A Christian Pecking Order?

If tv is to be believed, it seems there is a pecking order in the Royal Family. My wife and I have been watching the series The Crown and we are up to the point Lady Diana stumbles in on the family and makes a royal mess of it, not knowing whom to curtsy to, in what order, and how to address each. In our home there is only one who goes by “Your Majesty” and that title belongs to a wee dog named “Ruby.” Or so she thinks.

Is there a pecking order in the family we call church? Are some people superior and others inferior? Our answer based on what is ideal may not line up with what people really experience.

Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth, a community in which some people felt superior to the rest based on their expression of spiritual gifts leaving others, of course, to feel inferior.

So what did Paul say?

To the ones feeling inferior he said this:

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

1 Corinthians 12:14-17 (NLT)

In other words, no matter how inferior you may feel, you belong. Not one of us is inferior. All of us are necessary. In fact it is as ludicrous to think of the Church functioning without you as it is thinking of a body made up of only an eye or ear.

To those feeling superior Paul said this:

Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.

1 Corinthians 12:20-24 (NLT)

In other words, if you belong, so do the others, even those you think are inferior to you in some way. Each person is a unique part of the whole body. So a “pecking order culture” where some may be perceived to be more necessary than others must give way to a culture of mutuality.

This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT)

Do we see a similar propensity for superiority and inferiority today as happened in Corinth in Paul’s day?

Unfortunately we can fall into the same pecking order based on gifts, both those perceived as being spiritual gifts and those perceived to be natural.

Despite Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, some Christians still feel superior, and some still feel inferior based on whether they pray or speak in spiritual tongues. Whether you speak in tongues or not, you belong, you are important.

Some people may be lifted up as superior, perhaps not even by their own choice, by having the “gift of the gab.” Those who are not naturally outgoing and on the quieter side can feel inferior. Whether we are more outgoing, or more reserved, we belong, we are important.

Some people seem to be especially gifted at prayer. Their prayers are so articulate, plus they seem to know exactly what to pray for. Some us think we must sound kinda stupid when we pray. Whether we are articulate or not in our prayers, we belong, we are important, and God hears us.

Some people have the gift of answered prayers. Some of us wonder if God is listening at all. If our prayers seem to go unnoticed, we may feel inferior. Whether our prayers are answered according to our desires or not, we belong, we are important. Prayer is too mysterious to be a sign of the worth of any human being.

Some of us have the gift of not having anything about ourselves that would raise eyebrows. I recently came across the following in a Christian statement of faith: “we oppose any form of gender confusion.” Language is important, and stating it that way can make someone who is confused about their gender feel like they are inferior. Some people experience that confusion for a season, some for a lifetime. Some people have the gift of clarity. Whether we are confused or have clarity, we belong, we are important.

We could go on to many other examples, but in this series I’m calling “What Kind of Church,” let us again turn to a cultural statement of Open Table Communities:

A Culture of Mutuality
We nurture a culture where everyone is encouraged towards becoming their best selves and offering themselves in service of others. We seek to empower one-another and the communities we participate in, through using our gifts to bless and serve.

Open Table Communities

A culture of mutuality is very different from a pecking order kind of culture. We each have gifts, not to lift us up higher than others, but to lift others up. We each have gifts, not to serve ourselves, but to use in the service of others.

It is an honour to serve His Majesty, King Jesus, to be in the body, to have gifts to serve and serve alongside so many other gifted people.

Anchored in Jesus (Beginning of a New Series: What Kind of Church?)

Many people have become uncomfortable with the Church and churches to the point of being done with Christianity. They have seen too much politicking, hypocrisy, abuse, scandals, and the ignoring of science and education. One might wonder if Jesus himself would be comfortable in some churches.

While on Sabbatical I was grateful for efforts of our interim pastor Ray Jones who happens to be the executive director of an entity called Open Table Communities. What is Open Table Communities? There are many people known as the “dones,” that is, people who are done with churches and Christianity as a whole. While there is much more to it that what I’m about to say, I’d characterise Open Table Communities as saying, “before you throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s take a closer look at that baby, and the bath water.”

