Some of you will wonder why David Cho, former pastor of what was often noted as being the world’s largest church in Seoul, Korea and Victor Yanukovitch, former president of Ukraine, are linked in this piece. In short, Cho was just sentenced to prison for embezzling millions in dollars of church funds and Yanukovitch’s golden toilets have been seen by all the world while the fraud, money laundering, blackmail and extortion to fund his lifestyle have also been exposed.
I used to think that failures like Cho’s were the result of immaturity and character flaws. However, years ago I came to the conclusion that our religious system is the true culprit. We have embraced the same power pyramid as the world, the same one which Jesus commanded us NOT to embrace in Matthew 23.
Do not call any man “Reverend or Pastor” Do not let anyone exercise positional power over you for you are all brothers.
Do not call any man “father”. Do not let anyone exercise relational power over you for you have one Father and you are all brothers.
Do not call any man “teacher”. Do not let anyone exercise intellectual power over you for you have one teacher, Christ and you are all brothers.
in total defiance of the One whom we say we follow, we have embraced a culture of leadership power and privilege and twisted scriptures about blessing to justify the same This is not just a western problem. There are now African “Bishops” boasting their own private jets while their people cannot afford to feed their children and they tell these same parents that the reason they cannot afford to feed their children is because they do not tithe. This is not a private jet problem. There are many small churches in the west that are more concerned about the quality of their sound systems than children sleeping rough in their neighbourhoods.
But put Cho and Yanukovitch in the same box? Yes, the box is power over people. The difference is one of degree, not of kind. It is like the famous exchange that Bernard Shaw liked to have with upper class women at parties. He would ask them if they would sleep with him for a thousand pounds and then when he saw them hesitating and thinking about the proposition, he would offer them ten. They would be offended and some would slap his face. He would then say, “Why are you offended? We have already established what kind of a woman you are. All we are doing now is haggling about the price.”
When Jesus looked at the twelve and called them “friends” he forever destroyed any possibility of any hierarchical system expressing His kingdom. The One who could justly claim every title, position, name and power over his creations, laid that aside and called them friends. You cannot use friends to build a religious business. You must have servants, slaves, members, parishioners, tithers- people that you use and control. You must destroy friendships. That is why survey after survey of leaders of institutional churches shows them lamenting the fact that they have no friends. We are taught to exercise power over people in order to build a ministry. We call that “having a vision” and then “sow the vision” so people will support it with their time and treasure. We are at the top of the pyramid and want them to keep on making our bricks. (And in truth some love to make bricks since they love freedom from responsibility but that is another story!)
We have difficulty seeing what Jesus is saying because we look through centuries of hierarchical religious systems and through our present cult of leadership privilege and power. The result? Most “churches” are a mix of prosperity and personality cult. We are unable read the New Testament through its fifty plus “one another” commandments. We cannot imagine small “bands of brothers” being the only expression of the kingdom in the mind of Jesus even though that is what He taught and what He exampled.
This same Jesus looked at the twelve and told them it was best for THEM if He went away. How could it be better without Jesus beside you? Jesus said He would go and then would send them the Holy Spirit. It would be better for them to live by the indwelling Spirit than to have His physical leadership. And we think our leadership is important? The only way you can show people that you trust them to the Holy Spirit is to leave them to the Holy Spirit. Instead we build dependency. Instead of maturity and release to the Holy Spirit the religious system keeps the saints in perpetual immaturity needing another sermon, seminar, training, conference, another……
How does a non kingdom system get judged? Why does survey after survey reveal that the majority (between 60- 80%) of Christian ministers will not end well? They will crash morally or financially or simply burn out and leave. Grace is withdrawn from those who serve the power system and failure is inevitable. Pyramids are for dead people.
The church is not a place, a building, a meeting. The church is a spiritual family on a mission together with Jesus. The church invests in people- primarily in the last and the least. As Neil Cole says, “The main impediments to the multiplication of disciple making movements are the three “B”s- buildings, big shots and budgets.” Why? As soon as you introduce buildings, big shots and budgets you are into a religious business that uses people.
Note: Yanukovitch’s golden toilets may have been a hoax.