Abuse and Power: The First Shall Be….First?
Mark 9:33-37 ESV (33) And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (34) But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. (35) And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (36) And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, (37) “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
I really don’t know where to begin. It’s like we have built a huge edifice and as we stand back to admire it we realize that we have failed to follow the blueprints. The thing is wrong. All wrong.
The fundamental tenet of following the Lord Jesus Christ is the requirement that we do as He did… take up our cross, deny ourselves, and step in His footprints on the Way. He came to seek and to serve. So must we. He who was greatest in glory emptied Himself and became the lowliest, cursed being on a cross. He said things like this — over and over:
Mark 10:42-45 ESV (42) And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (43) But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, (44) and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (45) For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 23:11-12 ESV (11) The greatest among you shall be your servant. (12) Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
And we could go on for a long, long time recounting all the times that Christ taught this theme by word and deed:
John 13:12-15 ESV (12) When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? (13) You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. (14) If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (15) For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
I am not very good at this business of being last and denying myself. Many of you are much more accomplished at it because you have suffered much more than I have.
Now, to the main point. Here is my thesis:
Abuse is widespread in the Christian church because most seminaries (where pastors and scholars are trained), most local churches, most para-church organizations including missions agencies encourage and promote “the first shall be first, and the last shall be last.” In other words, they are built upon a philosophy of “power over” just like the world. And when you have such a model, you necessarily have the most power-hungry personalities stepping on one another to rise to the top. It means abuse, abusers, and victims.
Think about it. You don’t become the pastor of a larger and larger church, or the department head or president of a seminary unless you achieve. You have to produce, and if you do you will be rewarded with promotion. If you don’t, step to the back of the line. “Oh no,” you say? Pick up a seminary catalog or go to the web page of a large church and read the descriptions of the head honchos. Tell me those descriptions are pictures of Christ’s model of “the last shall be first.”
Why do you suppose Jesus forbade His followers (US) from implementing a “first shall be first” model of life and ministry? Because such a system does not save and heal people, it ABUSES them! It places those who hunger for power the most at the top of the pile. Get a PhD, then go get another. Be so dynamic and charismatic in the pulpit that people flock to hear you tell them what they want to hear. Send Bible College and Seminary students to conferences and chapels where you have the biggest names in show busin….uh, Christianity, come to speak while the audience oohs and aahs.
What if… I am asking (and I am trembling a bit as I type these words)…what if we have gone all wrong and that is why this blog is even necessary? Think of it. What do we have here? We have genuine Christian people gathering here in cyberspace to help one another heal up from getting the *&%$# kicked out of us in institutions calling themselves the body of Christ? Sexual abuse investigations are ongoing. Missions schools are revealed as having been havens for child molesters. And then there is “just” the plain ol’ ordinary folk like many of you — abuse survivors whose suffering was enhanced exquisitely by those who call themselves great in the kingdom of Jesus Christ!
What if, in other words, all of this evil is alive and well in our churches and Christian organizations because we have widely embraced the model of the first shall be first and the last shall be last? And if this is true, what does it mean needs to happen? It means that the gospel once again needs to turn the world upside down, only this time judgment must begin with the household of God. It means that there is a whole lot of de-construction to be done. Some churches and organizations probably just need to go away for good. It means that perhaps many of the great names in Christendom need to step down in repentance, and we all need to repent for enabling them to climb up there in the first place.
And it means, if you would find a true church, look for one that is modeled upon Christ’s philosophy of ministry – “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Look for a place that knows what it is to suffer for Christ, to take up the Cross, and to deny oneself. You will find mercy and help in a place like that because that is where Christ is.