Open Table is guided by eight cultural statements. They are statements of “this is how we do things around here, this is the kind of community we are.” As I looked over the eight cultural statements, they struck me as being good, not just for a new kind of faith community like Open Table, but also for an old fashioned kind of church, such as we are at Calvary Baptist. Really they speak to a community that gets Jesus, his teaching and example, the kind of community Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of community many of us would feel at home in.

Therefore, over the next eight weeks we will be using of these statements as launching points for exploring the kind of church Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of church we want to be.

Here is the first statement:

We nurture cultures that are anchored in the Jesus story, his life, death and resurrection. We nurture a view of God that is seen through the lens of Christ, and consider how this way of seeing God, the world and human activity is conducive to all human flourishing.

Open Table Communities

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus?

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus? Because Jesus said it was the wise thing to do. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had already said several times “you have heard it said…but I say to you.”. Here in conclusion he is saying “Listen to me!”

Jesus later said,

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

The kind of church that “gets Jesus” is one that is anchored in him.

But why listen to Jesus?

Why listen to Jesus when we wouldn’t listen to any of our friends if they said the same things about themselves as Jesus said about himself?

In a nutshell, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything and the apostles knew it.

With the resurrection of Jesus, on top of his teaching, and on top of the miracles he performed, listening to Jesus became the natural thing to do. With the resurrection of Jesus it became reasonable to believe him when he said that all authority had been given to him. With the resurrection of Jesus the disciples knew it was time for new wineskins. Everything had now changed.

But why listen to what the early Christians said about Jesus?

The disciples were convinced about Jesus, but why should we be? How do we know the New Testament is not just made up?

There is enough to say here to write a book, in fact I’ve done that as have many others. For now, let’s just recognise that Jesus is unique in the history of the world and the history of people. Jesus deserves a deeper dive, a second look, in fact a third and fourth look.

Where else might we anchor our faith and life rather than in Jesus?

There are many other places we might anchor our faith, many places which actually are good sources of truth. For example, science. Science is a great and important source of truth, but it cannot tell us everything. Likewise, philosophy, tradition, and our own experience can all be good sources of truth though they cannot replace Jesus as the anchor. Some anchor their faith in what pop culture says, or in what their social media streams tell them. There can be truth there too, but they do not compare to Jesus as an anchor for life and faith.

Here is another source of truth which is not to be the anchor: the Bible. Surprised? We are not Bible followers who look to Jesus to help us follow the Bible, but Jesus followers who look to the Bible to help us follow Jesus. There is a subtle but important distinction there. The Bible is “God-breathed,” and while that’s amazing and important, Jesus is “God with us,” and that’s even more amazing and more important. We Baptists like to say that the Bible is our authority. Sometimes what we mean, without our even realising it, is that our understandings or interpretations of the Bible are the authority. Again, there is a subtle but important difference there. The Bible is so important for our faith. But it is not the anchor. Jesus is.

Jesus as the corrective lens.

If all we had was science, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else? If all we had was philosophy, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else. Or if all we had was pop-culture, social-media, or the Old Testament? We see what God is like through the lens of Jesus.

The corrective lens of Jesus, seeing everything through Jesus’ teaching, his life, his example, his death and resurrection, enabled Paul to say that “God is for us and not against us” (see Romans 8) and John to say that “God is love” (see 1st John 4). What does being anchored in Jesus enable you and I to say about God and our relationship with the Divine?

Since Jesus is the anchor, people are the focus.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10 NRSV). When we focus on Jesus, his teaching, example, life, death, and resurrection, we see that Jesus was focused on us. Being anchored in the Jesus story means putting the focus on people, seeking human flourishing. There is a reason the only verb in the tagline of our church is “helping people.”

Here at Calvary, we want to be anchored in Jesus. We want to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love.

(This sermon can be see here)