Jesus’ leadership characteristics versus the leadership characteristics of Christian leaders today.  

Times magazine (Dec. 06, 1999), designated Jesus Christ as the “man of all millenniums.” I’m sure certain Christians we shocked too! Among the contestants (not that Jesus has any rivals) were Mohammed,  Mohandas Gandhi, Freud, Hitler, Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, etc… Time’s polls, attempted to judge the acts and works of leaders who acquired great power and changed the lives of millions. The polls also attempted to judge the acts in which “men render unto Caesar”, not expressions of faith.

Judging from a secular criterion, the humble Galilean, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, “won” their title, hands down! “It would require much exotic calculation, however, to deny that the single most powerful figure–not merely in these two millenniums but in all human history—has been Jesus of Nazareth,” said the editor Reynolds Price. What exactly is it about Jesus that makes Him the greatest leader of human history?

The Leadership Characteristics of Jesus 

Though not a complete list, Dr Bert Watson examines seven leadership characteristics that were evident in the life and ministry of Jesus (Watson, 2019). Though impossible for any of us too perfectly emulate the leadership style of Jesus, some of His traits are not only possible but essential for emerging Christian leaders (2019).

1) Consecration—Jesus never acted independently (John 5:19-20; 6:38). In the kingdom, leadership starts follow-ship. We follow God first and the authority that God sets over us (Hebrew 13:17-25). My experience as a pastor has shown me that very few children of God are willing the pay the price of consecrating their lives, desires, decisions motives to serve God.  The law of consecration shows us, To Lead, You Must Follow!

2) Connection—Jesus lead out of relationship (John 17:3-4, Mark 1:35-39, Luke 6: 12-13).

In the kingdom, relationships trump profit. One of the most striking attributes of Jesus’ leadership was that He never placed connection (with His Father) over crowds (Watson, Bert. 2019).  Even during the busy and fruitful periods of His ministry, Jesus still maintained a vibrant prayer life. It was during these moments of intimate fellowship that He received, fresh direction and wisdom for both life and ministry. Unfortunately, many leaders today forsake this intimacy for productivity or even worse busyness!  The evidence of usually manifests through fatigue, burnouts, depression and other kinds of moral sin, such as sexual perversion and divorce.  The law of connection shows us, To Lead, You Must Be Connected to God!

3) Character—Jesus demonstrated character through service (Matthew 18:1–5; Mark 9:33–37; Luke 9:46–54).

In the kingdom, the way up is down. The lowest ranking person in the Greco Roman world was a child. Yet Jesus said, whoever receives (welcome, consider) one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.” He was speaking this in the context of “greatness.” Unfortunately, in today’s church leadership,  we use the least (poor) only to window-dress our real hearts motives. This is evident in the fact that we “welcome” only those who can advance our agenda. The law of character shows us, To Lead, You Must Welcome the Least To Sit On Our Laps!

4) Compassionate—Jesus leads with compassion (Matthew 9:35–38, Mark 1: 40–42, John 8:3–11).

In the kingdom, leaders touch lepers, leaders don’t quarantine them. This is so because it is all about people and things. Love, care, compassion are traits synonymous to Jesus, more than any other leader in human history. In contrast to the judgemental, legalistic and militant styled of leadership that is so prevalent within the church, Jesus’ leadership was marked with great compassion.  The law of compassion shows us, To Lead, You Must Touch Hearts With Compassion.

5) CompetenceJesus was skilled (John 5:17–20, Proverbs 22:29, John 7:14–18). 

In the kingdom, leaders become competent by sharping their skills continuously.  Without training, we cannot become efficient. Jesus trained as He observed His Father (John 5:17-20). He never emulated himself, nor did he rely on his own wisdom or abilities. He was not only a competent communicator before the crowds but a skilled trainer within his inner circle. Modern-day church leaders can learn how to engage transformational leadership by conversing, modelling, equipping, delegating, and empowering. Our bible school curriculum and often our preaching caters mainly for equipping people for the five-fold ministry when a larger part of the church is called into other sectors of society. Thus, they remain ill-equipped to effectively lead in secular spheres like the Joseph’s or Esther’s of our times.  The law of competence shows us, To Lead, You Must Touch Hearts With Compassion.

6) Clarity of PurposeJesus had eagle vision (John 6:38, 17:4, Luke 19:10).

In the kingdom, leaders cannot lead by having a high definition visual of what and where? The elements of vision and clarity are indispensable! Jesus was clear about His Father’s directives, to the point of dying for it. Jesus came with an agenda that extended beyond redeeming man but redeeming the earth. It is not likely that one hears a leader empowering others not only for eternal life but how to live effectively as God’s stewards on earth. The law of clarity shows us, To Lead, You Must Have A Holistic Vision to Develop People.

7) CredibilityJesus had a magnetic pull (Matthew 4:18–22,  Luke 5:1–11).

 In the kingdom, leaders cannot full God’s agenda without credibility. There is no question that one does not need to be credible to have a crowd but to have the impact that Jesus had, it requires credibility! How can leaders build credibility? Based on Dr Watson’s analysis, church leadership must focus on relationship authenticity,  purity, consistency, inspiring hope,  loving people, teaching with authority, modelling kingdom culture, leaning on God’s power, pursuing excellence, empowering leaders, operating in truth and doing the impossible! The law of credibility shows us, To Lead, You Must Have Fruit.

 

Transformational Strategies and ministry focus of Jesus and Paul.

Unless one understands that leadership is not about breath but depth, not much distinction can be traced between authentic Christ-centred leadership and worldly styled leadership. The modern-day church is obsessed with reaching the masses, “the lost at any cost” is a phrase that I think needs urgent reevaluation. At what cost are we actually referring to? Sure, there is nothing wrong with larger auditoriums, TV and social media ministry with the aim of expanding a leader’s influence (Hyatt, 2010). But when the prevalent “hyper styled evangelistic” or “materialistic centred-gospel” leadership is measured back to the leadership canonicity of Jesus, Paul and Peter, is breath all there is to leadership? Is “success” all there is to leadership?

