Seeking Napoleon in the Church


Two quotes from Aldous Huxley:

“So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons,  Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise to make them miserable.”

“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.”

(Confession moment: I am not really a dog person– I prefer cats because they are more relaxed in their loyalty.  To much loyalty is not necessarily a good thing.)

It appears to me that there has long been a battle between those who love autocracy and those who hate it. Yet that is too simple. It is probably more accurate to say that there are those:

  • Seeking to maintain power518jkm77zil-_sy344_bo1204203200_
  • Seeking to tear down power structures to distribute power
  • Seeking to tear down structures to replace with other structures that are more favorable for their own quest for power
  • Seeking peace by ducking the conflicts as much as possible.

Huxley’s quotes above suggest that the development of oppressive power structures comes from people’s fascination with or lust for power.

I got thinking on this when I saw a book in the bookstore here in Baguio City, Philippines. It is “Embracing Shared Ministry” by Joseph Hellerman. I went back a few weeks later and found that it was already purchased by someone else (here in the Philippines, finding a good theology book available is a rare thing.) Curiously, a friend of mine had bought it and when he went back to his home country, he gave it to me. Nice!!   Hellerman’s basic argument is that the early church was meant to be counter-cultural. Greco-Roman culture promoted centralization of power and fascination with warlords and emperors. The early church, correctly, rebelled against this. Hellerman suggested this is especially evident in Paul’s Epistle to the Church of Philippi.

I think a lot of Evangelical Churches have become a bit too cozy with power. In the recent elections, a lot of pastors I know are supporting (both here in the Philippines, as well as the United States) individuals that are powerbrokers while being pretty unpalatable ethically. Perhaps they see these individuals as the best choices (embracing the “lesser evil” ethical model). But the focus seems to be on their perceived ability to wield power and affect change over whether they have the will to affect change righteously (either  in method or in goal). Despite the collapse of so many “Super-Christians,” especially from mega-churches or TV ministries, there seems to still be a fascination with “powerful” Christians, and many still embrace a Triumphalistic form of Christianity.

Such beliefs are often not well stated or even acknowledged, but sneak in via exegesis and theological arguments. This includes movements that argue that Christian submission is unilateral rather than mutual in church– more in common with the five relationships in Confucianism than the Bible.

Consider SOME Biblical commentators take on Paul. I have read the argument put forward that Paul must have been right for not allowing John Mark to join the 2nd missionary journey… because he was Paul (Luke recorded Paul’s actions, rather than Barnabas’ after all). The same argument has been used to argue that Paul was correct to (1) go against church guidance in traveling to Jerusalem— landing in jail for several relatively ineffectual years, and (2) confront Peter about eating arrangements (although both Paul and Peter appeared to choose arrangements that were missiologically justifiable). In some or all of these cases, it is possible that Paul was correct— but if he was correct, it was NOT because he was Paul. It was not that he was an apostle. It was not that he wrote 12 epistles in the New Testament (2nd only to Luke by volume). Fame makes people famous, not correct. Even being given authority by God or Church does not make individuals correct. People, even important people, are wrong an awful lot in the Bible.

One of the odd things (I am speaking now as a Baptist missionary) I have seen in Baptist cirrcles is the strong support among Baptist leaders for the concept of the “Senior Pastor.” Baptist apologists will argue against many church practices– sprinkling, infant baptism, hierarchal denominationalism, credalism, and such– based on Biblical arguments and the practices of the early church. Baptists challenge the formal priestly office as an invention centuries after the early church. Baptist also correctly challenge the hierarchal offices above the local churches in some denominations (often misusing early titles of “bishop” and “apostle”). But when it comes to the issue of local church leadership, the apologists reverse and begin seeking to justify the historical practice in the Baptist church, rather than drawing from the primitive church. Now, it may not be wrong to have a single “chief elder” in the church, but there certainly is nothing uniquely right about it. This may or may not be an example of sloppy exegesis, but it appears to me to be most certainly evidence that people in power like to find ways to get God to support their hold on power, and accumulation of more power.

Hellerman’s book supports a shared elder governance apparently, as an early church structure. He utilizes the Epistle to the Philippans to support this. Does he succeed? I think he does to some extent. It is not a slam dunk. The New Testament is frustratingly vague on church governance. Curiously, this vagueness may support Hellerman’s point. If power and hierarchy mattered, it probably would have been emphasized in Scripture. Additionally, people with power tend to talk a lot about power. So the little discussion of power roles in the church may suggest their relative absence. Certainly when we get to the writings of Ignatius (Theophorus) a few decades later, one does find a church leader of wants to talk a lot about power roles in the church. Hellerman would, I believe, see in Ignatius’ writings the Hellenization of Christianity— a process both good (contexuatlizaiton) and bad (syncretism).

You will note, this is not a review of the book. I wrote more of a review later. But it is a topic we all should wrestle with.

Talking Talking Talking Behind Bars

Expatiate:  (1) to write or talk too much; enlarge (on).  (2) to roam without restraint; wander at will.  (The World Book Dictionary)24159-one-of-the-most-sincere-forms-of-respect-is-actually-listening

Exspatiari means “to wander from a course” and, in the figurative sense, “to digress.” But when English speakers began using “expatiate” in 1538, we took “wander” as simply “to move about freely.” In a similar digression from the original Latin, we began using “expatiate” in a figurative sense of “to speak at length.”  (Merriam-Webster)

Our group yesterday doing some training with Prison Fellowship International (Philippines) in Jail Ministry. We (our group, Bukal Life Care) train chaplains, so we have done jail ministry before, but our strength is more in hospitals and community. So, we wanted to talk to experts before returning to this specific ministry.

