Opinions on faith and life

Seven-eighths of an Octave

My dad was a music major in college, and he told of a prank the students used to play on a certain music professor. They would wait till the prof was on the top floor of the building, then go to the basement to play the scale on a piano-- but omit the final note. They knew that the prof would run all the way down to the basement to hit that last note and complete the scale. (Ah, for the days when college pranks didn’t involve vandalism or bodily harm!)

Several years ago I wrote about the issue of the pastorate, wherein I challenged those holding to the clergy/laity model to give up the privileges of being called a Pastor or clergyman. I’m happy to see that others are waking up to the problem of hierarchy in the Body of Christ and recognizing the inherent unbiblical nature of authoritarianism, but some of them just can’t seem to hit that last note.

In one such article a paid pastor rightly decries the problem of power and authority in Christianity, a problem I wrote a whole book about (it will not be available for free online reading again for another week or so, due to unforseen rules for putting it in the Kindle Free Lending Library for a while, though you can still click on the cover art to download it in PDF form). But as I’ve pointed out with people claiming Christianity is not a religion while standing in a sanctuary, so also it seems ironic for a paid clergyman to argue effectively against the very office he currently holds. Why not hit that last note and give up the title, salary, parking privileges, etc.? Why stop short of actually walking the walk?

I say this not as a personal criticism but a general plea to all paid pastors: show by example what you teach against authoritarianism, beyond being a benevolent dictator. That is, since the very office of pastor is the embodiment of unbiblical authority, then step down from the podium; leave the pulpit and platform; get out of the spotlight and stop being the center of attention on Sunday mornings. Certainly people of exemplary character are worthy of respect and kind treatment, but what has that to do with a title which in the NT is a gift of the Holy Spirit?

In Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 1 Tim. 5:17-22, he presents what is an often-overlooked double-edged sword: that (to borrow a movie line) with great power comes great responsibility; that is, with double honor comes double shame. An elder is to be chosen on the basis of having already displayed the highest levels of maturity and spiritual growth, such that they serve as examples to other believers. On that basis, Paul argues here that such people are not to be accused flippantly, so any accusations against them are to be verified before the elder is put on trial (and remember, these were not clergymen but ordinary people without titles or authority). But the flip side of this is that once the evidence is verified, the congregation must hold up a guilty elder to public shame, as a warning to other elders that they are not privileged to have a license to sin.

This all bears on the matter of whether people with the gift of pastoring should be elevated in any way above their siblings in Christ. The sharing of spiritual gifts is multidirectional, for the purpose of building each other up. But the model of one gift elevated above the rest speaks a thousand words against this mutuality, showing by example that there is something extra spiritual about this person-- even above equally mature believers who don’t happen to have the title.

So how is it possible to know and teach that authoritarianism is wrong in the church, but continue to act it out by retaining the pastorate? The lyrics and the tune don’t match. Rather, let the one with the gift of pastoring show by example that hierarchy is wrong by giving up all the titles and privileges. Surely if they are gifted they can still do all that God requires without those things, which is what people with every other gift have always done. With Paul let them say,

1 Cor. 9:11–12 So since we have planted spiritual things for you, is it such a big deal for us to expect to harvest physical produce from you? If others have this right from you, why not us all the more? But in spite of all that we do not use these rights; instead we forfeit it all so that we put no obstacle in front of the good news of the Anointed.

1 Cor. 9:16–18 For if I am to announce the good news it’s not something for me to brag about, but something I must do, and woe to me if I don’t! If I do this voluntarily I am earning wages, but if I do it involuntarily I am only discharging my duty. So what is my wage? To bring the good news free of charge, waiving my rights.

How about it, pastors? The day I see you stop using the title and privileges is the day I start believing you when you speak out against authoritarianism.
Side note: This is identical to the principle regarding women in Christianity. If saying the wife is equal is negated by treating the wife as unequal, then so also saying the pastor is not elevated is negated by treating him/her as elevated. The problem is elevation, regardless of the character of that lofty position. That is, what Jesus taught (not so among you) is not how to lord over, but whether to lord over.

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 lifeā€¦ 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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