The Prophets and the Plotters

I’m reading through the First (Old) Testament book of 1 Kings. There’s a story about a guy called Naboth, who had a vineyard that had been in his family for generations. The King, Ahab, rather liked the vineyard and offered to buy it from Naboth. Naboth politely declined – the vineyard was part of his heritage, that he would hope to pass on to his children. Ahab was a weak man, but he had a formidable wife, and when he told her about his disappointment, she promised to fix it.

She had someone accuse Naboth of cursing God and the King, and rigged the trial so that he was convicted and stoned to death. As Naboth was convicted of blasphemy, his property was confiscated and given to the king. (Surprise, surprise). Now. Elijah the prophet heard about what had happened, and he went to visit Ahab, and told him that he wasn’t going to get away with this act of murder and theft. He would come to a sticky end.

There are two forces at work here. One is the scheming of Jezebel, and the other is the word of the prophet. Jezebel didn’t like it when Elijah went against her and Ahab. In her eyes, the power of King and the power of Yahweh (God) should work hand in hand. True – the King owed his power to Yahweh, but Yahweh should act in favour of the king – surely ?

This is the age old question of church and state. The church needs the state to support religion, and the state would like to have God’s approval. At its worst, church and state are completely in bed with each other, and any integrity goes out of the window.

Jump forward to Matthew chapter 26. Another prophet, and another plotter. This time the prophet is Jesus, who is predicting his own death. Meanwhile, the priestly leaders, led by High Priest Caiaphas have got to the end of their patience with Jesus. They have realised that he cannot be controlled by the religious leaders. Their spiritual authority has been watered down by their concessions to political expediency. So they actively start to plot his death.

Plotters and prophets – one looking for self advancement, and the other seeking to find the God way. The lure of self promotion can be subtle and very inviting, that’s why religious leaders are so vulnerable.


How is God asking us to reach out ?

This is the seventh question to think about as our church is called to think and pray about the future.
I’m reading a book by Stuart Murray – Church After Christendom.
It has some really helpful things to say about what healthy churches might look like in a Post Christendom world.
The thing that struck me in relation to the above question is a passage from Paul’s letter to the early church in Ephesus.
Ephesians 4:11&12.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up ….. “

The passage does not mention leaders, but gifts.  it is clear that these are ‘leadership’ gifts, but we have identified gifts almost exclusively with officially recognised and often paid leadership roles in the church, requiring years of training.  In my context, it is clear that the vicar/minister is the main pastor.  A Lay Reader would usually be one of the main teachers.  I’m not sure where the other three gifts mentioned here appear. 

There are several passages in the New Testament that talk about the gifts that are needed for a healthy church.   In Christendom, the gifts that were prominent were Pastors and Teachers.  In Post Christendom, we can no longer rely on people being familiar in any way with the Christian story. Gifts that take the faith beyond the bounds of the Christian community become vital.  That means that our very structures need to change to allow this to happen.

“Ephesians 4 focuses not on church leaders, but on a harmonious church.It is the empowered community that engages in works of service.Its multidimensional activities result in the church functioning properly and becoming mature. It is a long way from this to the clerical (i.e. top down – my addition) models in which the laity support gifted clergy who perfom the worls of service. These models exalt or exhaust those designated as leaders and disempower community” Murray p. 189.

When thinking about the ‘How’ questions, like the one I’m thinking about today, it might be easy to draw up a list of actions a local church might take to reach out to their community.  That’s fine, but there might be other ‘how’ questions that precede these very practical ideas – questions that are more fundamental to enabling long term change.

For example:

How can the church be less hierarchical, and promote and encourage a much wider participation, as envisioned by Ephesians 4.

How can churches be better at exploring difference, and resolving conflict, and so be the kind of communities that people want to join ?

How can funds be redistributed so that reaching out becomes a major item of expenditure in a church’s budget ?

…. perhaps you might make up a question …