Michael Hyatt and Dr Bert Watson, outlines some transformative leadership fundamentals between Jesus and Paul that we can contrast to the leadership in the church.

Leadership starts with self.

Self-leadership precedes team leadership and public influence (Hyatt, 2010). Jesus displayed a vibrant personal prayer life with His Father. Him defeating temptation in the wilderness when no one was there watching is a sign of the quality of character.  Paul was head-bent around his calling. He managed His life and ministry accordingly. The Pauline writings are distinguished by Christology and Pneumatology. Revealing the depth of Paul’s fellowship with Christ and the Spirit through the Word. It was from this place, Paul led, and set the example for others to emulate.

Today, many leaders have little concept of self-leadership, that is rooted in a deep experiential relationship with Christ and the Spirit. They can’t even arrive on time for a meeting. Their “disciples” are more head-bent around them and their church branding than Jesus and His Kingdom.

Leadership is relationship.

Jesus and Paul both practised what I refer to as the 1, 3, 12, 60 principles. They occasionally spoke to the crowds (60) but their focus was on smaller groups, including individuals (12, 3, 1). Teaching and reaching many, discipline and training a few approaches (Watson, 2019) was an essential key to transformative leadership. The lasting impact that each of their disciples had, long after Jesus and Paul were no longer present, is evident in the effectiveness of this strategy.  Personally, this has strategy has given me great hope and determination to not only continue to. concentrate on smaller key leaders but to adopt the “4H” holistic method of development (Watson, 2019).

 

Why Peter’s Leadership touches me? 

I think am a lot like Peter and a lot not like him. I have no formal education, but like Peter, I’m blessed with natural leadership abilities.  The story that always struck me a Peter was when he walked on water.

Most of my life and ministry,  metaphorically, has been a series of walking on water, purely based on what I’ve heard Jesus say to me. Having been a first-generation Christian, from Roman Catholic, I can also identify with Peter, who was the first in his family to follow Christ from Judaism. Usually, the first generation pays the dearest price for laying the foundation for the next to follow.

Still, the love for the Lord, and His will,  word and people that I see in the life of Peter is the spiritual fuel that keeps my engine running.

 

Work Cited

  1. Price, Reynolds. 1999. “Jesus at 2000.” Time Magazines, Dec 1999

    http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,992745,00.html

  2. Hyatt, Michael. 2010 (24 March). “The Leadership Strategy of Jesus.” Michael Hyatt. http://michaelhyatt.com/the-leadership-strategy-of-jesus.html
  3. Watson, Bert. 2019. PRA1124 Biblical Leadership Study Guide (ver. 4.3). Johannesburg: South African Theological Seminary.

My wife in the kitchen coordinating her other priorities strikes me as leadership. President Volodymyr Zelensky driving his courageous historical stance against the nationalistic tyranny of Putinism (Washington Times, 2007) struck the globe as leadership!

Characteristics that strike as most important for ministry  

Doubtless, there are more interpretations and characteristics of leadership than there are shades of grey. Matt Barney’s definition, “Leadership is the behaviour that brings the future to the present, by envisioning the possible and persuading others to help you make it a reality” – now this strikes me! (Newman, 2007). As a pretext, may I include a concise observation as a precedent, to why Barney’s definition intrigues me?

In the modern church, sure enough, the rapid numerical growth has by far superseded her spiritual maturity. David Cousins (2008), stated that “many church leaders today do not focus on the equipping of all church members for service but focus on those who can help them in building their own ministry agendas.” Massive auditoriums, larger following snapping up everywhere… but how does this “growth” measure up against indexes of societal transformation? Here are a few social indexes by which the Church has limited the Great Commission in, the political and economic transformation indicators, the remedy for the polarization between denominations, the healing from the corrosion of the family structure, the reversal of the doctrinal illiteracy of the Church, the building of an apologetical defence against the infiltration of postmodernism within our ranks, the growth of spiritual immaturity and worldliness that exist in the church, etc. It is possible to have some of the largest churches in a city, yet still, have the least transformed city? I think an honest introspective analysis is required. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the Church’s strength and relevance. The President deemed the Church as a “nonessential,” shouldn’t all this beg the question: what is the church missing? We observe the lessons from the European Church. Large empty cathedrals, together with the practical non-existence of Christianity in Europe, strongly should suggest that the Gospel mission is not locked in building beautiful edifices. Exegetically, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (2010) highlights that the keys to effective evangelism and nation impact is not in numbers, but in “growing people” or developing Christ-centered leadership both within the clergy and laymen. I believe urgent dialogue is required, pointing out “growing people” means what exactly, “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” means what exactly?

On a personal level, as a visionary leader of a local church, with a heart for apostolic transformation, Barney’s definition intrigues me the most. His definition highlights the leadership of the “tension” that exists between what the leader “sees” (future) and the reality of what is happening (present) and the tension to align the people and resources to God’s agenda, to accommodate the needed transformation, to facilitate greater kingdom impact.

What kind of leadership is evident in most churches and ministry today? 

The late American political-historian and leadership expert, James MacGregor Burns, outstandingly contrasted the theory of leadership across the ages, from ancient times to modern-day context. Burns stated on leadership, saying, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth” (Barns 2012, 2). Burns, speaking from a secular perspective, mentioned that there is a reservoir of data and analysis and theories that have developed but there is no central leadership concept that has emerged (Barns 2012, 3). Willis Newman’s definition (2007) noted, “The uniqueness of Christian leadership is that the entire process happens within the will, plan, priorities and purpose of Almighty God as revealed in the Bible and is grounded and operates under the lordship of Jesus Christ.” In observing the biblical interpretation of the theory of leadership clearly, the Christian perspective is clear!

