by Harry Banks, December 28, 2015: This past year I’ve been reflecting on the contrast of John 17’s record of Christ’s appeal to His Father to preserve unity among “those that have been given to me” with the hubbub our various judicatory entities are going through since San Antonio.
Maybe it’s my imagination but nearly every time I’ve heard a sermon or read an article about “unity” it basically turns out to be a power play to intimidate listeners or readers into declaring loyalty to a fractious position that the presenter wanted to advance as a test of his or her power over others.
I noticed that the North American Division has been looking at the issue of governance. For the past three or four years I’ve had the opportunity to lead out and participate with a governing board, which is committed to a servant leadership form of governance.
Then I ran across the idea that the governance of Christ’s kingdom is not based on coercion. That when Christ was here to “manifest” His Father, He had to use parables and stories to explain His kingdom because there were no comparable human models of governance.
THE NEW FILTER
So I started to revisit some of the parables and sayings of Jesus to try to see the vision of governance that is embedded in them.
My friend Larry, at In His Steps Community Fellowship (IHSCF), has mentioned on several Sabbaths that he’s wrestling with Hebrews 5 and 6, where it talks about moving beyond “milk.” In fact, it says stuff like “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14, NIV). Oddly enough, one of the items identified as milk in Hebrews 6 is “the laying on of hands,” which causes one to wonder how “mature” is the current state of our corporate spirituality… But that’s another story…
OK, so that makes me think that we may not be spending our energy on the most mature forms of spirituality.
ONE MORE THING
Oh yes, and there is one more thing… One of the ladies in our IHSCF suggested that we should study our way through Revelation. OK, so when IHSCF takes on a book study for Sabbath mornings… well… it is a book study… verse by verse… no skipping… Trying to wring out as much meaning as possible. Allowing unknowables to be unknowable. Talking about how the word pictures help allow us to open up to the blessing given to those who read the book aloud. That blessing is sort of intriguing… “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Rev. 1:3, NIV).
So this has been providing another ingredient to the governance filter.
A THEOLOGY OF DESIRE?
So in the fourth century A.D., one of the Cappadocian Fathers, who helped form the “orthodox” doctrine of the trinity, Gregory of Nyssa, wrote a treatise titled “On Virginity.” In 2012, Sarah Coakley presented a paper at the Oxford David Nicholls Memorial Lecture Series which highlighted Gregory of Nyssa’s treatise. I’m not sure I embrace all of the tenants of the paper… But…
The paper discusses “a vision of desire − and its right ordering in relation to God.”
I can see from some of the content discussed in the paper that this may have been too “hot” to handle for the church… and may be why we have cruised into our present age with no mature theology of desire… But as I start to think of this other kingdom and its form of governance… well… there seems to be a lot of desire…
THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
OK, let’s take one of those parables and put the governance filter on it… Here goes…
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt 13:45-46, NIV).
Anybody see any desire in there? Sure looks like it to me… “sold all that he had”… And where was that coercion??? Seems like internal motivation to me.
LET’S TRY OUT A BEATITUDE
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6, NIV).
Don’t see any coercion here… But I do see a strong element of desire…
THIS DOOR KNOCKING THING
Did I mention we’ve been strolling through Revelation?… Well, it’s amazing to me that in the midst of all the lights, trumpets, beasts, eyes, majestic and incomprehensible panoramas… There is this knock on the door…
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev 3:20, NIV).
OK, so here comes the trick question… What kind of governance is going on here? Is it democratic? Is it oppressive? Is there any coercion?
Could desire make a difference?
It looks like it is totally dependent on the person answering the door desiring to have a relationship with the person at the door.
IT’S JUST A SKETCH
So I don’t mean to draw the whole picture out here… this is not a technical paper… but I just wanted to stop by, and with a few lines of thought draw a sketch of some elements that might be included in Jesus’ words to His Father… “…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…” (John 17:20b-21a, NIV).
When I read these words… what jumps out at me… is… Jesus did not take on the governance role of unity enforcer. He asked His Father to be in charge of that. Which raises a question in my mind… If any of this faintly resembles the form of governance for the kingdom of heaven, how should unity be implemented?
Where in this appeal does Jesus mandate for “those who will believe in me through their message” to implement unity? Is there a reason the good stuff of Christian behavior is called fruits of the… the… See… it’s not the fruits of democratic majority… it’s the fruits of the Spirit… Ahh… Now who is in charge of that Spirit? Could it be?… Ahhh… The FATHER! Hmmm…
TWO MORE THINGS
If Paul says that love is more important than lotsa words, and prophecy, and healing and miracles and stuff… Why do we ignore the qualities of love in our interaction with each other?… What form of governance is that?… and to what kingdom does it belong??? Huh?? Huh?? Just asking….
And then there’s that prayer of Daniel… Talk about a failed ecclesiastical system… Just why was he in a foreign land, as a captive?… But when he gets down to pray there is no… NONE… NOT ANY… ZILCH… NO finger pointing…
He says, “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws” (Dan 9:5, NIV).
I’ve caught myself wondering how Daniel would have conducted himself at San Antonio. Would he have called out the deceit, the politicking, the democratic majority, the manipulation, marginalization, the contempt for fellow believers? Or would he have retreated to entreat the Father for His divine intervention?
By the way did you ever wonder when a majority did have it right? 12 spies? Hmm… Gideon? He ended up with a minority army. Elijah and the guys on Carmel? Ahh… How about the disciples? Oh, you mean the ones who wouldn’t serve each other at the last supper? Daniel and his three friends… What majority were they a part of? Joseph? What was his majority? Just thought I’d ask.
So why do we think a democratic majority vote is a good thing? What form of governance is that? Is there any risk of coercion? I think I missed the place where Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a 5 to 4 vote parable.
So… I’m thinking Daniel might have been back at the hotel praying…
“We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name” (Dan 9:18b-19, NIV).
Thy Kingdom Come…