ARC GUIDE LEVEL 4 Ideal for those well acquainted with our thought process at Ammi Ruhama Community and with other Christian Communities.
Questioning our Existence
What is the nature of creation, what purpose does it serve, and what is my purpose in it? These and other questions rattle around in our minds as we seek to make sense of our experiences. I offer this gospel narrative from creation to the cross as an answer to these questions and an invitation for intersoul communication.
Creation is an interface for reality. People, places, and things are communicating information like a barometer communicates information about weather to those who know how to read it. We create secondary interfaces like the barometer, within the primary interface to help manage and predict that information but the secondary interface is not the primary interface, and therefore not communicating reality directly to us but through one or more stages of translation. For instance, the barometer is not weather, it only communicates weather, so if it is not accurately calibrated it will give us incorrect information about the weather. Weather itself is part of the primary interface and so it communicates information about whatever weather is an interface to communicate. Such is the sun and the moon and the stars and everything naturally occurring–all are a part of the original interface that communicates something for us to discover.
Shadows & Interfaces
Plato postulated that reality is like shadows on the wall of a cave . The shadows indicate the exact matching thing on the outside of the cave, but this does not, in my estimation, have to be the case. Material things do not have to have a corresponding thing that is the full essence of it. A chair, for instance, is not a chair because it has essential chairness, it is a chair because we assign and rearrange parts of the original interface to assist and make us more comfortable within the system while we receive the information that the interface was designed to communicate. The chair becomes a manifestation that allows, assists and makes us comfortable when we act in ways we want to act within the interface. Sticking with chairs, if I sit in the right chair it communicates information about me to other people. If I sit at the head of a table, depending on my culture, it is an indication of my status in relation to those at the table. If I sit in the only chair in the room the chair communicates my preferred status to everyone else standing in the room. So then, it is necessary to distinguish between the primary interface which communicates primary information and secondary interfaces which communicate secondary information.
The primary interface communicates information about outside of the interface to us which is vital for our sustained physical presence within the interface. Our bodies, for instance, are primary interfaces for our souls which, ultimately, reside outside of the interface but for sanity’s sake are fully identified to our bodies. If our bodies are damaged, our souls do not receive equal damage. If our bodies die then our souls go on. So, if our bodies are the interface for our soul, what message were our bodies created to communicate? I believe our bodies were created to communicate our souls to one another. We cannot, by means of the rest of the primary interface, communicate with the soul of a loved one who has passed from their physical body–they are disconnected from the interface. It stands to reason then that if the interface was created for the purpose of intersoul communication, then there is someone who wishes to communicate with us. Someone created a whole interface in order to do it and injected us, one by one by one into the system. We learn intersoul communication first via secondary interfaces like language and body movement and culture. As we learn to communicate with more and more people of varying languages and cultures we start to realize that we all act in extraordinarily similar ways and that we are all really one people. We postulate about the one who created the system and perhaps at the right time this person communicates with us. They open our eyes to reality beyond the interface they have created for intersoul communication with us! That person is God.
Secondary interfaces have the unique quality of having a created purpose beyond the elements of the primary interface that were used to create it. To return to the barometer; it is made of many elements of the primary interface but, when organized in a particular way, it becomes a barometer; a one way interface that communicates weather to the user for their own knowledge.
In the record about Adam and Eve, they were originally ‘naked,’ or exposed; our term for having no secondary interface with God or with one another. When they went against God, they used parts of the primary interface to cover their shame from one another and God. It was a sign that sin had created another interface through which God and humanity had to now communicate with one another. God deemed their covering to be insufficient and sacrificed an animal to cover their nakedness. The record shows that over time more interfaces would be created to facilitate intersoul communication and that, eventually, these interfaces became the focus and supposed purpose of life instead of intersoul communication. We are born into and initiated into innumerable secondary interfaces; governments, religions, cultures, languages, schools of thought, and so on and so forth that we claim make intersoul communication easier and more possible. Consider, however, our most sacred relationship. In the record, it is said of marriage, that the two will become one flesh; that all secondary interfaces will be removed from between these two people and their bare souls would know one another and in their knowing they would create another soul with which to interface.
In the record, Cain and Abel get into their famous altercation about their secondary interface with God. It is possible that this ceremony was a rite in the making; that when Adam and Eve had their boys they told them of how they were able to still commune with God, even after the garden. That they had covered themselves with fig leaves and that God had sacrificed an animal to clothe them and that if they wanted to commune with God they too would have to cover their nakedness before Him. At this point, sacrifices had not been set up as the preferred interface with God. They both decide their course of action in order to cover their nakedness and appear before God. Cain sacrifices his first fruits mimicking his parent’s covering themselves with figleaves and Abel sacrifices a first born lamb from his flock along with its fat portions mimicking God’s sacrifice of the first animal when he clothed Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. When Abel is successful in interfacing with God by the covering of his nakedness through his sacrifice and Cain is not, the record says that Cain is downcast. Again, there is no indication that Adam, Eve, Cain or Abel have insight into what God wanted the two men to offer. Because of this, God interfaces with Cain to give him hope for the future and a warning.
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Genesis 4:7 English Standard Version
Notice that the opposite of acceptance by God for doing well is not death, but that Cain will be overcome by sin; that he will, like his parents, seek his own way to restore his relationship with God. By way of reminder, Cain’s first fruits have already been sacrificed to God; presumably he has nothing else to offer and instead of going in humility to Abel to ask for a first born lamb, he kills him and presumably gains all of his sheep. When God returns to look for Abel to commune with him He doesn’t find him, but says to Cain, “What have you done? Abel’s blood cries out to me from the ground,” an indication that even in death, the purpose of creation was always unrestricted intersoul communication with God and with one another. Indeed it is a declaration that all of creation shouts continually, that there is an eternally powerful divine one and that He desires to communicate with us.
