Power Without Accountability, Part 2

The People Don’t Know Their True Power (and Responsibility to Hold Others, and Themselves, Accountable)

We see all of the problems with power in an ecclesiastical (church) setting so a good question would not only be “Why do we have problems with power in the church?” but also “Why do we actively perpetuate power that leads to problems in the church?”  Acknowledging lack of extensive expertise in this? I think there are some groups of reasons.

1.  Sociological. We are designed as (flawed) social beings. We are made finite with the need of social interaction and support from a broader community. This, in itself, would not be that much of a problem.  Bees and Ants work socially fairly well. Each have one system and hierarchy and each plug into that role naturally. Among social mammals… things don’t happen quite so easily, because different roles are not so clearly differentiated physically. So there is competition and power struggle. But even here, there is an instinctive process for determining hierarchy… not perfect, but relatively efficient.

With humans, we have the in-built need for community and social order but without the in-built mechanism for doing so harmoniously. As such, cultures develop to deal with these.. We are also flawed because our drive to organize is not strictly for the common good, but for collecting honor and things.

This would not be a problem, except that we tend to bring those same solutions in the outside world for establishing the church.

  • A metaphor for the church is the BODY. But we often use the social metaphor of BUSINESS.
  • A metaphor for the church is the FAMILY. But we often use the social metaphor of the MILITARY. (Although having been in the military, I can say that the church has no real understanding of that system, and will often come up with horrible mess justified on “military efficiency.”)

2.  Philosophical. Our relationships come out of our training in many ways. Much of our training regarding relationships comes out of philosophy. Philosophy is a good thing, but one has to identify what is true for the church and what is untrue and unhelpful for the church. Many of the teachings on social order that we accept without a lot of due consideration have more to do with the thoughts of Aristotle, Macchiavelli, and Confucius… not Christ. (Not that social disorder is desirable… a nihilistic or anarchistic structure. But community in the church needs to be built on a stronger foundation that power hierarchy).

3.  Psychological. We all seem to have a sense of our own unworthiness and weakness . At least most of us do. These, within the church structure, tend to mean that we seek the security of a place that is well defined by limitations on role and responsibility. Freedom is scary and vagueness of such roles and responsibility in mutual relationships is hard for many to get used to. Those who work with and in an organization of unpaid volunteers know the challenges of this. How do we work together as a team of equals, collaborating, in a common vision without money and employment as motivators? Many can’t embrace such a setting. Many ultimately seek to be led because it is more comfortable, while others seek power because of a felt “need” for that power.

4.  Historical. History can lead to issues regarding power. The Old Testament had a power hierarchy in its religious system (although I would argue that it was a relatively flat hierarchy  in its inception). But that history certainly played a part with the incorporation of a Christian “priesthood” in the church in the 4th century. The fight with the Gnostics and Marcionists and other groups led to a tendency to link authority/power and spiritual leadership through “apostolic succession”. Of course, the role of Constantine also had its part as aspects of the Christian religion were modified to fit into the pagan power structure tied to the Roman government. Additionally, Christianity “grew up” in the Roman power structure with the power structure of Charlemagne and the marriage of church and state. With a series of other governments, were continuous fights in that “marriage.”. It is actually, rather surprising that the church, in general, has been able to let go of civil control (often voluntarily) over the last few centuries.

5.  Biblical/Theological.  In recent years, some Protestant groups have tried to push towards a pre-Reformation understanding of the Christianity through undoing such things as “priesthood of the believer” or (among Baptists at least) soul sufficiency. They also tend to see submission as unilateral (citizen to government, wife to husband, servant to master, member to pastor) rather than mutual. Unfortunately, unilateral power/submission structures lead to abuse. There needs to be accountability, and such accountability is tied to mutuality.  Mutuality of service, humility, and submission is a very consistent theme throughout the New Testament. Perhaps the problem lies in the tendency to “theologize through proof-texts.” When one sees a verse that says to “submit” it is easy to see a unilateral relationships instead of seeing the broad-based theme of mutuality that is smoothly modeled and taught  throughout the gospels and epistles. Some preachers emphasize the importance of power.  But is that so important? Or does that reflect the value system of that particular preacher?

Power Without Accountability. Part 1.

