“Never have I seen a nation so honoring and proud of the role of President and yet so dishonoring and undermining of the President himself as the United States.”
That is how Anna Burgess’s most recent blog post began in which she proceeded to talk about how we should respond to leaders we disagree with. Her post was not particularly about the POTUS, but that’s how it began and she goes on to share her personal experiences under church leadership as well as things she’s been confronted with as a leader in her own life and ministry in recent years since.
Full disclosure: I’m in ministry with Anna and her husband Mark, and have been under their leadership going on four years soon, and yes I oftentimes disagree with them — and they with me, I’m sure! But oftentimes I have to admire the flack they are able to take from unappreciative individuals for whom they have bent over backwards to accommodate. And they keep blessing people.
I say that to say I get to see things she may have been referring to her post, and know that she’s walking the walk and not just talking the talk in the things she wrote.
See how the rest of her blog introduction continued:
I find it easy to understand how non-Christians can passionately, openly, disagree with and undermine political leaders, but I find it bewildering to see how quick Christians can be to pick out any reason to disrespect the leaders in a high and mighty, ‘told you he was no good’ attitude. Then I realized it is so ingrained in many American circles, even Christian ones, that many people do not even realize that it is wrong.
Then I realized the plank in my own eye and that I might not have a problem dishonouring political figures, but it was not so long ago that I have struggled to respect and honour other people in leadership over me and how the body of Christ struggles so much to be honoring to one another.
On one of my Facebook fan pages where I shared the link to the post, it seems that the very notion of showing respect to the current president seemed to have struck a nerve with someone who insisted the current President is not worth showing honour. Nevermind what the Bible says about showing honour to our leaders. Though I wouldn’t normally defend President Obama, I felt compelled to offer a comment that I’ve since decided to rework and meditate on for the following blog post.
I know a lot of Christians, American or not, who stubbornly find Scriptural backing for their own lack of respect towards they feel justified in not respecting or forgiving.
I’m also preaching to myself with these words.
I know how I just worded the above is pretty blunt, but let’s face it: In Scripture we have no excuse whatsoever for not showing respect and honour to one another, including leaders, whether in church or in the government.
Like when Jesus says “whenever you did it unto one of the least of these, you did it unto me“. (Matthew 25:40, 45).
If you believe someone is not worth honouring, you won’t do honour them, obviously.
Moses went before Pharaoh and was used by God in his generation to set an entire nation of captives free to go form their own land. Moses’ confrontation was done exactly as God directed him to, not out of frustration and bipartisan politics and certainly not a “we’re-going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket-anyway” worldview (see my last post on Schizophrenic Eschatology).
I personally think Moses showed Pharaoh honour while confronting him concerning a great evil.
What about King David, who on a few occasions had opportunity to kill his predecessor King Saul, who was actively trying to kill him? He said he refused to lay a hand on God’s anointed. Yet, in due time, God lifted David up to the throne after many years.
What about the prophet Daniel?
Daniel knew that Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon were God’s instruments of judgment against Israel for their disobedience under the Mosaic covenant, but Daniel treated him with respect and submitted. He stood for truth and righteousness and refused to worship any idol but God, but his honour for the king gave him a place of influence. Daniel had an influential role in government under four different wicked kings!
One can disagree with political leaders and still show respect and honour. In fact, in the Old Testament it appears that when people did they often time had a much better outcome and influence for it than when we simply bash them and show un-Christlike attitude often-times in the process.
[Tweet “They shall know us by how well we criticize those we disagree with? Or by our love?”]
But what about in the New Testament when Paul wrote that we’re to obey our leaders? Some historians estimate that 1/3 of the early church were martyred during the era Nero was emperor. They were being put on posts and set on fire to light stadiums while the masses were entertained.
And yet Paul told believers they were to submit to authority, including their corrupt politicians. Do we suddenly not need to obey these parts of Scripture anymore? Do we know something Paul didn’t?
I’m sorry, but the condition of America today and many other nations in the Western world, bad as they may have gotten, are still very little like it was for the early church submitting to their leaders in first century Rome was. There’s still quite a ways to go before they’re killing Christians and chopping their heads off for entertainment in many of our comfortable Western nations.
