If you are follow Jesus it almost inevitable that you will
experience conflicts with institutional religious leaders. Who were
Jesus' greatest enemies? Was it the secular Roman leadership, like
Pilate? Most of the Jews saw the Romans (non-Jews) as their greatest
enemies. But this was not the case with Jesus. In fact when he was
brought to trial, Pilate wanted to let him go declaring him an
innocent man. It was the Jewish religious leadership that insisted
on him being put to death, as Jesus' prophecied: "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be
rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and
he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
Luke 9:22 Which was also in accordance with the principle he
taught that: "a man's enemies
will be the members of his own household."
The Corrupting Effect of Institutionalism
(An extensive article on this subject can be found at http://www.bcbsr.com/topics/institute.html)
Throughout the history of Christianity, its greatest enemy has often
been not the world's leadership, but its own institutional
leadership. And who is going to tell you this? It is unlikely you'll
hear this from institutional leaders. Yet they have made themselves
as if the exclusive spokesmen of what constitutes legitimate
Christianity. As in Jesus' time so even up to the present. It seems
almost inevitable that movements will become corrupted through their
institutionalization. Inherent in our sinful nature is the fact that
power corrupts. Institutionalism established positions of power
which inevitably becomes sources of corruption. This is not to say
that we shouldn't institutionalize the practice of Christianity. But
we must realize that there are shortcomings which must be realize
for the sake of the edification of the body.
Consider forms of government. Because power corrupts it's almost
inevitable that dictatorial forms of government will turn out bad
in the long run. In the last 50 years, the world has seen the
benefit of democracies where there's inherently a check and
balance system in place so that corrupt leadership doesn't get out
of control. Church leadership must be subject to scrutiny.
It must allow itself to be subject to scrutiny. If leadership does
not allow themselves to be scrutinized, not only will corruption
result, but such is indicative that corruption is already in play.
For only the proud don't allow themselves to be scrutinized. And
if leadership is characteristically proud, then the institution is
Yet the typical form of church government lends itself to such
corruption. Church leadership has been primarily dictatorial. You
go to a church and you basically get lectured at. Feedback is not
encouraged nor is criticism of the leadership. Few churches even
allow for discussion among the membership of their personal
interpretations of the Bible. How can an individual deal with
corrupt leadship under such circumstances? Basically Christians
have voted with their feet. Denominationalism has resulted. Some
churches will claim that they have a built in check and balance
system in which an elite group of individuals will keep the pastor
in line, but then who is allowed to keep them in line?
"Democratic" type of churches are also not free from corruption.
What percentage of the Jewish population followed Jesus? A
minority, a remnant. Whatever is popular tends to be deviant from
the truth. The majority of people in the world who call themselves
"Christians" don't actually treat Jesus as Lord. Most don't take
the Bible seriously. Now what happens when you put such a majority
in charge of an institutional church? The church will look just
like them. Who are they going to vote for in choosing leadership?
Someone just like them who will tell them just what they want to
hear. The remnant doesn't have a voice. The nominal Christians
have taken away their voice by establishing a "lecture" format in
which they are not allowed to speak. Rules and regulations are
established whereby the unpopular Biblical believers are not
allowed to disagree with the leadership. What happens as a result?
Often they simply leave.
This is not to say that institutional churches have been
established by a bunch of nominal Christians. For often what
happens in this: A believer comes out of a corrupt church that
won't change and won't listen to him. He establishes a new church.
It becomes popular and therefore it becomes corrupt, nominal
Christians become dominant. The remnant minority lose their voice,
many of whom leave, making the nominal Christians to be even more
dominant in the institution. The institution becomes a monument to
This is not necessarily something that can be fixed. This is just
what happens. Historically, Christian leadership has been obsessed
over establishing the perfect institution. That is not Christ's
objective. It was not his objective then and it is not his
objective now. Institutionalism was established to facilitate the
maturing of individual believers to the end that they would be
involved in ministry but it has becomes an end itself.
"It was he who gave
some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be
evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare
God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ
may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the
knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the
whole measure of the fullness of Christ."Eph 4:11-13
Today if you use the word "church", most people think of a building
or an institution. But Christ' church is people. If you destroy its
buildings and programs, you haven't touched it. But those obsessed
over buildings often don't understand Jesus.