“Abuse of Power”. Seems almost like a redundant expression, doesn’t it? In Christian Circles, another abuse pops up in the news nearly daily. Such abuse may demonstrate itself in different ways:

  • Sexual and Physical abuse. Of course, the Catholic Church has taken a hit on this one. Once reports started hitting the media, that denomination has slooooowwwly begun taking responsibility and action. Sadly, the Protestant church, for the most part, has not… and still goes into “hush hush” mode. One of these years, the press will shift its gaze from the Catholics to the Protestants, and we will wish we had taken the time and effort to address this matter ourselves. We need to self-police… accepting mutual accountability.
  • Simony (“Spiritual” Abuse). Simony is the sale of spiritual blessings or grace for money or “earthly” favors. As Protestants, we look back with (justifiable) horror at the abuses of “indulgences” of former centuries in the Catholic church. Some today may also be concerned with the practice of Mass cards, that essentially do the same thing. Again, as much as Protestants like to point fingers, simony is alive and well in Protestant churches as well. It can show itself in a fairly literal sense… with special “blessings” given by religious leaders for cash donations. It can be seen in particularist Protestant groups that claim everyone outside of their own specific church and rulership are damned. It can be seen in favoritism given to big tithers in most churches. It can be seen in clergy allowing the superstition that their own prayers are just a little bit more heard by God than the laity to perpetuate.
  • Selfish Frivolity. Power (in all groups, frankly) is commonly used to meet the “needs”, desires, petty whims of those with that power. Recalling Ezekiel 34, power and leadership is used to feed the leaders, not the led… or the leaderless.
  • Power as a Virtue. Many Protestant church leaders and evangelists, and preachers speak to their listeners about the importance of “power” and how they are to have “power.” Some even build a theology around this that God’s blessing is tied to the acquisition or attainment of “power” or the earthly trappings of power. The problem here is that it (1) encourages people to have such trappings of power to make themselves look or at least feel more “holy”, (2) it builds up leaders who seem to have such power and, in so doing, lessens the listeners who appear to lack such, and (3) it makes people want to have “power” (however it is defined) when most of us (all of us?) really can’t handle power very well. To teach that people who lack the character to handle power, are to seek power, is akin to encourage 8 years olds to seek to have assault rifles.

So what is the problem? I believe that we set up systems without accountability and without mutuality. In other words, we lack healthy COMMUNITY.

Part 2 will look at some theological reasons (at least) why church has problems with power without accountability.

Part 3 will look at some very basic strategies to correct this. Part 3 will be highly speculative and will definitely need the helpful insights of others.

The Genesis of Contextualization


It is very possible that we do not honor biblical authority precisely by forcing an overly literalistic interpretation on the text.

Why? A “literal” reading (from our perspective) may in fact overlook the biblical audience’s cultural context. Accordingly, we might impose our assumptions onto the text, resulting in interpretations that ignore the writer and audience to whom God originally revealed Himself.

ILOVELITERALISMIn The Lost World of Adam and Eve, Walton clarifies what it means to affirm the Bible’s authority. (He elaborates on this topic more fully in The Lost World of Scripture.) He says:

“The authority and inerrancy of the text is, and has traditionally been, attached to what it affirms. Those affirmations are not of a scientific nature. The text does not affirm that we think with our entrails (though [the Old Testament] communicates in those terms because that is what the ancient audience believed.) The text…

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Instilling Healthy Doubt

I saw on FB another bit of foolishness. Okay, there has been a LOT of foolishness on Facebook lately. A recent  post claimed that Satanists utilize “LOL” to mean “Lucifer our Lord.” So if we use “LOL” in our posts, we are endorsing Satan. Let’s have a reality moment here:

  1. I don’t use “LOL,” so if all Christians stopped using the term, it is entirely possible that the world would be a (slightly) better place. Who knows?
  2. It is possible, I suppose, that SOME people who call themselves Satanists do use those letters that way. The last time I had an insightful discussion with a self-described Satanist was 25 years ago. In his case, he did not believe in a literal Satan, but appreciated a “satanic” philosophy… not so far from Hedonism. In his case, and those like him, since he does not believe in Satan per se (ontologically), such a use of “LOL” would be humorous or ironic, rather than worshipful or respectful.

There is some serious foolishness here. It is not about the doubtful use of the term by Satanists. Rather the foolishness springs from:

  1. The thought that the term inherently endorses or empowers Satanism. There may be two different beliefs here. One belief may be that a symbol can only have one meaning. For example, reading comments on FB, there are serious questions regarding the Confederate Battle flag. Two different segments of society argue about what the flag REALLY represents. In fact, it represents two different things to two different groups.  If a symbol means something to Group A and something different to Group B, each can use the symbol as they see fit… without being affected or tainted by another groups use. (I am talking about meaning here… not political affects. Two different meanings can lead to problems, like if a red octagonal road sign means “STOP” to one group of people and “SPEED UP” to another.) . A symbol is always culturally determined. A symbol is not inherently “tainted” by another group. However, the second possible belief is in the power of incantation. That is, that words, if used in the right circumstance in the right order have special magical powers. Even though there are some examples of blessings or curses in the Bible, they appear to be tied to a direct appeal to God to act (relational call) rather than due to the power of formula (incantational or magical call).
  2. Failure to check sources. Frankly, the FB post might have been put up as a joke to test the gullibility of “Christians” or anyone else who would read it. Lot of Gullibility Tests on the Web. Alternatively, it could be “clickbait”… articles that are designed to be provocative and lure people to click on the article to make advertizing money.
  3. Having poor sources of authority.  I read it on the Internet is like saying you heard it on the telephone, or read it spray painted on a wall. It says nothing about its veracity.

