Opinions on faith and life

The Inverted Pyramid

You all know the shape of a pyramid: a square base built up to a central point. We all look at this and think that the most honored and important aspect of it is the pinnacle or top piece, but in reality the most critical is the base, and especially the cornerstone (the very first stone laid, upon which all other stones depend).

This shape and the common perception of importance is a good illustration of all worldly forms of order: the most important people, the leader(s), are seen as being at the very top, with decreasing levels of rank down to the base. Those that carry the most supporting weight are treated as the least important and dishonorable, while those higher up pride themselves on their lofty positions and think themselves more valuable and worthy of praise.

But Jesus spoke of an upside-down pyramid as the model of God’s kingdom. Here I will combine the passages in the Gospels with His explanation (Mt. 20:20-28, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 9:46-48, 22:24-27, John 13:1-17):

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him with her sons. Teacher... Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory. ... When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For whoever is least among you all is the greatest. The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Jesus... got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him... When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. Do you understand what I have done for you? he asked them. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

So how can it be, then, that since the apostles died the church has been ordered after the kingdoms of the world? We have been so brainwashed by such Orwellian doublespeak as servant leader that we think the kingdom of God is exactly the same, in spite of all Jesus’ teachings to the contrary. We have swallowed the lie that without this worldly kind of order there would be chaos and heresy, though there has been plenty of both in spite of the hierarchical church. We have even violated that which is to illustrate the most intimate spiritual relationship between Christ and His Body by bringing worldly layers of authority into the Christian marriage. We think that the most honorable and pious and authoritative believers are at the top, when in fact it is the base, the lowest, the despised, where we find true Christian leaders. Consider also the following passages of scripture:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Mt. 7:12)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees... do not practice what they preach.... Everything they do is done for people to see: ... they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers... The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Mt. 23:1-12)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world... For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Rom. 12:2-3)

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not— to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.... Now if the foot should say, Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body... But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be... The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you! And the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you! On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor. 12:12-27)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself... (Phil. 2:3-11)

Can it be any clearer? Then how can we keep supporting any form of hierarchy in the Body of Christ, including Christian marriage? How can we think that individual verses in the Letters can overturn the very structure of this Kingdom? It takes an astounding degree of denial and blindness to think that Paul for example could possibly be setting one believer over another in direct violation of all he and Jesus taught about the whole Body of Christ and the kingdom of God. Some try to essentially wave a magic wand that blends these two pyramids together, but how can light and darkness be joined (2 Cor. 6:14-17)? How can any system of hierarchy go up and down at the same time? This is nonsense at the very least, and more likely a desire to keep the world’s kingdom inside that belonging to God. But we are not to love the world (1 John 2:15).

In the past I’ve said that I understand why most believers still go to church, since it took me many years to leave it even after I was convicted to do so. But what I can’t understand or accept, regardless of how much of church they still want to keep (e.g. meeting on Sunday mornings, various social functions, etc.), is how any hierarchy can be tolerated. Why do they still speak of our pastor as if only one exists in a congregation or only one gift deserves to be supported by all the others? Why do they insist that men must be the designated spiritual leaders of women? And not just why, but how: how can it be possible to keep doing these things in the face of such overwhelming scriptural command to the contrary?

My challenge to any readers who have not questioned hierarchy either in the church or the home, is to read these passages again and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, allowing God to renew your mind. Think about the impossibility of obeying the clear, undisputed message of the passages above while also living in the world’s hierarchical mindset. If God has been able to work through and around such a divided kingdom, think of what He could do with an undivided one!

7 Comments

Words of a Fether » Apples and Oranges

[...] Likewise for the argument of hierarchy in Christianity, whether between clergy/laity or husband/wife. There are no explicit laws or decrees about this hierarchy. To enforce it would be like enforcing a minimum driving age when no laws are on the books about it, and only having a few examples to go by. And to argue that the “spirit” of NT teaching supports hierarchy is to conflict with other, clearer, explicit principles as I’ve listed many times before (e.g. The Inverted Pyramid). [...]

Beckyvirta

Yeah, it just seems hard to find a church that is actually free from hierarchical thinking. I feel discouraged about it. I think my brother-in-law’s church might be that way but they are on the other side of the country from me. My church, where I’ve been attending and quite involved for 30 years, seems to be moving more and more towards hierarchy, which breaks my heart. But I don’t want to lose my community. I do appreciate your writing. You seem like a voice calling in the wilderness sometimes! You have certainly given me a lot of food for thought.

SaberTruth

It really is discouraging, Becky. Even house churches sometimes keep the hierarchy and only give up the building. It’s like the difference between "home school" and "school at home": one means radically transforming the way kids are educated, and the other means bringing the old public school into your home. It’s tough when faced with a choice between convictions and community, sometimes also family. Sometimes we can remain as a witness or light, sometimes not. Follow whatever the Spirit seems to be telling you to do in your situation. And thank you for the kind compliment. :-) It certainly does seem like an isolated outpost in the middle of the desert at times. I pray for the day when the Biblical model for the ekklesia is the norm.

SaberTruth

Bonus question: Does it matter how nicely or benevolently a hierarchy is employed? That is, can the world’s model be used as long as we’re nice about it?

Beckyvirta

I hear you, and I agree with what you say about backwards authority in the church. But I need community, I need to hear the Word read out loud, I need to sing praises and worship, and I need to talk with other Christians and pray for them when they have trouble and ask for their prayers when I or my loved ones do.

SaberTruth

Hi Beckyvirta, Nobody’s saying we should do away with community; I’m not sure how I gave that impression. Can you show me what I said that did? We’re doing one form of "community" right now. Again, this is not to say that it wouldn’t be ideal to always meet face-to-face. But even the apostle Paul wrote letters to keep in touch, and I’m sure he’d have used the internet if he were here today. I love to be with other believers, but not just on Sundays or in "sanctuaries", and I like to participate and share gifts, which is what we’re told by scripture to do. So there is no need to give up community when we give up hierarchy.

Women in Pulpit- Any Denomination - Page 7 - Christian Forums

[...] the most fundamental principles of the faith. I collected the pertinent scriptures and posted them here, should anyone be interested in pursuing that angle. __________________ Legalism: Doing all the [...]

The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. However, it was not written by good men, because good men would not tell lies by saying ‘Thus saith the Lord’; it was not written by bad men because they would not write about doing good duty, while condemning sin, and themselves to hell; thus, it must be written by divine inspiration. ~ Charles Wesley, McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict , 1990:178.

Christians are not distinct from the rest of men in country or language or customs. For neither do they dwell anywhere in special cities of their own nor do they use a different language, nor practice a conspicuous manner of life… But dwelling as they do in Hellenic and in barbaric cities, as each man's lot is, and following the customs of the country in dress and food and the rest of life, the manner of conduct which they display is wonderful and confessedly beyond belief. They inhabit their own fatherland, but as sojourners; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is to them a fatherland and every fatherland a foreign country… They live on the earth but their citizenship is in heaven.~ The Epistle to Diognetus, near the end of the second century.

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