I always look forward to those rare moments that come along where a random interaction with someone leads to a deeper discussion about something serious, or when a seemingly inconsequential series of events culminates into something that is extremely important, or when something that seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things, becomes the prelude to something with fundamental purpose.
I experienced one of these occasions this past weekend when I went to my cousin’s high school graduation party. After I walked in and helped myself to a fine brunch buffet, I sat down in the living room to chat with my older sister and my dad while we watched a slide show of my cousin’s life. There were several people milling about the house, and there was nothing really out of the ordinary at all. It was pretty much what you expect each year when these types of parties roll around. But within just a few minutes of my arrival, everything changed.
As I was sitting on the couch, discussing home remodeling issues with my sister, a guy from my home church sat down in another chair across the living room. I’ve talked with Rob before, and he’s a great guy who I’ve had a few good discussions with in the past. He loves to talk about God. I could tell as I was chatting with my sis, that he was waiting for a break in our conversation so that he could engage me in a discussion. Well, sure enough, as soon as I finished talking Rob began asking me questions. He began with the usual questions about school and what I was studying at seminary. When I told him I was studying theology and church history his eyes lit up and he immediately sent what can only be described as a barrage of theological questions my way.
Rob asked me some good questions, like who is God? And what is God’s name? I proceeded with a brief discourse about the trinity, to which Rob replied by asking me where in the Bible it talked about the nature of God. I quoted a few passages and then went on to talk about some of the erroneous views of Christ, as Rob asked me some more questions. The questions kept coming and the conversation continued into the next half hour or so. After we reached a point where Rob was sufficiently satisfied that he understood what I believed about God, he then informed me with a grin on his face that he did not believe in the trinity, and that he did not believe that Jesus was God.
To say that I was shocked at this information would not do justice to my internal reaction upon hearing this from Rob. I didn’t know what to say as Rob launched into a discourse that involved his misinterpretation of key passages in the New Testament. The whole time he was speaking, I kept thinking to myself, “is this really happening?”
Knowing that Rob was an influential youth group sponsor, not to mention a member of my home church, I couldn’t resist asking him if the elders of our church knew what he believed. He informed me that they did, and that they had told him they didn’t mind as long as he still believed that Jesus was the Son of God. I went home that afternoon in a haze of confusion, unable to make any sense out of the nonsense I had just heard from this guy that I really did have some genuine respect for, and to tell you the truth, I was even a little depressed by it all. I felt kind of like I had stumbled into the bizzaro world from Superman, where everything is the complete opposite of what it’s supposed to be.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the deity of Jesus Christ as part of the Trinity is a fundamental, basic doctrine of Christianity, and has been since the inception of the Church. This is also referred to as the Incarnation, which means that Jesus is God come into human history in the flesh. It is the foundation of our entire faith. The scriptures are not vague on this particular issue; they are in fact abundantly clear. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe that Christ is God, have been forced to produce their own separate mistranslation of the Bible in an effort to avoid the point that Christ is God. If Satan was only ever able to tell one single lie, somewhere at the top of his list would be the lie that Jesus is not God. Because if Satan can get someone to believe that, he can get them to believe absolutely anything. Let’s take a look at the scriptures, shall we?
Matthew 1:22 and Isaiah 7:14
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’”
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”
John 1:1-5, 14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.’”
Exodus 3:13-14 and John 8:57-58
“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them? God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
“You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’
‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’”
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”
“Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’”
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
1 Corinthians 8:4-6
“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
1 John 5:20
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’”
2 Peter 1:1
“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:”
Revelation 1:8 and 17-18
“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”
Likewise, the following sets of verses are places where the New Testament refers to Christ by the same designation used to refer to God in the Old Testament:
“First and Last”
Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12 – cf. – Revelation 1:17; 2:8; 22:13
Psalm 27:1 – cf. – John 1:9
Psalm 18:2; 95:1 – cf. – 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:6-8
“Husband” or “Bridegroom”
Hosea 2:16; Isaiah 62:5 – cf. – Ephesians 5:28-33; Revelation 21:2
Psalm 23:1 – cf. – Hebrews 13:20
Hosea 13:14; Psalm 130:7 – cf. – Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9
Isaiah 43:3 – cf. – John 4:42
“Lord of Glory”
Isaiah 42:8 – cf. – 1 Corinthians 2:8
In summation, there is this thing that we Christians believe called the doctrine of the Trinity, which in short means that there is one God, revealed to us as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
For anyone struggling to better understand the doctrine of the Trinity, I would recommend a reading of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, wherein he devotes several chapters to the subject. His discussion of the Trinity helped me a great deal at a time when I was searching for more clarity on this doctrine.