The Ultimate Secondary Interface
We could continue detailing the many secondary interfaces that people have used to commune with God but I think the point has been made. The ultimate secondary interface with God was established by God himself through the sacrifice of Jesus the Son as the proverbial perfect lamb and by raising Him from the dead He sealed the sacrifice as the final covering for our nakedness before God. Choosing to put on that covering for our nakedness from God is what we now refer to as salvation however most continue in their self gathered fig leaves seeking their own way back to the Father. When their body dies; their primary interface for intersoul communication goes with it and their opportunity to commune with God in the interface He created for that purpose is over.
A Brief Contemplation of Unity in Love and the Mingling of Magic with the Gospel of Christ.
ARC GUIDE LEVEL 4 Ideal for those well acquainted with our thought process at Ammi Ruhama Community and with other Christian Communities.
If we become what we measure then whatever we measure becomes our basis for unity. We are not, however, called to a baseless unity in whatever we choose to measure. In fact, given the chance, we always unite in the strictest measure we can think of and immediately try to push out those who rate low on that measuring stick.
Blue and Red Shirts
The exclusive nature of unity suggests that some are united while others are not. The blue shirt camp is easily definable from the red shirt camp. Anything else they are one in is coincidental and irrelevant because we don’t measure it due to the fact that they are wearing opposite colours and that someone decided that this matters and that a blue or a red shirt is better than the other and is shorthand for all kinds of qualities that have nothing to do with wearing a specific colour but have become historically synonymous.
Sorting Hat Conundrum
We sort one another into our proverbial houses, but the question is; am I brave, loyal and selfless because I’m a Gryffindor or am I a Gryffindor because I’m brave, loyal and selfless? I’m not a Gryffindor, although I value the qualities of a Gryffindor, that does not mean that I am not occasionally brave, loyal and selfless; it means that I don’t measure those qualities in myself or other people on a regular basis. The point is that we love a good sorting ceremony. Sorting helps us believe that we now finally understand who we are and why we are the way we are. Unfortunately for our pride, measuring “personality,” doesn’t actually make us any better people it just puts a positive spin on the characteristics we already possess, and, because we have measured them, we will only ever produce those characteristics and reinforce our initial sorting, at least until we take another personality or ‘spiritual gift,’ test.
The Prime Unifier
It is therefore essential that what we measure and therefore unite in be something that unites all of the people God has called us to be one with and which ought to characterise all Christians–that quality is love. Pay attention! The assent of themessageof the gospel alone does not suffice. The gospel is the prime example of love; God laying down his life for his enemies, and being raised back to life by an equal measure of that love but we have twisted the message of the gospel into a talisman we believe in and speak with an incantation we imbibe with the power to save. This puts unity on our terms–anyone can assent to the historical gospel and speak the incantation, and therefore we put whatever sorting ceremony we want at the other side of the door. We might admit someone’s salvation, but not their spiritual health if they are not wearing the appropriate shirt.
The fact of the matter is that the act of divine sacrificial love itself opened the door the possibility of salvation. To willingly walk through that door, to know and be known, to imitate that love is to know, love and imitate God. This is what unites us, not mere assent of historical fact, nor indeed the measuring of the things of God that come by no other means. There is no sorting ceremony; no pre-judgement to the Day of the Lord, and so the all inclusive nature of the gospel of Christ via the knowledge, love and self identification with God is what unites us as one body.
Further Exploration into Christ Centred Polity via Maturity Metrics
ARC GUIDE LEVEL 4 Ideal for those well acquainted with our thought process at Ammi Ruhama Community and with other Christian Communities.
In my last analysis and proposition, I posited that what we need is a Christ Centred Polity which works from the ‘least of these,’ to the greatest. In this series I would like to take it a step further and explore what the scriptures say about the body of Christ that would lead us to make the appropriate changes. I will address the power dynamics between the clergy and the laity and whether or not that is an accurate dichotomy or if that is an extra-biblical designation and many other practical applications of Christ Centred Polity.
If one searches ‘leadership,’ in any Christian forum what we get is a lot of classic Bible passages relating to the qualifications of elders and deacons. We might get a nod towards living an ascetic moral life, and doing our gosh darn best to give more than we take. What we don’t get, however, either by pure neglect, ignorant oversight or an omitting, “I thought it was obvious so I didn’t write about it” excuse, is the call and expectation for leaders to exemplify every passage that tells us how to organise as the body in love, faith and hope. By omitting this crucial step we create a world of problems for ourselves–some of which are detailed in the last two articles. The truth is that there is no such thing as a ‘leadership,’ verse. The whole Bible is a leadership text. The way we know that it has not been treated as such is that we all just read that last sentence and thought, “well…what about everybody else”. This is an appropriate response because of our worldly ideas about leadership. You have heard it said that leadership is exclusive; a title and position enshrined in organisational structures, rules, laws, agreements, paycheques and follower counts. But I tell you that the whole Bible is a leadership text meant to raise up the reader to the full knowledge of God and, as a result, to full reproducing maturity in Christ. In this way, leadership is defined as those who seem influential due to their maturity in the ways of Christ. Therefore, the degree that we allow the Holy Spirit of God to form us through the scriptures is the measure of how truly influential we are for God’s Kingdom and not our own. The maturity metric must be the one and only metric we hold for recognising leaders. Since it is a scale, there can be any amount of influential people in the fellowship building God’s Kingdom without there being too many proverbial chef’s in the kitchen. The truth is that there are never too many chefs in the kitchen only too many who believe themselves to be the only chef.