As one clarifies and defines Newman’s definition, as a consideration on how the church could align herself more to the biblical mandate, one could include the following observations;

First, biblical leaders do not seek to further their own purposes. Nor do they seek to move people toward the fulfilment of their own vision. By contrast, how of what we observe in the vision of the modern church, is the Great Commission and how much is just growing your “customer base”? How much of the strategy is to reach the world and produce organic growth through the power of the Spirit, compared to just merely recruiting Christians from other denominations in the name of revival or church growth?

Second, biblical leaders are submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ and seek to glorify God in all that they do. By contrast, has the rise of the gusty modern Church culture, who seems totally fine with soaking up the spotlight and getting the lion’s share of the glory, while leaving Jesus as only a runner-up, miss the plot?

Third, biblical leaders embrace God-given goals as described in scripture and seek to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. By contrast, how much of the Acts 1:8-Holy Spirit-lead-ability has been replaced with entertainment and theatrics as a means to cure the unregenerate nature of man, as opposed to “preaching the word” and relying on the Spirit’s power to save, heal and set people free, both within the wall and without? Consider the scriptural mandate to feed both “my sheep and lamb”, to preach both “the meat and the milk of the Word” as a goal to confront and challenge, intending to mature God’s people. Yet, when the Word is watered down, often to prevent offence and accommodate church growth and appease an anti-Christian culture. Has the modern church moved away from its biblical goals?

Fourth, biblical leaders respect the wisdom of heavenly strategies and methods and also recognise the importance of context and culture. On the contrary, the respect for the Word and Spirit-empowered ministry has been lost, as mentioned in the previous point. How often does one hear the pulpit address cultural and racial nepotism within its ranks, including other external issues such as LGBT, abortion, political corruption, religious pluralism, etc…? Perhaps the church is culturally irrelevant? This is clear in the massive exodus of our young people from Christianity to atheism.

 

Biblical verses secular leaders

The difference between biblical and secular leadership is poles apart. One is driven by kingdom ambition, the other by selfish ambition. Yet, it seems that most people, Christians alike, don’t seem to understand the differences.

Bill Lawrence’s grid specifies six traits that distinguish spiritual and secular leadership.

One, Lawrence outlines the most fundamental trait of leadership MOTIVATION. Why do you want to be a leader? Lawrence’s point out a stumbling block for the Christian who adopts a secular motive for leading. Represented by terms such as self-promotion, striving for first place and so forth (Mark 10:35-45). The problem with this approach, there is already a Number One! Jesus Christ has already taken First place (Philippians 2:9). Today, many leaders define their prominence by how many followers they have under them. I often wonder how many of them would surrender their “busy schedules” to reach out and serve the least among them? Jesus often dislodged from the company of the great, such as Zaccheus, to serve Lazarus, who was the least, without great publicity.

Two, Lawrence states that spiritual leadership differs from secular leadership in PURPOSE! It is not merely sufficient to define a leader as “someone who knows where he’s going and can get others to follow him.” Even the Devil knows where he is going! Biblical leadership is distinguished in its purpose, and here’s why it requires the leader to know where the Lord is going and relentlessly works to get others to follow him as he follows the Lord (1987).

Howard G. Hendricks, helps us to understand that such a leader knows what to do because the Bible tells him so and can do it because the Holy Spirit enables him to do so (1982).

Three, Lawrence helps us to undertand another variant between spiritual and secular leadership, PERSPECTIVE. Or perspective on people. Titles and positions are not a privilege but sacrifice. At least Jesus concludes leadership as a sacrifice (Mark 9:35). In today’s Church, it is difficult to find a leader who is willing to make an investment in anything without it first advancing his agenda. I wonder what Mother Teresa would say about this?

Four, biblical leaders are PRACTITIONERS. They practice both the office and work of the ministry through servanthood. When I think of a worldly practitioner, such a doctor. Even though he serves the people, he does it at a fee. A biblical practitioner is not driven by any earthly incentive. He is a servant of the Lord. This means sacrificial service marks his leadership, under the same authority as the Lord Jesus Christ. The concept of servant leadership may gain more traction in the world, but it is first a biblical concept.

Five, biblical leaders are driven by SIGNIFICANCE. Although Newman uses the word success, I feel more comfortable with the word significance. Almost anyone can be successful, but not everyone attains significance. Success affects your life, but significantly affects the lives of others. Success is all about you. Significance is about others. You cannot live a life of significance without serving or helping others. Secular leadership is obsessed with success. Spiritual leaders are obsessed with serving others.

Six, biblical leaders are driven by two the R’s. Recognition of heaven and by rewards both natural and eternal. Secular leadership loves the honour of man and is content only with earthly rewards. Paul says we do it for a crown that perishes not!

 

Work Cited

  1. Bennett, David W., ed. 2004. “A Call to Develop Christ-like Leaders.” Lausanne Occasional Paper, no. 41. Lausanne Committee for World.
  2. Cousins D, 2008, Experiencing Leadershift, Colorado Springs USA, David C. Cook Publishers.
  3. Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 2010. “
  4. James Macgregor Burns, 2003. Transformational Leadership. USA: Library of Congress in Cataloging in. Publication Data.
  5. Howard G Hendricks, Private conversation with Howard G Hendrick.
  6. Washington times, 2007. “Putanism” The Washington times, 20 September 2007. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2007/sep/20/putinism/ (L

Introduction

Once more civilization finds herself resurfacing into the bigotry culture of relativism absent from moral objectivity, hence the intention of this blog is an attempt to answer the question, how did the Church of Jesus Christ, the custodians of God’s revelation of reality, allow this to happen on Her watch? As we reflect upon the purpose stated in Kevin G. Smith’s book, A Practical Guide to Biblical Ethics, undoubtedly a valuable book written to address several important factors, for instance, the reasons for the moral dilemma in the world and a Church that behaves accordingly (Smith 2012). Smith, specifically focuses on challenging Christians and pastors to reconsider the philosophical necessity of having a sound biblical worldview. Which he argues is Her answer to internal cohesion and relevance and for believers to make sense out of reality (Smith 2012).  Another object is to consider that even with the exponential growth of evangelical Christianity, one would think by now we’d be experiencing a cultural revolution and that secular values would be diminishing in its influence? Our endless prayer meetings, countless responses to our modern-day Charles Finney styled “alter calls” and still the question we asking despite the presence and growth of evangelical Christianity, why have we hardly caused a ripple in secular culture (David 1993, 295)?  Could the “miles wide but an inch deep” reality of the Church’s intellectual inability to make sense out of reality be hindering the Church’s witness?