We were told that at one of the jails (one that we hope to join PFI-P in) has numerous religious groups that come in. Several evangelical Christian groups go there. The Roman Catholics go there. The Jehovah’s Witness go there. The Muslims go there. The Iglesia ni Cristo (a local somewhat Christian-ish religion) goes there. For all of those groups, there method is pretty simple. Go in there for their allotted time and preach preach preach.

Our friend estimated (not sure if he worked this out precisely) that at that jail, the inmates get about 3 hours of religious preaching a day.

I don’t know about you, but if that is accurate, this certainly counts as CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT. Add to that that each are preaching often very different messages. From the standpoint of each individual group, they may see it as speaking to the inmates simply a couple of hours a month, or maybe once a week.

…. But consider the position of the inmate. Religious people come in and talk and talk and talk to them. Their messages are supposed to come from God… but the messages are all different. Day after day after day. Expatiation is about talking too much and having talks that wander or are disconnected. From the inmate position, that is exactly what they are getting.

A better suggestion is not simply to talk, but to listen. Inmates need healing and demonstration of God’s love, not cognitive arguments to cancel out the cognitive arguments of the person who preached earlier in the day. They also don’t need demagoguery to cancel out the demagogues they heard before or will hear after. Inmates need to be heard and the conversation should be driven from their felt needs (with of course one eye on what they, additionally, really need). They need dialogue, not simply excessive and inconsistent monologue

A good article on the power of listening is given by Tim Eyre. It can be read HERE

Read it yourself, but he mentions certain things you tell people when you listen to them:

  • You value other people and their opinion.
  • You value other people’s time. (Being trapped in jail is no justification for disrespecting their time)
  • You are an intelligent and thoughtful person able to hear and consider multiple points of view. (We all need to learn from each other.)
  • You have important things to say. (The more you talk, the more you devalue what you say. If you say less, the less you say will have more import.)
  • You are mature and professional. (Children, politicians, and (often) preachers like to talk without listening. Inmates don’t need that)

Besides if you listen, you are more likely to be listened to anyway. That may not be the most righteous motive… but it still is relevant… if you have a message you want heard.






The Safest Place?


Many of you may have seen the news about Randy Hentzel and Harold Nichols. They were American missionaries killed in Jamaica within the last few hours.  An article on this is HERE. I never met either of them, but Harold was a friend of a friend. It is a pretty early article. Hopefully, by the time you read this, you will be able to find an updated article with motive, suspects, and perhaps some modicum of justice.

Of course, they are not alone. Two years before my family and I arrived in the Philippines Martin Burnham died due to a kidnapping for ransom activity of a semi-religious gang. A year before we arrived Bill Hyde, mentor of a minister friend of mine, was killed by a bomb set by a similar group.  I teach students here who, in some cases, are from countries where mistreatment of Christian workers is tolerated, and occasionally supported, by regional officials. An acquaintance of mine this last weekend was showing me a picture of a friend and fellow worker who was recovering from having throat slashed by an individual driven by religious animosity. This man survived the attack by biting the hand of his attacker.

Of course, this is a drop in the bucket. Our former church in the States has just finished hosting a “Voice of the Martyrs” conference. We weren’t there, living presently 9000 miles away. That organization tracks the religious killings, tortures, and such perpetrated against Christians. The numbers are disturbing… but should they be surprising?

What does one do with this information. For some, it is to hide. For others it is to share and sensationalize these activities so as to engender more hate. FB is full of such painfully misguided reports.

For me, I am not sure how to respond. I serve in a relatively safe place, although no place is ultimately safe this side of heaven. But it gets me thinking about one of the great “bumper sticker” lies in Christianity. I would not be surprised if you have heard this one a few times:


There really is no obvious truth to this. One could make it correct by saying something like, “The BEST place to be is in the center of God’s will” but that really changes the message. Perhaps one could mean “safest” in some eternal other-worldly sense, but that seems abusive to the term  (An example, one of many, of such deceptive misuse is in a CBN devotional “The Safest Place to Be.” Of course, CBN is never a place for solid theological insight.)

Being in God’s will (though I am not so sure God’s will has a “center”) doesn’t necessarily guarantee persecution or danger, but it should certainly be anticipated. Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith” lists those who lived according to God’s will. It is an inspiring and sobering description of great victories, and horrible ends.

We pray for our own family, and for friends in ministry, especially those in dangerous places due to dangerous people.Yes we pray that God will keep them safe. I hope you do the same.

But the Good Shepherd leads His faithful followers to green pastures and still waters via the valley of the shadow of death. Sadly, the risks are, for many, far more than mere shadows.

Evangelism or “Elevator Pitch”? — Jackson Wu

What’s the distinction between evangelism and an elevator pitch? If you look at how we actually do evangelism, can you see a real difference in practice? Is it true most methods of evangelism are little more than elevator pitches? Do you recoil at the suggestion? Most people I know would object. Why? Elevator pitches are typically associated with…

via Evangelism or “Elevator Pitch”? — Jackson Wu