The breakdown in communication about leadership, as I have said, happens when we consider what the world believes about what it means to be a leader; namely to influence people to do what I want them to do. If this is our operational definition of leadership then the Bible is certainly not that kind of leadership text. However, if we adopt Jesus’ definition of leadership, namely that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, then literally anyone can be a leader in the body of Christ. Our metrics need only change.
Christ Centred Polity places the most mature in Christ in the place of highest influence for the Kingdom. This may or may not be the one with the highest educational degree, financial sense, innate leadership ability, life experience, dashing smile, manly/womanly form, highest follower count or any other superfluous metric. What counts is what is in their heart and life.
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 English Standard Version
In the maturity metric, verses like the one above cease to be about ‘leadership,’ and begin to ring true for every singlebeliever. For many, especially in the leadership world, this verse and verses like it have come to mean, “God sees if you will be a good leader or not,” but if that is the case and maturity is our metric for leadership then there are Christians today who will never reach their full potential in Christ because we would never consider them to be leaders in the conventional sense.
When Samuel was about to pick literally anyone but David, God intervened to remind him--your thoughts are not my thoughts nor are your ways my ways. I see the heart of each of these men and they are full of wickedness, so I have rejected them. For my part, I have selected a man after my own heart. Yes, Samuel was looking for the next King of Israel, but he was also looking for God’s pick. God’s pick was a humble shepherd who was likely the illegitimate child of Jesse kept out of sight of the holy man of God while a legitimate son of Jesse was chosen for the honourable role of King of the People of God.
All of the things that Jesse thought disqualified David from being a man of influence became all of the reasons he was such a beloved King by God and his people. He was personable, humble, without pride to dance before God–to show that he was just a man; equal to every other person among the people of God who have received mercy.
Essence, Station, Opportunity and Kingdom Influence
Equality in essence, station and opportunity are essential to the Christ Centred Polity. In essence, no one is more valuable than another, in station we all hold the office of priest/ess with Christ as our High Priest, in opportunity all have a right to manifest the Spirit of God in life and before the fellowship according to how He shows up in our lives. Where we vary is in ‘Kingdom,’ influence. Keeping in mind a wholistic view of Church polity; that it is far more than answering the question of who holds the reins, but a question of church structure and culture, we can examine the functioning body of Christ in the word.
A Brief Analysis and Proposal for the Organisational Structure of the Body of Christ
ARC GUIDE LEVEL 4 Ideal for those well acquainted with our thought process at Ammi Ruhama Community and with other Church communities.
What is the defining organisational line between the various factions of Christianity? What line distinguishes us as distinct movements and yet a part of the same faith? What places us squarely on the right side of that line between Christian and non-Christian? Is it our name for the Eternally Powerful Divine One, our exact message, how we organise ourselves, our scriptures? I contend that we regularly put the defining onus onto church polity. Now, traditionally, church polity has meant whether or not we recognise certain church officers and their roles, but, I believe this to be an insufficient definition. Using this definition of church polity in tandem with the position that it defines us as a faith, we find that we can only differ so much before we cross the invisible line into a completely separate faith. I say, ‘invisible,’ because no one is quite sure when we have crossed it. The line is both a subjective and an objective border. It is objective in that Christianity has clear core beliefs laid out in the scriptures and yet it is subjective because of each individual believer’s ideological risk tolerance. In this way, church polity is a unity issue. If you cross the invisible line in my mind; differing or questioning my practices, theology, traditions, and politics, then you are no longer ‘Christian,’ as I know and experience daily. For example, instead of extending love and unity beyond our own cultural traditions, the Western Church historically cut ties with the Eastern Church, depriving one another of their respective strengths. As such the Western Church has a weaker wisdom tradition and the Eastern Church a weaker analytical tradition. The subdivide of will and purpose was fairly straight forward as, when the break occurred, institutions were still conceptually strong. However, more recent, closer to home instances of ideological chaos happen in the event of an organisational implosion caused by widespread delayed deconstruction, reformation and revival. This leads us to an ultimatum: expand our concept of church polity and therefore of church unity, or continue to fracture into a million self-obsessed pieces.
What to Expect
So, how should we conduct ourselves organisationally in the body of Christ? This question of church leadership and organisation spans centuries of church thought–most of it extra-biblical in nature. However, an honest discussion of organisation and unity leads us to the New Testament epistles. The respective authors come back to the refrain of unity and how we ought to treat one another regularly. This is usually in the vein of reminding their readers just exactly who the people of God are and therefore how they ought to act. This may seem out of the scope of the everyday believer’s proverbial paygrade but stay with me because it is essential that how we organise ourselves in the body of Christ is centred on the reinforcement of the God given rights of the everyday individual believer from the least of these to the greatest. If we organise and conduct ourselves in such a way, not from the top-down, or the middle-out but from the bottom-up, then I believe we will have more fully realised what it means to be and to live as the people of God who have received mercy. The following background information may be helpful in understanding the coming article.
Useful Background Information
For a full overview of church polity in its many forms I can direct you to John E. Lynche’s synopsis of church polity 1987 and updated in 2005.
The A Word is also essential reading to my analysis of abuse in the body as it relates to church polity.