"Destroy this temple, and I
will raise it again in three days." John
Jesus was involved to an extent in the Jewish synagogues, but he
was often treated contemptuously by the religious leadership, and
"Be on your guard
against men; they will hand you over to the local councils
and flog you in their synagogues." Mat
"They will put you out of the synagogue;
in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think
he is offering a service to God." John 16:2
And this is generally the kind of experience you may have in
Christian churches if you follow Jesus.
Criticism of Religious Leadership
"Woe to you, teachers
of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! ... You snakes!
You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned
to hell? Therefore
I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.
Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will
flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town."
Hypocrisy is the effect of spiritual pride. Innate within the
attitude of spiritual superiority is a condescending judgmentalism
of others. The Bible does instruct us to judge ourselves and to
judge others. Jesus himself was judging others (the religious
leaders in particular) in his statements throughout Matthew 23,
for example. But such judgements are to be impartial, without
prejudice, based on substance and not mere appearance, as Jesus
said, "Stop judging by mere appearances,
and make a right judgment." John 7:24 But the
religious leaders not only were judging with prejudice, they wee
also neglecting to judge themselves. Paul, himself a Pharisee,
also made this observation:
"Now you, if you call yourself a
Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to
God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior
because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that
you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the
dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants,
because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and
truth-- you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that
people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You
who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law,
do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written:
"God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Rom 2:17-24
Pride causes one to ignore one's own sinfulness. But why is
pride so characteristic of religious leaders? For two reasons:
1. Positions of leadership attract proud people.
2. Humble people who become leaders often become proud. This
is the corrupting affect of power.
God often arranges for the humble to take positions of authority.
Take Moses, for example. He was a humble man, yet he was not allowed
to enter the promise land because of a pridefully vain act he
committed. Similarly with King David. Started off well, but finished
poorly. This is quite common.
How does Jesus deal with proud people?He humiliates
them. This was not for their destruction, but for their
benefit. As a father chastises his son for his own good, so Jesus
humilates the proud to develop in them the essential character
quality of humility, without which they cannot be saved. He
humilates them by:
Pointing out their sinfulness and particularly their
Revealing their poor understanding of the Bible.
Revealing their lack of love for individuals, putting
symbolism and ceremony over meeting people's actual needs.
And pointing to himself as Lord and therefore a higher
authority than they.
Revealing their sinful behavior to others by using them as
paradigms in his parables
In reaction to criticism, the proud may not have much to say about
the actual content of the criticism, if it be true. And so to
deflect the issue they may often allude to the tone of the critical
rhetoric being used. So it would be instructive to view the
precedent that Jesus and his apostles set with regards to the kind
of rhetoric they utilized in criticizing the religiously proud.
When Jesus spoke to the religiously proud, it seems he held nothing
back with regards to rhetoric. His rhetoric was extreme, even
insulting. Note above the quote from Mt 23:33 "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you
escape being condemned to hell?" And likewise with secular
authorities, At that time some Pharisees came
to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else.
Herod wants to kill you." He replied, "Go tell that fox,
‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and
on the third day I will reach my goal.’" Lk 13:31,32
Realize, of course, that such comments were in the context of the
hypocrisy Jesus noted of such people. In Matthew chapter 23 He gives
a litany of the hypocrisy characteristic of the religious elite of
His day, hypocrisy of which in fact is not so much different than
one can find throughout history of people in such positions.
Likewise even when Paul confronted Peter with his sin, he was not
"polite" but harsh, "When Peter came to
Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the
wrong." Gal 2:11 and
he did so publically, "When I saw that they
were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to
Peter in front of them all, 'You are a Jew, yet you live like a
Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force
Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'" Gal 2:14 And
such public rebuke is consistent with his instruction to Timothy, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder
except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning
rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear."
1Tim 5:19,20 Should elders, namely official teachers,
be judged more harshly? Yes, they should be judged more strictly, as
James writes, "We who teach will be judged
more strictly." James 3:1 Both Jesus and His
apostles practiced this.
