Monday, August 27, 2007

Audits all Around

I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker which states the message “Question Authority.” It is usually attached to the bumper of a young male, & reflects the common attitude of rebellion particularly strong within this segment of society. They often consider themselves, personally & generationally, the antagonists to authority. The counter to protagonist power. The inquisitor of inquisitors.

To the surprise of some, I see this as a healthy sentiment. Men are not God & even the apparently divinely gifted & knowledgeable should not be blindly trusted to convey the knowledge of God at all times. Peter apparently was the one disciple who was speaking in Temple alongside the Lord (1), the one charged by the Lord to feed His sheep (2), & the one divinely anointed to confess Him as the Christ (3a). However, Scripture also records in Peter a man given to times of improper admonishment (3b), of doubt (4) & falling away from the essence of the Gospel- that faith in Christ’s work alone is salvific (5). So, right from the start of the early church, we have a man who has been given a powerful & prophetic voice for his leadership role, & was rightly accorded great respect as such. Yet this same man occasionally needed to humbly receive instruction himself, & Paul appropriately did not shrink back from such a task. (6)

All through Scripture God exposes the imperfections of the seemingly perfect to demonstrate that all- from the minor to the mighty- must submit themselves to God’s ultimate authority & His true perfection. Those in positions of authority should remember that King David had to be reproved by Nathan & Balaam by his donkey. But those under authority should likewise consider that both Nathan & the donkey returned to their prior standings of submission after they had brought God’s rebuke. Nathan did not become King Nathan, nor was the donkey called by the angel to saddle Balaam & assume the role of prophet herself.

Many properly accord the Apostle Paul much respect for his own zeal & adherence to right doctrine after his Damascus road experience. I agree that few, if any, in the early church matched his level of piety & sound doctrine; yet Romans 7 & 1 Cor. 9:24-27 clearly show a man still battling with a sin nature in the present tense. In Galatians 1:8, Paul tells his flock that the Gospel he first brought to them was the only true Gospel & they should accept no other- even if “we,” as Paul says, were the ones to bring it. Some may perceive this as a purely rhetorical literary tool wielded by this master of the art of debate (to an extent, I would agree), but I think he is chiefly informing the church that apostasy can conceivably come from the mouth of any man & that we should be alert for this prospect, even leaving open the very remote possibility that could come from Paul himself.

So, in the instance of Peter’s visit to Antioch, Paul justly opposed this anointed Apostle when his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.” But when the “Question Authority” mindset runs afoul of God is the when the questioning is pervasive. This attitude is rooted in the haughtiness of human nature which refuses contriteness before any authority. They revel in a false perception of themselves as more knowledgeable, or maybe a better person, than those placed in authority over them. This is where the self-anointed auditor, if he were truly wise, should audit himself, as God tells us He has subjected all men under sin so the field would be level, so to speak, & He could consequently deliver grace through faith to all as well.

The Bereans were noble for two reasons- they tested Paul's word by God's Word, but they also "received it with all eagerness."

We all should regularly audit ourselves to avoid the unpleasantry of an outside audit. Even so, such outside audits must come at times, for the sake of our ministry to others & even our own relationship with God, for as Paul said of Peter- “he stood condemned.” It’s hard to see Peter as “condemned” in light of his Apostleship, gifting, & frequently displayed zeal, but when we step back to see him as mere man, an earthen vessel incapable of totally living out Christ in all His perfection, & then unite that understanding with Paul’s testimony in Galatians 2, it becomes conceivable. And if it is conceivable that such great men as Peter & Paul could fall away from the truth, whether for moment or season, how could any of us, leaders & followers alike, be so smugly confident to think that we could never fall away from the truth?

(1) Matt 17:27 “... So go cast a line into the lake and pull out the first fish you hook. Open its mouth, and you will find a coin. Use it to pay your taxes and mine."

(2) John 21:15 -17 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.”

(3) Matt 16:15 -23 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

(4) Matt 26:73-75 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.”

(5) Gal 2:11-16 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

(6) Many Protestants seem to reject Peter’s role as the primary leader of the post ascension church, despite large Scriptural evidence to the contrary. I think they do this for three reasons- because John seemed so much more steadfast, because John was the disciple whom “Jesus loved,” & to deny the ecclesiastical power of popery. With regards to the first two points, I agree that John seemed to be the most knowledgeable & unwavering of the twelve disciples & therefore the one most men would have chosen; all the same, I cannot deny what to me is the clear teaching of Scripture. Maybe the Lord anticipated men gazing inordinately upon a strong example such as John, falsely according “vicar of Christ” status to him, considering him to be something more than what he was- mere man. Ironic, for this is what has actually happened with regards to the RCC’s view of the Pope. But Peter’s frailties becomes the strongest witness against such apostasy, for the individual the RCC deems as the foundation of their leader’s infallible status seems to be most clearly & demonstrably fallible himself. For this reason, & on the simple grounds that Scripture nowhere declares the institution of a Petrine legacy of rule over the worldwide church, I have no qualms about accepting Peter’s role as the foremost leader of the early church (in Palestine, at least) while concomitantly denying the succession of Roman pontiffs any likewise authority.

No comments: