One of the foundational maxims of Judeo-Christian worldview is that “you shall have no other gods before me”. Anything or anyone which you consider as the source of your livelihood, economic and financial security, safety, security, etc. in a way which overshadows your faith in God and his ability to supply, support, and protect you is considered to be an idol. That’s a classic definition of idolatry. Your idols could be persons, organizational or national entities, or things like finances, possessions, firearms, etc.
Of course this doesn’t mean we can’t have relationships or possessions. What it does mean, though, is that we should frame our relationships and structure our economic lives so that those work in synergy with out faith in God, and with our personal principles proper for Christ-followers. Generally speaking, as long as we genuinely consider God and his kingdom to be the source of every blessing we have, and everything else merely a conduit, we are on the safe ground.
There’s a lot of talk about loyalty these days. I shall avoid political contexts, and instead I want to zoom in to this concept relative to Christianity.
There are two ways to be loyal to people around you. One is be with them through thick and thin, regardless of how well they do, or how bad they do, how close they are to God, or how far they are from God. It has more to do with your heart’s disposition. Any specific action steps derive from that. And if someone you choose to stay loyal to gets him/herself into something that you believe will seriously hurt them down the road – you plainly and openly refuse to be part of that. And you are feeling free have an honest conversation about that, without violating their trust or the boundaries of the relationship. You aren’t concerned about what such disagreement might mean for the future of your relationship. You know that you need to say what you need to say, and that’s that. That’s what real loyalty looks like, to me. It’s offered without being asked for.
And then there’s another brand of loyalty. It usually hinges on some sort of power imbalance. It’s demanded by the higher-ups from the lower-downs. Or the the lower-downs semi-voluntarily offer their loyalty in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the higher-ups. Either way, that level of relationship is toxic to both parties from the get-go.
First off, it’s very easy for organizational relationship based on that second type of loyalty devolve into a personality cult. The more any organization is personality-based, the less it is mission-based, and the less it’s principle-founded. The principles of others are always sacrificed on the altar of one’s personal ego when the latter burns hot. And this type of relationship corrupts both the recipient of undeserved shallow glory, and their offerers. Instead of secure, mature individuals building relationships based on mutual respect, we end up with two groups of people – authoritarian leaders and sycophantic followers, neither of which really have any abiding self-respect, or any real respect toward one another.
Here’s something that I must mention here. There are different types of church governance –
presbyterian (by a council of elders), congregational (by direct democracy), episcopal (by appointed bishops), pastoral (when the pastor is the CEO of the church), etc. Pastoral systems of church governance specifically are prone to exhibiting varying degrees of personality cult. This is simply a reflection of the way the power is concentrated in the hands of one individual, and of people’s natural proclivities to idolize humans holding the reins of power. This is the case especially in the case of independent Protestant church organizations, where the pastor is the founder, the chairman, and the CEO of the church. If that governance is not tempered by some system of checks and balances in the form of at least one other fully empowered independently existing counter-weight (e.g., board, council, etc), that system basically becomes an equivalent of monarchy.
In a number of Charismatic churches, there are entire systems of theology to liken senior leaders to Moses-like figures demanding full and unqualified obedience. There aren’t any effective checks and balances built in to those systems. Shepherding movement was a great example of a failed experiment with that theology. Right now there are various “apostolic” theology brands which espouse virtually the same ideology, with the only difference that the the ring that must be kissed sits on a finger of an “apostle”.
We have also been exposed to similar abuses in the prophetic movement, where the so-called “prophets” attempt to manipulate their gullible followers in things ranging from whom to marry, to whom to give money to, to whom to vote for. Things get billed as “God’s choice”, “God’s will”, so there’s no room for you to make a thought-out, mature, independent decision. All of that is a thinly veiled way to secure personal obedience at the expense of God-given freedom of choice. This is nothing more than a brazen attempt to control and subjugate people and their wills, which is the very definition of witchcraft. Listen to some of those “prophets”, and you will leave with an image of God more akin to the North Korean dictator rather than Jesus Christ. And sadly, the true power and potency of prophetic ministry gets a bad rap sheet among those who aren’t swayed by those dirty tactics.
We have many real-life examples of how relationships undergirded by that second brand of loyalty destroyed both the recipient of that loyalty, and multitudes of their givers. Have a read here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/sunday-adelaja-pastor-europes-third-largest-church-under-fire-confessing-multiple-affairs-164197/ and here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/did-this-pastor-drive-her-flock-to-beat-teen-to-death. One is about the formerly third largest church in Europe; the other is about a fairly secluded church in upstate New York. The leaders of both churches claimed the title of a “prophet” for themselves. And no one dared to question their judgments until it was too late.
I will be blunt here. You cannot expect to please people in power on every single point, and still consider yourself a principled follower of Jesus. Part of the spiritual DNA of a follower of Jesus Christ is that you stand up on your commitment to Christ and his kingdom, even when it runs counter to other personal and institutional agendas. That’s the stuff that every Biblical prophet was made of. You have to learn to be an iconoclast – a smasher of sacred images which substitute the image of the one true God. Of course, this is to be done in lockstep with the level of revelation and real authority that you are walking in, and this doesn’t mean that you get to break personal boundaries and act all mean and nasty. On the contrary – you establish sacred boundaries, and you draw the lines in the sand in such a way that you are respected for it. You will not always be liked, but you WILL be respected for it – that’s a key difference here.
I am not much for quasi-monarchical systems of governance. Even in the kingdom of God – the King of Kings, the Creator of heaven and earth chose to delegate this authority to humankind. God created angels to serve humans, so that humans wouldn’t enslave one another when they needed serious and substantial help. If anything, YHWH (God’s self-revealed personal name) is the furthest thing from a micro-manager. He teaches us how creation works, and invites us to be co-creators, co-architects, co-governors of the world around us.
He made available his wisdom, his power, and his love to us. So that we can tap into that as mature sons and daughters of God, always secure in our standing with our Father. YHWH’s model of governance is servant leadership, powerfully exemplified through Jesus Christ. And despite what you may have heard from some tall pulpits, God wants nothing more than to share his glory with us. So that the world looks at God it would sees us, his family. And vice versa – through us, the world would experience God. That’s how God’s glory works.
In the kingdom of God, governance hierarchies are very flat. There’s one Father – YHWH, there’s one Lord – Jesus Christ, and there’s one Teacher – the Holy Spirit. That’s the top echelon of power. And the rest of us are brothers and sisters to one another. We may excel at different things and we may influence various numbers of people with our giftings – but fundamentally, none of us are “above the sheeple”.
“The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, but it shall not be so among you“. We may forget this instruction at times, but it’s there in the Bible all right, and it’s a foundational one at that. You can’t skip this one and try to build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. You may succeed in building a temporary kingdom based on personal loyalty to yourself, but it won’t be “as it is in heaven”, and it definitely won’t be “of God”.
Our only pledge of loyalty should be this: to love God, and to love one another. Abraham Lincoln once famously said that when he finds a church that demands only those two things for its membership criteria, he will gladly join it. As far as I know, he died unaffiliated. God isn’t demanding this love pledge either, it’s just something that comes from one’s heart in response to who God is and what he did. And what God did is he made the same pledge to humankind as well, on the cross of Calvary. “We love him because he first loved us.” And that’s is the only loyalty pledge I personally am willing to consider.