Authority and Submission
In church last night we talked about authority and submission. The scope of the discussion was wide as we went off in several directions. One such direction involved what it meant to submit to Christ. One such aspect of that would be to align our lives according to the values that Christ taught. If we love our enemies, are kind to the disadvantaged, give generously to those in need we are submitting to Christ. I don’t think that my generation has an easy time aligning ourselves with a universal unchanging standard. In one sense we have some doubts about how sure we are of the standards. We also have an inherent distrust of authority and society’s institutions that try to tell us what those standards are. There are probably lots of reasons for this and some are more legitimate than others. Generally humanity takes the values of their culture and attempts to stamp them as universal. This is exactly what Jesus ran up against. He railed against the religious leaders of his day for majoring on minors and neglecting the “weightier matters of the law”.
I think my generation has accurately perceived the lack of integrity, consistency and authenticity in the church. However in our haste to run away from what we perceive as shallow or hollow, we often choose alternatives without applying the same critical standard. Sometimes we simply change sides of the same coin, and we feel better about it, but we aren’t really better off.
Some people have gently and lovingly challenged me about the house church. They have asked me whether my generation is making the same mistake the previous generation did. Are we reforming church so we are more comfortable with it? Have we jumped to the other side of the same coin? It is a difficult question to answer with any accuracy. Each group is like their own fishbowl and sometimes perception from inside the bowl is different from perception outside.
There isn’t a lot in the bible about how church is supposed to look but what is in scripture looks a lot more like a simple house church than most other current expressions of church. In some ways I don’t think church has to be that complicated. Come together, extend one another grace and compassion, search for and apply truth together, pray, ascribe worth to God, and serve others. The more complicated things become the easier it is to get sidetracked.
The reformation of the church has to happen at several levels. A lot of it has nothing to do with structure or theology but our motivation. We need to stop relying on fear, manipulation and coercion to control people. We need to repent of our selfish ambition and our aim to use church as a vehicle to boost our status, prestige, or wealth. We need to align ourselves according to the simple principles of truth, justice, integrity, mercy, compassion, love, self-sacrifice and faith.
Sometime ago I listened to a Christian leader talk about how a certain day was a dark day in the history of our province. I didn’t realize what he was talking about until he finally mentioned the ruling allowing for same sex marriage. I’m amazed at how upset people get over something like this, but are largely silent on disenfranchisement of aboriginal peoples, or the impact of divorce and single parent families on society. We like to get excited when the government has “abandoned God’s word” but we are quiet about putting ourselves under the knife of some very simple, commonly understood principles.
I feel convicted even as I write this. Over a year ago I taught a portion of an ethics course on the subject of colonization and my eyes were opened to the plight of First Nations in my country but after over a year my response has been weak. In some ways I’m not sure what a white Anglo-Saxon protestant male can do other than tell other people like me to smarten up, but I haven’t done much of that. If I truly want to be Christ’s agent in this world I need to put my comfort to the side and work towards justice.
People often say the church isn’t perfect, but we ought to submit to her regardless. To a certain extent people can build a case for this. How would we accomplish what we are called to accomplish if people keep jumping ship as soon as they encounter something they don’t like? However it is very rare that people who refuse to change or submit hear this as long as they keep filling up the building and donating money. My openness to challenge and correction by other believers has everything to do with my trust relationships with other people and very little to do with my location at 11 am on Sunday. In some ways I wonder if we’ve equated our programs and structures so strongly with the purpose that inspired them that we become oblivious to whether we are actually accomplishing that purpose.