Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The problems with the church (an arrogant series of cynical genius) the upside down kingdom

The church as we have been taught is an organization.  It is modeled after all of the organizations that we see in the world.  Whether we are talking about the CEO on top of the international corporation, or the boards that run similar ones.  Whether you are talking about Governments that run based on democratic rule, or despotic dictators, our church has been modeled after these worldly organizations.

This is not as it should be.  The church of God should not be a pyramid of power, with Jesus at the top and the great "leadership" just under him.  What we have there is the mimicry of a system of oppression.  Oh sure, as long as the "leaders" are benevolent, this might work ok.  In fact, it might even be more expedient, and less chaotic that the alternatives.  But it is not God's revealed way.

Now as this is a blog, not a treatise on the issues of leadership and structure, we will be approaching this subject with a bit of simplicity.  I have found that of all my "weird" ideas, this one seems to get the most resistance.  I believe this is because the structure of our entire life is based around the idea of top down, oppressive leadership and ministry.  We are so stuck into this system that anything else seems incredibly subversive and wrong.  That our deep involvement with the culture and structures of our day not only hold our imaginations hostage, but they seductively inspire our treatment of the scriptures.  We do not see the truth, even though God lays it out before us so powerfully.

In order to grasp what I am talking about there must be a breaking of supernatural power upon our minds.  We must be able to see how the powers that be use our marriage to these structures of hierarchy to not only keep us bound up, but to keep us supporting those structures that are outside of the church.  We become upholders of evil, as we practice systems and structures that are in themselves the tools for the oppression of the entire world.

Like I said, I am going to keep it simple, I could go through the entirety of scriptures, and tear our systems to shreds, but I will instead just share two scriptures here, and if you need more, we can speak of that in the comments.

The first scripture I would share with you comes from the 1 book of Samuel chapter 8  7 The Lord told him, "Listen to everything the people are saying to you. You are not the one they have turned their backs on. I am the one they do not want as their king. 8 They are doing just as they have always done. They have deserted me and served other gods. They have done that from the time I brought them up out of Egypt until this very day. Now they are deserting you too.

The Lord goes on to explain how a king will tax them, take their sons and daughters into service and slavery, rule over them with an iron fist and make his own house great.  Yet the people wanted a king so they could be like other nations.  Now please hear this, to God this was rejection of Him.  The rest of the scriptures speak of the horrible atrocities that accompany kingship, even a "good" king like David winds up in the midst of civil war, murdering a man and taking his wife, and practically destroying the nation all the while building up a huge monument to himself.  The fact that God loved David, does not take away from the fact that God did not desire a king, in fact it shows that even with a man as good hearted as David, power corrupts.

The next scripture is repeated in the gospels, but lets look at Mark 10
James and John Ask a Favor of Jesus
 35 James and John came to Jesus. They were the sons of Zebedee. "Teacher," they said, "we would like to ask a favor of you."  36 "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
 37 They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right hand in your glorious kingdom. Let the other one sit at your left hand."
 38 "You don't know what you're asking for," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup of suffering I drink? Or can you go through the baptism of suffering I must go through?"
 39 "We can," they answered.
   Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink. And you will go through the baptism I go through. 40 But it is not for me to say who will sit at my right or left hand. These places belong to those they are prepared for."
 41 The other ten disciples heard about it. They became angry at James and John.
 42 Jesus called them together. He said, "You know about those who are rulers of the nations. They hold power over their people. Their high officials order them around. 43 Don't be like that. Instead, anyone who wants to be important among you must be your servant. 44 And anyone who wants to be first must be the slave of everyone. 45 Even the Son of Man did not come to be served. Instead, he came to serve others. He came to give his life as the price for setting many people free."

The disciples John and James want to be at the top of the pyramid.  The other disciples get mad, probably because they didn't think of it sooner.  They understand the way leadership and power work in the world, and they would like to be at the top end of the pyramid.  But Jesus explains that in his kingdom, things are not as they are in the world.  The leaders are those that give up everything and serve others, not those that have authority.  We in the church are called to a different understanding of structure and leadership.  We are not to be a hierarchy, but a place that truly practices "the first shall be last and the last first"

Another problem with the church is our refusal to abandon the ways of empire in our structure.  To elevate people, usually professionals into places of authority.  For the incredible majority of people to give away their own power, their own responsibility to someone else.  And what is very disturbing to me in this culture of consumerism, people pay others to live out their discipleship. One of the problems with the church is we have a structure that allows a dereliction of discipleship by the majority, and an acceptance of power and authority that is unbiblical by the leadership.

