Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Politics and Religion

Politics and religion are inseparable. This fact alone accounts for the persecution of the early Church by the Roman State. Francis Legge stated the facts clearly when he wrote: “The officials of the Roman Empire in time of persecution sought to force the Christians to sacrifice, not to any of the heathen gods, but to the Genius of the Emperor and the Fortune of the city of Rome; and at all times the Christians’ refusal was looked upon not as a religious but as a political offence.” At the trial of Christ the chief priests of the Jews said to the officials of the Roman Empire: “We have no king but Caesar” (Jn 19:15). The early Christians, when faced with the same question, replied: “We have another King. His name is Jesus Christ.” The Romans understood what this meant: either Jesus would bow the knee to Caesar or Caesar would have to bow the knee to Jesus (cf. Jn 19:12). The Church faces this same question again today, and in a way that she has not had to face it since the days of the Roman emperors. Who is Lord: Christ or Caesar? Christ or the modern secular State? There was, and is, no third option, no “third way.” This was, and still is, a political issue. Jesus Christ was victorious in his struggle with the Roman State. He will be victorious in his struggle with the modern secular State. The only question that remains is this: on whose side will you stand? Whom are you for? Whom will you obey? The Lord Jesus Christ or the modern idolatrous secular State?

Christianity is not a private devotional cult, a worship hobby, that could find a quiet place in the greater context of ancient Roman idolatry. Christianity is not comparable with the mystery cults that were popular in ancient Rome. For the early Church, merely adding Christ to the Roman pantheon—a tactic that was tried, unsuccessfully, by at least two emperors—would have been a denial of his lordship and sovereignty and would have successfully neutralised Christianity as a threat to the Roman State. But Christianity is more than a devotional cult. It is a religion that structures the whole of man’s life. Both the early Church and the Roman State understood this. Modern Christians on the whole have signally failed to understand this. And it is this failure that accounts for the decline of Christianity in the West today.

Christ does not merely demand that we refrain from burning the incense to Caesar; he demands that Caesar burn the incense to him and acknowledge his lordship and sovereignty over Rome and the empire. To burn the incense to Caesar was to acknowledge that Caesar was the political overlord. For Christians, to refuse to burn the incense meant that Jesus Christ is the political overlord, the King of kings to whom all kings must bow, Caesar included. There is no area of religious neutrality anywhere in the created order. Politics is not a religiously neutral enterprise, it is an intensely religious enterprise. Burning the incense was a religious act of political submission. Refusing to burn the incense was not a religious crime in the narrow sense (a devotional offence); it was, rather, a religious act of political rebellion against Rome.

The Church in the twenty-first century must recognise this truth and begin living in terms of it, as did the early Church, by challenging the political idolatry that is destroying the Western world today. Only when the Church awakens from the deadening slumber that has overtaken her and proclaims once more the lordship and sovereignty of Jesus Christ over the whole of life, including the political realm, will the world be delivered from its slavery and bondage to sin as manifested today in the politics of rebellion against God; and only then will the world experience real freedom, the glorious liberty that the gospel of God brings to all nations that submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The law and gospel of God is a public truth, a light not only for man’s personal devotions but also for the government of the nations. It must inform all that we think, say and do, as individuals and as nations. Only when submission to the Lord Jesus Christ becomes a reality in the life of the nations of the earth can it be said that the Great Commission is being fulfilled, since the Great Commission is not a command to disciple individuals from among the nations, but a command to disciple the very nations themselves.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clergymen II

When the article on Clergymen was published below (see Saturday 13 October 2012) someone asked me “How do you view what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14?” This is what the text says: “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” Here is my response.

