What Jesus Thinks of (some) Pastors and Church Leaders

What Jesus Thinks of (some) Pastors and Church Leaders February 10, 2014

The operative words here are status and honor, chased behind by the words power and authority, chased behind by theological discussions about the importance of leadership and pastoral authority. The problem, very quickly, is what Jesus thinks of (some) pastors and church leaders (including seminary professors!). He thinks they have gotten things upside down. A good look at this very issue is Joseph Hellerman, Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today.

The single-most important text for understanding Jesus and status/power and therefore of the shape of an incarnational-based ministry, is Philippians 2:5-11 and here it is in the Common English Bible:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hellerman sketches the three statuses of Jesus in this beautiful set of lines which many think were an early Christian hymn.

Status #1: Equality with God

The “form of God” often was used for the royal attire of kings and emperors and dignitaries. Kings, too, were often said to be “equal with God” (2 Macc 9:12). The issue here is status. In that status, Christ did not consider his status something to exploit or to use to his own advantage. He used his status to rescue others.

Status #2: Incarnation

Step down in status, for sure. The emptying and the form of a slave and human are the same point: he chose to become what we are. To say Jesus became a slave is to evoke the lowest status in the Roman world. Tantamount to a Roman free person choosing to be a Roman slave. We can begin to ponder what Jesus thinks of (some) church leaders.

Status #3: Crucifixion

Jesus’ obedience went to the cross and obedience takes on a cruciformity. Nothing more loathsomely degrading than crucifixion (here Hellerman is using terms from Peter O’Brien).

Philippians 2:5-11 then is a stunning example of the reversal of status at work in Jesus’ cruciform vision and therefore of how those who follow Jesus are “to lead.” He was exalted above all because he was degraded below all.

Hellerman thinks anti-imperial theories are missing Paul’s point: both conservatives and the imperial theorists are missing out. The former for failing to see the politics of Jesus and the latter for colonizing the politics of Jesus to their own agenda. Paul’s “politics” are ecclesial. (You go, Joe.)

It is God who exalts, and God exalts the crucified One.

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