Above Reproach

A recent controversy surrounding a prominent author and perceived leader in organic church circles lead me to come back to scripture and consider one of Paul’s qualifications for leadership. In one of his letter’s to Timothy Paul wrote:

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (1Ti 3:2-3)

The one qualification I looked at is the first one. What does it mean to be “above reproach?” Digging into my lexicon I find that the greek word here is anepilemptos which more literally means “unable to take hold of” or “unable to seize.” It carries the meaning being unassailable or beyond rebuke or disapproval. As I size it up I’d say that leaders must be free of any potential legitimate accusations about their character or actions.

Looking at the rest of Paul’s life I’d say that being above reproach doesn’t necessarily being perfect or sinless. Paul confessed his own weaknesses (2Cor 1:8), sin (Rom 7:15), inabilities (2Cor 11:6), and the dark aspects of his past (Acts 26:11). One key aspect of being above reproach is to not have anything hidden that people can accuse you of. Bringing our past in to the light is one indicator that we have truly changed.

Another indicator that we have truly changed is whether we are willing to make amends with the people we have hurt. If we have truly taken ownership of our mistakes and we truly care about the people we have harmed we will do what we can to remedy them. Far too often leaders claim they have repented but just ignore the carnage left in their wake.

To be above reproach is to act with integrity and consistently exhibit Godly character and to be honest and upfront when making mistakes or struggling with sin. There should be legitimate concern if there is a pattern of evasion or dishonesty about the past. If a potential or current leader gets defensive quickly when questioned that is another warning sign.

It has been disastrous when we don’t hold our leaders to account. So many have found themselves in high profile positions and when the truth of their flagrant sin and pattern of deception is revealed it sets off a terrible explosion in the body Christ. The damage reaches far and wide. Some leaders are abusive and exploit others and the damage can go on for years. It is one of the reasons we have so many wounded Christians. This keeps happening because we don’t require our leaders to be above reproach.

Am I more like Paul or a super-apostle?

In evaluating any ministry we need look at several dimensions to see if what is going on fits together with the greater story of New Testament ministry. The goal is not to come up with a checkless of do’s and don’ts to live up to, but to give us an indication if we are metaphorically drinking from the right wells. If we are abiding in Christ, if we are connected to the source of life our patterns, values and motivations will naturally follow in one direction. We are drinking from the well of grace. If we are drinking from the wells of shame, guilt, fear, pride or selfishness than our approach to ministry will also follow a predictable pattern.

The fruit of one path leads to transformation the other to condemnation. For Paul the hope of transformation, joy, comfort and clean conscience was found in Christ. He knew that the human tools of behavior modification were a dead end. Trickery, manipulation, self-promotion, authoritarianism and even rhetorical power were all employed by the super-apostles. While use of such tools, along with legalistic condemnation, can drive people to try harder and dig even deeper wells of self-effort they just result in death. Paul touches on this more in his letter to the Colossians and the Galatians but his understanding seems no different here.

For Paul personal weakness was a wedge issue. It was in this area we see a huge contrast between him and the super-apostles. It is a reliable indicator of which “well” someone is drinking from. Those who drink from the well of grace are confident that Christ is the one that will transform them and the people they minister to. They see no need to manipulate or even massage the truth. They can be open and honest without fear that those they minister to will lose faith in them. In fact they are intentionally open about their weaknesses because they know they can receive comfort and they know that God will change them, people will see that change and come to faith in God.

The super-apostles did not reveal their weaknesses. Because they haven’t discovered the grace of Christ and live under the compulsion of condemnation they live mostly in shame. While attempting to live up the ideals of the “letter” they used any tool at their disposal. They had to project an image of strength if they wanted to influence people. Many likely did not realize that were in fact proclaiming themselves as Christ and exploiting people. It becomes easily to rationalize methods that hurt people through careful misapplication of biblical text. Because Christ and his grace were not evident in their own lives they had to find meaning in financial gain and religious status. These motives irrevocably lead to the methods of the super-apostles.

In order to discern whether a ministry is on the right path we have to consider the big question of “why.” If we are ministering for our personal gain our methods and our teaching will eventually reflect this. We might be in it for fame, status, reputation, money, religious success. We might be living out our own legalistic self-condemnation on others or reliving our own victimization through others.

Paul loved people and was so filled with the love of God it compelled him despite all the suffering and the risks. He lived with an open heart and a Godly jealous for Christ’s people. He tried very hard not to be a burden and attempted to work with the Corinthians for their joy. He saw the Corinthians as partners to work in co-operation with, not just people to minister too.

I may be reading in to the text here (and perhaps part of my own life in to the text) but I believe Paul was hurt by the lack of reciprocation on the part of the Corinthians. He worked hard to support himself and was faithful to God and treated the Corinthians with respect, yet he was rejected in favour of people who treated them with arrogance and exploited them. Paul suffered not just from external persecution but by the insensitive treatment by those he sought to minister to. It seems to bleed out especially later on in the letter where we makes some honest but biting remarks about the Corinthian’s willingness to let themselves become exploited.