1.   Truths To Consider

In this section, I’d like to discuss three truths I’ve learnt in Smith’s book,  A Practical Guide to Biblical Ethics and explore why I believe these truths are most expedient for the Church to yield to.

Worldviews shape behaviour

There is no question that (your) mentality determines (your) reality (Proverbs 23:7), on top of this, Smith points out that reality determines morality (Smith 2012).  That is to say that how we behave is determined by what we believe or think.  If we ask the question, what is reality? We may answer that reality is the lens we use by which we make sense of life or existence. This lens is important because we’ve learnt that it defines our worldview. Our worldview is important because it shapes our behaviour (Smith 2012).

Component of a worldview

We’ve learnt that whether people realise it or not, everyone has a worldview, yet, not everyone’s worldview is sound.  Adopting the matrix of what makes for a sound worldview by both Ronald Nash and Glen Martin, I’ve learnt that whatever your religious presuppositions may be, one cannot merely assume what one believes about reality is true.  A sound worldview must answer or argue with a statement and premise, concluding in a truth claim which best argues (Isa 1:18) the facts at hand (Moreland 2017, 168), based in the following basic questions of: Origin – the origin, nature, role and destiny of both universe and mankind; Ethics – how life is structured; and Knowledge – how do we know what we know (Smith 2012).

Three main ways Christians use to gain knowledge

I’ve learnt that we all are entitled to our viewpoint but every viewpoint must be substantiated by the simple question “how did you come to that conclusion”?  How do we warrant what we believe or disbelieve (Moreland 2017, 175)? There are three ways Christians learn.  In order of importance, they are Revelation, Reason and Experience (Smith 2012).  Of course, the Atheist deifies reason while rejecting revelation, the seen above the unseen, the free above the pre-determined (Moreland 2017, 435).    The Biblical Christian understands that God Himself is the source of truth and reality, the seen and the unseen (2 Cor 4:18, cf. Heb 9:11).

 

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2.   Questions I Have

We’ve uncovered the shocking reality of precisely how few Christians have a biblical worldview, as Smith mentions, as he further cites Barna’s shocking states which say that only 50 per cent of pastors and only nine per cent of Christians living in America live their lives consistent with the “why” the Bible describes. Evangelical Christianity is growing, yet when this impact is measured against social transformation indicators and cultural impact, the Church has not even caused a ripple.   The question then begs: even if only half of pastors or one-tenth of Christians hold a biblical worldview, how is it possible for the same to still maintain a liberal worldview? How can one hold a biblical worldview and still vote for a political party that has endorsed nonbiblical values?  How is it that we host national prayer meetings, large evangelical crusades, extend endless altar calls, pray for God’s will to prevail, invite the lost to forsake the kingdom of darkness for the Kingdom of light but still, vote for the values of darkness or live like the world? A recent example that illustrates this is the Trump and Biden elections which caused much division within the Church.  Trump may not have been diplomatic and perfect but his political views were closer to biblical values than Biden’s, whose endorsed abortion and same-sex marriage.  In South Africa, it is not uncommon for the Church to stand with political parties who have anti-biblical agendas.  One could ask, how are such double standards possible and where do we begin to fix this?

3.   Changed My Thinking

The ultimate goal of the Scriptures is to equip us for good works (Eph 2:10).   If God is the source ( 2 Pet 1:21) and the four functions serve to guide us in our decisions and in helping us decide right from wrong (2 Tim 3:16-17), then Scriptures provide us with an authoritative source about reality. God tells us what is true.  He then shows us how to live.  Paul used the same approach in his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians.  He first focuses on theology and then on practice.  Again one observes that. what one believes determines how one behaves (Smith 2012).

Conclusion

Due to the compromise of the inability to define reality within the Church, we are seeing the cultural re-emergence of first-century Roman-Greco beliefs intensify its opposing views and ridicule Christian values.  We are seeing the Bride oscillate between the impact of seventeenth-century intellectual liberalism (Enlightenment) and Her centuries of old and distasteful dogmatism and legalism as she grows deeper and deeper, decade after decade, in irrelevance and weakens in unity, mainly due to the absence of unified biblical worldviews.  We sense the urgency for Christians and pastors to reconsider the question of “what is reality”, using the Bible as the only lens of interpretation.

 

Works Cited

  1. David F. Wells 1993. No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?  United States: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.  
  2. Moreland JP., and William L. Craig, eds. 2017. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Illinois: IVP Academic Intervarsity Press.
  3. Smith, G Kevin. 2014. A Practical Guide to Biblical Ethics. South Africa: South African Theological Seminary.

 

 

Upon completion of this writing, I intend to explore several essential considerations.  First is to look outwardly, to examine the opinions of friends on the thought, “who they say God is during this pandemic.”

Introduction

Upon completion of this assignment, I intend to explore several essential considerations.  First is to look outwardly, to examine the opinions of friends on the thought, “who they say God is during this pandemic.” This followed by my reflections on the right hand of God’s sovereignty, over the Coronavirus pandemic, in a manner that does not free humanity from their stewardship responsibilities. Moreover, this assignment explores one of the many examples from the Scriptures, where God’s sovereignty overrides man’s disobedience; on this account, God holds the final say in spacetime. The final intention is to defend the integrity of God on the “Achilles Heel” argument of the atheist, on the question, “If God does exist, then why does evil (pandemics)”.

