The contract

Years ago I read Renegotiating the Church Contract (author: James Thwaites) which gave an insight to how within the church there is often an unwritten contract between leadership and followers. This is more true within the charismatic and non-denominational brand of churches where the emphasis is on moving ahead, so ‘leaders’ are vital (my background). It is part of what is getting unravelled at this time, and the nature of unravelling is not a lot happens for a while as ends are pulled, then at a certain moment something gives and then the whole process speeds up enormously.

A sect is not a bad thing, for even followers of the way were sociologically a sect within Judaism, but it is when cultic elements make their presence and become established that the problems begin in earnest. Cults are deviant, but cultic elements can be present in all kinds of orthodox movements (and of course are often present in ‘secular’ corporations).

I am convinced that someone with 5% discernment could enter many organisations and without being given clues about the structure could soon establish who is part of the leadership, the aspiring leadership and the followers. I have sat in the distance observing some movements – one in particular that has entered the great unravel currently – and even from a distance can see that there was an unwritten contract in operation. Leaders who hold to a world view of the dangerous, evil world with a certain amount of conspiracy thrown in; followers who carry deep anxiety about the world so need to find safety which they find in the strength of the leaders who also helpfully carry something of an inside track on the path to the future. Made for each other. Make sure the ratio of leaders to followers continue at a level where the honour flows.

Same story over again and again. ‘We want a king… a king who will fight our battles for us’. Well there is a price to pay for that contract. This contract operates within the church and as it takes root it often then sets in motion something very unhealthy in the church / political realm.

I believe ‘the heart after God’ that was sought for in the successor to David is not so much the person who can pick up the harp as the one who will bring that contract to an end – to do so we might need to pick up the harp, write poetry, be reflective, rather than pick up the sword, shed blood and boast. Finally there was one who did just that, the son of David, the king of the Jews, the one who took all that to the cross:

Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matt. 27:37).

Jesus broke the contract, and from the depths ascended on high to pour out gifts, so that the entire body might come into a fullness. That fullness is not getting to the heights and forgetting the depths, it is filling all things from the depths to the heights. In that way the contract disappears.

Leadership is a gift (and it is difficult sometimes to get new words when old words have been filled with a different meaning) but when any level of cultism invades that gift – in whatever realm – the gift will only serve the system not the filling of all things. Cultism (like the desire for the king) flourishes in that in-between space; the ego within the ‘king to be’ needs to be suppressed so that s/he is not finding the baggage as a temporary hiding place but remains there till the ego gives way to sober self-identity; the desire for security within us all has to find a place of settlement that reluctantly knows we will have trouble but can find stillness within for Jesus has overcome

‘Not so among you’. Could it be?

Return of the King

But what is the nature of the kingdom?

At times of international crisis people can be quick to jump to Matthew 24 (wars and rumours of wars) to shout ‘end-times’ and for some the one sure and certain thing is Jesus is coming back to reign, from Jerusalem, and a ‘millennial’ rule. One sure thing? I think not!

As I was walking (the dog) I thought, out of the blue, hang on a minute… the OT hopes and Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, being proclaimed as king.

[An Aside: I do have difficulties with the theology of a millennial rule that is drawn from a book that is unapologetically symbolic. Why take things literal in a book that has dragons, beasts rising out of the sea, stars falling to the earth (a little too hot to handle I think) etc. To try to make it fit a pre-, a post-, or even an a-millennial approach seems a big stretch. Anyway, leaving on one side the apocalyptic genre of Revelation I’d like to probe a little deeper.]

There are some OT themes that sit alongside each other, themes that gave hope for the future but were not fulfilled in the history of Israel. We could pick out a few such as:

  • The Lord God will return to Zion (Isaiah 40-55 (so-called Second Isaiah) focuses on this, and given that Isaiah is quoted and the many implicit references to these texts in the NT should alert us to an understanding of fulfilment. The very name ‘Emmanuel’, being ‘God with us’ indicates a fulfilment in the life and work of Jesus).
  • Ezekiel knew the glory had departed but spoke of God returning to the Temple.
  • The Psalms have a repeated declaration that God will come to judge the world.
  • Haggai, with all the pain of the new temple being but a shadow of the old, still holds out hope of a new glorious temple.
  • Zechariah has the return in cloud and fire to defend people; and the well-known text of the feet of the returning Lord standing on the Mount of Olives.

Such ideas as Jesus coming to reign from Jerusalem at some future date seem to me to be taken from a literalistic line drawn from OT prophetic hopes without any journey through the life and times of Jesus.

Luke 19 seems to radically adjust that ‘straight line’. Here comes the Lord God, the king back to Jerusalem, back to the Temple; the One embodying the Presence of God, the glory of God, the one who does indeed place his feet on the Mount of Olives and return to Zion… as king. As king riding on a donkey (again quoting Zechariah – 9:9),

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey.

In Luke we read that the people shouted out:

Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven! (19:38)

Jesus comes to the city saying that they were not recognising that on this day (the day of entry) shalom was coming (Luke 19:42). Here is the future fulfilment of the Lord returning to Zion, the glory has returned, I don’t think we should look any further. What a fulfilment, but greater than the fulfilment is the God who is returning that is revealed. The cross and the throne are one. And from the history we know that Pilate entered with all the pomp and military power through one gate while the king, God incarnate enters at the opposite gate on a donkey. Contrasts, and who embodies kingship? Fulfilments and a challenge to our view of how God comes, of what is the nature of that kingdom.

Where is God? If we have a ‘God of all power with whom nothing is impossible’ the question hangs in the air and we will have a hard job to find God; if we realise that God is still calling for a people who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, we will have eyes that go higher than troubles and oppression, and we will receive strength to follow.

In the current troubles it is tempting to resort to ‘we are living in the end times’, and to do so in a way that does not remind ourselves that such terminology is used biblically of all time post-Pentecost. Yes we are living in the end-times, living in the same era of time alongside the saints who have gone before us.

In Jesus all things change. The Imperial world is turned upside down; even with regard to OT hopes we are given a new set of lenses to read them through. We see this with the (mis-)quote by Paul of Isaiah 59:20. There we read (with emphasis added):

The Redeemer will come to Zion…

In Paul he feels the liberty to change it to:

The deliverer will come from Zion (Rom. 11:26).

Jesus has come, the king has arrived, the glory has returned, his feet have been on the Mount of Olives… The geography that was the focus becomes the place from which God can embrace the whole.

Maybe, there is a ‘return to Jerusalem’, not because of a set of biblical texts, but what place on earth could truly bear witness the ‘wolf lying with the lamb’. Racial harmony, human embrace, shared resources… shalom. The king who came there on the donkey is not about to come with his true identity, as the king with the chariots. He was in the ‘form of God’… so humbled himself. Past, present and future.