The first thing that came up on ABC news radio this morning (8/6/15) was the decision of Hillsong to cancel their invitation to controversial US pastor Mark Driscoll to speak at their upcoming conference. Until his dismissal last year Driscoll had seen Mars Hill Seattle grow from a lounge room meeting to a 10,000 plus megachurch. Since his leaving the church has effectively dissolved. There are some similarities with the case of Australia’s first televangelist Clark Taylor, whose ministry grew perhaps the largest church in the nation in the 70’s. He was forced to resign because of repeated infidelities. Whilst Taylor has been restored he comes to mind because I have recently been counselling someone whose family was devastated by his ministry. Both Taylor and Driscoll are extraordinarily gifted men of God. My thinking about the influence of giftedness actually began a few days prior to the ABC clip when I encountered several men confused about their relationship with the church because of the powerful influences of gifted leaders on their lives. I can personally remember occasions where I was drawn to men of great gifting, the results were always disastrous. “Beware the Gift” calls us to look through the minister of the gifts to the sole ministry of Christ to the glory of God the Father.
The most obvious sin in following gifts rather than Jesus as Giver is idolatry. Humans obsessively “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images representing mortal man” (Rom 1:23). This is a chronic problem. When I went to the website outlining Clark Taylor’s current ministry there was a bio which jumped over the years of his disgrace and placed him under the heading, “My Hero”. This is dangerous behaviour which may be illustrated with an example. Whenever I do marriage preparation one of the first things I look for in a passion-filled young couple is infatuation. Infatuation not only glazes our physical eyes but also dulls our inner eyes to the faults in another person. Samson’s sexualised blindness to Delilah’s true ambitions is a biblical case in point (Judges 16). The lure of blind attachment to another person actually operates on multiple levels.
It may simply be that we believe that their gifts can impart to us something we need for a fuller life e.g. health and wealth. More profoundly however the sort of “soul attachment” that breeds a deep dependency on another mortal being is an attempt to absorb from them a quality we don’t believe is in us. This may become a sort of “cannibal compulsion” whose end result breeds cultic attitudes towards “anointed” visionary leaders (Leanne Payne). The root sin underlying idolatry is unbelief concerning the worth we have in the eyes of the Father. Our worth before God is unlimited because his lives Son in us (Gal 1:16; Col 1:27). Even the glorious angels “long to look” at our salvation in Christ (1 Pet 1:12). What then blinds us to “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints” so that we are swayed to follow other mortals (Eph 1:18)? We fail to understand Christ crucified!
The Cross Brings Clarity
Jesus’ closest earthly companions failed to grasp that only through suffering could his (and their) identity be fully revealed. When the Lord said, ““If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” the disciples were dumbfounded. (Matt16:24). When Jesus declared, ““the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected …and be killed”” Peter rebuke him (Mark 8:31-3 2). Such resistance to following a suffering Messiah flows from a natural mind which can only see suffering as a painful sign of lost glory (Rom 3:23; 8:7). The transformation of the disciples thinking about suffering awaited the resurrection. In his risen splendour Jesus testified to his apostles; ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26). Whilst those who followed Jesus as a power Messiah all fell away because of the blinding effects of guilt, the vision of the crucified-and-risen Christ who suffered for us convinces our doubting hearts that God truly loves us and counts us to be of inestimable worth (John 2:23-25; Rom 5:6-8). Only when Christ is publicly portrayed as crucified do we transparently see God’s loving heart valuing us in our lost and broken condition (Mark 15:34; Gal 3:1). The marginalisation of the cross in the Church is the spiritual root of the following of gifts today.
Jesus made remarkable comments about the inability of “Christians” to discern his presence, or absence, in their lives. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you;” (Matt 7:22-23). These miracle workers and exorcists knew the power of the name of Jesus but lacking inner transparency could not discern the Lord was never in them. So inwardly dull were the apostles they were unable to recognise the presence of a demonised Judas in their midst (John 6:70). Responding to Christ’s declaration of a betrayer amongst them they spoke in unison; ““is it I Lord”” (Matt 26:22). Such a gross lack of personal and interpersonal transparency amongst Jesus’ team before the cross can be traced back to their avoidance of the call to suffer for his sake.
Jesus promised a blessing of joy for those persecuted for his kingdom, a promise that later came true when Peter and John were beaten for their testimony and “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” (Matt 5:10-12; Acts 5:41). Suffering for the Lord brings a compelling sense of worthiness that expels the idolatrous need to seek something special from following others. Our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church have a clear head start over us in these matters. Yet we do not have to wait for open harassment before we can sense our worth in Christ and be freed from following the gifts of men. Whoever surrenders sickness, personal conflict, monetary need, psychological pressure or any other source of pain to Jesus for the glory of God will soon experience their agonies as enveloped in the “fellowship of sufferings” (Phil 3:10). Such people sense the glory of God in them and are moved by the Spirit to follow Christ alone.
Jesus always wants to spare us from the useless pains bred of idolatry and bring us into genuine spiritual maturity. Consistent Christ-centredness is maturity (Col 1:28). I fear however for the spiritual condition of the mainstream Church today. Scripture warns us that Satan’s ultimate deception will come “with all power and false signs and wonders,” (2 Thess 2:9). With many Christians crying out in prayer for mighty works apart from seeking a deeper revelation of Christ crucified the stage is set for a great falling away from the true Messiah; just as Jesus predicted (Matt 24:24). Such things do not have to be! If we are wise we will ask the Lord to reveal to our own hearts any places where we have been following the gift rather than the Giver. Once freed from distractions and disillusionments we will become those wise persons who turn others towards Christ alone, not as some sort of “hero” but as the man whose present power came only by the weakness of the cross (Dan 12:3; 2 Cor 13:4; Heb 5:7-10). “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7 etc.).