In part 1, we laid out God's process of identifying Himself through a people born of His friend, Abraham, delivered by His servant Moses, giving human origin to His Son, Jesus. Largely rejected, Jesus nonetheless purchased the redemption of that people with His body and blood; a service that was largely ignored by Abraham's descendants. So now, because of the mandate given to the apostle Paul, the good news of the heavenly kingdom coming to earth could be preached to the Gentiles. Historically and presently, those of us who have embraced this good news, particularly the part about eternal life and remission of sins, have regarded the Jews as a collective Esau, regarding their birthright with disdain. We read their story with bewilderment as they disregard a glorious God who has kept them and His promises for centuries to little apparent avail. Or we see how after witnessing the greatest earthly display of God's power on their behalf in Egypt, they , days later, lamented His lack of faithfulness at bringing them to the banks of the Red Sea to die at the hands of Pharoh and his army. But if we are practicing our faith with any honesty, we will have come to many points in our journey where maybe a couple of years, or a few months or just several weeks after witnessing a great sovereign move of God in our lives or a friend's life, we might find ourselves blubbering, " O God, have you forgotten me, or have you brought me out of Egypt that I might die here in this wilderness?." Faithlessness is not unique to Jews or any people, and my contention is that , particularly in the lives of those that have known fellowship with God, tough times of persecution, or hardship or correction (chastisement) can render a faithlessness in us which is a fertile ground for the germination of false gods and idols. Conversely, our obedience in any circumstance, but especially when our faith and zeal are at a low ebb, serves to clearly define and illuminate the one, true God. I have pretty much written part one and two of this article to write that one sentence. It's worth restating; we come to know the one true God - progressively - by obeying Him; we become very ripe for idolatry by choosing to disobey Him, because we have to carve or whittle an adjustment to the real God to accommodate the course of action we've chosen for ourselves.
I want to analyze obedience here. In Catholocism, there is a categorization of sin; mortal sins are very egregious acts that jeopardize your eternal destiny whereas venial sins are those that are less harmful and though requiring repentance, represent less of a stain on the believer's soul. I'm not sure there is any clear categories of obedience or sin , but the delineation makes for better understanding.
I'm going to call the effort to comply with the broad interpretation of the Bible as general obedience. The Ten Commandments, the Law, the general direction of all that Jesus spoke combine to form that which has been termed Judeo- Christian values and provide many believers with their first taste of godly conviction and a call by the Holy Spirit to repentance and change. Unfortunately , this should not be the totality of our obedience as it allows for a tremendous amount of "editing" on the part of the believer. We know that the Jewish leadership in Jesus' day thought themselves wonderfully observant of and obedient to the Word of God while the wickedness in their hearts caused them to conspire to murder the living Word of God. Nonetheless, a large part of the Christian church would only recognize this category of obedience. In Evangelical circles we would describe it as responding to the Logos word of God; the written word.
The Rhema word of God is what is spoken specifically to the believer by the Holy Spirit, either from within to the heart of the believer, or through one of the manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit; a prophetic word, a word of knowledge, etc.. As the Charismatic Movement of the last few decades declared that the book of Acts was a blueprint for how the church was to function and thrive, the Rhema word has become foundational to many people's walk. Like the Hebrews in the wilderness, we are to move when the pillar of fire or smoke moves, and we stay put when it doesn't. When you acknowledge the possibility that God can and will direct your day to day life, you introduce a whole other level of spirituality, both good and bad, into your lives and others' around you! But one would have to read the Bible with your eyes closed to deny God giving personal instruction to the individual or to the body of Christ at large or regionally. A great many leaders reject the idea because, like I said, the concept can bring the glory of God on the scene as well as a high degree of nonsense, confusion and an opportunity for spiritual foul play, which brings me to my third and final category of obedience.
General obedience can be so highly edited as to be obedience to a culture, a social norm, or really more obeisance to the flesh than obedience could possibly permit. Obedience to Gods voice can go all sorts of places because there are many voices, the loudest of which is the flesh, followed perhaps by the voice of worldly success. The operation of the gifts of the Spirit can be misrepresented and particularly when presented as an instruction or a direction for the recipient, can be a source of confusion or even destruction in a believer's life. These shortcomings of the first two categories of obedience brings me to the third form of obedience: obedience to spiritual leadership.
The modern era has seen an assault on authority that is almost admirable in its thoroughness and its cunning. From the individual household, to educational institutions, to all facets of government, authority is challenged, constantly questioned, and often ridiculed. That belittling of authority is thriving in the modern Christian church to the extreme detriment of the believer. Earlier in this article, I made the statement that whereas the goodness, grace and generosity of God was a magnet to people, His very nature as creator and sovereign judge demands subservience and thus can be repulsive to those same people. The same holds true for church leaders; their knowledge, spiritual wisdom and passion attract the seeker, but their authority- God ordained but so often challenged by man- and exercise of it can be offensive. Jesus was a wonderful example of this dynamic. While He was teaching and expounding on the scripture, He was attractive to the masses and an interest to Jewish leadership. When He alluded to His position as God's Son, or Messiah, He aroused strong resentment and fury! On those occasions when , as Lord of Lords, He chastised and rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, they ground their teeth in a rage and determined to kill Jesus. When on trial, He finally confessed that He was the Messiah, and He was sentenced to death!
From my experience, it is difficult to follow Jesus. Once that commitment is made, the caves open and the demons come after you! To navigate the path without spiritual leadership to help guide in the ways of the Holy Spirit, which experience has taught them, is near impossible. But their role as local shepards helps focus that inward searching light of the Spirit on the heart of us sheep with all the resultant discomfort and they often bear the brunt of the attendant resentment. So the baby disciple, unwilling to yield to the leadership and call to change by the Holy Spirit, finds fault with the pastor and goes somewhere else to begin the process again. We in the charismatic circles are inveterate church hoppers for that reason.