1.   Interpreting Reality Through the Eyes of Others

Everyone has an opinion and social media made this increasingly obvious. People usually take their cues from others, we noticed the “panic buying” of toilet paper and sanitizers which occurred earlier during the outbreak which was followed by the irresponsible lack of ‘social distancing” including picture sharing on Instagram, etc, All this revealed how social media has shaped the fears and responses of people, as Alejandro De Lenga Garza said, journalist for Times, New York (Garza 2021).  It’s a right to have an opinion, but it is a tragedy to have an opinion that is inconsistent with logic, reality or more simply stated, God’s word. Depending on one’s worldview, my views as a Christian could sound intolerant and narrow-minded but one cannot deny its rationality –the foundation by which my faith stands.  It is an accepted fact that how one believes with regard to the questions of Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny control the way we live (Smit 2015).  This is especially true as the world tries to make sense out of the recent Coronavirus pandemic.

 

It was a pleasure to discuss the views of friends on the question “Who do the people say God is during this global crisis?”  The following three questions help us to understand the lenses by which they filter the current pandemic.

 

Question 1: Where is God amidst this crisis – is He still sovereign over this Corona Virus? Question 2: Why is this happening – is God punishing people?

 

Question 3: What does it say about God, that a virus like COVID-19 exists?
Dr Deloris Thomas (PhD) Yes, God is in the midst of the crisis. We hear of His miraculous works of healing and restoration. God is sovereign as he was in biblical times of famines and plagues. God is love. Plagues happen because we live in a fallen world. God promises those who believe in him that he will preserve them. God still existed when satan tempted Eve. He still existed when plagues and famines covered the earth. The question is what does it say about humanity and less about what it says about God.
Dr Shenley Redlinghuis  (D.Min) Emphatically “Yes”. God has already defeated every infirmity and disease & indisposition. Where is God “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

 

I am not sure! Perhaps corona virus has come as a measuring rod of chastisement and correction.  Perhaps we have ignored the warning signs. The Bible teaches us that God’s wrath is preceded by a warning so that people have the opportunity to repent. Perhaps the impending depravity of sin & wickedness of man’s heart are contributing factors. Perhaps in part we are witnessing the apotheosis /culmination of the prophetic timeline coming into fruition.

 

The scriptures confirm that God is never caught off guard concerning the affairs of man. I sense that Covid 19, reminds us that God is ever-present and the call to return back to rectitude is upon us.

 

Mr Denzel Chetty In the midst of this crisis, we have seen many people healed, we have seen many people that have been protected from the virus through God. However, we have also seen many faithful people die by the virus, that does not take away the sovereignty of God over the Corona virus, but rather asserts God’s will for humanity. No, to label the Corona Virus has a punishment from God, immediately calls into question all the faithful people that have been infected or died. By labeling the Corona Virus a punishment from God, it takes away the God of the New Testament as being merciful, it also hinders negatively on the theology of ultimate atonement. God allows us to rule the earth as per scripture, however, this does not mean that God is not present. God allows certain things to occur due to freedom of will. God can use any situation, even Covid-19 to bring about a fresh revelation of who He is. Personally, Covid-19 has seen a God who we kept within closed Church doors on a Sunday, extend beyond that into communities, into families, and even into those homes of non-believers who out of urgency called upon Him.

 

Analysing some of the feedback through the three main ways Christians discover the truth. Namely, Revelation, Reason and Experience, narrowed down by the two ways biblical Christians discover the truth, namely the Word of God and Christ (Smith 2015), one cannot fault the feedback on the basis of any theological fallacy. As much as these pocket-size answers magnify some very important-Character-of-God’s love and goodness, they allude also to the axis between God’s goodness (holiness) and God’s remunerative justice (Thiessen 1949). If it is beyond God to make a law and not follow through when it’s violated, then we can not make better sense of God’s punitive justice –the infliction of punishment for violating the laws of God (Gen 2:7; Rom 1:32; 2:8; 2 Thes 1:8); (85). There are at least five categories of “God’s justice” is mentioned by Cook (2019).

Another part of divine justice I wish to refer to is God’s “remunerative justice.” The tendency is to lean towards the punitive justice of God and not the remunerative justice of God is very unsavoury.  While the world has stepped far out of line concerning God’s commandments, invoking God’s “specific judgment” (Piper 2020, 69), which must be met (Thiessen 1949), but what about the faithful compared to those who are unfaithful?   If God rewards obedience with the same as disobedience, what is the point of being obedient?  Shouldn’t the same right hand of God’s justice be equally swift to reward and distinguish the faithful–remunerative justice? (Isa 2:2; Matt 5:14; Rom 8:28; James 1:1-3; 1 John 5:4; Ehp 5:27).

2.   Interpreting Reality Through My Eyes

a.   Where is God amidst this crisis – is He still sovereign over the Corona Virus?

Pharaoh responded in defiance, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go” (Exo 5:2). Well, he soon discovered God’s retributive justice (Deut 32:35; 2 The 1:6-7a), a divinely administered just punishment to the wicked for their actions, Cook (2019).  God administered ten plagues to judge Pharaoh’s pride and uprooted His people from bondage to forge ahead into destiny. God’s general will reigned sovereign despite the wickedness of man and the disobedience of His covenant people. Amidst all the cataphoric drama, God was in perfect control, with a remnant at his beck and call (1 Kings 19:18; Ezk 9:4-6; Rev 7:3-8).

As we fast-forward to 31 December 2019, according to WHO, when the coronavirus disease was first reported from Wuhan, China, followed by its current catastrophic global effects. If we ask the question, where is God? A biblical Christian must find the courage to believe that He is still a solid rock, we can stand on right amid these uncertain times (Piper 2020). This rock, like Piper, further adds, “it is not fragile, it is not sand… it is not reserved for the by-and-by.., he is the rock under my feet now!” (15).

b.   Why is this happening – is God punishing people?

