Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

The church in America is susceptible to different illnesses and diseases.  Near the top of the list is an infection that strikes the heart of her leadership.  God calls men to lead His church and He gives these men as gifts to the church.  These men are called pastors and must be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.  Since the church is God's witness in the world, it makes sense that our enemy the Devil will attack it by attacking God's shepherds.  The scriptures tell us to honor them, pray for them, love them and submit to their leadership.  All too many people feel the need to humble their pastors and criticize them, expose their every fault, and in general, make their lives and ministry a burden.  This kind of behavior weakens the church in her mission and is of no advantage.  This common malady is encouraged by worldly men and women who seek power and control.  Hebrews 13:17 says: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." 

There are additional internal diseases that strike at the heart of leadership.  It seems to me that lately many pastors have forgotten that we fight a threefold battle with the world, our flesh and the Devil. It is our fleshly desire that often takes a greater toll and inflicts the greatest damage to the Kingdom of God.  In many cases, success has led us to adapt leadership styles that mirror the corporate world more than the model of Jesus.  In the film The Devil Wears Prada, the viewer is served a view of the ugly underbelly of the cutthroat, mean-spirited, and overbearing world of the fashion industry.  In that world, it seems that heavy handed, abusive leadership is common.

The model for leadership in God's kingdom is Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom.The pastor of the New Testament church is to be strong in the Lord. He is to be respected, but he must build safeguards against his own evil nature.  Money, sex and fame are all powerful temptations.  They require leaders who are fully armed for the battle against their abuse.  Our model of leadership is not on the big screen, but in the Good Book.  It is Jesus who came to both serve and lead at the same time.  His leadership is marked not by the latest fashion but by a servant's towel. 

There are other glimpses of glorious Christlike leaders in scripture.  David led mighty and courageous men into battle.  On one occasion, three of those men so honored David that they risked their lives to get their leader what they overheard him wishing for in a passing comment.  They brought him a drink from a spring in his hometown.  Men died and lives were risked to accomplish this task. This was an epic test, not so much of these men, but of David's character as a leader.  Would he drink it and graciously say, "Thanks guys!"  or would he look at the water and say, "What, no ice?"  No, David held it as if it were too holy to touch and poured it out as a drink offering to the Lord.

In the past few weeks, I have been heartsick at the news of several prominent pastors who have been caught in a snare revealing an abuse of power and trust.  Friends may justify this behavior, some will even excuse it. One thing is certain. We are in an all-out spiritual war and the souls of people are at stake.  Pray for your pastor, for God's grace and His protection.  If you are a pastor, seek the Lord and renew your focus on our biblical requirements.  First Timothy 3:2 states, "An overseer, then, must be above reproach."  Walk humbly before God and men.  And remember, the best perks of success in ministry are those given by the Lord when He says, "Well done!"

The Devil may very well wear Prada, but the pastor must wear the servant's towel.

Ed Litton
Painting by Ford Madox Brown 1852-56

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Courageous Pastor or Bad Theology?

I first heard of Greg Boyd a couple of weeks ago when it was reported over the internet that the Minnesota pastor had taken a courageous stand against the "narrow-minded" types in his church who were demanding his leadership and participation in the political system. His refusal to bow to their pressure cost him as he watched over one thousand of his members walk out, never to return.  As a pastor who takes tough stands, I was struck with an odd mixture of curiosity. Part of me wanted the challenge of hearing a view of civil activity very different from my own, while a part of me was drawn to what appeared to be raw courage. He is being championed as a hero by the media for his refusal to hand out voter guides, hang the American flag in support of our troops, or encourage participation in defending the sacredness of marriage against an onslaught of the same sex marriage movement.  He preached a series of sermons that have been published in a book entitled The Myth of a Christian Nation.   My curiosity demanded that I find out more about Greg Boyd. 

So I began an investigation of what defense this man offers for his convictions.  It seems that Boyd believes Christians should exclude themselves from political activity and are to give themselves only to "Christlike" service.  His argument sounds very biblical and even inviting.  We all know that political action is not the ultimate solution for the world's troubles; that neither the Republican nor the Democratic nor even the Socialist party  will bring about salvation; salvation through Jesus Christ alone is the solution.  Greg Boyd boldly asserts that it is a myth to state that America is a Christian nation.  He skillfully cloaks his argument in biblical terms, ignoring a clear command in scripture for believers to be like salt and light in decay and darkness. 

At this point I must assert a different perspective.  America was founded by people with a distinctly Christian world view who were not trying to bring in the Kingdom of God but were trying to work out a more perfect union based upon a Reformation view of the fallen nature of man and the value of the human soul and conscience.  Biblical Christianity has been the most dramatic influence in the course of the Western world. 

Upon further investigation I learned that Greg Boyd is a pastor of a large church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is a professor of theology at Bethel College.  He is a proponent of Open Theism.  Open Theists insist that true human freedom requires that God cannot know human decisions in advance. This view asserts a new way of understanding God's knowledge.  In other words, Open Theism is a belief that states that God cannot know all things actual or possible in the future.  God is just as open to changes in plans and human will as we are.  God learns and grows and yes, even makes mistakes in judgment, but He is a learning, growing and developing God.  Boyd's core beliefs strike at the very heart of the omniscience of God; the affirmation that God knows all things, past, present and future.  This doctrine of omniscience has been held dear by all branches of the Christian church throughout the centuries. 

All pastors must struggle with their role and the role of their flock in the world in which we find ourselves.  How Christians bring salt and light to bear upon that culture is not simple or easy,  nevertheless it is a worthy struggle.  As one pastor who has seen some small advances (and many setbacks) in the battle for the hearts and minds of people in my culture, I am comforted by the reality of an all knowing God who holds all things together by the word of His power.   Benjamin Franklin counseled the framers of our constitution to remember; "...the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”   Any involvement in bringing Christ’s love to my culture is comforted and guided by an omniscient God who knows how it all ends.

Ed Litton

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How the World Sees Us

I consider myself fortunate to have several American friends who live in foreign countries.  Three of them live in areas that are predominantly Muslim.  Recently, my friends have enlightened me to a very real problem.  They tell me that in their respective countries, Americans have a poor reputation.  That reputation is largely, if not entirely, due to the influence of American television and, more importantly, the images of American women and American religion.  In Islam, women are considered to be the more spiritual and holy in the family.  That is why their dress must be beyond modest.  (I am not ignoring the obvious reality of female subjugation in many of these countries.  Nevertheless, the ideal of womanhood is honored even if the systems themselves are repressive and even abusive.)  The problem is the perception of American women.  Far from seeing us as liberators, they fear us as corruptors.  The images of women dressing and behaving immodestly leads many Muslims to believe that all American women are like this.

The second media-induced image that my friends are concerned about are a few high profile Christian denominations that have embraced homosexuality.  Once again, the impression left is one of generalization and the belief that all Christians embrace this lifestyle and approve of  same sex marriage.   The truth is that most Americans reject the wholesale redefinition of marriage.  

If American Christians hope to impact the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we had better realize that our culture here impacts the work of missions there.  We need to be concerned about the endless stream of profanity, nudity and lude behavior that represents us around the world.  We need to realize how it plays into the hands of radical Islamafacists who use our corruption as an excuse to kill our people.  We also need to wake up to the reality that standing firm on the redefinition of biblical marriage is impacting more than our culture; it is impacting the gospel around the world.  Never has a spiritual awakening mattered so much.  Our War on Terror could be won by God's people getting serious about sharing God's truth across the street and around the world.

Ed Litton