But What About Following Abusive Church Leadership?
I have hardly touched this particular subject on my blog in a while (like two or three years) because on the few occasions I’ve recorded podcasts that dealt with it (like here and here), people have accused me of being hung up on authority, or being a rebel who had a chip on my shoulder and just couldn’t submit to leadership.
But I will say the same thing about church leaders as politicians.
However, my understanding of church “leaders” and “authority” is definitely not the same understanding as many charismatics hold to. The apostle/prophet/pastor/teacher/whatever name your church uses is not some kind of pope who requires blind submission because of their title and role.
Again, you can honour, respect and even submit to people you disagree with, but this comes from a place of character and fruit of the Holy Spirit on your part, and not automatically due to the title the person carries. So-called apostles use the toilet just like you do. They are not anything more special than the rest of the Body, and I praise God that many people are awakening to some abusive leadership in the Church that we’ve tolerated in the name of “honouring one another”.
But my emphasis is on how we should behave and how we personally are to show honour and respect where it’s due. I like how Anna put it in her post:
It is difficult to honour and uphold leaders, especially human ones! And the way to find out whether we really honour and uphold them is to check our attitudes when they do something we disagree with. It is easy to love and honour and respect others when they are doing things we like, but maturity is what shines through when they do things we don’t like or understand. Will we still honour, love (which is a verb, not a feeling) and respect them in our heart as well as our actions when their actions offend us? Will we choose to let the offense go and honour them anyway? Will we presume the best about their intentions? Can we love and respect the person without necessarily loving and respecting their decisions when it comes to sinful practices?
But should we even love, respect and honour leaders we don’t agree with? According to the Bible, YES! There are no conditions put on who we love, on who we respect or who we honour. In fact Romans 12:10 tells us we should love one another with brotherly affection and we should outdo one another in showing honour! There is no conditional clause. Romans 13:7 tells us that we should honour and respect all those to whom respect and honour is owed – it does not mean that those who don’t deserve it shouldn’t get it. How do we know? Because in that same verse we are told to pay taxes and revenues to whom it is owed – not because we agree with whether or not we should pay our taxes, but because that is what God is asking us to do!
In the past, I’ve discussed these very issues on episodes of Fire On Your Head with Dr. Stephen Crosby & SJ Hill, coming from the angle where leaders need to honour the flock, not boss them around. But on the other side of the coin, we’re ALL to submit to one another — and I’m not talking about submission in the 50 Shades of Grey way either!. Showing preference to one another, not demanding others do as we wish for our agendas and goals.
It’s one thing to not hold to the exact same point of view or interpretation of Scripture on say (insert random nuanced doctrine here that nobody holds a monopoly on), versus doing what your pastor says when he starts handing out cyanide-laced Kool-Aid telling everybody to drink it if they want to be closer to God real soon. In the case of the latter, you can totally buck authority when they’re trying to supersede the authority of Scripture or tell you to do something unbiblical.
Crosby says in a fairly recent blog post of his, A Culture of Honor? Legitimate or Controlling, You Decide:
Many who proclaim themselves as apostles and prophets (as well as the other Eph. 4 gifts) demand they be treated with honor, as an alleged way of teaching people to learn respect in a culture of honor. This self-acclaimed honor usually accrues in perks, favors, privileges, mandatory use of honorific titles and such to the one demanding the honor. In extreme cases it crosses the line into cultic veneration from unquestioning subordinates. This is contrary to both the spirit and letter of the New Testament, as well as the Spirit of Christ. There is no place for it in the church.
There is a balance and discernment required in knowing when you can buck authority, but hopefully you know the difference between spiritual slavery and mere difference of opinion.
I think Dr Crosby says it best when he continues to say later the same post,
If you are relating to someone who is demanding honor from you, you immediately need to have a frank conversation or make a change in your associations. If you want to freely give honor to someone due to the individual’s Christ-likeness and slave-like service to yourself, the Body, and the world, it is yours to give and theirs to receive!
Let’s show honour to whom honour is due.
P.S. The Canadian way of spelling it is honour with a U, and in all my citations I left it the way the original authors spelled it.