Spiritual leadership is a bit like charisma; the good comes with the bad. There was a Moses, but there was Charles Manson; there were prophets, but there were false prophets; Jesus will come again as the universally recognized Messiah, but He warned against false messiahs. One of our leaders said that any great move of God will come with an attendant move of the flesh, and a move of satan. If there are true spiritual leaders, there will be imposters as well.
My last 13 yrs have been an era of great spiritual growth, both in a knowledge sense, but also in true spiritual character. That growth was effected by my drinking in of that which my leaders poured out, but also in my processing frustrations and resentments at their imperfections or more often my imperfections aroused by theirs.
God can raise up a very competent leader in someone with a very abrasive personality. God can raise up a wonderful spiritual leader and give them precious little administrative ability. If your leader hasn't experienced the gritty faith resulting from inability, then you may not want their leadership. Shortly after failing Jesus in a way that was more repulsive to himself than anybody else, Peter was asked by Jesus to feed His sheep, thus marking Peter as a leader, when in anybody's mind, he had disqualified himself from any position of leadership. You as a sheep will benefit from your leaders' struggles and victories. Peter, despite his abject failure, stepped into and fulfilled the role Jesus and the Father had assigned him.
The book of Hebrews, in the 13th chapter, says this:
"Remember your leaders and superiors in authority [for it was they] who brought to you the Word of God. Observe attentively and consider their manner of living (the outcome of their well-spent lives) and imitate their faith (their conviction that God exists and is the Creator and Ruler of all things, the Provider and Bestower of eternal salvation through Christ, and theirleaning of the entire human personality on God in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness)....Obey your spiritual leaders and submit to them [continually recognizing their authority over you], for they are constantly keeping watch over your souls and guarding your spiritual welfare, as men who will have to render an account [of their trust]. [Do your part to] let them do this with gladness and not with sighing and groaning, for that would not be profitable to you [either]. (v 7 and 17)
First there is the assertion that God ordains leaders for us. That in itself runs counter to what I call the "spiritual free agent" movement; the rather democratic idea that we all are self sufficient in growth and need not affiliate ourselves with any particular church or leader. This conviction is rampant and largely held by those who, though once enthusiastically participating in some fellowship, suffered offense and withdrew. The Holy Spirit used the following story to help me see my own heart when I was tempted to abandon the work God had attached me to:
"NOW MIRIAM and Aaron talked against Moses [their brother] because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite woman.
And they said, Has the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Has He not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it.
Now the man Moses was very meek (gentle, kind, and humble) or above all the men on the face of the earth.
Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting. And the three of them came out.
The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the Tent door and called Aaron and Miriam, and they came forward.
And He said, Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make Myself known to him in a vision and speak to him in a dream.
But not so with My servant Moses; he is entrusted and faithful in all My house.
With him I speak mouth to mouth [directly], clearly and not in dark speeches; and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and He departed.
And when the cloud departed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron looked at Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous!" ( Num12: 1-10)
The stigma of Moses' being married to a Cushite is not fully understood. Either he married a descendant of Noah's son Ham which is improbable but would account for his siblings disdain, or it could actually refer to Zipporah , a Cushan, which is not a Cushite but could be a transcription error, but cause Aaron and Miriam to suspect that Moses' would have one of his sons rather than his siblings succeede him. In any case, all that is irrelevant to Moses' being appointed by God to lead His people.In my family's life, it has become a catchphrase for any little fleshly fault we find in our leaders that would rationalize our rebellion against what is clearly a divine assignment to lead and direct a work, and helps us to dismiss our petty feelings more quickly. God's response makes it clear that He didn't relieve Moses of his leadership because of his Cushite wife, and that as representatives of leadership, Aaron and Miriam should not have been at all confused about Moses' special office as evidenced by his special fellowship with God. Again, God's response indicates that Moses' authority, and the sinfulness of their attitudes should have been obvious and for that reason, He held them accountable.
Any honest person should be a little chilled by that account. Criticizing church leaders is a national pastime, particularly among Christians. Our attitudes toward the church we attend is a lot like our attitude towards a restaurant we enjoy; we partake, we analyze, we embrace or we find fault. Repeat the next Sunday until the "restaurant" no longer warrants your patronage or a new one opens down the street.
I contend that until we understand about God's acute sense of order and organization, and respect it, we will continue to dysfunction as a body and fall short of "...the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ’s own perfection), the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ and the completeness found in Him." Eph4:13. Several years ago. We heard an inspiring if not prophetic sermon likening the dry bones in Ezekiel to unrecognized and unjoined leadership; that until the rest of the organization attaches to the bones and the breath of God enters into the conjoined collection of parts, the bones could not be animate! Peter writes,"[Come] and, like living stones, be yourselves built [into] a spiritual house, for a holy (dedicated, consecrated) priesthood, to offer up [those] spiritual sacrifices [that are] acceptable and pleasing to God through Jesus Christ." I believe that that spiritual house has a very definite manifestation on earth and is the fully mature body spoken of in Ephesians; the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle.
In short, without immediate local spiritual leaders, I believe we flail about in our effort to obey the Logos and the Rhema word of God.
It is entirely human to subtly adjust our idea of God to accommodate a hunger and thirst for righteousness and all our other hunger and thirst under the same tent. Leaders help to rightly divide both the logos and Rhema in our lives to keep us focused on the one true God.