Church polity is a lame horse in the public square. Itcan be holistically defined as the regular, everyday running of the body of Christ including the offices, culture and spiritual formation of the people of God who have received mercy. No one has written anything particularly fresh about the organisational structure of the body of Christ in recent memory; it tends to be a recitation of the old forms with new clothes on. More to the point, no one in the active body of Christ is even really that concerned about updating the Church’s organisational structure. What people are far more interested in is Church Culture.
“Never mind how you’re organised, that doesn’t really matter! Your church’s culture is what defines how healthy it is!”
Church Culture Critic
I respectfully disagree. When how a church is organised and run is removed from the church’s culture and spiritual formation, we put a band aid on a gaping wound. According to John Lynch, it was the Lutherans who didn’t initially give much merit to the idea of specific, God ordained, church polity. They became all things to all people, so they just continued much in the same way that the Catholic church did or whatever church they were reforming in whatever country. As a result they also conformed to the world in the pre-existing sins these other organisations indulged in, including antisemitism and the murder of unbelievers and heretics. The Baptists eventually took it one step further and gave church polity into the hands of each individual church to decide, saying that once a new church had been established that it was its own autonomous entity scrubbing their hands of any sin that resulted from this distaste for church polity. Spiritual abuse runs rampant among the people of God and the only thing we can think that is wrong is that we have poor church culture; that our culture isn’t “Tov,” (good) enough. Countless volumes of books detailing specific church cultures crafted over 20-30 years of ministry stock our shelves, and yet, reports of widespread abuse like that of the SBC report exist and continue to be published on a regular basis. It is time to return to the scriptures and give them and the Spirit of God the reins of our church polity and culture. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that someone may have read that last statement with disbelief. So let’s take a look at what a truly biblical church polity might look like in contrast to other forms of church polity we currently employ.
Three Forms of Polity and Culture
In my mind there are three basic forms of church polity and culture. Clergy Centred, Congregation Centred, and Christ Centred. In Clergy Centred Polity the few professionals make one policy for the many, a top-down approach. In Congregation Centred Polity the majority make one policy for all, a middle-out approach. In Christ Centred Polity, the Spirit does away with policy and moves as He wills, a bottom-up approach. There is, of course, bleed through and many variations of these three standards. For instance, if the clergy or the congregation are the ones making all of the decisions for everyone then the simple act of getting rid of policy does not give us a Christ Centred Polity.
Clergy Centred Polity
We all know what Clergy Centred polity looks like on the regular so let’s look at a recent variation that has attempted to buck the system but sadly still falls squarely in the realm of Clergy Centred Polity. Alan Hirch in his book, The Forgotten Ways, challenges the institutional paradigm of church polity with what he terms as a ‘movemental,’ paradigm. What this amounts to is that policy is done away with for a more intuitive, organic polity led by what he terms as apostolic genius. However, it is clear that Hirch is still quite clergy centred in his polity. Hirch makes clear use of the 8th law of leadership, The Law of Intuition, from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership in which Maxwell states that “Leaders examine everything from a leadership bias”. Hirch claims the inevitable inconsistencies that occur in his decision making model are features and not flaws and glories in the organic nature of what he has created. However, it would not classify as a Christ Centred Polity. Put simply, it’s top-down approach where the professional leader makes all of the decisions for everyone means that his is a solid Clergy Centred Polity.
I will discuss more fully the problematic nature of the first two polities in a moment but it should be clear that nowhere in scripture are we led to believe that one or a group of people ought to be the sole leaders in the body of Christ. I’ll let that rest and we’ll go on to the natural opposite of Clergy Centred Polity.
Congregation Centred Polity
The historical answer to Clergy Centred Polity has nearly always been Congregation Centred Polity where the majority make one policy for everyone–a middle-out approach. This stance is associated with the classic Baptist and non-denominational position and is reinforced by a strong belief in the autonomy of the local church. This polity is closer to a bible based church polity, but there’s an old saying that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. What results is still a class of people (members in good standing) who receive more spiritual rights and recognition than others (non-members and members in poor standing).
So we see that in these first two polities that a group of believers is idealised and other groups seen as at least a gradation lower. These two polities have many manifestations but all of the same problems. Let’s take a look at Christ Centred Polity and what that looks like.
Christ Centred Polity
Christ Centred Polity, in contrast to the first two polities, sees everyone as on the same level. Jesus knew that we don’t naturally see this as reality so how He presents it is with a parable with a conundrum.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Matthew 19:30 ESV
Jesus illustrates this conundrum with a parable about the harvest of a certain land owner’s crop. A servant is told to go out and hire certain men at a certain hour to come and harvest his master’s crop for a certain amount of coin. He goes out several times each time at a later hour with the promise of the same amount of coin. When it comes to the end of the day the labourers line up to paid and the master instructs his servant to pay the last labourers first and the first last. There were some who assumed that the master intended to sweeten the deal he had made with the first group of labourers, but when it came time to pay them, he paid them exactly what they were owed.
The parable about the conundrum of who is first or last is meant to make us question our metrics for valuing people. The labourers in the field put their value in being first and the amount of work they did and how long they worked. To them, those who had come last and done the least amount of work were the ones who deserved to be paid the agreed amount. For themselves, they expected better treatment.
10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
Matthew 20:10-12 English Standard Version
Did you catch the crux of their complaint? “you have made them equal to us,” if the heart of their protest to the master didn’t say enough about them, the master’s response and Jesus’ re-itteration of the conundrum tells more.
