little snippet from Wikipedia:

“Between 1984 and 1987, the Bakkers received annual salaries of $200,000 each and Jim awarded himself over $4 million in bonuses. Their assets at that time included a $600,000 house in Palm Springs, four condominiums in California, and a Rolls Royce. In their success, the Bakkers took conspicuous consumption to an unusual level for a non-profit. PTL once spent $100,000 for a private jet to fly the Bakkers' clothing across the country. It also once spent $100 for cinnamon rolls because the Bakkers wanted the smell of them in their hotel room.”

A hundred bucks for the smell of cinnamon rolls was just a little thing, a perk if you will. So was the four million dollar bonus. The only real difference was the scale. The breach of ethics took place early on, with little things. It grew out of control.

How did Jim Bakker get away with things for so long? I think that, beyond the personal failings, there were a lot of other folks at PTL that knew early on that the little things, the “harmless” things and excesses, were going on and said nothing. “Touch not mine anointed,” was the watchword.

The piece that Cole didn’t mention in the chapter we covered last night (perhaps he will in a subsequent chapter) is the mutual nature of submission and accountability. It works in both directions. People, by and large, will submit to submissive leadership. They will gladly be held accountable to leaders who are themselves willing to be held accountable. I think it all boils down to that principle.

The breakdown in the equation comes when one party or the other develops an attitude that they are set apart, special, and that the rules of ethics and behavior don’t apply to them. It’s the “touch not mine anointed” syndrome and it breeds nothing but bad things – fear, mistrust, and ethical lapses.

One of the things I really admire about the leadership in our church here in Emporia is that the standard of ethics is high, due in large part to the fact that neither Jim Kegin, our pastor emeritus, nor Mike Stubbs, our pastor, are so above everyone else in the congregation that they lord power and privilege over others. The communications and the accountability flow in both directions at Victory Fellowship. It works here the way things should, people working together, in mutual submission, in God’s vineyard.

You know, I’ve met very few Christians in my lifetime who have outrageously rebellious natures, who are trying to incite discontent. I do, however, believe that there is a good healthy tradition of respectful dissent that is sometimes mistaken as rebellion or sedition. To use a catch phrase, Christianity has a “tradition of sedition” built into it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to be flippant. I believe there’s an important principle to be learned here.

By that I mean that God’s expectation is for His people to be loyal, not only to leadership, but also to principles. One of the best examples I can think of is the prophet Nathan. Almost everyone reading this blog knows the story of David and Bathsheba. David, the king, had abused his position of privilege and power to satisfy his lust for a beautiful woman. Even worse than the adultery he committed was the callous disregard he had for the life of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. While he did not physically plunge a dagger into his heart, David coldly calculated the murder of one of his most loyal servants. Uriah died in battle, forsaken, and David reaped the spoils – he married Bathsheba (see II Samuel 11).

Fortunately, for David and for Israel, there was a prophet who was loyal to the principles of truth and justice. Nathan confronted David with the evil he had done. The words were stark, powerful:

2 Samuel 12:7-10 (New Living Translation)

7 “Then Nathan said to David, "You are that man! The LORD, the God of Israel, says, `I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. 8I gave you his house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. 9Why, then, have you despised the word of the LORD and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah and stolen his wife. 10From this time on, the sword will be a constant threat to your family, because you have despised me by taking Uriah's wife to be your own.”

It was also fortunate that Israel had a king like David. I think a lesser man might have accused the prophet of sedition or said, in cavalier fashion, “Touch not mine anointed.” But David, to his everlasting credit, accepted full responsibility for his despicable actions. “I have sinned against the Lord” he replied. There were no justifications. There were no questions about Nathan’s loyalty. There was no hush money offered. David just confessed. It’s one of the most amazing confessions of guilt in all of Holy Writ.

But there’s a lot more to the “tradition of sedition.” Jeremiah, another loyal prophet of Israel, swam against the tide of the opinion to his own detriment. . Ezekiel confronted the sins of an entire nation, not holding back a thing:

Ezekiel 22:25-29 (New Living Translation)

25 “Your princes[
a] plot conspiracies just as lions stalk their prey. They devour innocent people, seizing treasures and extorting wealth. They increase the number of widows in the land. 26Your priests have violated my laws and defiled my holy things. To them there is no difference between what is holy and what is not. And they do not teach my people the difference between what is ceremonially clean and unclean. They disregard my Sabbath days so that my holy name is greatly dishonored among them. 27Your leaders are like wolves, who tear apart their victims. They actually destroy people's lives for profit! 28And your prophets announce false visions and speak false messages. They say, `My message is from the Sovereign LORD,' when the LORD hasn't spoken a single word to them. They repair cracked walls with whitewash! 29Even common people oppress the poor, rob the needy, and deprive foreigners of justice.”