Several years ago I was helping a friend of mine clean out his dorm room at the end of the school year. We were finishing up another year at Kentucky Christian University, and I was just concluding my first year as a resident assistant. Being an RA that year was my introduction to the world of formal/vocational ministry, and as fleeting a role as it was, it turned out to be an important experience for me. I was faced with many challenges during that time, not the least of which was learning to follow Christ even when my employers and supervisors were telling me to do the opposite. Throughout that year, and on into the next, I learned one of the most difficult but important lessons that I have ever learned… that Christ’s way of leading people is radically different from anything else that this world terms as leadership, that it is extremely challenging to follow Christ’s example in this area, and that at some point those attempting to follow his example will meet with opposition. Sadly, the opposition will usually come from other Christian leaders who have a warped understanding of what it means to lead.
So as my friend Jeff and I were cleaning out his dorm room that spring, I noticed a pile of books he was getting rid of and started to thumb through them. Among them was a book that caught my attention called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, with the interesting subtitle, Follow Them and People Will Follow You. I asked Jeff about it and he replied that he had never read it, but it was a book that he had been assigned for a preaching class he had taken that semester. I thought it seemed like an extremely interesting, if not extremely boastful title, and since the idea of leadership was fresh in my mind, I thought I would take a look. I mean, this book had been assigned reading for all the preaching majors, so there had to be something about it that was helpful to those in leadership. Or so I thought.
Well, that was several years ago now, but ever since then I have occasionally been reminded of the fact that it was, and still is, one of the worst books I have ever read. It not only epitomizes everything that is wrong with church leadership in this country, but it also sticks out as a perfect example of the kind of pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness that plagues so many Christian leaders today. Yes, just in case there is any doubt as to what I’m saying, this book is straight from the darkest pit of Hell.
To say that I’m going against the grain on this sentiment would be a gross understatement. The author, John C. Maxwell is considered by the masses (including those in church leadership around the country) to be the foremost authority on the topic of leadership alive today. The 21 Irrefutable Laws is considered to be Maxwell’s cornerstone book, and has sold over 1 million copies by itself. Maxwell is a former preacher turned leadership guru, and has been quite successful as the founder of several leadership organizations and consulting firms that cater to millions of people all over the world. His latest release, Leadership Gold, joins his other works that number over two dozen and have collectively sold more than 13 million copies. Despite whatever anyone might say to criticize the guy, his leadership philosophy will no doubt continue to amass the worship of millions for years to come.
With that said, I’m going to take a stab at this book. The 21 Irrefutable Laws, which provide the basis for Maxwell’s entire leadership philosophy, is probably, in my opinion, one of the most deceptive titles out there. In all seriousness, it could more accurately be described as, “The 21 utterly refutable illusions of witchcraft.” That probably sounds really harsh, but it is the unfortunate truth. If this was a purely secular book, and Maxwell was not a Christian leader, I would have no problem with the book at all. However, the main consumers of Maxwell’s ideology are Christian leaders and those in Church ministry; a fact that continues to perplex me beyond all reason, and compels me to say something, even if no one is listening.
First and foremost (to begin with the most obvious flaw), this book contains absolutely no mention of Jesus Christ at all. Not at all. I would submit, that any book claiming to deal with irrefutable leadership principles, should probably somewhere make mention of the greatest leader of all time – God. Considering the author is a Christian, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I don’t buy in to this idea that not mentioning Christ is a way to reach the unbelieving world… that’s just stupid. Getting a book about leadership, that makes no mention of Jesus Christ, from a Christian leader, is the same as getting a hamburger with no meat.
Second, I would point out that the very definition of witchcraft—not bubble gum witchcraft that conjures images of jack-o-lanterns, broomsticks, and all that Harry Potter kind of stuff—but real witchcraft, in its most basic form, is simply nothing more than the art of learning how to influence, control, and manipulate people… or in Maxwell’s more digestive language, “getting people to follow you.”
Getting people to follow you has absolutely nothing at all to do with what it means to be a Christian, which by definition means being a follower of Christ alone. Moreover, the New Testament does not contain a single teaching about how to influence people and get them to follow you. It’s simply not a concern of the New Testament writers at all. The goal, the mission, the mandate, for anyone claiming to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, especially those in ministry and leadership positions within the Church, should always be to point the way to Christ and help people learn what it means to follow Him. Any book, philosophy, teacher, or lecturer which offers a way for you to learn how to get other people to follow you, is by its very nature, completely pagan.
