The Upside Down Kingdom Pt. 2
Snuggling up in a fuzzy, fleece blanket on a cold, wintry day in front of a crackling fire is one of my happy places. Give me some instrumental worship and a cup of hot tea, and I’m off into heavenly realms somewhere. As a woman, I love the concept of someone covering me with love and protection like that blanket. Sometimes though, I struggle to feel protected even when the blanket is offered by one I know loves me, and occasionally, I may still think the one bringing the blanket is coming to smother me with it.
In my last blog, “The Upside Down Kingdom, Part One”, my goal was to show you that the Kingdom of God is perhaps set up a little differently than what most think of. Position does not equal spiritual authority, as it does in a worldly system. We established that an attitude of honor is always appropriate, and honor by definition is to be highly valued. It was also established that spiritual authority is given to those who humble themselves the most, and serve others well in love.
There is a belief system that has been a part of the religious system for a very long time. Honestly, I think it’s been present since the fall in the garden; the temptation for us to look to other things or people to take the place of the true God.
The basic belief system is this: “I need someone else to be my go between with God. I need a human’s protection. I need a human’s covering. I need someone to represent me to God.” In many cases, what we are really saying is this, “God, you’re not good enough. Give me someone to rule over me.”
When God called Israel out of Egypt, to the mountain to worship Him, He wanted a family. He wanted a priesthood. He wanted to be married to each one of them. He wanted a friendship with each one of them like He had with Moses. As they stood at the foot of the mountain and saw the awesomeness of God, they said, “Nope, we are good! We will listen to whatever you tell Moses, but please don’t make us come to you ourselves. We want a go-between.” I believe it broke God’s heart to be rejected, but He allowed Moses to be that man.
Afterwards, when the people decided they didn’t care for Moses’s leadership so much, they rebelliously came against God’s friend. It wasn’t just because of the position that Moses held as to why God punished those who came against him. Moses humbly walked with God as His best friend. They had been invited to have the same relationship with God, but refused it, and then came against God’s best friend with rebellion and pride in their hearts. I believe this is primarily why they were punished.
Later, in the time of the judges ruling Israel, the people came to a place where they wanted a king to rule over them as the other countries had. Samuel, the prophet, told them God wanted to be their one and only King, but again, the people wanted a man to represent them to God. Samuel warned them of the consequences, but they begged for a human king anyway. They wanted protection, covering, leadership. Instead of looking to the one and only King of Kings and Lord of Lords, they decided He wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted flesh and blood they could see, hear, and touch. This was repeated over and over again through out the Bible.
Even when Jesus came on the scene, the Messiah they were looking for was one who would overthrow the Roman government and be supreme ruler. When they realized that Jesus wasn’t making His move to the human throne, they went from one day hailing Him as king, to three days later hurling curses of “Crucify Him!”
If you look at the teachings of Jesus, I don’t ever see where the kingdom He described had a man as go-between. In fact, the religious leadership of his day who had positions of authority over the people, the Pharisees and Sadducees, were the only “groups” Jesus really ever went after. His words against them were well, let’s just say some strong medicine, for He called them, “white-washed tombs”, “Sons of Satan”, etc… He saw what was in their hearts, and He called them out on it. If it were wrong for Him to say something against a religious leader, then He would have been sinning against Himself. Can you envision Jesus going up to many “church leadership” today? What would He see in their hearts?
In addition, in the Hebrew culture, the “Rabbi” who was the teacher in the synagogue, would read from the Torah, and then begin a discussion on the passage by asking questions that were answered by the people. The exchanges back and forth were highly relational, highly engaging. It was not what we think of today in modern churches of “the man of God” up on the stage giving his message. The Rabbis were teachers there to discuss, engage, and exchange their knowledge of Torah back and forth with their pupils.
Jesus most certainly honored the governmental leadership of His day. In fact, it made the Jews furious with Him, because He told them if someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other cheek. If they take your cloak, give him your shirt. It was the Roman soldiers of his day, that would demand such things. So, he most likely was implying that if a Roman soldier takes your cloak, give him your shirt. Even so, He wasn’t saying look to the Romans to protect you, to cover you. He was saying love those who don’t deserve it. Give to those who don’t deserve it. This is true love.
The disciples many times thought through the worldly lens of leadership, because they fought over who would be the greatest in His kingdom. Two of them, even sent their mom, to ask Jesus if they could sit next to Him on thrones. Jesus, however, taught His disciples to lead a different way. If they wanted to be great in the kingdom they must become like a little child, humble themselves, and serve others.
Jesus’s very purpose in giving His life was so that Papa could get His kids back. When He died the temple curtain tore in two, to show that we all have access into the Holy of Holies, as priest. We are now His family, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. He wants an intimate, bridal relationship with all His kids.
In the Jewish marriage ceremony, the bride was invited to meet her groom under the “chuppa” or a canopy. It was here under this beautiful covering of the groom’s love that they exchanged their vows with one another. This “chuppa” represents how we come under His canopy of protection, love, intimacy, and provision in a bridal relationship, because He is the only “Bridegroom”. We are His bride. Can you imagine a bride demanding another’s covering other than her groom’s? That would be adulterous.
In the early church, they lived by this model. The power of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them all, as they were in unity. It wasn’t just poured on the “spiritual leader of the group”. The power and authority were poured out on all of them. The more they walked in friendship with God, in humility and servanthood, the more power and authority followed them.