The problem with clergymen in principle is not their being paid for the work that they do. Being paid for what one does is a biblical principle, and if someone works he deserves to be paid. This goes for Christian ministry as much as anything else. The problem rather is this: (1) ministry is tied to office. Only office bearers can effectively exercise ministry in the Church. (2) Ordination is required for office bearers (ordination means appointment by men). While this is biblical for an elder (which is an office), it is not for the gifts of ministry (Eph. chapter 4). (3) Those in office then set professional qualifications for anyone who wants to enter the field. In other words they restrict entry into their field by creating a guild. This gives clergymen a virtual monopoly. (4) Those in the guild choose those who can enter the guild. They choose those whom they can shape into their own mould. (5) They then restrict payment (the tithe) to those in their own guild. This is the real money problem. Not that people are paid for the work they do, but that the clergy guild attempts to restrict payment for ministry to members of their own guild. They argue that only they should be paid by the tithe. They teach for example that he tithe should only go to the Church—that means to them—not the Christian ministry generally, but to the local church, because they are the chief recipients of it (they want control over your tithe, they want to exercise your responsibility for you, to make sure the whole tithe goes to them). This starves legitimate ministries that are not tied to Church office of funding (even where these are God-given ministries and clergymen have no God-given ministry—see below).

You see from this that what emerges is a profession guild with a closed shop union mentality that restricts access to work to those who are members of the guild and also restricts payment for work to those who are in the guild. In other words what we get is monopoly control of office, ministry and funding in the church. The important point for these people is not whether you have a God-given ministry but whether you are in the guild. Most clergymen I have known I would say show no signs of having been gifted with a ministry. The most prominent feature of the clergy system and of clergymen is the desire to control, which goes flatly against the command of Christ (Mt. 20:25–28).

It is true that Free Churches can circumvent this system if they want to because they are not members of a denomination. But they seldom want to do so. Often they have their own old-boy networks that work just as effectively as (sometimes more effectively than) the denominational guilds, the rules of which are certainly less clear but just as effective and restrictive. The whole point of this system is to maintain control.

This system starves the Church of the ministries she needs because the control freaks who operate the clergy system are seldom equipped with the gifts necessary for effective leadership and ministry in the Church (why else is the Church is such a decrepit state?). What drives them is not the message and the desire for the Church to fulfil her mission, but control of the Church.

This has been the way it has been throughout most of Church history, although there have been times when things have been better, and times when they have been worse than they are now. We have mostly realised now that politicians who bleat endlessly about just wanting to serve their people cannot be trusted, that they are liars (possibly fooling themselves in the first instance sometimes but not the people any longer) and that what they want is power over others. This is what drives politicians. Jesus said this was so. But he said it was not to be so in the Church (Mt. 20:25–28). But this is also what drives clergymen. Power and payment, restriction of access to office and ministry, and restriction of access to the tithe, which is meant to fund Christian ministry, to themselves. They always have their pensions in view when it comes to preaching the message of God’s word. They do as their masters tell them in order to keep their jobs and their pensions, whether their masters are the denomination or their congregations. They will not preach a message that might jeopardise their salary and their pension. They are hirelings. Jesus warned us about this (John 10:12–13). Few of these people have callings from God. I have observed this for nearly 40 years, and you can see it throughout history. If you ask clergymen about their callings nine times out of ten you will get a load of waffle. The prophets and apostles in the Bible never waffled about their callings. For the prophets it is often the first thing they tell us. This is a calling from God, it did not come from themselves, they say. Clergymen’s callings are usually a load of introspective subjective waffle. An elder does not need a calling from God, he needs a calling from men, provided he has met the biblical qualifications for marriage and the upbringing of his children in the faith etc. Ministries are given by God. The same man can exercise both, but they are not tied, and the one does not guarantee the other.

