Sunday, June 27, 2010

Some Thoughts about Spiritual Leadership

Probably, in every organized religion, there is some concept of spiritual leadership or spiritual authority. This teaching is potentially dangerous because spiritual leaders may abuse their authority. I think that in benign religions there are some boundaries for the spiritual authority, for example, requirements for spiritual leaders. In abusive religions, these boundaries are violated. In another post, I wrote about requirements for Sufi sheykhs that exist in traditional Sufism. Likewise, the New Testament contains requirements for Christian ministers in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9:

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

(1 Timothy 3:1-13, NIV)

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

(Titus 1:5-9, NIV)

Both descriptions are quite similar and Christian leaders are supposed to meet these requirements. Obviously, abusive leaders do not meet them. Are they blameless? not overbearing? not violent? gentle? not pursuing dishonest gain? not lovers of money? Do they meet other requirements? Since they do not meet these requirements, according to the New Testament, they cannot have real authority from God, in spite of their claims. Abusive leaders like to teach their followers that they need to submit to them because they are "spiritual authority." They pick up some verses from the Bible that speak about submission. They blame people who do not submit to them and say that they disobey God. However, they purposely neglect the verses that tell about requirements for spiritual leaders because these verses expose them.

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