You Are All One
In the last several chapters of the Gospel of John, we see that Jesus washed his disciples' feet and then spoke at length about humility and unity among them. Through his own example he had shown what the kingdom of God was to be like: upside-down from that of the world with its chains of command and power structures. Though God in the flesh, their Master and Creator, he demonstrated with a powerful object lesson what it means to lead in his kingdom. This was not the wielding of power but the laying aside of privilege to lead by example, and those who would refuse to model it would have no part with him.
Yet somehow this model was quickly forgotten. Worldly power was sanitized and polished rather than abandoned, with the meanings of service and humility turned on their heads. To keep power and control while also keeping the appearance and language of their opposites was an early but silent coup d'état against the Body of Christ. This body model, where no part commands another or tries to expel another, was transformed into that of a chain, an army, or a business, with pious-sounding terminology to cover what it really was.
You may have heard about the way bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit currency: they are never shown anything but real bills, such that whatever is not authentic will be easy to identify. In the same way, the best approach to exposing false or harmful teachings in Christianity is to study the Bible so carefully that anything false will be easy to spot. I believe this focus will prove to be more useful than simply listing all the ways in which Christendom implements control over the people.
But let me say that this is not a blanket condemnation of all who are loyal to a denomination or feel strongly about a style of worship or fellowship. I personally spent almost fifty years in what I now call The Institution, and it took several of those years for me to listen to the gentle prompting of the Spirit to leave. It is a matter of personal conviction, as are many other things in Christianity. But my purpose in this book is to show that neither Jesus nor any of the writers of the New Testament intended for Christianity to be an organization or business or mere religion. It is a relationship with God and with His people, a life and family. My goal is to examine scripture and find out what it teaches, and whether what has been practiced is in violation of those teachings. These are my personal observations and convictions, which I hope will prompt the reader to at least dare to question the status quo and listen for the Spirit's voice in this matter. In a world that seems to tolerate almost any idea, this request of mine hardly seems like much to ask.
This book is not light reading but a careful examination of key texts bearing on the topic of what the Body of Christ was meant to be. So the best way to use it is to have your copy of the scriptures open to the passage under examination as you go along. We will discover how an insistence upon hierarchy has affected marriage and family, gathering together with other believers, and our contacts with the world. And we will see that equality is not something dangerous or heretical, but the very thing Jesus came to establish. We must, like Jesus when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, fight erroneous interpretations of scripture with correct ones. And while of course no one can claim infallibility in this (although some do try), we can do our best to ensure that our interpretations are not the result of poor reasoning or shallow reading comprehension, and that they do not contradict any clear passages of scripture or try to hold to contradictory ideas.
Not as much attention will be paid to the Old Testament period after Adam and Eve, other than to briefly touch on some issues of social order which contradict popular misconceptions. I am mainly concerned with this matter of controlling people as it applies to Christians, and for that we need to focus mostly on the New Testament, especially the Letters.
I will abbreviate some frequently-used terms such as NT for New Testament and OT for Old Testament. Since the Greek word ekklesia (typically translated as "church") is not easily conveyed in a short English word (the assembly, the called out ones, the community of believers, etc.), I'll just transliterate the Greek word.
All scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are taken unashamedly from the TNIV, a faithful and reasonably accurate translation of the Bible. For the record, even the TNIV has retained some of the language of domination, but there are few that do not. Is that proof of God's approval of hierarchy? Keep reading.
This book is dedicated to all those believers who have been brave enough to challenge tradition, sometimes at great personal cost, and whose insights and dedication have both inspired others and provided a base upon which those that followed would stand. I am especially grateful to God for the ease with which we today can access all the wisdom of the past and present that is written or recorded in some way. And I pray that we will all use these opportunities to remove any and all obstacles to salvation and discipleship, to free the oppressed, and to restore to purity and simplicity the Body of Christ in anticipation of His soon return.