These two institutions actually have something in common.
We are familiar with liberal big government which unreservedly seeks to “help” the poor through welfare programs and handouts. By doing so big government can stay in power indefinitely by getting the votes of their grateful constituents around election time. Such unconditional “compassion,” however, absolves people of personal responsibility and locks them and future generations in a cycle of poverty, dependence and helplessness. Many of not most committed followers of Jesus Christ are against liberal big government and instead favor small government which involves personal diligence and responsibility on the part of individual citizens.
Ironically, however, today’s traditional church shares some resemblance to liberal big government. How?
We want God’s people (our “members”) to remain dependent on us forever so that they will keep coming to church every Sunday bringing their tithes and offerings. These of course are absolutely necessary if we are going to cover our operational expenses like staff salaries and the debt on our facilities. Only then can we stay in business. We keep God’s people coming Sunday after Sunday by keeping them and their families spiritually dependent on us in various ways. We take care of their responsibilities before God for them so that they won’t have to.
Pastors of course might not do this consciously. But since it is built into “the system” they will follow the only pattern they know and with which they are familiar. This is the teaching of the Nicolaitans which Jesus hates as mentioned in Revelation.
Of course we don’t want God’s people forever to remain crying infants completely unable to care for themselves. We do teach them so that they will grow somewhat in Christ so that they can serve as ushers and Sunday School teachers or even deacons—but preferably not to full adulthood. Some of the promising ones we will send to seminary and groom them to serve under us. But God forbid that the great majority of our people mature too much and began to bear much good fruit for the kingdom of God. They could become a threat to our leadership. Or they might leave us to start their own ministry which, God forbid, might take some of our members.
Therefore ideally we want God’s people to remain immature in some ways and therefore to some degree dependent on us. In that way they will stay in our church forever and we can grow bigger and bigger.
One teaching resulting from this system is the “theology of helplessness” which is rampant in the Church today. We are taught in the passage about Paul’s thorn that our weakness somehow pleases God and even perfects his power.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
But Paul’s thorn here does not refer to personal weakness or failure. It clearly refers to the insults, hardships and difficulties he suffers for the sake of the gospel. Because he preaches the gospel so powerfully and fruitfully he must undergo painful persecution. Paul is anything but weak in the sense that Christians are taught to be. Because of the sufferings he endured for the sake of the gospel, God’s power was made “perfect” in his ministry. He preached the gospel with great power and fruitfulness. In verse 12 Paul goes on to say:
12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.
Paul ministered with great power and authority. But he traditional church today does not teach us to be like Paul. We are generally not encouraged to minister as effectively and fruitfully as he did. Rather, we are mostly helpless sinners saved by grace and not genuinely encouraged and expected to be great in the sight of God. But Paul urges us:
1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Like liberal politicians, there are church leaders today who enjoy the power they hold over the laypeople. And just like welfare recipients will keep their liberal benefactors in power with their votes, the sheep in the church are not to question but rather to submit to their leaders upon whom they are taught to depend for vital spiritual food and guidance. As an example, since they are reassured that sin in their weakness and imperfection is for the most part unavoidable, they must continue to come to church for forgiveness and restoration.
The Reformation is indeed incomplete.