13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’[b]16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:13-16 English Standard Version
The first half of verse 15 reveals the heart of the master. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” In the parable, what belongs to the master is his money. The correlation to the master’s money in reality is the people of God who have received mercy. Just as each coin is valued the same, so too is each person. The second half of verse 15 reveals this; ” Or do you begrudge my generosity?” If we are in doubt of the meaning of this parable, five chapters later Jesus returns to this anthem of placing those the world considers to be least as our equals in every way.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:34-40 English Standard Version
It is really tempting to read this and imagine ourselves as being the greatest of these showering mercy down on the least of these, but this is not the heart of Christ. This is revealed by the very nature of the people who took care of the world’s forgotten. They didn’t see themselves as being better than those who needed mercy and physical provision. They saw themselves as equal. If indeed, we are still in doubt about the equifying, unifying heart of Christ read the words of Paul in Philippians 2.
1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Philippians 2:1-5 English Standard Version
I will leave you to read the rest of the passage, but you get the idea. A Christ Centred Polity is an equifying, unifying polity; a bottom-up approach.
How we Got Here
In recent church history we have neglected the scriptures for our source of church polity for the regular everyday running of the body. This may sound like a harsh judgement but it is because we have failed to see the forest for the trees. We no longer see that what will corrupt the faith of one believer will corrupt an entire gathering. We see this clearly on display in terms of church unity. Swap unity for membership and we can see that the reasons we neglect meaningful unity among the local churches are the same reasons people are not members of our respective churches; anyone who has gone church shopping already knows what I’m talking about. A litany of excuses ranging from, “they’re too far away”, “they’re just not a good for me,” and “I don’t think they believe in (insert pet theology here)”.
Enumerated Spiritual Rights
If we take the individual instances in the epistles and certain instances in the Old Testament where one group of people asserts themselves over another in the body of Christ to the misuse and abuse of another group, the author regularly gives them the theology of why no one is higher than another in the body of Christ. We see this plainly on the microscale of 1 to 1. But, somehow, in the conversion from individual to group dynamics we have reasoned in ourselves that if one group is not meaningfully dominant in the body, then there will be chaos. This is our reasoning against using the scriptures for our source one of church polity; in short, it doesn’t convert. Whatever rough treatment that comes from the dominant group is seen as an individual ambiguous violation of maybe their human rights, but nothing that indicates a violation of so-called ‘spiritual rights’. Consider, though, that there is no such thing as ambiguously violating someone’s rights. For instance, we can’t abuse a stick in the same way we abuse a human because the stick has no enumerated rights. If there is abuse then there are enumerated rights to be abused. If there are no enumerated rights then abuse becomes ‘rough treatment,’ but nothing more sinister. However, enumerated, those rights enter the collective conscious mind as inalienable. For instance, if our rights derived from our common humanity are abused they become ‘human rights violations’. However, our designation for when a spiritual leader abuses their followers is ‘spiritual,’ abuse. We cover an analysis of spiritual abuse in,The A Word, but, as it relates to church polity, I will make an observation that should be clear by now. If spiritual abuse exists as a concept in our collective moral consciousness then enumerated spiritual rights must also exist. I contend that the Scriptures enumerate those rights on a 1 to 1 micro scale; seeding them into New Testament letters and whose subconscious presence can be found as evidence among the people of God today. But, there’s a problem, clergy and congregation centred polities are not designed to honour those spiritual rights. Much to the contrary, they are designed in an effort to curb those instinctual rights and focus them institutionally into, “doing something for Jesus”. Even now, my internal Fundamentalist Baptist is nodding his head in holy affirmation. It is a forgone conclusion for him that to highlight and officially enumerate our individual rights would be devastating for church unity, and, therefore, for our respective church polities. This is absolutely correct if our current organisational unity and polity is built on the back of these spiritual rights violations.
Authority Without Domination
Despite our obsession with strong, dominant leaders, the biblical authors never pull the authority and superiority card in a non-tongue in cheek manner. They far more often pull the maturity card defined not by obedience to a man or woman in authority but by obedience to the Spirit of God in their hearts and, therefore, in their lives. When maturity is praised over position, then anyone can rise to so-called church leadership through obedience to Jesus. However, when a position is praised over maturity then once the position is filled there is no more need for mature believers. We see this plainly in denominations who forbid a retiring pastor to continue fellowshipping in the same body that they pastored just in case the people reject the authority of the new pastor in favour of the old. But, lest we think ourselves any better, it is the same for all others as well. A positional figure or collective who sets the course for the whole church to the exclusion of all other spiritually mature believers will stunt the maturity of an entire gathering. However, a group dynamic where all are raising one another up to full reproducing maturity will result in many mature believers who freely and willingly lead those in their wake to the next step in their spiritual journey with Christ. Paul, in writing to the Corinthian church, highlights this destructive positional figure paradigm–it doesn’t have to be voluntary on the part of the leader to cause the kind of damage that would stunt the spiritual growth of an entire gathering. In chapter 3 Paul reprimands the Corinthians for being immature for their age as a result of putting himself, Apollos and Peter in the position in their hearts where God alone ought to sit and spends the whole rest of the book detailing the immaturity that has resulted from the idolization of their human leaders–himself included.
God Ordained Order
Paul doesn’t neglect the fact that Apollos, Peter and himself are leaders who made certain contributions to the body of Christ. Paul says that he planted and Apollos watered but God caused the growth. His point, at the end of the chapter, is that our natural exposure to human leaders ought not to be taken as exclusionary.
21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[c] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
1 Corinthians 3:21-23 English Standard Version
Paul’s leadership was not distinct from Peter’s or Apollos’ or indeed anyone in the body of Christ as they are all of Christ who is our High Priest.