There are those in Christian leadership whom Jesus and His apostles
would characterized as wolves. Here Paul encourages us to entertain
such an idea. "I know that after I leave, savage
wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.
Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in
order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!"
Acts 20:29-31a And Jesus here. "Beware
of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but
inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their
fruits." Mt 7:15-16a Don't go merely by words. For "He who hates, disguises it with his lips, And
lays up deceit within himself; When he speaks kindly, do not
believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart; Though
his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed
before the assembly." Pr 26:24-26
Besides directness to the put of open insults, Jesus also humiliates
the religiously proud in parables. The parable of the
Pharisee and the Tax Collector is such an example, as well as
the parable of the good Samaritan, the parable of the Faithful and
Wicked Servants, the parable of the Wicked Tenants and so forth.
In John 8 Jesus speaks of such people in these terms, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I
came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he
sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are
unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil,
and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer
from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no
truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he
is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the
truth, you do not believe me!" John 8:42-45 This
kind of rhetoric Jesus established as a precedent in dealing with
the religious elite who are hostile to the truth. It is frank,
unflattering and without guile. But those who are of the truth
appreciate that which is true.
The Reaction of the Proud
Humility and Pride is most easily measured by one's reaction to
personal criticism. And this is a good way each individual can
measure such in themselves. Proud people do not respond well to
criticism, but wise men do respond well.
Pr 9:8 Do not rebuke a
mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he
will love you.
Solomon is not giving a command, but making an observation. This
type of figure of speech must be understood when interpreting
proverbs and much of Jesus' teaching, such as"Judge not and you shall not be
7:1, which is also not a command, but a proverbial
observation. If you judge others, they will judge you. Jesus
criticized others and so others criticized him even to the point of
murder.And "anyone who hates his brother is a
murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him."
An example in the Bible of a church leader who was unsaved is
Diotrephes of whom the apostle John write, "I
wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first,
will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call
attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not
satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.
He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the
church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is
good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who
does what is evil has not seen God." 3John 1:9-11
2. Deaf, Dumb & Blind
Pride leads to spiritual blindness. Jesus does all kinds of miracles
even healing a man born blind and raising Lazarus from the dead, but
nothing convinces the proud religious leaders. They are blind to the
evidence, being incapable of thinking reasonably. They are blind
also to their own sinfulness, even to their hypocrisy.
And they are deaf to the teachings of Christ. They can't
understand what he means. "Why is my
language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I
say" John 8:43 " We are
from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is
not from God does not listen to us." 1John 4:6a
They are dumb in that they can't speak the truth, but rather
utter lies and slanders against Christ.
3. The Vampire Syndrome
"Everyone practicing evil hates the light and
does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." John
3:20 This is one reason why such leaders will expel Christians
from their institutions - just to avoid being exposed to the truth.
In contrast the Christian is instructed, "Have
nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather
expose them." Eph 5:11 The religiously proud are
only concerned about their own public image, as Jesus said, "Everything they do is done for men to see" Mt
23:5a While they may appear "good" on the surface, watch what
measures they are willing to take if their public image is
threatened by the truth.
What to Expect & What to do
As Jesus said, "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.'
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they
obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." John
15:20 "In fact, everyone who wants to
live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil
men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being
deceived." 2Tim 3:12,13 Experiencing persecution
from the religiously proud is part of what constitutes walking as
Jesus did. So rather than avoid it, embrace it!
As you follow Christ, don't be surprised if the greatest source
of hostility against you comes from institutional religious
leaders or those who think themselves the religious elite. It's
nothing new. What should you do? Just what Jesus did. Fearlessly
humiliate the proud. There's a popular saying today among
Christians: WWJD: What Would Jesus
Do? Better if this were WDJD: What Did Jesus Do? For it seems
that many Christians do not have in their mind the historical
Biblical Jesus, but a "Jesus" whom they make up in their own mind.
When you walk as Jesus did you will see how other Christians
really view the Biblical Jesus.
"Consider him who
endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not
grow weary and lose heart."Heb 12:3 and "Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they
exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as
evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap
for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like
manner their fathers did to the prophets."Lk 6:22,23