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.