The upshot of all this is that the Church is starved of the vision and ministry she needs to fulfil her mission. As a result the Church atrophies, perishes through lack of nourishment. Clergymen are seldom good ministers of the gospel. At the same time those with genuine ministries (callings from God to the work of preaching the gospel) have to work outside Church office because they are not permitted to minister in the Church by clergy guild members. They are then regularly abused for having “para-church” ministries by clergymen and their dim-witted followers, who are the ones who refuse to let them exercise their ministries in the Church. They are also starved of the legitimate payment they should get for the work they do (and this is where Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 9:13–14 does apply) because the greedy clergymen, who are usually ill-equipped for the work, spend so much of their time telling us that only they should be recipients of the tithe.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Although Paul was accepted into the company of the apostles in Jerusalem, and was therefore recognised as an apostle by the Church, he was never formally ordained as an apostle by the apostles in Jerusalem. Furthermore, Paul never recognises or acknowledges the necessity of such an ordination and always refers his own calling as an apostle to the will of God (1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1). However, in his epistle to the Galatians, among whom his apostleship seems to have been in question and to whom he had to defend it, he goes much further than this and specifically denies any such ordination, insisting instead that his calling as an apostle was neither by man nor through man (Gal. 1:1) but through Jesus Christ (cf. vv. 15–17). Even in Acts 13:2 where Paul and Barnabas are chosen for the work of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles it is the Holy Spirit, not the Church at Antioch, who calls and appoints them to this ministry.

It is questionable, therefore, whether Paul himself could in any sense be described as an office bearer in the New Testament Church, since apostleship is a ministry not an office, and the former is never inextricably tied to the latter in the apostolic and sub-apostolic age. It was the tying of ministry to office at a later period that produced clergymen, i.e. a special class of professional Christians, who reduced the faith to a set of liturgical rituals that were under their exclusive control. These rituals then took the place of the life of faith in the Christian community, and the clergyman, as the community’s professional Christian, effectively took on the role of performing the faith, in the form of these liturgical rituals, on behalf of the congregation, which became passive (for example the agape feast was discontinued, and eventually banned in Church buildings, and replaced by a liturgical ritual performed by the clergyman). This corruption of the Christian faith, i.e. its reduction to what amounts to little more than a ritualistic mystery cult, has continued in various forms up to the present time (anyone who doubts this need only consider that in most mainline Christian denominations only duly ordained clergymen are licensed to administer the Lord’s Supper, a form of sacerdotalism that is as characteristic of the Protestant denominations as it is of the Episcopal denominations), and has had disastrous consequences for the mission of the Church as a social order (one of the definitions of the Church given by The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Usage is the clergy or clerical profession).

Peter makes it clear that he is an elder as well as an apostle, but not because he is an apostle (1 Pet. 5:1); and the fact that a man may have a ministry as well as an office in the Church does not mean that either cannot exist without the other. All that is required of an elder in terms of ministry is that he is apt to teach, i.e. that he is able to teach when it necessary that he do so (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24; the same term is used in both texts). Elders in the Church are ordained, i.e. chosen and appointed, by men (cf. Acts 14:23); ministers are given, i.e. called and appointed, by God (Eph. 4:8, 11–13). Eldership is a human calling. Ministry is a divine calling. Ministry and eldership are distinct categories; appointment to the office of elder (priest) in the Church by men does not in itself confer any ability to fulfil the ministries mentioned in Eph. 4: 8, 11–13, which are given to the Church by Christ. And it has been only too clear from the history of the Church up to and including our own time that many who manage to obtain office in the Church are not called by God and have not been equipped by God with the gifts and abilities necessary for exercising the ministries mentioned in Ephesians, and are therefore incapable of exercising such ministries, which are necessary for the building up and equipment of the Church for her mission. It is also clear that many who have held no office in the Church are called to, and equipped by God with the gifts necessary for, the exercise of these ministries. Yet the Church on the whole continues to tie ministry to office with disastrous consequences. The resulting concept of clergymen and their reductionist misrule of the Church as a community and as a social order has seriously misdirected the Church and severely weakened her mission to the world.

There is only one way to solve these problems: get rid of clergymen. Of course, this will not solve all the problems facing the Church; nevertheless, it seems impossible to solve the Church’s problems, and in particular the present failure of the Church to pursue her God-given mission to the world, without getting rid of what has been throughout history and continues to be the greatest single obstacle to the effective fulfilment of that divine mission: clergymen.