Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. (ESV)
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Unknown and Unremembered
Friday of Pentecost 25
20 November 2015
Leadership in the church is a perilous, even impossible, business. Some years ago, I was appalled when I heard the president of our church body insulted to his face by another church leader who called him stupid. Not a shred of evidence was offered by the accuser, but it was presented as self-evident. This man who was being insulted never retaliated; quietly sitting through this deliberate and well-considered attack. I wished for the president to bite back, because his attacker certainly deserved it. Much to my youthful frustration, he would not. Instead, he showed deep humility and great patience with those who exhibited such animosity toward him. I only now begin to understand this man's great wisdom.
The political vicissitudes of church life means that the worm turns. We cannot let that fact destroy our basic commitment to the gospel and a principled way of life together. Our political differences do not permit us to be vicious or disrespectful toward those whom the Lord has placed over us as leaders. When your party is in, you may not use it as a way to pay back those who had previously been in power. It is not good for the church. It betrays the Lord's own way of servanthood. "Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'" (Mt 20:25-28
). The Lord's way is a way of pay back, yes. But it is a pay back of good in return for evil, mercy in return for hatred, and love in return for viciousness. This is the only way to conduct life together in the church.
When Christianity became a legal and preferred religion in the Roman Empire, there was a desire to use imperial power to proscribe theological enemies. Thank God the church no longer has access to the halls of power, proscribing our ability to harness earthly power. The desire to use it is powerful. Gregory Nazianzus was elevated to the episcopal see of Constantinople, replacing an Arian bishop. He had the ear of Theodosius I, who was not reticent to use his power to support the church. But Gregory categorically refused to fight fire with fire, despite the fact that the Arian Emperor Valens (364-378) had ordered to be burned to death orthodox priests in a ship on the sea. The crowd thought that Gregory ought to see to justice against those who had persecuted the Nicene faith. Gregory made enemies among those who said they adhered to the orthodox confession and they campaigned against him. No sooner had the Arians been turned out, than the orthodox began to devour their own. Nothing has changed since then. Faithful, patient Gregory is known and remembered; his "orthodox" opponents are now unknown and unremembered.
"Consider the charges laid against me. 'You have been ruler of the church,' it is said, 'for so long. You have been favored by the course of time. You have the support of the emperor himself, a most important matter. What change have we been able to notice? How many men have in days gone by used us outrageously? What sufferings have we failed to undergo? We have suffered ill-usage, threats, banishment, and confiscation of property. We even suffered the burning of priests at sea by order of Emperor Valens. What about the desecration of temples by the blood of the saints, until, instead of temples, they became slaughter houses? They perpetrated the public slaughter of venerable bishops, and even of Patriarchs. We were denied access everywhere. In fact, we underwent any kind of suffering which could be mentioned. For which of these have we repaid the wrongdoers? For the wheel of fortune has turned to give us the power of properly treating those who so mistreated us, and our persecutors ought to have received a lesson.'
Apart from all other things, speaking only of my experiences, not to mention your own, have we not been persecuted, mistreated, driven from churches, houses, and, most terrible of all, even from deserted places? Have we not had to endure an enraged people, insolent governors, the disregard of Emperors and their decrees? What was the result? We became stronger, and our persecutors fled. That was actually the case! The power to repay them seemed to me a sufficient vengeance on those who had wronged us. The people who complain about my leadership thought otherwise; for they are exceedingly exact and just in demanding repayment. Accordingly, they demand to know what the state of things permits. They ask, 'What governor has been fined for his mistreatment of us? What populace punished? What ringleaders of the populace chastised? What fear of ourselves have we been able to inspire for the future?'
Perhaps, I could be reproached, as I have been before, with the exquisite character of our table, the splendor of our apparel, the officers who precede us, our haughtiness to those who meet us. I was not aware that we ought to rival the consuls, the governors, the most illustrious generals, who have the opportunity to lavish their incomes; or that our belly ought to hunger for the enjoyment of the goods of the poor, and to use what they need on superfluities, and belch forth over the altars. I did not know that we ought to ride on splendid horses, and drive in magnificent carriages, and be preceded by a procession and surrounded by applause, and have everyone make way for us, as if we were wild beasts on procession to the games, and open out a passage so that our approach might be seen afar.
If these sufferings have been endured, they have now passed away. Forgive me this wrong. Elect another who will please the majority. Give me my deserted place, my country life, and my God, whom alone I may have to please, and shall please by my simple life. It is a painful thing to be deprived of speeches and conferences, and public gatherings, and applause like that which now lends wings to my thoughts, and relatives, and friends and honors, and the beauty and grandeur of the city, and its brilliance which dazzles those who look at the surface without investigating the inner nature of things. Yet this loss is not as painful as being spoken against and besmirched amid public disturbances and agitations, by those who trim their sails to the popular breeze. For they seek not priests, but orators, not for stewards of souls, but treasurers of money, not for those who purely offer the Eucharist, but powerful patrons.
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 42.23-24
Lord Jesus, watch over our church leaders, giving them the courage to lead with peace. Preserve them from unworthy tactics and grant them grace to accept the burdens that they bear. Continue to immerse them in the Word and sacraments that they may ever be strengthened by You, who is the Lord of the church; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Matthew Harrison, President of the LCMS, that the Lord of the church would grant him grace
For Jay Anderson, who was bereaved of his father, Carl, that the Lord of life would comfort Jay and his family with the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For Mark Chazarria, who has cancer, that the Lord Jesus would bring strength and healing
For Doug Hewitt, who has suffered a stroke, that his heavenly Father would grant him strength and recovery
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015