Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spiritual leadership (5)

Edward Fudge


We have been considering three fundamental truths of spiritual leadership.(1) Spiritual leadership involves lowly service, not legal power. Therefore we must not confuse spiritual leadership with political position. (2) Spiritual leaders exercise grace-gifts from God, not worldly qualifications. Therefore we dare not focus on worldly achievements when choosing spiritual leaders. (3) The Bible identifies gifted people, not legal qualifications. Therefore we should not confuse technical qualifications with spiritual characteristics.

Scripture nowhere provides a single, uniform list of qualifications for spiritual leaders. There are two New Testament passages which people often read in that fashion, written by Paul to his co-workers Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9). However, when we read these passages carefully, we discover that they differ in several significant ways. Paul gives Timothy a description of the individual gifted for the episkopes ("oversight," "episcopacy" or "bishopric"), the work of overseeing or watching over other believers. He sends Titus a description of the person gifted to serve as a presbyteros ("senior," "elder" or "presbyter"). Christian scholars differ as to whether elders and bishops served in one position or two in the first century.

These two passages also contain different descriptives. Of the 30-35 traits mentioned in the two lists, only five are the same in Greek. If Paul were listing official qualifications, we would expect his lists to be identical. In addition, the descriptives Paul does give are often negative in form (don't pick this kind of person). The named traits are almost always relative as to quality (no precise threshold given). And there is no attempt to define these sometimes ambiguous terms. Paul is certainly not listing formal qualifications for an office, but is rather giving informal descriptions of those who are divinely gifted for the ministry of spiritual leadership.

Copyright 2008 by Edward Fudge. You are encouraged to share this gracEmail freely, widely and in its entirety (including this final paragraph).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Legalism - a way of life

I received this today by email from a friend. I don't know where it originated (so I hope I'm not breaching copyright by posting it here).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spiritual Leadership (4)

Edward Fudge


The mission of spiritual leadership is the transformation of God's people into the likeness of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:7-16). It is not to construct buildings, create programs, attract crowds or to build an institution. However, the transformation of human beings is a supernatural result, which cannot be achieved through mere human planning or power. It requires supernatural means, in the form of grace-gifts bestowed on every member of Christ's body (1 Cor. 12:27-31). And the method of spiritual leadership is lowly service, performed in the meekness of Christ, in the power of God and to his glory (Mark 10:42-45; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

For all these reasons, we dare not focus on any human marker of worldly success -- whether academic, business, professional or financial -- when selecting leaders for the church of God. Such fleshly qualifications contribute nothing toward spiritual leadership. Indeed, they might get in the way, insofar as they tempt leaders and followers alike to lose sight of the divine mission, means and method of spiritual leadership as revealed in Scripture.

We do not create spiritual leaders by selecting people and ordaining them to leadership roles. Instead, we look among God's people and recognize individuals whom God has gifted for this service. Such people have a heart set on the mission of facilitating transformed lives. They rely already on the means God provides for this task -- grace-gifts to be exercised in his power and to his glory. They trust the divine method of spiritual leadership, which is humble service in the footprints of Jesus himself. The people whom God has gifted for spiritual leadership are clearly recognizable -- not by worldly markers of success, but by traits that identify them as intimates of the Savior, filled with his Spirit, committed to his service and devoted to his glory.

Copyright 2008 by Edward Fudge. You are permitted and encouraged to distribute this gracEmail as widely as possible, but only in its entirety, unchanged and not-for-profit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spiritual Leadership (3)

Edward Fudge


What does spiritual leadership look like, when one realizes that it involves lowly service and not legal power? Paul describes its conduct under three different circumstances: correcting a wrongdoer; encountering a controversialist and dealing with a divisive person.

If required to correct a fellow-Christian who is doing wrong, the person who thinks he or she has legal power will usually be rude, domineering, harsh and perhaps self-righteous. Instead, Paul tells Timothy: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2).

Similarly, controversy often brings out the worst in people, especially those filled with self-importance because of their supposed authority or position of power. So Paul writes: "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness" (2 Tim. 2:23-25).

Even if God's leader is kind, patient and gentle as Paul instructs, controversialists are sometimes rough, short-tempered and unkind -- and persistently so in each respect. When encountering such a divisive individual, the spiritual leader whose role is to serve and not to assume power or assert authority will have as little as possible to do with that one, and will seek to avoid his or her presence. This is Paul's counsel: "As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11).

Copyright 2008 by Edward Fudge. You are encouraged to share this gracEmail freely, widely and in its entirety (including this final paragraph).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Spiritual Leadership (2)

Edward Fudge


The first scriptural truth we observe is that spiritual leadership involves lowly service, not legal power. This truth raises a caution -- Do not confuse spiritual leadership with political position. Jesus leaves no room for confusion on this point (Mark 10:42-45). Secular rulers "lord it over" their subjects and "exercise authority" over them. "But it shall not be so among you," Jesus continues. Instead, "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all." This is the pattern set by Jesus himself, the "Son of Man," who "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Peter applies the same truth when instructing spiritual leaders among his churches (1 Peter 5:1-5). He exhorts senior leaders ("the elders among you") to "shepherd the flock of God that is among you." They will be "exercising oversight," but, if they obey the apostolic instruction, "not domineering over" those in their charge, but "being examples to the flock." Spiritual leadership is moral in nature and it is done primarily by example and by teaching.

It is entirely possible that these "elders" are not office-holders at all, but rather senior Christians who are highly-respected for their lives of faith and service. As Peter continues his encouragement, he uses the word "elders" in a relative sense regarding age and experience. "Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders." Believers of every age are told to "clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

Copyright 2008 by Edward Fudge. You are encouraged to share this gracEmail freely, widely and in its entirety (including this final paragraph).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Spiritual Leadership (1)

The following article by Edward Fudge arrived today as a gracEmail®

It is very relevant to a series I wrote earlier on characteristics of Christian leaders. It is numbered (1) so I'm expecting it will be a series.

Very many churches suffer today from a lack of spiritual leadership. That diagnosis is true across denominational lines. It fits both urban and rural churches. It applies equally to rich and poor, to people of all races, without regard to their country, state or province, town or village. The truth is that we all can benefit from a fresh look at biblical teaching on this subject. For the next few gracEmails, I would like to challenge us to consider three fundamental truths of spiritual leadership.

The first truth is that spiritual leadership involves lowly service, not legal power. This truth raises a caution -- Do not confuse spiritual leadership with political position. Jesus teaches this in clear language, as we will see. Peter applies the principle in writing his churches. Paul describes it in action under a variety of circumstances as he instructs and guides his proteges and trainees Timothy and Titus. The apostle shows what spiritual leadership looks like when correcting a wrongdoer, encountering a controversialist and dealing with a divisive person. We will consider his guidance for each situation.

The second truth is that spiritual leaders exercise grace-gifts from God, not worldly qualifications. This truth also raises a caution -- Do not focus on worldly achievements when choosing spiritual leaders. Too often, churches focus on educational degrees, professional expertise or financial success when seeking out spiritual leaders. Yet not one of those elements has any necessary relationship to spiritual maturity, worthiness of imitation, Christlikeness or ability to teach, model and inspire others toward godliness and Christian maturity. When churches use improper standards for selecting spiritual leaders, they are almost certain to come to spiritual stagnation (even if the institutional church thrives).

The third truth is that the Bible identifies gifted people, not legal qualifications. This creates a caution -- Do not confuse technical qualifications with spiritual character. Scripture does not provide a single, uniform list of "qualifications" for spiritual leaders. Two texts which people sometimes try to convert into such a list of legal or technical qualifications are found in First Timothy and Titus. Yet a close reading reveals that the descriptions in these two passages differ from each other, as do the very names or terms used of the servant-leadership role envisioned. Further, the descriptives found in these two epistles are often negative in form, almost always relative as to quality, and incapable of precise definition -- a task which Scripture never does for us or even suggests that we should try to do for ourselves. God willing, we will consider these three basic truths and corresponding cautions one by one in upcoming gracEmails.

Copyright 2008 by Edward Fudge. You are encouraged to share this gracEmail freely, widely and in its entirety (including this final paragraph).

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy

There is currently a discussion on the Facebook group "Christadelphians Worldwide" about the question "what's important (and what's not)?"

Duncan Heaster posted some excellent thoughts in response to something I'd written elsewhere, and with his permission I have reproduced them below.
"Practical teaching without sound theology is as impoverished as sound theology without practical teaching. The New Testament doesn’t make the distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy [good practice] that we often do, nor is there any hint in the Scriptures, as far as I can see, that God will forgive bad behavior more readily than poor theology, or vice versa. We need to teach them both and teach them well.” — Steve Cook
It needs to be read a few times for it to sink in. I suspect one of the barriers to accepting what you say here is the idea folk have that the word "doctrine" refers only to theology and the propositional statements which can accompany it, positive and negative- e.g. one God, no heaven going, Kingdom on earth, devil didn't fall off the 99th floor etc.

Reality is that Biblically, 'doctrine' means simply 'teaching'- and the 'teaching' of the inspired writers was largely about intensely practical things. Thus the perceived difference between 'doctrine' [as many understand the word] and 'practice' is actually false. Teaching is practical- for the NT isn't given to just ivory tower theology for the sake of it. Indeed the whole of the NT is a collection of missionary documents- preaching, letters to new converts etc. And even when there is pure theology taught, this is always in a practical context- it is the springboard for action, not an end in itself. The way the two sections of Romans tie together is a nice example - 1-11 is the theology, the theory, and 12-16 is the practical outcome of it.

Christadelphianism has some good theology, that's why I am a Christadelphian and not in some other group, but the challenge is to articulate all that true theology in practical terms. If that's not done, then the true theology hasn't been believed in the sense it is intended to be believed- it's simply been assembled and protected in a glass case. The talent has to be traded, not wrapped up and 'preserved' in the earth.

Jonah 2:9 contains the enigmatic statement that those who "hold to empty faiths" (Heb.) "forsake their own hesed". Hesed basically refers to the capacity a superior has to show mercy, grace and love to someone in an inferior position. For over 20 years I wondered what Jonah was really getting at. I think I then grasped it- those who hold to empty faiths forego the capacity to show hesed, favour to others- the implication being that the result of the one true faith is that we are empowered to show hesed, love, favour, grace, mercy, to others. And this ties in perfectly with 1 Pet. 1:22- we obey the truth unto, with the result that, we show "unfeigned love of the brethren". This is how and where true doctrine comes to its ultimate term- love of others.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

AD381 by Charles Freeman

This new book by historian Charles Freeman looks good.
"'We authorise followers of this law to assume the title of orthodox Christians; but as for the others since, in our judgement, they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious names of heretics.' Emperor Theodosius"
In 381 AD, Theodosius, emperor of the eastern Roman Empire, issued a decree in which all his subjects were required to subscribe to a belief in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This edict defined Christianity; all other interpretations were now declared heretical. Moreover, for the first time in a thousand years of Greco-Roman civilization, free thought was unambiguously suppressed. Yet surprisingly, this political revolution, intended to bring inner cohesion to an empire under threat from the outside, has been airbrushed from the historical record. Instead, it has been claimed that the Christian Church had reached a consensus on the Trinity which was promulgated at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

This groundbreaking new book shows that the Council was in fact a shambolic affair, which only took place after Theodosius’s decree had become law. In short, the Church was acquiescing in the overwhelming power of the Emperor. Freeman argues that the edict and the subsequent suppression of paganism not only brought an end to religious and philosophical diversity throughout the Empire, but created numerous theological problems for the Church that have remained unsolved. The year AD 381, Freeman concludes, marked “a turning point which time forgot.”