Spiritual power in the context of secular values

Samvel Mayilyan, Тheologician, Greece


"My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting . . . For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth . . . ” John 18:36,37

In this world's power race, in the reality of victory and defeat, in a context of honor and shame (where there’s respect for the honorable position, respect for fortune,wealth, noble lineage, higher education,wisdom and on the other hand shame and disgrace towards dishonorable position, failure, poverty, simple household, illiteracy and naivety ), there’s a great temptation either  to convert spiritual power into secular power or to comprehend it that way.Such a conversion is made when religious leaders conduct their activities with a scheme of secular values. Sometimes unconsciously, and other times deliberately by a developed strategy, they enter Christianity into a marathon of glory and success equal to this world’s runners. 

A spiritual race for victory begins whose finish line is the authority and the advantage over others, while the laurel is the “true” title. Spiritual power is being established when rivals are considered enemies and are being struggled with. The sad thing is that in this combat all of this secular world’s skills  are used, including rivals’ violations and elevating themselves, and bringing to the fight their “servants”. 

Such a tournament starts not to bear witness to the truth but to bear witness of their being true, which in  being confirmed by the frequent use of “God’s church/ servant” title. Self-promotion especially manifests itself by highlighting their own unique attributes in statements such as number, tradition, new lights, anointments and anointed, ordination, interpretation, antiquity, recent messages, new gospels, the truth, names, Apostolic Foundation, works, miracles and dreams and many more. 

In short- themselves- all that indicates "Them". Despite how objective their pretentions seem, the final goal is their domination in the interdenominational pluralism, which leads to the separation of religious orthodoxy and fallacies. (Here I don’t suggest ‘orthodoxy’ as a state church but their ‘unique’ position as they emphasize it). The glorious title of “God’s church”, in a context of honor and shame, turns into mundane glories, powers, wisdoms, respect, perhaps also the wealth’s fight. Here I do not mean any specific church or servant, but all churches who desire to secure their place in the interchurch race with the instruments of their uniqueness, about which they boast. 

In respectto each church’s and each minister’s service and activity in God’s field I would like to bring to their attention another system of values for spiritual power. This system of power was what guided the true servants of God and what guided them to become the true servants of His Word.  

It is appropriate to mention here that Paul’s theology of the Cross, as an introduction to spiritual power, sets valuable and irreplaceable guidelines for the servants of God. The theology of the Cross in a context of values deals deadly blows to this world’s value system: glory, honor, wealth, position, wisdom and everything which a person or a community can boast about (1 Cor. 1: 18-31). 

The message of the cross there is portrayed as an uncompromising verdict of the wisdom and power of human values as it reverses their standards and undermines their ambitions. There is no external feature that separates us from the others, makes us more precise and gives us the right to be proud as a sign of spiritual power. To claim a status by one’s political influence ("powerful"), by one’s education ( "wise"), or one’s origin  ( "noble birth" 1:26), or something else, is ridiculous. The only pride of the Christian and the only feature indicating their status is Christ, as it is written: "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." (1Cor.1:31 NIV).  

The message of the crucified Christ is only absurd “…to those who are perishing” (1Co 1:18 NIV). The failure of this world’s values is springing from the deeper “wisdom of God” (1Co 1:24 NIV). The spiritual power is dependent on God’s choice and not people’s ambitions. God’s choice aggressively shames this world’s wise and mighty. Paul's speech, which is completely contrary to the values of this world power and wisdom, is addressed to the fundamental fallacy of the gospel “our kingdom is of this world” (1Cor.4:8). His spiritual authority is based on the theology of the Cross –on ‘dying every day’ by selflessly serving and declaring the message of the crucified Christ (1 Cor. 1: 23; 4: 9-13; 2 Cor. 4: 8-15). 

To those who associate God’s clear choice and spiritual power with human or social values, including national and cultural, Paul calls them to “be reconciled to God” (2Cor. 5:20 NAS), the bearers of these values, risk their own salvation(2Cor 6:1). “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are” (1Co 1:28 NIV). 

The phrase 'the no-bodies' depicts then, as now, those of no social significance, but it also evokes notions of God's creative role in bringing creation out of nothing (cf. Rom 4:17; Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17).  And if salvation is entirely God's creation, no one can demand anything from God or have an ambition or to be self assured by any mundane status or any important attributes (I Cor.1:29). Here Paul does not mean that God ignores or rejects people who are in high positions but teaches that God's choice is not associated with any human virtues. 

A representative or a servant of the Church of God is linked solely to God's sovereign choice. God lets Himself be known to man and brings him to Himself (Gal. 4: 9; John 1: 9).  He Himself brings the man to baptism by his Spirit (1 Cor. 12: 13), He Himself grants gifts for service, (1 Cor. 12: 4-11).If the acceptance of Christ as “Lord” is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3) the effect of regeneration (John 1: 12-13), which happens not because of man’s will but God’s will, suggests that man’s choice is from God.People or churches can not give spiritual rebirth to other people or make them true Christians with their self-advertisements, rituals and different ways of attracting people. To be a follower of a church does not mean to be a child of God. Being the child of God implies his acceptance “He gave them the right to become children of God.”(John 1:12 NIRV). 