The question “is God punishing people?” is a difficult one. If we were alive in ancient Athens or Rome and the Covid-19 pandemic struck, I would imagine that the song of the city would be something like “we’ve angered the gods, or we hadn’t offered the right sacrifices,” as Piper stated it. In stark contrast, first-century Christianity came as a breath of fresh air. Outside of the Church and the faith, the concept of mercy had no cultural or religious foundation (Piper 2020). Quoting from Spark’s work, The Triumphant of Christianity, Piper shows how God’s love extended to all who needed it in the ancient world (91), especially during times of national disasters such as famines and plagues. As the wealthy in fear fled to the mountains for safety, Christians took a more radical stance. What did they do? They took to the streets to offer help. This helps reframe the taunting question from, Why? “Why has God allowed this to happen?” To the rather more central, What? What can we do during this time of crisis? (9). When people are thinking about their mortality and frailty of life (Psm 39:4), which is a far cry from a hedonistically self-revolving life. Then perhaps we have this moment to respond to the invitation of a groaning all creation and manifest as the sons of God (Rom 8:22), His love, truth and mercy to a world that needs it?

One side to the question of punishment is yes. The other perspective is to see it as “purification”, not as a punishment or condemnation (Piper 2020). This notion was shared among my leadership early last year; as a Pastor, like many others, one was trying to make sense out of this crisis. The purification that the Lord spoke to me about included the kind that will start from the pulpit. He talked to me about “theological purification.”

c.    What does it say about God, that a virus like COVID-19 exists?

If all things were created by him and for him (Col 1:16), God reserves the right to use anything to bring His will to pass, including a virus. However, could the “coronavirus outbreak, as in all other calamities, be a physical picture of the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of God-belittling sin?” (Pipier 2020).  Could the ten plagues be a sign of the physical judgment for violating the ten moral laws or commandments of God? In the same way, God gave Pharaoh a chance to turn his heart to Him, could it be that God is doing the same to a wayward, defying and arrogant world today (65)? Death through sin ultimately is the reason for all suffering and misery. We have a broken world as a result of the first Adam’s disobedience (Rom 5:12). Everything God created was “good” (Gen 1:32).

 

Unfortunately, by the result of man’s disobedience, creation has been subject in God’s punitive justice to futility, bondage, corruption (Rom 8:20-22).  Still, for those who us in Christ, we are exempt from condemnation (Rom 8:1). Therefore, purification is not condemnation (64); purification is prioritisation for the believer (Matt 6:33, 22:37). But God’s dealings with a depraved world require a different approach. The depraved is not seeking or thinking about God. They do not lose sleep for not praying or not tithing or defying God (66), but they do feel pain and fear and anxieties. Therefore through a world that is already subject to futility and corruption, God could use the Cov-19 virus as He has the Ten Plagues to humble the proud and bring many to repentance in our day (Psm 136:8; Matt 23:12; James 4:6). Are we ready as the Church? Are we prepared to come in through the gate of the sheepfold, the front door (John 10:7), through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not conspiracy theories to obey the “what” found in the Great Mission (Matt 28:19)?

Conclusion

  In summary, we have seen how God historically moved sovereignly over man’s disobedience and always had a remanent reserved such a Joseph, Moses, Daniel, who did not bow to gods, but served God’s will, regardless. Finally, on the question of the existence of evil, God stands blameless and justified. All misery and pain entered through sin, yet even in man’s most depraved state, God is still the lifesaver reaching out to rescue whosoever would believe.

 

Work Cited

  1. Cook, Stephen R. 2019. “The Theological Categories of God’s Justice.” Thinking on Scriptures, 16 November 2019. https://thinkingonscripture.com/2019/11/16/theological-categories-of-gods-justice/ (Links to an external s 
  2.  De LA Garza, Alejandro. 2020. “How Social Media Is Shaping our Fears Of –and Response to­ –the Coronavirus .” Times, 16 March 2020. https://time.com/5802802/social-media-coronavirus/
  3. Piper, John. 2020. “Coronavirus and Christ.” Illinois: Crossway publishers.
  4. Smith, Kevin G. 2015. “Essential Theological Resources.” Johannesburg: South Africa Theological Seminary.
  5. Thiessen, Henry C. 1949. Lectures in Systematic Theology, edited by Vernon D. Doerksen, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  6. Wright, Tom N. 2019. God and the Pandemic. Britain: Ashford Colour Press. eBook ISBN 978–0–281–08512–5

Are our seminaries perhaps filled with young students ambitious for the pulpit, who regard talent over theology? Could the same concern be a reality among the more mature in years, pastors who may regard theological training as a sterile exercise? What about the many naïve, supercilious Christians who fill the pews who boast that “loving Jesus is all that matters” to secure a vibrant, meaningful Christian life?

Introduction

In this essay, I will help the enquirer rediscover the value of theology. I will expound on important definitions, explain the nature and need of theology. I will discuss some misconceptions and how to avoid the pitfalls of studying theology.  Whether one gobbles it up like a burger or savour it like a seven-course meal, just like any good food, theology, if prepared with the right heart, can nourish our faith, strengthen our minds, help us speak prophetically into our generation and intensify our love for Christ.

1. Analysing Smith’s Theological Thoughts

1.1. The nature of theology

R.C Sproul presents an encyclopaedic line of reasoning on what I think is the purpose of theology, “a true Christian university is committed to the premise that the ultimate truth is the truth of God, and that He is the foundation and source of all other truth” (Sproul 2004, 3). In other words everything we learn in the academic disciplines of humanities and sciences (economics, philosophy, biology, mathematics, sociology) has to be understood in light of the overarching reality of the character of God (2004, 4).  If we presuppose God and his word as ultimate truth, and the “bible is God’s revelation of reality” (Smith 2013), then Sproul and Smith both make an apotheose claim – why we need to rediscover the value of theology.  Until the era of Enlightenment – the rise of modern scientific thought, during the high Middle Ages – theology was heralded as the “Queen of Sciences” (Zakai 2007).  Theology spoke authoritatively over nature and science.  This can be seen in the life and work of three forerunners of modern scientific thought —Nicolas Copernicus (1473–1543), Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), and Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) [127].

What is theology? According to K.G Smith, “theology is the study of God” (Smith 2013). The term theology is a combination of two Greek words, the prefix, theos, meaning “God” and the suffix, logos, meaning, “word”. In its simplest form, theology is ‘a word about God’ [p. 18]. Sproul and Smith shares the same sentiment about the shared suffix, –ology, which is shared with the names of many disciplines and sciences, such as biologyphysiology, archaeology, anthropology and technology (Sproul 2004, 4; Smith 2013, 18). It is remarkable that the suffix, comes from the Greek word logos, which we find in the opening of John’s gospel (John 1:1). Albeit a borrowed term, which harks back at least to the 6th-century-BC, to philosopher Heraclitus (Britannica 2021), Sproul expands and explains logos to mean “word” or “idea”. He also claims that one philosopher translated it as “logic” – it is also the term from which we get the English word logic (Sproul 2004, 4). So, we could deduce, theology, is the study of the logics of God (Smith 2013), or the field of study where God is the object of inquiry [p. 18].

Following this etymological foundation, I think it is important to add that the term “theology” is ambidextrous. For instance, Smith, in a refreshing way, affirms that we can obtain knowledge about God’s being, essence, nature and purposes through two main channels: (1) God’s revelation and (2) people’s faith.  Therefore, we can define [p. 18] “theology as the systematic study of divine revelation and human faith.”

1) Theology is the systematic study of divine revelation

If our chief task is to study revelations of God and his truth, which provides a basis for a coherent and meaningful world view and if the scriptures (Old and New Testament) “logos” is the written form of God’s special revelation, then people’s faith takes a secondary position.  One John 1:2-3 and Ephesians 1:9 tells us that God has revealed himself and his plan to us, elucidating Smith’s statement that “we can know God because he has chosen to reveal himself and his truth”.  The scriptures also confirms the supremacy of Christ. The Son is the apex of God’s revelation, “ but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-3), and in whom “God revealed himself most fully and finally through in the words and works” (Smith 2013, 18).Then the task of a sound theologian is to discern what God has revealed about himself, through a Christological lens, concerning His nature, will and purposes. This must also be followed by one more important function of theology –restating this reality back into our context [19].

Since God’s revelation is recorded in scripture, the branches of theology, namely “biblical studies” and “systematic theology” [19], aid in the study of God’s revelation more directly. Although correct in asserting this, I think that the other branches such as “church history”; “missiology” and “systemics” could provide us with insight into God’s truths.  Still for the avid lover of God’s word, interpreting doctrine, systematising doctrine and contextualising these principles of scripture in our lives provides us with the exciting task of understanding God and his word better.

2) Theology is the systematic study of human faith

A wise theologian understands theology extends beyond systematising and contextualising doctrine from the scriptures. The subdiscipline of Church history and practical theology which involves horizontal inquiry. For instance, “studying a particular faith tradition’s origin, history, beliefs, and practices” [19], can help us discern God’s will for their context. The same is true for us today. Therefore, we cannot be restricted exclusively to the study of the scriptures without considering the context. This begs the question, how contextually sensitive is our theology in this Postmodern world?

Clearly, human faith has a function. Historical theology enables us to discern God’s will in the horizontal context of the past [p. 20].  Practical theology is the belief and practice of God’s people in the present. Both sub-disciplines are useful tools to help us systematise revelation in the context of human faith.

However, in Evangelical theology, divine revelation (special and natural) stands canonical over human faith for understanding God’s nature, will, and purposes. Human intervention is not infallible or speaks from the “seat of Peter”, which is evidently observed in church controversies and heresies. Therefore, the task of divine revelation precedes people’s faith as the primary means of discernment. Therefore, the “chief aim” of sound theology, is to then first ask, “God, what are you saying”? and secondly “God how can it be interpreted into my context”? The secondary aim involves contemporary analysis [p. 21]. or, contextual sensitivity, which ensures we are faithful to translate God’s truth with relevance (practical theology). In the words of Anselm, who beautifully captured the discipline of practical theology as,  “faith seeking understanding”.

 

The practice of medicine is proof - the doctor does not entirely understand medicine. The practice of theology is proof; the theologian does not completely understand God Click To Tweet

1.2 The goal and task of theology

Smith says, “theology is the quest of those who know God to know God” [p.21]. Perhaps, it is better to say; theology is the quest of those who know God to know God better. Most scholars agree that God is not completely incomprehensible, neither is he completely comprehensible. The finite human mind cannot comprehend the infinite God fully. The practice of medicine is proof – the doctor does not entirely understand medicine. The practice of theology is proof; the theologian does not completely understand God. Still, the goal in theology is to learn about God, to discern his will for our generation and beyond, through the help of the Spirit, the scriptures and in community so we may serve him more faithfully (Acts 13:36).   

 The task of theology [p.21] Smith says, has many implications and they can be summarized as the following:

  • God-focus –theology is relational and doxological [p. 23];
  • Bible-based–the revelation of God to man [p. 25];
  • Christ-centred –the supreme revelation of God and his will [p. 26];
  • Spirit-led–the Holy Spirit is the author and illuminator of scriptures [p. 29];
  • Mission-minded –the overarching purpose of God’s will[30];
  • Historically informed –we reflect on the past to inform the present and the future [p. 22];
  • Context-sensitive–theology is both contextually influenced and orientated [p. 33];
  • Practically-oriented–theology inspires personal living (obedience) and right serving (public ministry) [p. 34];
  • Scientifically plausible –the scriptures are God’s revelation of reality [p. 35];
  • Branches of theology–theologies sub-branches, enables us to understand divine revelation [p. 39].