Coming through this I see a few questions that good to ask of myself and my ministry partners or potential ministry partners:

Which “well” am I drinking from?
Is it the grace of Christ leading to life, freedom and transformation or condemnation leading to shame, bondage and death?

Why do I do what I do? What are the motivations?
A careful examination of my heart and my actions will reveal clues to where my heart is? I will find my heart with my treasure so I should examine how I spend my resources (mental, emotional, material) and follow the “money trail” to the orientation of my heart.

Am I comfortable with my own weakness or do I need to project an image of strength to others?
Am I confident that Christ has transformed me and I have no need to fake it for others? Am I overly concerned with how people think of me?

Am I honest, open and willing to submit myself to conscious examination of others?
Do I use flattery, trickery or other methods to guide people? Do I do employ techniques that I feel need to keep secret from other people because somewhere deep inside I’m ashamed of them? Do I try to control what people think so I can guide the situation to further my goals whether they are altruistic or not?

New scripture to the quotes collection

For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body.
(2Co 4:5-10 NET.)

I’ve been spending time in Ephesians 3

In order to discern whether something is counterfeit one has to know the genuine.  One of the aspects of Covering Theology that bugs me is how the concept of grace is redefined to something very different.  Authority and leadership are significant issues in scripture but they aren’t the core ones, some of those might be grace, faith, hope, love, and righteousness.

One of these core concepts that I think that is underrated in most of  the Christian church is love.

Eph 3:16  I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.
Eph 3:17  Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
Eph 3:18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.
Eph 3:19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Eph 3:16  I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Eph
3:17  Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. Eph
3:18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.
Eph 3:19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

This is one of a few prayers we have of Paul.  I’d say it might be more useful than the whole Jabez thing we went through in years gone past.  As a church leader I am profoundly intrigued by the ramifications of this passage.  What would it mean to be rooted and grounded? To be rooted in His love just like a tree.   To be grounded is to have a foundation much like a house.  Imagine how wonderful it would be to be so firmly established in God’s love that it sustains you even in the longest droughts and toughest winds.  According to Paul knowing God’s love is the way by which we are made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Often we talk about getting rooted and grounded in the word.  (Australians please forgive my North American usage of “rooted”).  We spend a lot of our time acquiring knowledge as if we just knew more then we could figure things out and order our lives correctly.  Perhaps we should invest more in getting to know God’s love.  What would it look like if church leaders were more invested in leading people to know God’s love than building an organization or leading a program?

Acts: The church discerns leadership and direction together

How do we pick our leaders?  The bible isn’t entirely explicit on the topic.  There are a few examples and indications scattered throughout scripture. 

The first example is Judas’ replacement chosen in Acts 1.  I’m thinking that was a pretty unique circumstance.  Although I’ve heard of some churches using lots to choose elders and it worked out pretty well.  The churches in question discerned who might be qualified for eldership by picking people who had strong character and in particular humble.  They through all their “names in a hat” and picked their next elder.

There are other examples in Acts involving Paul, his appointment to ministry and the appointment of elders in the churches.  Based on these examples I see pattern develop.  The church sought the direction of their ultimate authority and it was discerned mutually.  It was important for people with different strengths and different gifts to come together in the discernment process.  While there is nothing to indicate that the church voted to make decisions people depended on each other in the process.

In Acts 13 Paul is back on the scene.

Act 13:1  Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood ) and Saul.
Act 13:2  While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Act 13:3  Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.

There are a couple things I noticed about this passage.

  • Luke starts out by mentioning the people involved in the process were prophets and teachers.  I found that interesting because a) there are no apostles b) prophets and teachers have traditionally been at odds with each other.  I have charismatic/prophetic leanings but I’m often dismayed by the lack of good foundational teaching among the people who have similar leanings.  Similarly I’ve been around teachers who couldn’t express an opinion without footnoting someone else let alone be led by faith.  Could it be that these giftings and strengths need to be properly held together in Christ to accurately discern God’s direction?
  • The people were not seeking an answer from the Lord or asking Him to bless their vision or project they were simply “serving the Lord.” 
  • They make it clear who was doing the appointing: The Holy Spirit
  • The implication is that was a group of peers seeking the Lord together, not the head of a hierarchy
  • Then they were sent.
  • In verse 13:2 “set apart” has been translated “appoint” (CEV) or “dedicate” (NLT)

At the end of Paul’s first journey we see this.

Act 14:21  After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.
Act 14:22  They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, "We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions."
Act 14:23  When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed.

Those who favour a more hierarchical view of church leadership often point to the Paul’s practice of appointing elders.  He also instructed Titus to do so (Tit 1:5).  I believe the same process that the church used to appoint Paul and Barnabas was being used here.  If they relied on the Holy Spirit to guide them before I imagine they would do it again.

It is also interesting to note the word translated “appointed” is cheirotoneo?. 

