Reputation or Repentance?
It’s election season in many places around the globe. That comes with a degree of change and, unfortunately, a lot of mudslinging as politicians attack one another’s platforms (and personhood!) while seeking to advance their own.
In the United States, we are gearing up for midterm elections. Have you observed the change in rhetoric?
In Europe, Liz Truss has come to power in the UK after Boris Johnson’s tenure ended in a no-confidence vote, and Italians voted in conservative Giorgia Meloni as PM. Both women have received sharp criticism, with voices tossing around the terms “crazed” and “fascist.”
Russia holds illegal referendums in efforts to annex occupied territory and legitimize Putin’s “special military operations” in Ukraine. While political leaders stick to their guns, both literal and figurative, citizens prepare to vote—if not with their ballots then with their feet. Mass exodus has ensued at the Kremlin’s announcement it will soon employ conscription for what the rest of the globe understands as “Putin’s War in Ukraine.” He can’t seem to win; he won’t lose. In his pride, he cannot tolerate the prospect of loss of face.
As we observe these particular news items this week, I am struck by the idolatry of reputation:
Leaders consumed by building their own reputation assassinate one another’s character to make themselves look good. Their primary commitment is to their own kingdoms, power, and glory.
The megalomaniacs of this world inevitably drive humanity to its worst places: violence, oppression, ruthlessness. In Mark 10:42, Jesus says, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them.” The gospel (Jesus’s words and actions) presents a different vision of leadership which serves (Luke 22:26, John 13:12-15), puts others before self (Philippians 2:3), and even sacrifices (Matthew 20:28).
For humanity, the root of such leadership lies in forsaking the idol of building our own reputations and embracing the beauty of repentance. This looks like a readiness to admit failure, own up to our mistakes, and turn away from our sinful, self-serving efforts. It looks like humility.
Public figures who exercise this type of leadership are rare finds indeed. Even pastors of our day are more often characterized by reputation building. Tragically, the same hubris may lead to hypocrisy, moral failure, and hard falls.
The private exercise of humble-yet-strong servant leadership has far greater impact on those you lead than the public figures who rise and mostly fall. May we model a counter-cultural, gospel-shaped leadership not only quick to forgive but also quick to repent—trusting that our reputation is firmly established in Christ and His righteousness.
Submission or Dissent?
We’ve been discussing the concepts of culture-making versus combatting culture and what that means to our discipleship. In Blessed Are the Culture-Makers, we reference the biblical command to submit to governing authorities. But what about the inverse of that?
What do we do when authority isn’t good or godly and asks or even commands us to do that which goes against the conscience?
In a world where we witness forced military conscription, vaccine mandates, and coercion to employ popular ideological forms (and censure/cancellation of those who step outside of the coercion), how do we live out our discipleship? Are there circumstances in which the believer is justified in failing to submit to or deliberately dissenting against governing authorities? And if so, how do we discern them?
How do we disciple our children regarding Christian submission and dissent?
As always, I want to encourage intentional engagement of these themes with your children. The best way is always by first wrestling with scripture: What does it say about submission? And what does it say about dissent?
These observations from scripture should not serve as a substitute for your own study. But I hope they will aid your process. Let me be a “third voice”:
Two biblical reasons for submitting to human authority stand out to me, and they hang together:
- That our reasonableness and “peaceableness” would be made known to all (Philippians 4:5; Romans 12:18)
- That by our gentle conduct we might win others for Christ (Philippians 1:27; 1 Peter 3:2, 15)
As we look at the lives of the disciples, we realize that submission to authority takes a hard turn to dissent when governing and/or church authorities require:
- Denial of Jesus as Lord
- Worship of anything other than the Triune God
- Any other action which goes against God’s law
In our country, we have unique privileges within history. The Founding Fathers (many of them believers) in their wisdom wrote the Constitution with the intention to protect freedom of religious expression—freedom to live out of our moral convictions. They designed the branches of government in a way that would hinder government from “lording over” the people. They provided for dissent. Again: This is a rare thing within history.
More typical to governments and cultures is secularism, paganism/neo-paganism, narcissistic leadership, and all-around moral decay. As our country departs from a Christian moral foundation and loses the “Christian consensus,” we are still called to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We must willingly supply our sons “for the common defense,” pay taxes, obey the law of the land.
But our primary allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or an earthly government but to a Heavenly King. Our submission to and our dissent from earthly rulers must be ultimately governed by His much higher standard: the law of love. As disciplers of children, we must teach them that their submission and their (hopefully rare!) dissent equally reflect on that more perfect law. Our actions bear witness to the beauty of the gospel.
There is no promise that practicing our convictions will guarantee good outcomes. We must soberly make note that scripture and church history bear testimony to revilement, persecution, and even death for those who stand firm on Christian convictions. We are not promised a life of ease on Earth. Instead, we know that in His presence we will have fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11) Until that day comes, we have this confidence: His presence is with us even now in our process.
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’m listening!