I’m about to get controversial again, y’all. 😉
I’ve actually been percolating on this since before Thanksgiving, but hadn’t really known how to frame my thoughts until this week. I want to organize my argument, my discussion around a concept that has been with the Church for ages: God’s representative on earth.
I guarantee you I just made some ex-Catholic Evangelical cringe a little bit, because one of the older forms God’s representative on earth has taken is the Pope. For the benefit of non-Catholics or people who have been ill- or under-exposed to Catholicism, the Catholic Church believes the Popes are spiritual descendants of Peter, the rock upon whom Christ promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Until the Reformation, it was widely accepted that the Popes spoke for God. Then King Henry VIII formed a popular opinion that a monarchy of a given nation was God’s representative on earth to that nation.
And we Evangelical Christians might get a little high and mighty, because we’ve been enlightened, and haven’t believed Popes and monarchs are God’s representatives on earth for hundreds of years. (Especially not here in the U.S.A. where we are all about no authority but ourselves). We don’t put mere men on such pedestals.
I’m here to tell you, in case you were not already aware, that this issue of putting men on pedestals is alive and well in Evangelical Christendom. Among those who are aware that this is indeed an issue, it is popular practice to blame the men on the pedestals, especially when they fall into sin and are not held accountable for it. After all, being on a pedestal, they’re just asking for it, aren’t they?
I want to invite us all to take a look at ourselves as we look at God’s representation on earth.
“Now then, we are ambassadors [or representatives] for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (1 Corinthians 5:20).
In Christ, we are ALL new creatures, and all representatives for Christ. But is the position one where we are to assume authority in the lives of others, telling them how to live, forcing issues that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things? NO! The only message I’ve been given from God to deliver on God’s behalf, the only message any human has been given from God on God’s behalf, is to implore, to beseech, to beg people to be reconciled, restored, brought back into a right relationship with God!
How is it then that we have so many men and women on pedestals in Evangelical Christendom today? And how is it that we place sole blame for these pedestals on the people who are on them as if we their worshippers haven’t put them there?
I’ve seen a lot of disappointment on the internet over the past few months concerning two leaders in Evangelical Christendom who have committed sin and been dealt with publicly. I’ve never idolized either man, although I had more respect for one than I had for the other; no, I’ve always recognized them as being human just like me, and being equal representatives for Christ, even though both have far greater influence than I ever hope or desire to have. I’m not reeling from the revelation of these sins, but other people are. And in their understandable pain, they tack all of the blame onto these two men.
While these men are most definitely responsible for their sin, they are not responsible for the places others have given them in their hearts and lives.
I have been reminded a number of Sundays in the past couple of months that all humans are created to worship something: if we don’t make THE God our God, we will make something else our god. And isn’t that what we have done with so many of these men and women in Evangelical Christendom? Haven’t we exalted them, their teachings, their methods without considering the One who calls and enables them? Isn’t HE the one who deserves the praise, the adoration? Don’t put that on these men, that is on us and our treacherous hearts, ever looking to someone or something besides God!
Let me break it down: I grew up in the church. I have seen the failures of its leaders up close and personal since I was a very little girl, and for many years I was incredibly resentful. Although it has been nearly ten years, I remember very clearly the day I gave up on the church, I remember how angry I was over deceit from the pulpit, and how I told my mom that if that person named names and lied again from the pulpit I would walk out the door of that church and never go back. I remember my mom calling my dad and having him talk to me because of how upset I was. And I remember my dad telling me that God would deal with this person and hold him accountable, but I would also be held accountable for my response. And frustrating though it was for many years, this was always and continues to be my dad’s counsel concerning me and any issues I have with the church. And hard as it was for me to admit when I realized it, my dad is right.
I was looking to the wrong people, to the wrong things even, for things only God could give me. Being a jealous God, He made sure I could not get what He wanted to give me anywhere else.
I can now love the church better, even love its leaders better, accepting their humanity, making room for when they fall. I’m not saying their sin is any less sinful, but it doesn’t leave me reeling anymore, because I’ve come to see them the way I’m supposed to. It’s true for you, too, however little you want to accept it: if you have been completely disoriented by the failures of men, you have placed them in too high a position in your heart.
I close with a snippet from Martin Luther:
“[Idolatry] consists not merely in erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather in the heart, which stands gaping at something else, and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils, and [does not] care for God.”