Theology, then, is not a haphazard bible study. It is the systematisation of God’s revelation and contextualising of people’s faith. Its goal is to restate the implications of God’s revelation for our context, so that we might believe and live in a way that is faithful to God’s will [p. 22].

1.3 The method of theology

If God is the object of inquiry in theology, as we have discovered, how than can one practically do theology?  According to Smith, scholars such as Don Browning, J. Andre Cowans, Gerben Heitink and David Tracy use four essential means to inquire what God and faith are. These words are widely used in their literature: hermeneutical, critical, correlational, and dialogical (Browning, 1993). In the most basic sense, we;

  1. Interpret–into the five subdisciplines to holistically acquire insight (Smith 2013);
  2. Evaluate–we re-examine and re-evaluate our insight and interpretations of Christian texts, beliefs, practices; in other words, we become critical (1 The 5:21);
  3. Discuss–we enter dialogue with other experts on the subject (Prov 27:17);
  4. Compare–we examine how the eternal truth should change our context and how our context shapes the way we interpret God’s word.

These four actions apply to the branches of theology, to help us to discourse with God and apply the implication to our context.

 

Theology’s North Star Click To Tweet

2. Smith’s vision vs. popular misconceptions

It is understandable when sceptics outside of the church maintain a negative attitude about God and his revelations, but it is extremely concerning when the church distains theology (2 Tim 2:14). It is not uncommon within the academic arena to hear theology defined as “systematically articulated superstitious” or within liberal society as “the drag queen of science”. Very often, these proponents against God are unsubstantiated claims or mere theories.

Disconcerting as all this may be, we are not surprised that the world does not consider belief in God or any supernatural being as necessary. Smith (2015) informs us that “negative experience” (e.g, in church, family or university) usually relates to way people would adopt an atheistic, anti-theistic, even a shallow and non-scholarly regard for God’s revelation.  Another factor within Christians is bad theology – another reason why even Church leaders have negative attitudes towards the discipline of theological studies. Tim Keller makes the point that we all do theology all the time. If we don’t learn to “do it right,” we shall propagate heresy without knowing it, even when sincerely desiring God.  Truth is one of the absolute passions of true ministry—in a church or a preacher. Love of truth is one of the earmarks of the true man or woman of God—truth is their integrity (Anderson 2004: 130-131). RC Sproul said, “Unless we know God deeply, we cannot love Him deeply. Deepening knowledge must proceed deepening affection”. Unless we know the power and value of biblical and practical theology, how can one know God deeply?

Good theology is a transformative, empowering love affair with Jesus Christ.

 

The North Star of theology; keep it Bible-based, Christ centred, Holy Spirit inspired, and mission-minded. Click To Tweet

3. Personal implications of Smith’s vision

I regret not learning theology sooner.  The good news, though, is that in recent years, my desire to understand it (informally) has exposed me to some of the greats and now with SATS (formally), from the patristic period to the immensely innovative middles ages, to our contemporary thinkers, including Kevin G. Smith. Truth is essential, along with others who carry the holy burden, to guard it and prevent it from being deluded by error, making it a turning point to analyse Smith’s version of theology. To simplify it, one would not know how to start without a “clear vision”, and it is easy to forget what I would like to call my new north star of theology, keep it Bible-based, Christ centred, Holy Spirit inspired, and mission-minded. One more important thing, to prevent serving theology itself, but rather the object of theology, who is Christ himself (Segal, 2015) – this changes everything!

Naturally, with this approach, one feels confident and better equipped. The “holistic” approach to thinking theology, which engrafts all the subdivisions of theology (even though only five were discussed in this course), as Smith states it, is another valuable framework to analyse and systematise doctrine –particularly the part in Church history –human faith, I found.  Also, the discipline of practical theology enables one to speak contextually –addressing a truthless culture with the eternal truth through the inspiration and power of the scriptures. This is essential to me because it makes Christianity prophetically and apostolically relevant to our times.

4. Implications of Smith’s vision for my church

John Jefferson Davis (Davis, 2016) challenges the pastor hood. He says most ministers are consumed with running from one committee meeting to another and sermon preparation to another, at the cost of neglecting the health of the Church. He says, “like a healthy backbone in a healthy human body, sound biblical theology can provide support, shape and bring stability to the Body of Christ.” As a pastor, this statement truly challenges me. If a strong spine is essential for the health of our human anatomy, sound theology is essential for the Body of Christ. Therefore, I cannot help but ask, what are the catechetical and apologetical structures I set for my congregation’s health? How effective have I been in empowering God’s people to interpreted the faith in our time?

Under the overarching reflections of Smits expressions of theology, there is no question how the study of theology could profoundly impact a Church and her leadership both doxologically and contextually.

Conclusion

Anyone who has a less than holy reverence for theology fails to understand it.  Anyone who does not have “a clear vision of theology” and how one should do theology cannot discover or substantiate the Truths of God’s word let alone, experience a profound personal relationship with God or share their faith effectively with others.  Theology is not only the queen of science; it is the king of bridges. Life on earth is more meaningful by it; God is reached through it.

Work Cited

Sproul, Robert C. 2014. Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Pennsylvania: Reform Trust Publishers. Epub edition.

Smith, Kevin G. 2013.  Integrated Theology: Discerning God’s Will in Our World. Johannesburg: South African Theological Seminary Press.

Zakai, A. 2017.  “The Rise of Modern Science and the Decline of Theology as the “Queen of the Sciences” in the Early Modern Era”. Jerusalem: Equinox Publishing. (127),  doi:10.1558/rrr.v9i2.125.

Browning, D.S. 1985. “Practical Theology and Political Theology.” Sage Journals, 1 April 1985,

(15-33), http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/004057368504200104

Britannica. 2021. “Logos: Philosophy of Theology. Britannica”, 1 September 2021. https://www.britannica.com/topic/logos

Segal, M. 2015. “You Cannot Serve both God and Theology.” Desiring God. Posted 6 February. 2015; retrieved 18 September 2021.