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Evangelism - Myers Mott Maggay Linthicum        

The Uses of Power and the Role of the Church

Many people are unconcerned with the biblical justification for the use of power, but for Christians this is an important consideration. This chapter will look at two problems: a biblical justification for the use of power, and the role of the church in the status quo.

Some people fear the word “power” has an evil connotation that power is demonic and somehow corrupts men, and especially that a power-based organization is not consistent with biblical teaching. This writer is convinced that power in and of itself doe not corrupt. The wrong use of power corrupts, but the right use o power is consistent with the Bible. God uses power in a variety o ways to bring about his program, and he has given man dominion over the earth—power, if you will—personal as well as social.

God in his creative power demonstrated that he is the source o all power. The Bible tells that at a point of his own choosing Go created the heavens and the earth. The power brought to bear transcends human thought and imagination, for God spoke an creation took place. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,” and it was so. Again God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered into one place and let the dry land appear,” and it was so. In the greatest creative act of all God said “Let us make man in our own image ... and let them hay dominion over all the earth.”

In creation we see God’s direct power. In redemption we se God acting powerfully through an agent. In the book of Exodus that agent is Moses. God confronted Moses in a Midianite field and gave him what seemed to be an impossible charge. He told Moses, no longer a young man eager for conflict, a refugee from Pharaoh’s court keeping sheep for his father-in-law, to go back to Egypt, to confront mighty Pharaoh, and to bring the people of Israel out from slavery.

In a series of confrontations with Pharaoh, Moses made eight demands, each the same as the last: This is a message from the Lord God of Israel—let my people go. Pharaoh reacted to this demand as all people have reacted who want to maintain the status quo. He resisted. Pharaoh, in his arrogance, said he knew nothing of the Lord, and he would not let Israel go.

After that direct confrontation the battle was joined, and it took ten judgments before Pharaoh yielded and let the people of Israel go. The tenth and final judgment was the worst of all—the death of all the firstborn of the Egyptians. With this final show of power, Pharaoh’s resistance was broken and he consented to release the children of Israel from their bitter bondage. It is clear in the book of Exodus that God through Moses exercised power in a most dynamic and positive way in redeeming the people of Israel from their bondage in the land of Egypt.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. There has to be a historical vehicle through which all circumstances operate. In the New Testament, for instance, we read of God’s using the power of Caesar to fulfill the prophetic announcement that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Caesar Augustus decreed that a census should be taken and that every man had to go to his home town and register there. Since Bethlehem was the city of Joseph’s ancestors, Joseph and Mary traveled from their home in Nazareth to Bethle­hem, and Jesus was born while they were there. God used the power of Caesar in a political event—another example of the role of power in history—to make a decree that forced people to do his will.

Now let us look at another kind of power: the power of John the Baptist. This was not a weak and timid individual, but a dynamic and powerful personality. John, through his dynamism and power— not the power of violence, but the power of prophetic speech— attracted huge throngs. The people represented potential social power. John was so effective that many of the religious leaders were forced to come out of the city of Jerusalem to the Jordan River in the wilderness to hear what he had to say, to see if he was a threat to the status quo.

Here is a power mechanism being brought into play to set the stage for the beginning ministry of Jesus. At the height of John’s power as a preacher, Jesus appeared on the scene. John announced to the crowd of people standing about him, “Look! There comes the Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world.” John’s followers soon became Jesus’ followers. Jesus had a ready-made following, a “power base,” when he began his ministry.

Both civil power and religious power were used in relation to Jesus, the civil power in terms of the census being taken, and the religious power in John the Baptist’s preaching and baptizing. God, in bringing about his purposes, used both civil and religious power.

This idea is hard for some people to accept because they be­lieve God does not act outside the religious structure. God did act outside the religious structure in the census decree. In the Old Testament also, Jeremiah called Nebuchadnezzar, the tyrannical king of Babylon, God’s servant, whom he would bring to punish Israel for her idolatry and her unjust oppression of the poor.

We see God’s power in the Gospels in the life of Jesus Christ, who was both God and man. Christ was not a demigod, half God and half man. He was all truly God and truly man. People today accept rather easily the fact of Jesus as a man. He was also God, however, and as God he exercised prerogatives of deity. He even forgave sins. The scribes and the Pharisees accused him of blas­phemy when he forgave the sins of a paralyzed man, because they knew that only God can forgive sins.

Jesus demonstrated that he was God by exercising power over nature. A great storm arose when, he was in a ship with his disciples. The ship was filling with water, and they were in danger of sinking. Jesus, who was asleep in the ship, was aroused by the frantic cries of his disciples. He awoke and commanded the wind and the sea to be still, and they were still.