To illustrate my point, I’ll proceed with a brief breakdown of the chapters in the book, the essence of what each one is teaching, and what the Bible has to say in contrast.
1: Law of the Lid – Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness
According to Romans 12:8, leadership is a gift from God, nothing more, and nothing less. With that said, a person’s level of effectiveness, in any endeavor, is directly the result of whether or not they are acting in accordance with God’s will. For the Christian, there is really no such thing as effectiveness; there is obedience, and there is disobedience.
“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 measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” –Romans 12:3-8
2: Law of Influence – The true measure of leadership is influence
The measure of pagan leadership might be influence, but Christian leadership is different. In this chapter Maxwell quotes one of his favorite personal proverbs saying, “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following him, is only taking a walk.” My immediate response would be that Maxwell isn’t familiar with the Old Testament prophets, and especially the story of Jeremiah, who ministered and prophesied faithfully and obediently for somewhere around 40 years, with no one listening or responding to him in any significant way. The measure of a Christian leader is determined by how willing you are to obey God and serve others, no matter what it means, or what it might cost you.
3: Law of Process – Leadership develops daily, not in a day
Maxwell expounds upon this with the underlying thought that leadership is attained through goal-setting, and must be worked toward. This doesn’t line up with scripture either. God is the one who chooses and develops leaders, not through their own efforts at completing goals they’ve set for themselves, but through God’s grace and discipline. God may take years to develop someone into a leader, but it is his work, not ours, and he usually accomplishes this through suffering.
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” –Hebrews 5:7-9
4: Law of Navigation – Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course
I submit that Christ is both the captain and the navigator, and it is our privilege to be members of his crew.
5: Law of Addition – Leaders add value by serving others
This is a recent revision that Maxwell has made, attempting to accommodate something resembling servanthood. However, again there is no mention of Christ. From Christ’s point of view, the purpose of serving others is to show them who Christ is.
“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.” –John 13:13-15
6: Law of Solid Ground – Trust is the foundation of leadership
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” -1st Corinthians 3:11
7: Law of Respect – People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves
In this chapter Maxwell generates the idea that leadership can be measured according to different levels. In other words, he says that there are level one leaders, and level two leaders, and so on, and that your position on this number scale determines who will follow you and who will not. The underlying insinuation that goes along with this kind of thinking is that our goal in Christian ministry is to engage in the pagan ritual of jockeying for a better position on the proverbial ladder so we can get above everyone else and have more people under us. This whole way of thinking is dangerous for any Christian. The result of following this kind of teaching is that a person develops a constant concern with how “strong” they are, and they inevitably begin to compare themselves with others. The Apostle Paul, in defense of his own ministry says, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” –2nd Corinthians 10:12. He later concludes, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” -2nd Corinthians 10:18
8: Law of Intuition – Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias
This is another good place to restate the point that Maxwell’s idea of leadership is not Christ’s idea of leadership. Christ’s definition of leadership is serving others with the knowledge that Christ is the leader. In that sense, anyone who leads from a Christian perspective must evaluate everything according to what God has said in the Bible and through prayer.
9: Law of Magnetism – Who you are, is who you attract
Again, it is a pagan idea that attracting people to us has anything to do with what it means to be a Christian, let alone a leader in the Church. Our mission is to attract people to Christ, which God does through us.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” –2Corinthians 2:14-17
10: Law of Connection – Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand
The problem with an idea like this is that you can’t really reach a person’s heart if your purpose in doing so is to get them to follow you. That’s called manipulation. It’s like saying to yourself, “Hey, I’m going to serve and love this person, so they will do what I say.” It may be true, that if you serve and love someone, they will be more inclined to listen to you, but the whole point is getting people to listen to God.
11: Law of the Inner Circle – A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him
Well, this almost sounds like it could be true, and that’s what makes it so deceptive. Think about Christ again. Was Christ’s potential determined by his 12 disciples? Of course not.
12: Law of Empowerment – only secure leaders give power to others
Wow. There’s some strong wording here: power. Maxwell is telling me that I actually have some kind of power, and that if I’m secure in my power, I can actually allow others to share my power.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” –2nd Corinthians 4:5-7
13: Law of the Picture – people do what people see
This is sometimes true, but not always. If I’m attempting to memorize a set of principles on how to get people to follow me, and those people start following me, then it is possible that they might, in turn, begin to memorize the same rules so people will follow them. I could be in trouble if that happened, because then they might go up on the leadership scale and stop following me.
14: Law of Buy-in – people buy into the leader, then the vision
God have mercy on me if I ever start to think that people need to “buy-in” to me.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” –Galatians 6:14
15: Law of Victory – leaders find a way for the team to win
I’m not sure that this can be construed in any way to apply to Christianity, but if it were, and the team was say, the Church, then victory has already been achieved for us through Christ’s death and resurrection. If I’m a Christian leader, and I’m seeking a way for the people I’m serving to “win,” my only course of action is obedience to God. I have to do what God tells me to do, and I have to encourage others to do what God tells them to do. But from a Biblical perspective, obedience to God often looks a lot more like losing than winning, at least in a fleshly sense. In this chapter Maxwell makes the statement that it is the job of a leader to make things better for the people. But Christ is our leader, and he says to us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” –Mark 8:34-36
16: Law of the Big Mo – momentum is a leader’s best friend
Maxwell’s main point here in this chapter is that momentum exaggerates things in positive ways. My question is this: if I’m a Christian leader, why would I want to exaggerate whatever it is that I’m doing? Why would I want to mislead people in any way? I’m not even sure what momentum means in terms of Christian ministry and leadership, and I’m definitely not sure about how momentum can be my “best friend.” It sounds to me like this is another way of saying, “If we’re growing, it makes me look better.”
17: Law of Priorities – leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment
In this chapter Maxwell states his own personal code for deciding what a priority to him is. He sums it up this way: Requirements, Returns, and Rewards… what he is required to do, what gives him the greatest return, and what is most rewarding. For the Christian, priorities are determined by God, and what it means for us to be obedient to him. I cannot imagine being in ministry, and thinking that my main priorities should be related to what I can get out of my position as a leader.
18: Law of Sacrifice – leaders must give up to go up
Sacrifice is an important part of being a Christian. But again there is no mention of Christ here. But also troubling in this statement is the notion that sacrifice is something I should do when it is beneficial to me.
19: Law of Timing – When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go
20: Law of Explosive Growth – to add growth, lead followers, to multiply, lead leaders
21: Law of Legacy – a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession
These last three laws finish up Maxwell’s formula for trying to be a leader. In the corporate business world, or in government, or in sports, these all might actually work… In fact, his whole philosophy is probably great for those sorts of things. But when it comes to the Christian faith, it is completely incompatible. And it burns me up to think that so many Christian ministers and Church leaders are buying into this crap. In the 21st Law, Maxwell states that, “there is no success without a successor.” There is no way you can apply that to Christianity. Christ doesn’t have a successor. And this just reinforces the idea that if you make any attempt to apply these “irrefutable laws” to the Christian faith, ministry, and Church leadership in general, what you end up with is a formula for replacing Christ’s role as head of the Church. While some of these principles might work, from a physical point of view, what are you really accomplishing as a follower of Christ, if all you’re doing is figuring out how to get people to follow you?
“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.’” –Mark 10:42-44
I recently completed a course at my seminary titled ‘Special Topics in Ancient Christianity.’ It dealt with the historical personalities and major events and developments of the early Church, from the New Testament period up to about 600 A.D. One of the major topics we discussed was the post-Apostolic, early Church fathers. These include guys like Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Justin Martyr, and the list goes on… Being raised in what is known by the outside church at large as the ‘Stone-Campbell Movement,’ and having attended a university affiliated with this movement, I was naturally deprived of any serious study on the history of Christianity during my undergraduate studies. As such, I was surprised by the amount of Church history in general that I did not know. For instance, I was completely unaware that there existed an entire set of writings known as the “Apostolic Fathers,” which contain some of the earliest known writings of the Church in the generations immediately following the Apostles. For example, the “Apostolic Fathers,” contain an epistle known as 1st Clement, which was written to the same church in Corinth that Paul had previously addressed in his epistles to the Corinthians just a few decades before. My professor Dr. Brandon Withrow describes 1st Clement this way:
“It represents a chain of information passed on from the Apostles to the next generation. With citations from Paul and James, Clement tells us something about how the letters of the Apostles were received by early Christians. It tells us about ecclesiastical structures and what were considered important theological ideas. 1 Clement is just one of many gems awaiting the student of early Christianity.”