The High Priesthood of Christ is the single greatest threat to the way that we currently conduct ourselves as the people of God who have received mercy. It erodes all fantasies of spiritual supremacy over one another because of our fleshly accomplishments and desires. It is only in counting them as nothing; literally adding nothing of value to us that we can be seen as first among the people of God and as having a witness worth listening to.
So we see that God ordained order, is more than the so-called offices of elder and deacon and runs far deeper than a couple of lads in their mid 30s sat down at a folding table trying to make a living out of their start-up symbiotic organisation.
The concept of a God ordained order in the scriptures–a hierarchy–far surpasses the notion of who is in power and who put them there. That’s just the etymology of the word we made up to describe what we thought we were reading. It goes down to the deepest levels of every human heart. It surpasses those who by selfish ambition seek after that which would make them look better in the hearts, and minds of those they would lead. It describes those who give up that human credibility for the sake of Christ. This is not because they are weak, blind, poor and uneducated for their time, but because they have received mercy for their previous arrogance and see the wandering barren souls of the people in their lives and refuse to condemn them but offer them pure unadulterated mercy instead. This is the divine order God has ordained and to the degree that a person meets this criteria they will be raised up as an example of what it really means to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. But let us entertain the flipside of this divine order to understand why this is not the case currently in the body of Christ.
There are two main beliefs that have landed us in the climate we have today in regards to church polity and culture. The first is total depravity; the hamartiology (theology about sin) that says that all people are irredeemably self-focused, and the second is adversarial unity; the belief that the only factor that truly unites is a common enemy. These two beliefs have manifested an adversarial relationship between those who have been entrusted with leadership in the church and the everyday Christian.
Sin, the common enemy, initially led believers to join together to seek out a measurable solution to total depravity which we call spiritual formation which, essentially, focuses on a theological statement and a code of conduct designed to ferret out sin as defined by both documents. This introduced a scale of distinction into the body of Christ. The scale goes from those who have signed the documents, effectively copy and pasting their so-called faith and practice, to those who haven’t and everyone in-between. Those who either wrote or whole heartedly agreed to these statements gained spiritual capital in order to lead and those who didn’t found themselves on the outside not even a part of the new spiritual economy set up by these two documents. The middle ground is those who signed the documents, but to varying degrees continued to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, keeping a private theology that is often uncovered in disagreements with those fully committed to the symbiotic organisation and its goals. When disagreement or sin arises, it is often solely attributed to the person in whom it arose or to the failure of the church to spiritually form its people thereby taking back the conversation from those who would see deconstruction, reformation and revival happen and planting that reformation squarely on the individual’s shoulders. We can see how a truly mature believer would not stay in a situation like this for very long. They will not stagnate themselves in an effort to hold a party line or bolster the popularity of a certain group of people or ideology that they believe to be destructive to the overall running of the body.
James 1 Lit Test
If you’re like most people reading this, you’re asking yourself what we can meaningfully do about the fact that we are so heinously organised in the body of Christ. As with all sin, it starts with repentance. Leaders with significant influence to change things are now without excuse to make those changes whichever way the Spirit of God leads them. It is my belief that a Year of Jubilee; a year of loosening and breaking the bondage of clergy and congregation centred polities ought to be recognised in each body that desires to throw off the weight of organisational sin and embrace a Christ centred polity. The cycle of deconstruction, reformation, and revival are supposed to be a normal part of the healthy everyday believer’s life, so, when I call for a year of Jubilee, a Sabbath year if you will, I am calling for the people of God to reinstate this cycle back into our functional organisation over the cycle of a year. The cycle itself will take over after that point. Our current organisation causes the backlog of these regular system updates causing the whole system to periodically crash. So, over the next year, I am calling to the people of God to edify and encourage one another to work out our own individual salvation with fear and trembling towards the end of seeking after God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. This starts with the proclamation of Jubilee that sets everyone free from the bondage we have put them in including theological statements, codes of conduct, non-disclosure agreements and any other documents and agreements that impinge on the spiritual rights of the people of God who have received mercy. If every person of God can be discipled to do this and to disciple someone else to do this then the automated cycle of deconstruction, reformation and revival will be re-established. This is only the beginning. A deep examination of our unity and polity is merely the start. The end goal is, as always, God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.
ARC GUIDE LEVEL 4 Ideal for those well acquainted with our thought process at Ammi Ruhama Community and with other Christian Communities.
Questions that Need Answering
A few questions arise in my mind every time significant spiritual abuse hits the news. Why has spiritual abuse become the accepted norm? What are we doing so wrong that we keep coming back to this, again and again and again? Is spiritual abuse somehow an accepted equal and potentially opposite result of something else we have allowed ourselves to believe in? Are we accepting this as normal, or is this something we should just get used to? Alternatively, could there be something that we are possibly missing? A possible rediscovered truth that could bring this horrific, regular occurrence to a decisive end? I will endeavour to answer these questions in the subsequent paragraphs.
Spiritual abuse is either the collateral damage of faithfully following Jesus, or the result of the faithless co-opting of the Christian faith for cultural, financial, and political gain. The nature of an abuser would have us believe the former. “This is Christianity–deal with it”. Spiritual abuse can come from any direction and is often accompanied by every other evil deed known and unknown. Combined with a natural or nominal mindset and their organisation and practice, they deny believers their new birthrights as the people of God who have received mercy. While asserting their will and purpose on their community, they deny the power of the Holy Spirit to make plain the scriptures to anyone and everyone who would diligently seek after the Eternally Powerful Divine One. They deny the priesthood of the believer and thereby the High Priesthood of Christ. According to the Word these are the ones who declare Christ with their lips and deny Him by their works.
