04 February 2014

Angels of Light / Agents of Babylon (Part 1)

Power, Riches, Wisdom and Anti-Wisdom...

The Manipulation of The Church By False Teachers

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16.17-18)

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Peter 4.15)

By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. (2 Peter 2.3, 19)

The Nature of Power

I spend a lot of time thinking about questions of power and how it is exercised in the Church and Society. Authority is legitimate and necessary and of the two spheres, the Church is certainly an easier question at least in terms of form. The Bible gives us some specific direction as to how ecclesiastical polity is to be structured. How to apply/wield authority within the Church? That's a bit more difficult. What are its limits? That's another tough question with a host of different answers dependent on context.

Of course in society questions of structure and application are almost infinitely complex. There are many people vying for power and it needs to be understood that not all power is political. There's power over the mind for example and the powers in our society are particularly masterful at manipulation. The media, peer pressure, and the educational system all contribute to this. These subtle forms of power are effective in their messaging and in their training of the public. They keep the more overt forms of power from having to be used. It's not just threat. That's part of the overall equation. Manipulation can also work to dull and distract, to create malleable and compliant subjects who lose the ability to think, question and exercise ethical judgment.

Power can be exercised overtly and political power is always backed by the threat of violence. There are more subtle ways even this power can be used...the threat of financial ruin for example. Being forced from your home by armed uniformed men carrying out the orders of the powers that be is also a form of violence. Perhaps it's legitimate, but it's still violence and coercion. That's what the state is. Paul affirms this in Romans 13.

There are many people who don't wield political power per se, but can still throw their weight around. They can threaten litigation, they can intimidate and manipulate. Or some will call upon the political powers to do their bidding.

Warnings in Scripture

We're warned over and over again in the Scriptures about riches. Riches can have a power over us. The love of money can get us caught up in temptations and snares that lead us to use power and threaten others. To keep our money safe we exercise certain types of power and threat. We even redefine what wealth is, argue we're not rich and even though we (in the West) have the highest standard of living in the history of the world, we convince ourselves that we live simple non-covetous and content lives.

Despite the warnings most of the historical Church has refused to listen or even understand why the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  

We're warned that people will try to manipulate us for their own ends. This is speaking to the Church. These are people, in some cases false teachers who are within the community who seek their own gain and advancement and in the process make merchandise of God's people.  

But we see people being led astray every day. Sometimes the manipulation is blatant and we see it clearly. But is our Adversary a fool? Do we not know that his ways can be subtle, that the enemies of Christ are said to be able to deceive if possible, even the elect?

Have we lulled ourselves to sleep? The Crouch's and Pat Robertson's of the world are evident scoundrels, but does that mean that only those of their caliber are a danger to the Church?

We're told that the world will hate us, we will suffer and we're told to rejoice when we suffer for the name of Christ. We're told to turn the other cheek...to imitate our master. He rejected all power, refused the offers of Satan for the kingdoms of this world. He was content to wait until the Day when all will be reconciled.

This is an ethic of power rejection. It is anti-power and thus anti-riches. It is rejection of both the power that comes with wealth and the sought power of those who would rise against the wealthy. It is a rejection of all the strife that comes with the struggle for power... to maintain and to take away. It is an ethic that doesn't seek justice now (for only a fool would think it obtainable) but is content to wait, suffer, and bear witness to the Consuming Fire of Truth and Justice that will come in That Day.

But it would seem the Church, even the Bible-believing Church won't hear these things. They are admittedly difficult ideas to embrace. It means really and truly forsaking this world and all it has to offer. It means not only humility but humiliation. It means that we'll be laughed at, we'll be the losers... we won't have any power at all.

And yet in all these things not only are we are more than conquerors, we are the richest of all. Because we understand that riches, 'true' silver and gold are wisdom and knowledge of Christ, and peace reconciliation with God.

Self-Interest Means Using Others and Being Used by Other Self-Interested People.

The historical 'Church' isn't interested. The reasons why are certainly complex and differ from person to person but largely they can be summed up by the fact that people are self-serving.

They want power over their own lives and the lives of others. They don't want to think through their actions... they might have to change or ignore their consciences.

The irony is this...for all their desire to have power, they end up being manipulated and used.

Why? Are people that dumb? Many are, but many are busy with their lives and they likely have never realized there are whole sectors of our society that train and hire professional people whose job is little more than to manipulate and use people. They want your attention, your time, your money and they excel at making you believe (as you empower them) that you're doing the right, noble and reasonable thing.

How do this happen? People don't know the Word of God and they don't think about it, or meditate on it night and day. They don't apply it to their lives.

They don't 'give' themselves to these things. They put many other things first and are unwilling to turn their back on the world and live (as it were) on the edge...by faith. It's too scary. Like Lot's wife, they keep looking back.

It is indeed frightening, or can be, depending on what your expectations and standards are for this life. Are we really willing to live more or less by the day and can we be really and truly content with food in our stomach and clothes on our backs?

Do we convince ourselves of this with our huge houses, multiple cars, savings accounts and retirement plans?

When we invest in society, we have to play by their rules. We get a stake in the game and we become willingly subjected to those who are trying to sit atop the mountain.

Some (particularly Christian Financial Advisors) just embrace it and celebrate it. That's the way the world works. If you want to play, you have to play by the rules. If the rules mean that some people lose and even suffer deprivation as a result (which is to inflict violence on them)...then that's just the way of the world. The fact that our economy is built on the manipulation, plunder and destruction of other countries and societies... well, that's just the forces of the market.

Really? Are we supposed to 'play'? Does this fulfill our calling as Christians?  Does the world-reality just supersede Scripture and the ethic it teaches us?

Oh, but if we follow through on what the New Testament teaches us, then we'll fail. We won't have successful businesses. We won't climb to the top of power. We won't even be middle class. We won't be socially respectable. We might even have to suffer.

Surely Christ wouldn't want that!

And so thousands of pages have been written and thousands of hours have been spent attempting to explain away what the New Testament teaches. This has been accomplished through various means, but the most effective method throughout the history of the Church has been to extract and misapply Old Testament passages in order to effectively 'cancel out' what the New Testament in its lucid and post-Calvary context teaches us.



Cal P said...

"It is an ethic that doesn't seek justice now"

How do you mean this? In a final, eschatological sense? Or even in the small, but significant, victories? How would you understand the following passage you quoted from:

"Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation."


Protoprotestant said...

We don't look for justice in this life....but in the age to come.
On the Day of Judgment the Gentiles will have to acknowledge the grace and righteous judgment of God. It may be through gritted teeth but they will have to acknowledge it.

Cal P said...

Well, what kind of justice are you talking about? In my mind, we are to seek justice always, even though, its ultimacy won't be present until the Eschaton. But to say our ethic is not to seek justice just seems pietistic.

This doesn't mean, "Oh, we need to go about taking over the world", but in the little ways. Not permanent or lasting, but being a living signpost of what our King is doing.

Protoprotestant said...

I don't believe we're supposed to be activists.

We speak truth to a world of lies. We're going to get the shaft if we walk uprightly and with integrity.

We expose their lies, proclaim the truth and turn the other cheek.

How would you go about it?