He exercised power over disease. Wherever Jesus went he healed the lepers, the crippled, the blind among those crowds that gathered and followed him.

Jesus exercised power over demons. Mark tells us of a man possessed by demons who gave every appearance of being a mani­ac. He lived among the tombs, and although he had been chained he broke the chains and menaced passers-by. Jesus sent the demons out of him. When the people heard of the incident and came out to see for themselves, they found the man who had been a raving maniac, sitting fully clothed and in his right mind.

Jesus exercised power over death. The story of the raising of Lazarus vividly illustrates this point. Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, told Jesus that Lazarus was dead and buried and his body was decaying. Jesus went to the grave of Lazarus and commanded some of the followers to remove the stone that lay upon the grave. He called to Lazarus to come forth. John tells us that the man who had been dead came forth, still bound with grave clothes, and with a cloth around his face. Jesus told them to unbind him and let him go free.

In order for Jesus to demonstrate complete power over death, however, he must be able to raise from the dead one who would never die again. This Jesus stated he had power to do in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. “And this is the will of my father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes on him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

These examples of the uses of power show that the possession of power is not, in itself, an evil thing. It is how that power is used that must concern us. Power has been and can continue to be used for good.

Rather early in his ministry, Jesus began to advance the claim that he was the Messiah. He could not possibly have been accepted as Messiah, however, merely by advancing the claim. It is common practice, even today, for persons to present proof of their identity. A man must present papers of identification to cash a check at a bank where he is unknown. A credit card or driver’s license indicates that he is the person he claims to be. In the same way Jesus had to present credentials that would establish the claim that he was the Messiah. His credentials were his power-demonstrating acts. He used his power not in wild, magical demonstrations designed to cause his followers to gaze and wonder, but in con­structive ways to aid the poor, the oppressed, the sick. He used his power to heal the sick, to open the eyes of the blind, to make the lame walk, to cleanse the lepers, and to raise the dead. These were his credentials—his demonstration that he was the Messiah.

We see Jesus exercising his power in another way, a way much more aggressive and disturbing to the religious power structure. Mark tells us that Jesus went into the temple and sent out people who sold and bought things to sacrifice in the temple. He also upset the tables of the moneychangers and the dove sellers. It appears that in some fashion Jesus exercised control over the temple precincts, for Mark goes on to say that he would not permit any man to carry anything through the temple. This act turned the scribes and chief priests completely against Jesus, and they began to plot his death. Jesus’ power and influence among the people was growing, and this the religious leaders could not toler­ate.

Now, let us note Jesus’ tactics. When he came he did not make an appeal to the monied interest. He did not go to the people in power and plead with them to do the right thing on the basis of morality. He went to the poor. He did not talk to them about personal salvation only. He dealt first with what the poor consid­ered to be real in their lives. He dealt with their sickness, their leprosy, blindness, hunger.

The religious leaders who were in authority wanted to kill Jesus. The Scriptures make it very clear, however, that they were not able to do anything to him because of their fear of the people. Jesus built a mass base of people-power with which the religious leaders had to reckon.

Jesus’ ministry was a demonstration of power, and this power threatened to change the status quo. It was this threat to the status quo of the power structure that was the catalyst, from the human point of view, that brought about his death.

The Wrong Uses of Power

The arrest and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus was a wrong use of power, by both the religious authorities and the secular authori­ties. He was arrested at night, moved from place to place in rapid succession because the authorities feared the people. In a short period of time, he underwent five trials—two before the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling body; two before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor; one before King Herod. False witnesses were secured and paid to perjure themselves.

The religious leaders condemned him and turned him over to Pontius Pilate to be put to death. The Jews would have put him to death themselves had the power resided in their hands. This death penalty rested in the hands of the civil rulers. Pontius Pilate used his power wrongfully, for he ordered the crucifixion of Jesus even when he himself had said he found no fault in him.

Some of those in authority in the very earliest period of the gathered believers were putting their power to wrong use by discriminating against one group of widows. The book of Acts records that there was a disagreement between those of them who spoke Greek and those who spoke Hebrew. The former group complained that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The apostles did not try to refute this com­plaint. They realized the wrong use of power and they acted to change the manner of distribution. They asked the disciples to choose from among themselves seven men of good character to take on this work of services while the apostles themselves went on with the work of preaching and teaching.

These excerpts are taken from Black Self-Determination: the Story of the Woodlawn Organization by Arthur M. Brazier, Eerdmans, 1969, p. 126-131.  Brazier was a pastor of the Apostolic Church of God and President of the Woodlawn Organization, one of the first church-based community organizations. For an excerpt from the book upon an action, click ACTION.

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