This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series: ‘If the church were Christian’ (Gulley)
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – intro
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 1
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 2
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 3
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 4
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 5
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 6
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 7
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 8
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 9
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 10
If the church were Christian, writes Phillip Gulley, ‘peace would be more important than power.’
A lust for power is found in Christian as well as secular organisations, in small as well as large. Such power-lust can be deeply injurious.
Those bent on power so often lack the ability to see their own need for spiritual transformation and growth.
Frequently, such people insist on dominating others and yet will not bow to the wishes of those to whom they themselves are accountable.
If a person has legitimate authority, he or she practices within their own sphere of competence. An authoritarian person, on the other hand, exceeds his or her area of expertise. Authority builds others up; authoritarianism tears them down.
Of course, those with a vested interest in maintaining theological orthodoxy are apt to use their zeal destructively against those with progressive views. And, in circumstances where people are not bothered about orthodoxy, the power battles will be about something else – whether the pastor should have an office, for example.
It may be that religious institutions, because of their historic interest in rules and morality, are especially attractive to authoritarian personalities.
We need to learn to use power ‘redemptively, to accomplish works of mercy, peace, and reconciliation.’
The words of James 4:1-2 are relevant. It is not surprising that the Christian church, which has grown so fond of force and power, should still harbour so many who support war as part of the solution to the problems of the world. The church has become so closely identified with the state that the former blesses the activities of the latter for too uncritically, and loses its own prophetic voice.
Jesus taught that we should love and redeem our enemies, not hate and kill them. Early in his ministry, he himself faced up to the lure of power. How difficult it is to choose integrity over control! But we are members of an alternative community. Our warfare is of an entirely different kind (2 Corinthians 10:3f). When we patiently counter hatred with love, transformation can happen.
In contrast, the Moral Majority revealed an infatuation with worldly power and, in the eyes of many, brought the Christian way into disrepute. Should not the church be a beacon for peace in a world dark with hate? Rather than delivering expositions about obscure biblical characters, should we not be urging people to consider the weightier matters of the law – justice and mercy and faith?
As with the previous chapter, no sane person is going to disagree with the basic premise of this chapter. For this reason, Michael Kruger doesn’t see the need to discuss it. That’s a bit of a shame, because we should take the trouble to think through the things we agree with, as well as those we find more problematic.
So, we can readily agree that ‘peace [is] more important than power’. Indeed, those who differ from Gulley in other respects would do well to accept much of what he says as a welcome corrective. We can also be grateful that he touches base with Scripture a bit more often in this chapter. He even quotes Paul with approval!
However, while we should all long for and work for peace at all levels, we should question whether ‘loving our enemies’ can be extrapolated so easily from the personal level to the international level. The pacifist option is at least debateable.
More fundamentally, we need to ask: what kind of peace? Gulley’s peace is almost entirely horizontal. It is a peace in which we live ‘in harmony with ourselves, then with our neighbor, and finally with creation and the world.’ It is a peace in which we ourselves do the redemptive work. The redemptive work of Christ doesn’t get a look in.
Gulley, Philip. If the Church Were Christian. HarperOne. Kindle Edition. Chapter 8