“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”
Control of the narrative is what gives spiritual abusers their power. They are the unquestionable authority on the Word of God. Because they have long done away with the Holy Spirit’s influence in their organisations, they need not worry that their acolytes should happen upon Him in a rash of reading the Word. They teach exegetically through the whole of the Old and New Testament every year, teaching them exactly what to think. The marginal notes in their Bibles as well as the carefully selected authors in the church library do the job of reminding them of what they have been taught and are supposed to think when they read this or that particular passage. Their acolytes have been conditioned to believe that everything that comes from the mouth of their pastor and elders has first come to them from the mouth of God. So, when spiritual abuse does happen, it is quickly adapted to as normal. The historical, biblical doctrines they cite for their behaviour start to make sense to the initiated and so the occasional harsh sentence towards those who dissent is justified and the narrative re-established. Anyone who comes against them with another understanding is anathema.
“They obviously don’t want to follow the real Jesus, because that’s who we follow and they look, sound and believe very little of what we believe; they have made God in their own image.”
This appeal to historicity, or an original Jesus is an attempt to head off potential deconstructors at the pass. Because, of course, if we have a New Testament Church and believe in the Original Jesus then they have nowhere to deconstruct but away from Jesus and the New Testament Church. What’s worse is that many, many believers are under the impression that their movement is as close to the New Testament Church as any have achieved thus far. They believe that their concept of Jesus is the closest to the original Jesus. Sadly these symbiotic organisations all look quite different from one another, apart from the pervasive spiritual abuse.
But let’s say that we’ve come out the other side. We recognise that the spiritually abusive symbiotic organisation was not all it was cracked up to be, but what do we do with the historical doctrines that all of this abuse hinged on? Do we throw out the baby with the bathwater and deny key doctrines of the Christian faith? Do we, by agreeing in principle with our former abusers on key areas of doctrine, condone their sin? This is the well I am digging today. So, how did we get here?
Point A to Point B
Spiritual abuse starts with the assertion of a symbiotic organisation’s will and purpose over the lives of the everyday believer. Their organisation and practice enable them to emotionally, spiritually, and systematically coerce the believer into attributing their safety, legitimacy and provision to the symbiotic organisation via the taking of oaths and signing of legal agreements. These normalised practices strip them of their spiritual rights as the people of God who have received mercy. This gradual stripping of their rights leaves the people of God open to all kinds of abusive behaviour from the organisation including but not limited to sexual power dynamics, theft, public shaming, and undue excommunication.
The reality is that anyone who has been raised in the body of Christ has either lived experience or knows someone with lived experience of spiritual abuse. Perhaps an aged beloved saint has passed and been replaced by a younger fresher face. This new guy then takes what we have come to call a “healthy,” body and tailors it for his own will and purpose which happen to be a life lived in the flesh. Some might say the blame lies entirely with the young, fresh face; replace the face and rejuvenate the body. In fact, this is exactly the advice John Maxwell was given by an associate.
In John Maxwell’s book,21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell lists the number 1 law of leadership as The Law of the Lid which says that an organisation cannot grow beyond the leader’s maturity. The associate in question was a man whose business it was to acquire failing businesses in the hospitality industry and rejuvenate them. Maxwell writes that the first thing this man would do is to re-educate the employees and to fire the boss. “Really?” Maxwell asked incredulously, “you don’t get to know the guy to find out if he is a good leader?” The associate replied, “If he had been a good leader, I wouldn’t be acquiring his business.”
This is how we have come to think of the Pastor or head elder as the CEO of the body of Christ. If the church is failing, replace the pastor and the church will thrive…at least until he retires. This paradigm of church leadership is amazingly totalitarian, and widespread. The authoritarian sits upon his throne and makes weekly diktats to his subjects taking the advice of his privy council into consideration. He appoints governors over each area and gives them the right to lord over the people of God. A distinctly unbiblical stance, and yet, the dominant and largely unchallenged stance. One may say, “how can you say it’s unchallenged”? Every time an abusive leader is deposed we put a man of God in his place, make a few constitutional and practical changes and it’s all good!” I can say that it is unchallenged because even though we have deposed one man, we have enthroned another on the same throne. Benevolent as they may be, the system remains in place. We continue to cycle through dictators both benevolent and malevolent. Let’s take a deeper look at the concept of abuse.
Inherent in the word abuse is to “use wrongly”. This is not an innocent, divergent use, nor a clever alternative use. We see the prefix in words like ab-normal, ab-horrent, ab-ject. The prefix is latin for, away, apart from, separation etc. Having this etymology, the other words come handy in defining each other. Abuse can be understood to be, “abnormal, abhorrent use; the beyond-usual use of people, places, things or ideas that causes us to shudder away in horror,” unless it doesn’t.
Abuse comes in many forms and is not always connected to the life of the believer but our response to that abuse is analogous.
Fatal Coercion & Comparative Ambiguity
For instance, the right to bear arms, distilled, is the right to mount an equal, opposite and fatal assertion of one’s will and purpose on our general sphere of influence. In brief, it is the right to fatal coercion. It is not merely the right to display the nuclear option but to take action on it.
In this way, a drug bust and a school shooting are equally protected and ensured outcomes, both being fatal assertions of will and purpose. While one might look at a drug bust where 20 people die as a good thing, the majority look at a school shooting where 20 people die as a bad thing even though the sum of people who died is exactly the same.
“Gun violence,” as a term, is an overspecification in this instance and could be better defined as, “fatal coercion”. When defined as such, there is no distinction between officer and offender, both have a right to life that trumps their right to fatal coercion. A body count doesn’t begin to come into it, because even one life lost in the assertion of one’s will and purpose is a travesty. The comparative ambiguity that would seem to glorify one coercer over another is striking.