As you can see, Ezekiel didn’t spare anyone in all of Israel. Princes, prophets, leaders, and even the common people were declared, by the word of the Lord, to be guilty. But, in spite of the harsh rhetoric, Ezekiel was not a man with sedition in mind. His dream, his vision, was of restoration. This can be seen beautifully in his vision of the temple, the river of life flowing from it, and the city in which God’s people would live in harmony (Ezekiel 40 through 48).

In the New Testament there is John the Baptist, a loyal servant, who confronted a ruler and was imprisoned, and eventually executed, because of his stubborn refusal to bend the truth to suit the leader he had confronted.

Then there’s the early Church. They refused to waiver in the face of fierce opposition from the culture and its appointed leaders. Their response could, and might have, been interpreted as sedition, but our earliest forefathers believed that they had a debt of responsibility to the Message they had been given:

Acts 4:27-29 (New Living Translation)

27 “That is what has happened here in this city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. 28In fact, everything they did occurred according to your eternal will and plan. 29And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching.”

In the end, for me, I believe the matter of accountability and submission, is a two way street. Loyalty should cut two ways, as should accountability. When those elements are held in balance there is a flow of trust, mutual respect, and open communication.

I hope that I’m not going to be misunderstood by those who read this post. I’m a firm believer in loyalty and submission. I’ve lived it and I subscribe to it. But I also know that God has given us consciences, and in the grand tradition of scripture, He has given us the mandate to speak out in matters of conscience. Leaders have that responsibility. The laity does as well.

5 comments:

Jim Baxter said...

Our leader is the Lord. When humans who claim to be His followers choose a different path of value, it is they who are in rebellion; we are under no obligation to follow them.

The parting of the veil ended that situation forever. Some are still thinking like pre-crucifixion priests.

The 'small' amounts are more crucial to our spiritual values potentcies than the large. Consider the widow's mite - in the Lord's opinion.

When I was making short-term lay-missionary trips (4) to Central America, many children in eastern Nicaragua and Honduras were dying for want of a 10-cent pill for diarrhea. We had some but not enough...

Consider: "Depart from me. I never knew you."

Good boy, Dillon!

semper fidelis

Tzvi Edelman said...

Phil,

Regarding your example of David & Nathan, admission of culpability as an identifying trait of leadership goes back even further in Jewish Scripture. Consider Judah's immediate reaction when confronted by Tamar's her plea, despite it's pianissimo nature which he could have ignored, but didn't; see Genesis 38, esp 11-18 and 24-26.

Today, most "successful" leaders (and their staff) today see this trait as a liability, not a strength. Coupled to this lack is a kneejerk response to dissent as if it were sedition. How come we keep electing them.

Yours in friendship - Tzvi.

Tzvi Edelman said...

Phil,

Regarding your example of David & Nathan, admission of culpability as an identifying trait of leadership goes back even further in Jewish Scripture. Consider Judah's immediate reaction when confronted by Tamar's her plea, despite it's pianissimo nature which he could have ignored, but didn't; see Genesis 38, esp 11-18 and 24-26.

Today, most "successful" leaders (and their staff) today see this trait as a liability, not a strength. Coupled to this lack is a kneejerk response to dissent as if it were sedition. How come we keep electing them.

Yours in friendship - Tzvi.

Dennis said...

Greetings - As I was looking through History sites today, I came across your History Blog. You have a pretty good Blog here. I have a website http://www.BibleFamilyTree.com that also has some information about The Kingdoms of Israel...
that you might want to check out as well.

Be Blessed.

The Kingdoms of Israel

Anonymous said...

I am living this thing right now. I came from church last night and it was made clear that the leadership views my stance against abusive authority as rebellion and sedition. I was utterly discouraged and questioning God until I searched the net for seditions and read this blog. Thank you for your obedience in posting it. Be Blessed. Ruth.