Anyway, during the course I decided to purchase a copy of the “Apostolic Fathers,” which comes in two small volumes, translated from the Greek as part of the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press). This most recent translation is from Bart D. Ehrman, who has both a Ph.D. and a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. His list of accomplishments and qualifications goes on and on; suffice to say, he is considered to be an expert in the areas of New Testament interpretation, the history of ancient Christianity, the formation of the Canon, Jewish-Christian relations in antiquity, Greco-Roman religions, the Christianization of the Roman world, etc., etc. He has received numerous awards and is currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
With my class and semester being over, I’ve been going through reading withdrawal, so I was perusing Amazon for books that might catch my attention when I noticed the list of suggestions they were tossing my way. Among them, a new release titled, “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer,” by none other than Professor Bart D. Ehrman. As you might expect, this caught my attention, so I began doing some research into the contents of the book, and sifting through the reviews on Amazon. An hour later, I was completely stunned to find that the title of Ehrman’s book wasn’t just a capitalistic ploy to generate public interest, but an accurate statement reflecting Ehrman’s personal and professional conclusion. Here is the official summary from the publisher HarperCollins:
“In times of questioning and despair, people often quote the Bible to provide answers. Surprisingly, though, the Bible does not have one answer but many “answers” that often contradict one another. Consider these competing explanations for suffering put forth by various biblical writers:
The prophets: suffering is a punishment for sin
The book of Job, which offers two different answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; and suffering is beyond comprehension, since we are just human beings and God, after all, is God.
Ecclesiastes: suffering is the nature of things, so just accept it.
All apocalyptic texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: God will eventually make right all that is wrong with the world .
For renowned Bible scholar Bart Ehrman, the question of why there is so much suffering in the world is more than a haunting thought. Ehrman’s inability to reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of real life led the former pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church to reject Christianity.
In God’s Problem, Ehrman discusses his personal anguish upon discovering the Bible’s contradictory explanations for suffering and invites all people of faith—or no faith—to confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world and each of us.”
So this renowned scholar has actually rejected Christianity in light of his own study. Sad as it may be, this doesn’t surprise me. It only serves as another example of something God has been teaching me as I’ve begun my journey into the depths of theological education these past several months. It is something that I am reminded of when I read the Book of Acts. In the fourth chapter, after Peter and John are disciplined by the Sanhedrin for preaching about Christ it says, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13-14 NIV).
Unschooled, ordinary men, who had been with Jesus… not highly educated, renowned theologians who knew about Jesus.
And this cuts to the heart of what God has been teaching me for some time, and which I’m sure he will need to remind me of again and again as I continue in my formal education… that my scholasticism is not what makes me a Christian. I’m not a follower of Christ because I have a B.A. in Biblical Studies and I’m getting a M.A. in Theological Studies… I am a Christian because I know the Lord, and he knows me. I am reminded of two other verses:
“Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!‘” (Matthew 7:22-23 NIV).
“No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD, ‘because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 & Hebrews 8:11 NIV).
With that said, I don’t want to belittle Ehrman’s issue with not being able to accurately grasp the Biblical understanding of suffering, (which by the way, is not contradictory) but I’m afraid that this boils down to a classic case of intellectual pride; ergo Ehrman concludes that his problem is not actually his problem, but is instead, “God’s Problem.”
I’m sure I could go into this at length, but for now I’ll just say in regards to the issue of suffering, that the issues which Ehrman suggests are biblical contradictions on the nature of suffering are simply different perspectives on suffering which together provide a rich understanding of a complex issue. These different perspectives from the prophets, to Job, to Revelation all compliment each other, provided the person reading them actually knows Jesus Christ as Lord. I’ll just conclude with this thought: outside of Christ, the human race cannot begin to fathom what suffering really is, and why we must go through it.
Ok, one more quote, this one from Watchman Nee, and I’ll leave you with that:
“The weakness of today’s knowledge, is that it is mere information. Without the strength of the Lord satisfying us, and producing knowledge, we have no knowledge at all. The vessel God want’s for his work is not prepared by hearing a lot of things, but by seeing and receiving and being satisfied. Its understanding is based on the life of Christ within, not on information about Him. We must beware of just passing on to others what we hear. No matter how precious or profound the teaching may be, we are not to be disseminators of information. In this respect people with good memories can be most dangerous. To prattle on about divine things will achieve nothing, and may take us far from the will of God. God’s power on earth cannot be maintained by what we hear, but only by our knowledge of Him. What must characterize the Christian Church is what we know within us. God deliver us from a merely intellectual Gospel! (From ‘Changed Into His Likeness’ 1976, p. 39)