The small-time abuser enjoys this game of comparative ambiguity. While there are school shootings where fatalities reach the 20’s, their non-fatal coercion looks as innocent as petting a puppy in the park on a bright sunshiny day even though it is psychologically and physically damaging to their fewer victims. This is the sum of all abuse. The priest who is indicted for the rape of an innumerable amount of children makes the small town minister who beats his wife look like a saint and the system remains the same protecting and ensuring both outcomes. Will we say, “this is America,” in the same way that we say, “This is Christianity,”? If so, then we call evil good and good evil.
But I say, “this is abuse”.
The answer? Some would say that a good strong, vetted, natural leader is what we need to tackle abuse; in short, strengthen the SO. However, innate leadership ability is not an indication of moral standing with God. We can be, and often are attracted to people as thought leaders because they value the same things that we value. Those values may or may not have anything to do with Jesus and the faithful Christian life and everything to do with our cultural moment.
A roughshod preacher man who cusses, talks freely about sex and is hyper masculine may well teach exegetically from Genesis to Revelation every year and claim that “real men love Jesus”. However, it is apparent that they are far more concerned with being seen as real men than they are about loving Jesus. To this one, a woman in an equal role to himself is an insult to his internal metric of what it means to be a real man and to love Jesus. To him, real men become preachers and real women become their submissive wives; nevermind that there is no distinction in Christ.
But a quiet soul can be just as damaging as a loud one. They facilitate the rise of roughshod preacher men who further abuse the system for their own means. Keep in mind that in both situations the people of God have forfeited their spiritual rights to question leadership or be who God has made them to be because of the norms around symbiotic organisational structures .No one is forcing people to sign away their spiritual rights, they will just say, “maybe this isn’t the right fit for you, why don’t you try the church down the road.” Because it starts out as the will of everyone who decides to partake, it is not seen as abusive. However, spiritual abuse abounds whether it breaks the surface as a Driscoll or almost never sees the light of day like a Zacharias. Both high profile cases ought to have had the church questioning what could facilitate such sin among the people of God. But, it only fed the parasite that is feeding on the body of Christ. We are not blind to it in others but only in ourselves, we end up judging other symbiotic organisations for doing the same things we are! It causes us to become blind to our own sin. Those who would turn their nose up at health and wealth prosperity gospel teaching, the likes of which make fundamentalists, “shudder in horror,” would do well to remember that we exist in the same exact systems of abuse as those who attend Benny Hinn’s church and give seed offerings. This brings us to the crux of the issue.
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
The truth about God never changes; whether we truly understand Him or not is what’s up for debate. Let’s examine a situation where one SO is decried by another and see the sum result of both of their sin.
It doesn’t matter what tradition we come from, life is not lived in a vacuum. Whether good or bad, by our estimations, there are real promises in the Word of safety, legitimacy and provision for those who follow God that are either true or they are false. Whole movements of Christianity claim faith based health and wealth which is decried by whole other movements as abusive and declaring another gospel. But, can it be equally true that those who truly follow Christ are more safe, legitimate and provided for than those who don’t and that we can expect trials, and tribulations; to be wounded and perhaps even killed for our faith in this life? Our definition of safety, legitimacy and provision may well be a worldly definition. Are these two realities diametrically opposed or even held in the dreaded, ‘holy tension,’ with one another or is there a more nuanced answer?
Both systems make provision for the abuse of the people of God who have received mercy by requiring their members in good standing to give regularly to any organisation in the full knowledge that they are, by their system, bankrolling their abuser’s life in the flesh. The game of comparative ambiguity comes into play here. Those who require of their people a statutory offering and use the funds to fulfil the desires of the flesh love those who would inspire others by their life in the flesh to give a seed offering and use the funds to further fulfil the flesh. The former is made, in the eyes of their acolytes, to be comparatively more righteous by the behaviour of the latter even though both systems are rife with spiritual abuse seemingly backed up by the Word of God.
James 1 Lit Test
There are many other examples I could write to illustrate the degree that Symbiotic Organisations have rotted away the core and practice of our faith but I’ll leave that up to the reader to contemplate. For my part I have put together a list of common abuses of the people of God into theChristian’s Bill of Rights. This document was the start of Ammi Ruhama Community’s formation and will be continually revised in an effort to safeguard those rights.
It seems like I am forever writing about SOs and the troubles between them and the body of Christ, but it is a point worth returning to when the likes of theSBC abuse report has just been published and the general conversation is highlighted within the Church. As I’ve mentioned above, rarely is sin in an SO met with returning the people of God’s rights to them. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers for every derivation of SO but I think a good start would be to take a model of biblical rights like the one we have created and reinforce those spiritual rights into the SO. It will act as a mirror to the organisation and cut back the vines that are choking the body of Christ. At ARC our vision of unity in love, faith and hope does not permit us to create the kind of hierarchies that result in conventional spiritual abuse. But, that doesn’t mean that it will never happen, that what is written on paper will never pass out of practice. This is why it is always important for us to return to the Word via the Spirit as He reminds us of everything Jesus has taught us and hopefully by reinforcing individual spiritual rights we will see a decline in spiritual abuse and the resulting unity of love, faith and hope that Jesus prays for in our lifetime.
Finally, it is necessary to continue this conversation in confessional prayer and the earnest seeking after the Kingdom and His righteousness. It is only by His power that our eyes and hearts will be open to praying as King David prayed,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”