How this is remedied is by the first relinquishing their thrones and serving the last.  By smaller groups, allowing, in fact requiring, that all share their gifts, their talents, their thoughts and practices.  That once again all of the church becomes the reflection of God, and the dazzling presence of Jesus is found not at a service where the hierarchy is in full effect, but in the everyday life, where every single joint supplies.



Michael Johnson said...

There are problems with the 'church' and what we see in the way it is structured. I don't believe there is any question in that. My question to you I guess is what is an actual practical change that can be made. What can we do and what kind of structure should there be, if any, in your opinion. It seemed that the early church still had leaders (deacons, elders...etc.) so where would that fit and what role would they play?

It's not that I'm not with you in that everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ should be living it and not just 'believing' it...but what is the start and where do we go from where we are now?

john jensen said...

Well I know that the truth is not much if anything will change. The strength of the current of culture is just too strong. But there is a number of ways to get where we should be.

What I would suggest to looking at what makes a proper, non hierarchical church, with discipleship and community at its heart. Could you actually sustain this non hierarchical structure in the midst of these giant churches we have today? I don't think so, so we would need to get smaller.

So how do we get smaller? This is the question we can ask ourselves, and be creative about.

What do the callings of elder, deacon, pastor, prophet ect mean? In a healthy church these are people that have specific abilities that help the church, or they are tried and true tested people that we can trust for wisdom.

So how do we structure ourselves so that we might learn from those further down the line, or those with more specific giftings? Again, this is the time for creativity and imagination.

But ultimately we must look at a system that we have set up that stands in opposition to Gods, vow to begin the process towards change and identify the steps towards getting somewhere.

This is one of the reasons why I embrace the organic church ideology, as well as the concepts of Christian anarchy, and mutual submission to one another in intentional community.


Dan said...

Ah, I had my post not go through. This is what I was saying with my guest blog. It IS a reason that strip mall christianity grew so much in the 2000's. A new franchise on every corner. The economy has eaten a large portion of them alive and they are gone. It shows that according to conditioning from our society that people respond to it. Small groups challenge everyone to be involved. Whenever profit is removed from Christianity and more importantly the church, you will see success. profit divides and does not unify.

David said...

When you speak out against traditional structures and practices of authoritarian power, are you speaking as one with authority? If so, why?

Why speak out at all in the upside-down kingdom? Let others play the blame game.

If you truly believed what you said, would you not close down your blog and only act?

David said...

After all, Jesus wrote nothing, only acted. Why not follow that example?

john jensen said...

Fair question David, I would say that Jesus did in fact talk about it. Though Jesus did not have the medium of internet, he did speak often to large crowds of people about what he was doing, and why. He also spoke about these things in parables hoping to help them understand.

In addition, he often critiqued the leadership of his time, calling them to stop what they were doing. The fact that Jesus did not write, but spoke does not mean that he didn't do more than merely live.

Everything that I say comes from a place of lived experience, and current practice. You have watched that first hand. I am not talking about some ideological dogma, but real practice. If you would have visited the cave a bit later you would have seen an even more interactive gathering with all of the people, including the mentally ill and drug addicted, sharing in the service often even doing the teaching times.

If I were to speak without doing, I would have no integrity. If I would do without speaking up, I would have no chance of being an instrument of change.


David said...

When Jesus rose from the dead, did he keep his physical body?

What state is his physical body in now?

Do you still believe anything like this?

john jensen said...

Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and ascended bodily. His bod is now in a changed state, but still physical. When Jesus became a man, he became a man for eternity. The resurrected body is different, yet still physical.

this is what I believe


David said...

Well I hope Jesus isn't pissing himself laughing at your commentary.

At least not for all eternity.

john jensen said...

Well David, I am sure he is


Ephesians 3 Rooted said...

Well put. I appreciate your viewpoint, especially since im in seminary and going to do church planting, largely due to the failed structures that the church has operated in over the past century here in America. Also, how do you know Sean Gladding, he is a friend and fellow seminarian here at Asbury!