Thayer’s Lexicon has the following

1) to vote by stretching out the hand
2) to create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty
3) to elect, create, appoint

Vine’s has the following

primarily used of voting in the Athenian legislative assembly and meaning "to stretch forth the hands" (cheir, "the hand," teino, "to stretch"), is not to be taken in its literal sense; it could not be so taken in its compound procheirotoneo, "to choose before," since it is said of God, Act_10:41. Cheirotoneo is said of "the appointment" of elders by apostolic missionaries in the various churches which they revisited, Act_14:23, RV, "had appointed," i.e., by the recognition of those who had been manifesting themselves as gifted of God to discharge the functions of elders (see No. 2). It is also said of those who were "appointed" (not by voting, but with general approbation) by the churches in Greece to accompany the apostle in conveying their gifts to the poor saints in Judea,

There is nothing in the meaning of cheirotoneo? that conflicts with the kind of Spirit led discernment we observed with Paul and Barnabas in Antioch.  The assumption here is that Paul would have discerned with the church who had already emerged as elders in the church and confirmed it. 

This word is also used in 2Cor 8:19 to indicate a communal or community discernment.  The churches (plural) had chosen this particular brother as a travelling companion.

2Co 8:16  But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same devotion I have for you,
2Co 8:17  because he not only accepted our request, but since he was very eager, he is coming to you of his own accord.
2Co 8:18  And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his work in spreading the gospel.
2Co 8:19  In addition, this brother has also been chosen by the churches as our traveling companion as we administer this generous gift to the glory of the Lord himself and to show our readiness to help.

We also see the church discerning together in Acts 15.  People had come up from Judea and were introducing some destructive teaching.  The issue was so important that the church appointed a delegation to go to Jerusalem to settle the matter.

Act 15:1  Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
Act 15:2  When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement.

At this point Paul is clearly an Apostle but it was the church in Antioch that appointed him to go to Jerusalem.  The pattern seems to indicate that God leads and directs through the whole church.  It is clear from Paul’s epistles that he had a lot of authority to establish proper teaching but even he could be appointed by a church to carry out a task.  The pattern I see is that ultimately the Holy Spirit is the authority but different people have different gifts and different roles to play in discerning God’s direction.  They all need to be working together to accurately hear God.  If someone appoints themselves as the one through whom all direction flows they are cutting out many necessary people from the discernment process. 

I updated the Page on Paul’s authority

I added the following to the top this page to flesh things out.

To understand Paul’s view of the church we have to understand how he came to have the authority of an apostle.  He wasn’t appointed by anyone or any organization.  He was appointed by God.

Gal 1:1  From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead)

As an appointed messenger of God he felt that he had the authority to build people up (2Cor 10:8) and he could speak authoritatively about what God’s will might be in a certain situation (1cor 7:10).

Even though Paul could speak authoritatively to a situation he chose not to.

1Th 2:7   although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children,

1Th 2:8  with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

It is abundantly clear that in Paul’s concept of ministry that the real authority in the church is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit’s ministry is expressed through spiritual gifts in the entire body (1Cor 12) but is best expressed through genuine love (1cor 13).  Authority, even Paul’s authority was nothing without love.

Col 2:9-23 NTL

This page was added today.

Col 2:9  For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
Col 2:10  So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
Col 2:11  When you came to Christ, you were "circumcised," but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.
Col 2:12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with Him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
Col 2:13  You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for He forgave all our sins.
Col 2:14  He cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.
Col 2:15  In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross.
Col 2:16  So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.
Col 2:17  For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ Himself is that reality.
Col 2:18  Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud,
Col 2:19  and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For He holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
Col 2:20  You have died with Christ, and He has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as,
Col 2:21  "Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!"?
Col 2:22  Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.
Col 2:23  These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

In this passage we see Paul proclaiming the supremacy of Christ over spiritual rulers, authorities, rules, human teachings, self-denial etc…  Paul illustrates it in many different ways.

Record of charges against us Nailed to the cross
Rules shadows of the reality to come
why keep following them?
seem wise, but provide no help
mere human teachings
Spiritual rulers and authorities Disarmed
Shamed publicly with victory on the cross
Spiritual powers We are set free from
People insisting pious self-denial, visions Not connected to Christ
Human teachings deteriorate as we use them

We are complete through our union with Christ (v10) who is head over every ruler and authority.  In the JFB commentary we find the following:

And therefore; and so. Translate in the Greek order, “Ye are in Him (by virtue of union with Him) filled full” of all that you need (Joh_1:16). Believers receive of the divine unction which flows down from their Divine Head and High Priest (Psa_133:2). He is full of the “fullness” itself; we, filled from Him. Paul implies, Therefore ye Colossians need no supplementary sources of grace, such as the false teachers dream of. Christ is “the Head of all rule and authority” (so the Greek), Eph_1:10; He, therefore, alone, not these subject “authorities” also, is to be adored (Col_2:18).

The message we find in the New Testament is clear.  We lack nothing in Christ and we don’t need anyone to mediate Christ for us.  The authorities of Paul’s day were obstacles to Christ.  Some preached pious self-denial or the worship of angels and condemned those who didn’t follow with them.  The authoritarians in our day are much the same.  Covering Theology might seem wise but it is a mere human teaching that deteriorates as it is used.  Those who find completeness through their union with Christ will see the threats and intimidation of this theology disarmed.  It is not pious submission to authority that brings us to maturity but the new life we have through Christ’s sacrifice.