Why do Christians fall into such a trap? Of course, we are not alone. Weird reactions appears to be pandemic– a universal sociological phenomenon. But Christians have had their share of such… sociological phenomenon.

  • When I was younger, I was told that one should not say “Good Luck” because “luck” has (supposed) etymological roots to Loki, the Norse God of mischief (perhaps SLIGHTLY similar in very limited ways to the Christian concept of Lucifer, or Satan). So to say, “Good Luck” is a positive Satanic blessing. Ridiculous! No one uses the term that way, and probably never did. Frankly, Christians might prefer to not say “Good luck” because it seems to reference a non-Christian view of providence, although, one would have to define “luck” in context before one could say whether or not it is Christian. But to tie it to an irrelevant reference to the past, and then tying it to an equally pointless cross-religious reference, makes no sense whatsoever.I believe the Luck and Lucifer connection has been made by Kenneth Copeland. I believe Luck and Loki was connected to some statements by Pat Robertson, back when I worked for him. Neither Copeland nor Robertson should be considered competent, reliable sources for… well, much of anything.
  • More recently, people have been trying to pick a date for Christ’s return. It seems to be more a cynical ploy to get people to “choose to follow Christ” or, equally bad, for self-styled “prophets” to gain an audience. But I have to think that more people are turned off by the foolishness of making claims that prove to be ludicrously false. This is done sometimes by “Bible Numerology” (a doubtful practice more in line with the Kabbalah than with Christianity) or by making up false phenomena and that rigging the data (such as the “Blood Moon” thing). Why make up dates anyway. Each of us is a couple of skipped heartbeats from the “abyss.” That is a much more solid prediction.

Why don’t Christians do better? Some argue that it is because Christians (especially Evangelical Christians) have a tendency to be anti-intellectual. But, in truth, I haven’t noticed that intellectuals do any better (or at least not much better). We all, as finite human beings, choose who we hold to be in authority. Intellectuals are as likely to choose poor authorities as non-intellectuals.

I would like to suggest that Christians should Have Faith in God and God’s Word, and Follow Christ. In other things maintain a healthy doubt.

What would be the implications of that. We would doubt authority figures, Christian or otherwise. So…

  • We would separate between God’s Word and human interpretations of God’s Word.(question human wisdom)
  • We would separate between following Christ and following people who claim to follow Christ (question human authority)
  • We would spend less time worrying about the intensity of Christians’ faith, and be more concerned about the true object of their faith.
  • We would spend certain critical moments of our lives doubting ourselves… since each of us are often the most effective in leading ourselves astray.

It matters. We all need healthy doubt.

Who Should be a Missionary

I feel like I need to make a change from what I have said before. I have previously said that a Christian missionary needed TWO distinct qualities to go into missions:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Willingness

I purposefully left out Called. For one thing, I believe the church calls people to missions, while I believe God calls EVERYONE to His mission… and He is not too quick to follow faddish preferences to describe certain Christian ministry as missions and others as not.

Flexibility suggests an openness to new cultures and to contextualization of message. It also involves the flexibility to adjust lifestyle. Willingness, definitely a related term, suggests a willingness to go where God leads, and a willingness to acculturate, and change one’s identity, to some extent.

Some people suggest that Spiritual Fervor is a quality needed of a missionary. However, it seems to me that it is a quality that is called up based on presumption rather than practice. Few missionaries, if any, I know have a spiritual fervor greater than others in church. Of course, part of the issue is that people have different ideas as to what spiritual fervor is. For some, it is the ability to throw around Christian lingo and get emotionally/spiritually wrought up. For others it involves deep involvement in the “spiritual disciplines.” I have yet to see any missionaries that have any of this sort of thing beyond those around them.

However, the spiritual aspect can’t be tossed aside and I have definitely seen missionaries fall by the wayside based on a certain issue in the area of spirituality. With further reflection, I would add a third quality:

         3.  Spiritual Durability

Spirituality is so open to interpretation, and various definitions lend themselves to denominational bias. Additionally, the idea of spirituality in the Bible is often quite different from popular Christian definitions today. So I would like to use Paul Tillich’s idea of spirituality, but limited to Christianity. In this case “Spirit” is the overlay of power and meaning. In the Christian context:

Spirituality, as it applies to missionaries, is the overlay of human and divine power in a person’s life that is focused by a recognition of following God’s path and a personal sense of vocational meaning.

“God’s paths” is not the same as call as it is popularly given. God’s path is not a destination but a path (more like Psalm 23 or Jesus call to “Follow Me.” “Call” as it is used in churches is usually tied to destination or clergical vocation.

Spiritual durability then is the recognition that what one does is important, that it has eternal meaning to self, to the people, and to God’s Kingdom. As such, one is empowered to persevere through difficult times because of the recognition that God is ever-present, ever-suffering, and ever guiding.