That’s the subject of my post at The Gospel Project yesterday, Work and the Kingdom of God. I talk about avoiding the two errors of compartmentalization and spiritual weirdness, and how the biblical path is love at work (and what that means).
Archives for October 2014
Sometimes, I hear people reason like this. They say “the NT teaches that we are prone to self-deception. Therefore we need to be accountable to others and especially the leadership of the church.”
This sounds good at first. However, all 6,000 years of recorded history — as well as the Scriptures themselves — reveal something very incomplete about that thinking.
I’m not against accountability. But something is being left out, and it is this: the most important form of accountability is the accountability of leaders to those they are leading.
In other words, this new movement in the church seems to be placing the emphasis on followers “submitting.” But the lesson of human history and the Scriptures is that the first and greatest priority is for the leaders to submit to the followers by seeing themselves as servants who are accountable to them.
We see this in world history, where we learn that power has a tendency to corrupt people — and therefore must be limited and kept accountable. For example, the basic premises behind the structure of the United States, learning from what went before in the over-reaching governments of history, is that even more important than getting the right people into power (as important as that is) is having mechanisms of accountability for those in power, regardless of who they are.
The reason is that even good people are often corrupted when they get into power. The temptation to please others and fall into group-think are great. Hence, the integrity of formal authority needs to be based not only in the character of the individuals, but also a system of checks and balances that checks and limits the authority.
This is also true in the church, and is seen in the Scriptures. The chief opponents to the prophets (in the OT) and Jesus and the apostles in (in the NT) were not the people, but the leaders. Further, God holds people accountable for whether they go along with over-reaching leadership or stand up to it. For example, in Jeremiah 24:10-11 we read: “Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart.” Note that it is the shepherds — the leaders — in this passage who destroyed God’s flock, and God laments the fact that no one (that is, not even the non-leaders) lay it to heart and thus do something about it.
Likewise, in Isaiah 3:12, God says “O my people, your guides mislead you.” He then continues “the Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people” (Isaiah 3:14). In the NT, we see leadership often using their authority to oppose the doing of good. The Pharisees, for example, claimed it was contrary to proper rules for the disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) and for Jesus to heal a man on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14). And, of course, they ultimately used their authority to crucify Jesus.
The notion of “submit to those in authority” can easily be a recipe for overlooking these important realities of how authority is often abused, and how we therefore always have a responsibility to use our critical judgment to “examine all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), including the use of authority.
It is certainly important for individuals to keep themselves accountable as part of a good circle of Christian fellowship. But let’s not forget that leadership also needs to keep itself accountable. Let’s make sure we don’t fall into a one-way notion where we forget that accountability equally (in fact, more fully) applies to leadership. To view the accountability of individuals to leadership as the key solution to individual self-deception is simply to set ourselves up to repeat the mistakes of the middle ages and corrupt governments, by handing over more authority to leadership than it is designed by God to have.
Let me be clear that I am not against authority, and submission to authority. Rather, I am saying two things. First, true submission to authority recognizes that authority itself needs to acknowledge its accountability. It needs to acknowledge this not just in the sense that it will be accountable to Christ at the last judgment, which can be easily abused, but in the sense that they are also accountable here and now to the people they lead. This creates an accountability loop that affirms the dignity and equality of the followers and tends to check corruption.
Second, I am saying that authority is best exercised when it recognizes its limits. In the church, the limits pertain chiefly to primary doctrines — not secondary doctrines. That is, it is not over-reaching to seek to hold someone accountable for rejecting a primary doctrine of the faith, such as the Trinity or justification by faith alone. But when authority seeks to “keep people accountable” in relation to secondary issues, they very often by definition step outside of the realm of their legitimate authority and wreak havoc. This brings people into bondage and hinders the advance of the gospel and the joy people are to have in their salvation.
Further, the entire notion of “being submissive” can sometimes end up being understood in a way that diminishes the competence and freedom of the individual before God — which are important truths that we especially learned from the Reformation.
Leaders are not somehow better or more important to God than those they lead. The people they are leading are incredibly competent and amazing in their own right. Leadership that does not acknowledge this at its very heart and does not lead in such a way that centers on affirming and building up the dignity and competence of the individual is not true biblical leadership.
The proper use of authority is a beautiful thing. A truly wonderful, beautiful thing. Common grace and the Scriptures teach us that the chief and proper use of authority is to defend people’s freedom. That’s how Jesus used it (Matthew 12:1-21; Galatians 5:1) and how Paul used it (Galatians 2:4-5; 5:13). Let’s get back to emphasizing this important truth.
Tim Challies has been doing a great series on how he gets things done.
So far, he has covered:
- Why productivity matters at all. The answer: we are called to glorify God by doing good for others, and understanding productivity enables you to be more effective in doing this good.
- Defining your areas of responsibility. Before getting to the issue of to-do lists, we need to know the types of things we should be doing at all. Defining your areas of responsibility and roles within them enables you to do this. Tim also does a great job blowing up a common productivity myth — that productive people “always hit their deadlines, never have to request an extension, and never feel a crunch at the end of the week.” Those things are not the essence of productivity. Why? Because God is sovereign. Though we should plan and execute with excellence, sometimes the unpredictable will happen.
- Time, Energy, and Mission. Here he covers the importance of managing your energy, not just your time (a key point!); defining a mission for each of your areas of responsibility; and how to use that mission once you have it.
I especially appreciate how he has given solid attention to the higher levels of roles and responsibilities, instead of going straight to to-do lists. This is essential for making sure you are doing the right things (rather than just being busy) and doing them for the right reasons. And, it’s just plain interesting!
I’m enjoying these posts very much and Tim’s thinking is very much in sync with mine. Tim has been studying this issue and refining his systems for several years now. It is great to see what he has developed and it’s worth keeping up with the series as it continues.
Vishal Mangalwadi, in The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture:
Carey is a classic example of Christian thinking not ruled by fatalistic resignation. Rather than resigning ourselves to a wrong or unacceptable situation, we should use our creative imagination to make a difference….
The spiritual bankruptcy of many Christians in our time is closely related to the bankruptcy of godly imagination. Many Christians seek transformation into the moral image of God, but have little desire to exercise the creative dimension in them of God’s image.
God does everything he does with excellence, and Jesus surely never engaged in shoddy work in his time of working as a carpenter before his public ministry. Therefore, we should not settle for shoddy work in our occupations, either.
Yet, because much Christian teaching on work is still thin and compartmentalized, this often happens. We need to correct this by affirming that we are not to compartmentalize our work and our faith, as though God’s call on us applies only in the area of church and our personal lives. Further, if we were able to recapture the compelling biblical vision of work in the church, it would do wonders for the effectiveness of our testimony to the gospel before the world.
I love how Dorothy Sayers makes these points in Why Work:
How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life?
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.
What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly — but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? [Great point! Shoddy and careless workmanship is an insult to God because it misrepresents his nature and pervasive concern for all areas of life.]
No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could any one believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Yet in her own buildings, in her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers, in her sermons and in her little books of devotion, the church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse, work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent craftsman.
And why? Simply because she has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as the work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred.