July 20 – Lordship

July 20 – Lordship

John 13:13-15

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:13-15)

It is true that Christ alone is absolute Lord of his church, but the amazing thing is that the Lord God Almighty has chosen to mediate his lordship through human beings. Consider…

  • Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers; for the powers that be are ordained of God…for he is a minister of God to thee. (Romans 13:1,4)
  • Servants be obedient unto them that according to the flesh are your masters…as unto Christ. (Ephesians 6:5)
  • Obey them that have the rule over you and submit; for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account. (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. (I Peter 2:13-RSV)
  • Wives be in subjection unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
  • Children obey your parents in the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1)

We are uncomfortable with words like these. And the depth of our discomfort may be a measure of the depth of the crisis in authority which marks these last two centuries in the Western world. A driving value of the past 100 years has been that personal autonomy is a given right and anything that infringes on that is illegitimate. Of course, this spirit did not originate in the Western world of the twentieth century. From the days of Eve and Adam, humans have followed the example of Lucifer and sought to usurp the throne. At a minimum, each, to rule her or his own life.

If a measure of personal autonomy is achieved, we seek to use that power to control others. These efforts reflect basic rebellion against the Lordship of Christ. The rejection of human authority and the abuse of that authority ultimately stem from a quarrel with the Almighty, for He has chosen to mediate His authority – under strict limitations, to be sure – through sub-authorities. Our acceptance of His Lordship in our lives, then, is tested and proved by our acceptance of the mediated authority on the one hand, and, for the sub-authority, by it’s subjection to the ultimate Authority.

If we don’t follow the Guidebook, we reap the harvest of this abuse and rebellion. The damage and destruction because of rebellious use of personal power applies to all spheres of mediated authority, but here we examine only relationships within the congregation, where Christ is named absolute Lord of the church. We seem to have developed an infinite variety of ways to subvert that authority, to our own great loss.

Church health, and consequently, church member spiritual health, begins with acknowledging Christ as absolute Lord. Unconditional allegiance of the human heart to the one true King is proved at the point of willing acceptance of the congregation’s leaders. Obedience to human authority, of course, is not absolute, since human leaders sin and err. So ultimate allegiance is only to the Lord of the church. But willingness to accept human leadership is often the testing ground of one’s allegiance to the Lord who instituted that authority. And there is a further significance in faithful “followership”- no one qualifies to become a leader until he or she has learned to follow (John 13:14-17; Luke 22:24-30).

A congregation of autonomous members, each setting her or his own agenda and pursuing their own goals, is a sure recipe for failure of all the purposes God intends for his church. Having identified the basic foundation for church health in all members’ relationship to the Lord of the church and having indicated the vital role of inter-personal relationships, with non-leaders willing to follow appointed leaders, we must move on to address the key issue, leadership in the congregation.

We won’t try to synthesize the various views of what leadership is about, but rather go with a simple definition: A leader is one whom people follow.

The term, “servant leadership,” has gained wide currency, but I wonder about its usefulness. The reason for my doubt is not in the term itself, but in the elasticity of its interpretation. In a denominational convention of thousands, I was the keynote speaker on servant leadership. The one who had invited me also spoke and took violent exception to the idea of leadership. Though he once wrote a booklet on leadership, he now told the congregation that leadership is nowhere taught in Scripture, only servanthood. What is the problem with that? This life-time friend of mine is as authoritarian a leader as you can imagine. This is not an isolated experience. So what does the term, “servant” mean? Many of those who speak most vigorously of “servant leadership” are domineering autocrats in their own ministry. How can this be? Perhaps they are thinking of themselves as servants, but servants of the Lord, not so much servants of his people. But that won’t do. To truly serve the Lord is evidenced in one’s attitude and relationship to those for whom one is responsible (1 Corinthians 4:5). The problem is that there is an in-built drive in each of us to control outcomes and to do that we must control the people within our influence. On the way to achieve commendable goals, therefore, we usurp the role of the Lord of the church.

This tendency is not confined to a particular form of church government nor to a particular culture, though some forms of government and some cultures may promote human lordship. Of the three basic forms of government –episcopal, representative, and congregational – the episcopal would seem most likely to produce lordly behavior on the part of its bishops. But in many Presbyterian churches (representative form) the “ruling elders” do not rule; rather, the “teaching elder” is in full control. Again, if a Baptist (congregational form) pastor survives the first two years in a new tenure, he can easily become pope-like to his congregation. The human heart is effective at discovering how to get its way within any structured governance. How are you with unconditional allegiance of your heart to the one true King? If it is proved at the point of willing acceptance of the congregation’s leaders, how are you with following? What attitude towards authority do you experience? What should you do about it?

Scroll to top