We can blame it on the Enlightenment if we want to. We can blame it on something more wide-ranging like the Fall of Adam if we wish. We might blame it on the incapacity of those in the positions to carry out their responsibilities well. Choose your culprit.
We are talking about the inability or unwillingness most of us have when it comes to submitting to leadership. Today’s Advent texts have much to say about it. Numbers 16:1-19; Isaiah 11:1-9; Hebrews 13:7-17. These texts all have something to say about what true leadership is and why it matters to us even now in an age where individual autonomy (literally, self-rule) is the mantra of the day.
The One who is coming is one who judges. We easily overlook such facts even though they are right there in our favorite Advent readings, given to us every year, even in supposedly “non-liturgical” church traditions. But without this part of the story we are left without a basis from which to assess the governing or judging of any regime we might encounter in our own political life and history. “He will never judge by appearance, false evidence, or hearsay. He will defend the poor and the exploited. He will rule against the wicked and destroy them with the breath of His mouth. He will be clothed with fairness and truth” (Isa. 11:3-5). And the result will be a beautiful world indeed.
Peace, righteousness, justice, opportunity to live and grow without disruption from unabated evil. We want it. We also want to define it. And we so easily do so in terms that are not necessarily in keeping with the truth as it is in Jesus. Sometimes our approximations of His righteousness and justice are so far off kilter that they result in oppression of grotesque magnitude; sometimes they just make life more unpleasant than we believe it ought to be. But His own person and His own words form the standards by which all human attempts at governing are to be measured. And that is true even within the household of God.
The Old Testament reading from Numbers recounts the rebellion of Korah, who wanted to usurp the authority God had designated to another. The results were not pretty. In the New Testament reading, the people of God are told to submit to their leaders, something Korah was unwilling to do. We have seen repeatedly what happens in churches, congregations, and denominations when one of two things occurs. On one hand we have leaders who lead without a spirit finely tuned to the things of God; on the other hand, we have people all too willing to assume their own authority when they were not assigned such duties by the Spirit of Christ.
There are too many voices in today’s Christian culture calling for the end of leadership distinctions in the church. People who fill those roles are not special by virtue of their call; but the office to which they are called is special, and it entails special accountability. While it may seem to be out of the realm of an Advent theme, the call for today is to consider what the rule of Christ is and how it is to be followed until the day he returns personally. We know what He is looking for.