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Beneath the SGM Scandal: Pain and Opportunity

The SGM scandal (for those of you who need to catch up read this and this ) has been an excessively heated topic. It affords us an occasion to take a look at ourselves and our own church’s leadership. This post is a brief riff off some reading today in Hauerwas’ The State of the University. The quotes from Yoder and Hauerwas can be found around page 155-157.

John Howard Yoder believed that understanding the sinfulness of the church is essential for understanding “the politics of the church.” Yoder believed that the organization of the church must take into full account the sinfulness of the church. By our nature as Christ’s church, we are ever being converted, reformed and transformed. And so the way in which leadership is conducted, organization developed and authority exercised is a matter of witness before the rest of the world to the work God is doing in Christ to redeem all things. The character of our corporate leadership and the manner in which we lead should point the rest of the world to the life being lived together in Christ, in His death, resurrection and reigning Lordship over our lives. We are ever bearing the death and resurrection of Christ, ever showing the world that sin does not have the final word, but instead, when we sin, it is the occasion to turn from and live further into our baptism before the world. This means leaders will not put themselves above others when it comes to sin. We will always be ready to confess our sins and repent, seek reconciliation and renewal as part of God’s new kingdom in Christ. This is part of our witness.

Yoder suggests that “wholesome growth is not so much understood to be like branches from a tree but rather more like a vine.” There is a kind of “looping back” to test ongoing practices by the Lordship of Christ. The progress of the body of Christ is akin to a “story of constant interruptions of organic growth” where pruning happens and the opportunity is made for new roots to spout.

One of the reasons why we have so much resentment in the church today is the loss of ability of leaders to submit their sinfulness to the church. To have our story interrupted. So many “parishioners” have been hurt or abused by the church. I don’t know what they were expecting from their leaders, but perhaps they were given false expectations. Perhaps they expected leaders to be set above the congregation. But we should not do that. We should always be expecting our story to be interrupted. Instead, in a lot of our leadership structures, the revealing of sin by a leader threatens the entire structure of authority. This to me is a sign we have lost the essence of what it means to be the church (as Yoder described above). It sets the church up for abuse instead of reform, its most charismatic leaders up for moral failure instead of constant growth through humility, vulnerability and mutual submission. It prevents any and all interruptions, that which makes us the alive body of Christ.

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.