Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Life of Christ, Our Identity in Christ, The Priesthood of All Believers, Submission and Humility

Dear friends,

These are some thoughts I wrote down in 2010 after contemplating the over-reaction that some Christian leaders have to current trends in evangelical churches and concerns from their congregations.  Specifically, it was a point by point response to a particular sermon based on Philippians 2 in the church we had been attending for several years.  After e-mailing these thoughts to the pastor, I had the opportunity to talk with him for two hours and he was quite gracious.  We did leave the church several months later when we realized we no longer fit in there.  ~~ Virginia Knowles

The life of Christ (earthly and eternal)

I agree that the Emergent Church is off course when it teaches that Jesus is our missional example rather than our substitutionary atonement. However, I think we should heartily commend a deeper study of his earthly life, his words, and his actions. The perfect earthly life of Christ uniquely qualified him to sacrifice himself vicariously on our behalf and provides us the only pure example of how to live. I have been studying all four of the Gospels concurrently and find this quite refreshing. You might be interested to read a little about this here: Disillusioned and Disappointed? Take It to Jesus!  

Likewise, those who want more emphasis on the resurrection power of Christ are in no way diminishing the necessity or the preeminence of his finished work on the cross. They are, however, responding to the tendency to "leave him hanging there" -- to focus so much on the indwelling sin in our lives that they unwittingly miss out on the true victory that enables us to overcome it. In baptism, you don't dunk the person and leave him down in the water. You raise him up again, just as Christ was raised -- as in Romans 6. Just as his sinless earthly life was the prerequisite, the resurrection is the proof of the crucifixion's efficacy. The resurrection does not compete with the crucifixion -- it completes it! The "empty grave" is not a mere postscript to the story of the gospel, and believers should not be chided for proclaiming its significance. 

Our identity in Christ

I understand concerns about those who claim to be Christians yet make no effort to walk worthy of the gospel, but believers should never be warned against clinging to our status of our identity in Christ. We should always cherish the truth that Christ in us is our hope of glory. Though we should not be conceited about our faith or think that we are better than unbelievers, I don't believe we should ever be "ambivalent" about who we are. Loving it so much that we want others to have it too makes much more sense to me. 

I believe that it was the assurance of his identity that caused Jesus to humbly serve. John 15:3-5 says, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him." It is knowing that in Christ we are beloved, chosen, and cherished that we can face the taunts and ridicule of those who have not yet chosen to follow him -- and it is our hope that they can see the risen and reigning Christ in us so that too they will be convicted to repent and become disciples themselves. So we should be taught to fully immerse ourselves in who we are in Christ, to abide in the vine in close communion so that we might truly bear fruit. Apart from him we are nothing, but with him we are more than conquerors by his grace.  
The priesthood of all believers

I would disagree with those who say that "the priesthood of all believers" means we can ditch the institutional church and just do our own thing like a Lone Ranger. However, I think the majority of people who teach the concept of the priesthood of all believers are trying to communicate the gospel truth that each person stands before God with only one mediator, Jesus.  Each saint has the Word of God to teach them, the Holy Spirit to guide them, and an entire spiritual family of believers -- local and universal, pastors and common parishioners -- to nurture and support them. We each have the responsibility to meet regularly with other Christians and hear the Word preached by faithful pastors, which is why we have local churches. Yet we, like the Bereans, need to be able to discern whatever we hear and see to be sure that it is Biblical. We cannot blindly assume that whatever we hear from the pulpit is completely true and worthy of unquestioning obedience.   

Submission to spiritual authority  

Here is a gem from John Stott that a friend shared in her Facebook status: "Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve."  In the past couple of years, and particularly the last several months, I have researched extensively on the problem of spiritual/emotional abuse in churches and families. It is heartrending to read the stories of people who have become sucked into cultic and aberrant religious behavior because of an inadequate or twisted view of spiritual authority. Examples of this include the Maranatha campus ministry movement, the Boston Church of Christ movement, Jesus People USA, and Tony Alamo Ministries. However, even in many otherwise orthodox Christian churches, the misuse of spiritual authority is a continuing problem.  Ironically, the sheep in the pews are admonished to lay aside the status of their identity in Christ, "take the plunge of humility" and submit without a squeak. Wouldn't it be so much more relevant and timely to affirm the continual need for leaders to take the plunge of humility themselves and loosen their grasp on their own status as spiritual authority, instead of exhorting everyone else to honor it? 

Wouldn't it also be more humble to acknowledge the very real and valid concerns that cause people to lose trust and respect for their pastors in the first place?  I think it would be unfair to paint them as being rebellious or even unsubmissive. They want to be heard and taken seriously.  No wonder the thought of submitting to spiritual authority is a struggle -- because they realize that it has only brought more anxiety, depression, relational conflicts, and "fear of man" instead of victory and liberty in Christ. At that point, they are wise to move on to a congregation where they can rebuild a healthy confidence in spiritual authority -- or to at least, if they want to stay on, firmly gird themselves with a broader perspective and learn to speak truth into the situation.  


What do you think?  Please leave a comment!  

Virginia Knowles


  1. Yes, Jesus came to serve....washing the disciples' feet. That is what authority looks like from His perspective--not demanding respect but earning it through sacrifice and service.

  2. I appreciated this article as well as the one about SGM. Thank you for sharing. I found your site via your comment on The Knight Blog, which was in turn was linked on SGM Refuge. I have been following the SGM situation with interest, having been through a very painful separation from a completely unrelated but abusive church about a year ago. The similarities between my former church and SGM are very striking. It has been very difficult to face the fact that I was a part of a spiritually abusive system of control for so many years. I am thankful for what God has taught me and how He delivered my family but I have great concern for those who are still in that system. I think reading articles like yours will help me to get closer to the point where I can speak out more openly and freely. God bless you!

  3. Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate knowing that what I have "put out there" is helpful and healing beyond my own personal circle of friends.