Saturday, 20 September 2008

Calling Christian Leaders

John Stott’s “Calling Christian Leaders” is a very helpful set of short chapters, teaching from 1 Corinthians 1-4.

In chapter 1, looking at 1 Corinthians 1:1-17, Stott shows us the ambiguity of the church, that the church today: is sanctified, yet still sinful, and called to be holy (v2, v11); is enriched, yet still defective as it longs for the return of Christ (v5-8); is united, yet still divided (v10-17).

Chapter 2 get us into 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5, showing how power is to be found in weakness, when it comes to Christian leadership. A weak message, of Christ crucified (yet the powerful way God saves), a weak preacher (that faith might not rest on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power), reaching weak, foolish, lowly people (that the glory would rest with God, not proud, arrogant man)…

Stott then goes on to look at 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, being concerned to show us here the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Scripture. Stott helpfully brings out 4 stages: that the Spirit searches, knowing even the deep things of God (v10); the Spirit reveals God’s salvation to the apostles (biblical authors) (v12); the Spirit inspires the apostles (biblical authors) to communicate God’s salvation to others (v13); the Spirit enlightens those who read the message (v13-16). It’s a call for the Christian leader to humble himself. To humble himself before Scripture, and study it diligently, but in absolute dependence on the Spirit, without whom, our hearts will remain dull, cloudy, deaf and blind.

The penultimate chapter concerns itself with 1 Corinthians 3, and Stott expands the three analogies that Paul uses to describe the church: God’s field (v5-9), God’s building (v9-16) and God’s temple (v16-17). Stott shows us how Christian leaders have nothing to boast about - it is only God who makes things grow; that Christian leaders mustn’t move on from Christ crucified, the foundation of the church, and the way a solid, durable church is built (not with the cheap, perishable teaching of the world); the Christian leaders mustn’t forget what the church is – “it may (in our view) consist of uneducated, unclean, unattractive people. And the congregation may be small and immature and factious. Nevertheless, it is the church of God, His dwelling place by His Spirit, and needs to be treated as such.” The chapter totally downplays the Christian leaders, as God the Father gives the growth, God the Son is its only foundation, and it is the dwelling place of God the Spirit.

Finally, Stott finishes with a look at 1 Corinthians 4. A particularly challenging chapter on who, or what, Christian leaders must be like: servants of Christ (v1); stewards of revelation (v1-2); the scum of the earth (v8-13); fathers of the church family (v14-21). That which underlines each of these 4 is humility, humility before Christ – whose subordinates we are; humility before Scripture – of which we are stewards; humility before the world – whose opposition we are bound to encounter; humility before the congregation – whose members we are to love and serve.

There’s a real challenge to our thinking in v8-13, as Stott gets us into some tough verses on what Christian leadership is like… heading to death in the amphitheatre, the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world, thirsty and hungry. Stott helpfully gets these verses under our skin… “..the difficulty we have in applying this text to ourselves may indicate how far we have drifted from the New Testament. True, the persecution of Christians is increasing in some (especially Hindu and Muslim) cultures. Yet most of use are not cursed, persecuted or slandered. Today, even in a non-Christian, pluralist or secular culture, it is still regarded as quite respectable even honourable to be an ordained clergyman. … but it is not everywhere thus, and it should certainly not be taken for granted. I think we need to listen again to the words of Jesus: ‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you’ (Luke 6:26). Beware, I beg of you, of the temptation to be a popular preacher! I doubt if it is possible to be popular and faithful at the same time.”