Yes, there were elders, and yes, there was a council, but it was only to serve the needs of the body and to keep the gospel message pure. The council of Nicaea, where we get the church’s Nicaean Creed, was one such group. When the Holy Roman Catholic Church came into play, the church became modeled after a governmental structure, like Rome. At that point, you had a Caesar or a King, and you had the Pope. There were many fights over which position was more powerful throughout the ages, Pope or the King. I believe this is where the idea of the pastor being the Head of Church came from. In Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 4:15, the Bible says Jesus is the only Head of the Church.
It was this same tendency that led to the idea that the common people needed a leader to represent them to God. That’s why the church leadership didn’t want the common people to be able to read the Bible. When the printing press became accessible, and the first Bible was printed, it changed the world, being the forerunner to the Great Reformation. Now, the common people could read the Bible for themselves, and were given the opportunity to have their own relationship with God outside of the walls of their parish.
This mindset is really tricky, because it comes in sneaky forms and keeps resurfacing in different terminology. When I was a kid, in a traditional Protestant church, questioning authority meant you were being rebellious and the devil would get you. The rules lists was long. Pick your list of rules from denomination to denomination.
Growing up, dancing, going to movies, and speaking in tongues would gain you a place in hell. After my mom remarried, we began going to a Pentecostal church where now if you didn’t speak in tongues, you were less than. At the Pentecostal College I attended, the rules changed by the year. One year, it was if our ankles weren’t covered, we were leading our brothers in Christ into sexual temptation. Another year, it was you are damned if you go to the movies, but they put cable in all the dorm rooms. What????
This doesn’t even take into account that as a child, I experienced the worst of the religious system has to offer in the form of extreme abuse. In that world, my father, who was a pastor, taught that if I didn’t fully submit to what the “authority” was telling me, I would suffer immense physical, mental, and emotional torture. A fear gospel deeply embedded in my heart. Some may think that’s the exception, but it is a story I’ve heard retold from many others.
Back in the 80’s, when I was new to Pentecostal churches, it looked like the “Shepherding movement”. Many pastors felt it was there duty to shepherd their flock, which in and of itself is a good thing, but it led to this same deception that the sheep where not able to be lead properly without their wise leadership. Many became obsessed with their “flock”, and became the sole answer for their “sheep”. If their sheep saw something in the shepherd’s leadership that was a flaw and tried to bring that to the light, or if they wanted to leave to go to another “flock”, then it went very badly for the “sheep”, usually ending in excommunication.
It continues to pop up today in the name of “spiritual covering”. The idea is that if I don’t have a local church’s “covering” or “my pastor’s blessing”, I am now out from under cover, in rebellion, and I’ll have a large ringed target with bull’s eye in the middle on my back for the enemy to shoot me down. In my opinion, this is a manipulative fear tactic, which has nothing to do with the fear of the Lord.
In addition to submitting my life to my husband, I have several mothers and fathers in the faith who I go to for spiritual counsel. All of these walk in a high level of love and submission to others, but not all of them have a traditional, local church leadership that they are “covered by”. I’ve watched their lives of service, and have seen them operating in great spiritual authority and power from the Lord. Why? Because they serve, love, and submit themselves mutually to the other believers. They aren’t rebellious, because Papa has led them to do “church” outside of the traditional church walls.
I’m not saying that I don’t submit myself to my leadership, whether in government, business, or church. But submitting, looks like honor. Honor means I listen and value what you have to say. Some examples would be obeying the laws of the land or not stealing from my employer, because I do my work as unto the Lord, not to a man.
In the body of Christ though, submission is always two ways. Honor is both ways. There is no where in scripture where I see a separation between the leadership and the congregation in the body of Christ. We mutually should pray for one another and cover each other in love, for love covers a multitude of sins. It’s a family, with our arms locked walking in unity together. There is leadership, of course, but the leadership is to bring direction.
In a sense, my husband should represent the covering of Jesus, because the husband in the relationship of family is supposed to represent how Jesus loves, covers, and cares for the bride. In fact, I love it when my husband represents Jesus well, and I love to submitting to his leadership. There are times that he makes mistakes, and is human. That doesn’t negate me honoring him, but I may have to share some truth in love. We are in covenant with each other. He doesn’t kick me out if I mess up, and I don’t up leave when he is less than Jesus. We work this thing out together, mutually, in a covenant relationship. Many times in the church, sadly, it’s not that way.
I love the pastors at our church, but they, like us all, are fallible humans. They can’t be my go-between between me and God. If they are, they become my mini-god. I love them. I honor them. I love it when they love and honor me. I love it when they care for me. But they were not meant to be my covering, or my protection. God alone is that. We were meant to be a family. When I put the leadership in that position in my heart, I believe, that it is idolatry.
In Psalms 91, the psalmist is talking about running to the covering and protection of the God of the universe alone, and it is God who covers us with His feathers, under His wings. He is my High Tower. I run to Him! The promise is if I dwell in His shelter, in the secret place of the most High, that I’ll be under His care, and His protection. It’s is from abiding in Him, where we receive that promise.
The body of Jesus Christ is a bride, a family, and a priesthood. We mutually cover one another in love. We serve each other, giving our lives for the sake of another’s well-being. The ones who align themselves with the heart of the Father, loving and giving their lives like Jesus did, will operate in the highest authority and power.
I think Romans 12 says it best, because it speaks to how we should live as the body of Christ. If we will do this chapter well, everything else will follow.
Romans 12 NAB
Sacrifice of Body and Mind. 1 I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 2Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Many Parts in One Body. 3 For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. 4 For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; 7if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; 8if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Mutual Love. 9Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. 11Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.19Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.