Consequently, no person or church can in any way claim to be "the only bearer of the truth."   The Apostle Paul wrote “So don't judge anything before the appointed time,wait until the Lord returns …. each person will receive praise from God. (1Co 4:5 NIRV)” and “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2Co 10:18  NIV). Paul shows that power makes sense only if it comes from God and His choice and not external attributes and pretentions. Such requirements must ultimately rely on God. Inter-confessional rivals like preachers and tactics, are based not on Christ but on self-advertisements and claims.  

The Apostle Paul describes as shameful to "commend themselves" (seeking to gain acceptance, based individually on the exterior features and attributes). Paul's statement: “but have renounced all shameful secrecy” (2Co 4:2 NJB) suggests that he refuses to accept such disgraceful tactics. "Have shame" means to have a proper concern for their own reputation. True authority is based not on attractive features and advertisements, but preaching God’s Word non falsified, living the word of the Cross in one’s own life and as an individual or community, and sharing the life of Christ in one’s ministry(2 Cor. 4: 10).

Paul's life was a perfect example of such a merger, preaching the gospel and behaving according to the gospel, which is a living example for all ministers and churches. As a true servant of God, his message to this world was the crucified Christ, whom he professed to be the Lord(2 Cor. 4: 5; Rom. 10. 9; 1 Cor. 12: 3, Phil. 2:10-11).  This early confessional formula was unacceptable to the Jews.He was preaching the word of God as he received it and kept that message without changing it. 

“At least we do not adulterate the word of God, as so many do, but it is in all purity, as envoys of God and in God's presence, that we speak in Christ” (2Co 2:17 NJB) “but have renounced all shameful secrecy”. It is not our way to be devious, or to falsify the word of God; instead, in God's sight we commend ourselves to every human being with a conscience by showing the truth openly” (2Co 4:2 NJB). 

Paul in 1 Cor.15:1-3 writes: “ I want to make quite clear to you, brothers, what the message of the gospel that I preached to you is; you accepted it and took your stand on it, and you are saved by it, if you keep to the message I preached to you; otherwise your coming to believe was in vain. The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I had myself received, was that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures”. 

This passage clearly shows that Paul received the gospel and conveyed it to the Corinthians that they may be saved by the gospel, who shall remain in it and keep it strong. The Church and Christians are called to hold fast to that which he received and passed on. It suggests that the news of salvation remain unchanged, and cannot be falsified. If not held strongly enough to this message, left or deflected, the Church weakens. 

Therefore the strategy of the Christian’s enemyis to force Christians to distort the message of Christ.  Since it is difficult to divert Christians from Christ's message, the wisest way to divert them is by “increasing” or “deepening” which gets done through “prophets” or “saints” with a “new” message, or through “Holy Fathers’ ” and “wise men’s” new commentaries, like “new light” which is available only to the elite, which brings the “fulfillment” to God’s Word. As a result, the gospel is "enriched" and "renewed" and forms a new religious tradition in the different branches of Christianity. 

The Apostle Paul writes: “not that it is another gospel; except that there are trouble-makers among you who are seeking to pervert the gospel of Christ.But even if we ourselves or an angel from heaven preaches to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let God's curse be on him” (Gal.1:7-8 NJB). The principle here is clear,THE GOSPEL IS UNCHANGABLE AT ALL TIMES. He appeals to the Philippians: “Keep doing everything you learned from me and were told by me and have heard or seen me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9 NJB). God is with the believers when they hold fast to the gospel and are concerned to do in their life what they saw and heard from the apostle. 

If Paul, being an apostle, did not dare to add or modify the gospel, we certainly should not either. Thus, every strategy through which self-advertisement and uniqueness are tested and which bypasses the message of the Cross and the Cross’s road is considered a shameful strategy. They preach themselves and not Christ. So spiritual power should be motivated not by external features but by God's choice and selfless service and a life that is a visible sermon as preached in the message of the Cross. God’s servants are those who do not bend His Word and refuse the disgraceful strategies. In case of such a strategy, some employees may jeopardize their reputation, for serving in various religious traditions they often face opposing opinions, but that is the narrow gate and the cross which faithful servants must carry.  Such was Paul's life “ in danger from people masquerading as brothers” (2Cor. 11:26 NJB), “but we were harassed at every turn--conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2Co 7:5 NIV).  

The sufferings “on the outside” and “within” are related to the persecution outside of the community and with the problems within the community. But Paul was concerned that his position would not bring reproach, thereby the truth of the gospel becomes non-negotiable reality, for which he writes “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;……….taken for impostors and yet we are genuine” (2 Cor.6:4-9). He shared the life of Christ,“ He came to his own and his own people did not accept him”  (John 1:11 NJB). 

Old Testament prophets have passed that way,  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you!” (Matt. 23:37 NJB).The prophet’s disgrace existed always in their homes, ((Matt. 13: 57), therefore the servants of the word of the Cross sometimes have to share the same fate. They do not preach their church, but Jesus Christ, a stumbling block to churches and foolishness to the world, (1 Cor. 1: 23), not their traditions and in some cases distorted teachings, but  the Word of God, for which they are being aspersed as deceivers.Jesus calls followers like that "blessed," (Matt. 5: 11-12). They are blessed because they are not fighting to occupy an honored place in this world or to reign, but have come into the world to bear witness to the truth like their Lord.