But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
-Jesus, Matthew 23:8
One of the things I think we miss in our crusade against hierarchy is the simple way Jesus taught us to avoid it. Simply put, brotherhood is the antidote to hierarchy.
Quickly: Hierarchy is a word that means there are some people or things higher than others. It was first a word used to distinguish orders of angels, then to distinguish rank among ministers in the church, and then came to be used in society and business management. Why is it bad? Jesus had this revolutionary idea that there shouldn’t be hierarchy within the movement He started. I believe He saw the danger it caused when people thought some of God’s people were better than others.
Jesus not only warned us about hierarchy, though. He gave us the solution to it. The solution isn’t limiting our uniqueness or hiding our giftedness. The solution to the problem of hierarchy is becoming brothers*. If you’ve ever had brothers (or been fortunate enough to have friends that are like brothers) you’ll know why. Brotherhood growing up is one of the first forms of communitas that we come to understand. Healthy brotherhood gives everyone a place without elevating men or women above one another.
I had the unique privilege growing up of watching my dad interact with his father and three brothers. My dad was the youngest of five children, younger by about ten years than his next oldest brother. And yet, when my dad and his brothers got together there was no struggle for superiority. When my grandfather passed away, no one tried to become the new leader of the family. There was no struggle for grandpa’s status. It was just the brothers (and my aunt of course) still being family. They knew who they were (sons and the daughter of Albert Kolder) and they knew each other well enough to respect but not glorify any of the others.
Imagine a church like that. A church where every person who was following Jesus didn’t strive for position. No one tried to become the father of the family. Everyone was confident in their place in the spiritual family. They knew their identity and their value. In fact, they were so healthy as brothers and sisters, they eventually matured to the place where they were healthy enough to start families of their own.
Yet even among churches that hate hierarchy the most (which I would argue comes with its own set of problems), there is little expression of brotherhood. And so suspicion, animosity, and a lack of love often result. It’s a little like a country who hates an evil ruler of another country. So they depose the the ruler of that country and install another, only to find out that the new ruler is just as bad or worse than the one they installed. The fear of hierarchy becomes as bad of a ruler for a church as any hierarchy ever would.
But Jesus taught us a better way. If we would learn to be brothers and sisters, hierarchy would whither as a result. How do we learn to be brothers and sisters? More on that tomorrow…
*If you’re reading this and you’re a lady, know that brotherhood is merely a the best word that I can use. God calls us all sons regardless of our gender. I get to be part of the bride of Christ some day. We all have…ahem…gender terms…in the Bible that don’t make us comfortable. Know you’re included.
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
Each of the phrases in the title of this blog could be a whole series of blogs that I continually blog about. However, tonight, it’s late and I just have one thing to say about all three subjects: They are all deeply related.
Having said that, this was the subject of a message I just shared with our house church here in Cedar Rapids. I believe we’re beginning to cross into some areas we’ve never been in before. I had something else on my heart to share, but the Lord wouldn’t let me share about it until I took the time to lay a foundation for a real culture of repentance in our church. I’m finding that one thing that is sorely missing in our churches is a true, non-religious culture of repentance.
All of that has to start with a thorough understanding of God, His nature, His thoughts about us as we live our lives as sinful human beings, and how all of those traits of God need to be reflected in the church. If I’ve piqued your interest (or you’re one of the three people that read this blog to keep tabs on our house church–yeah I know about you guys) you can check out some of the stuff we talked about by clicking here.