Leading with Conviction

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Mar 09, 2009 by Alex Mekonnen | 0 Comments

In Christian leadership, before a leader preaches, teaches, writes, or communicates his/her expectations of life style, character and values from the followers it is critically important for the leader to develop a life of deep conviction.  If we're not able to say "imitate me" like the apostle Paul, because of various defects in our lives, we should at least be able to make our beliefs, principles, and values known and guide our life accordingly. If we don't have truth or beliefs to die for we can hardly have faith to live for. One who doesn't live in harmony with the revealed truth in Scripture and demonstrate this truth in action can hardly have a positive Christian influence on the followers. With such a shaky leadership position, wavering in contradiction before people, with internal conflict of mind and soul within the leader, the mission of the church or any Christian organization is destined to fail. It is with this understanding that I am sharing the following points as fundamental Christian beliefs for the effective leader, to be demonstrated through a life lived out with conviction.

I. The Authority of the Scripture

To lead one's life, family, organization, or church, a Christian leader should resolve to make Scripture the primary and final authority.  If we are truly serving the God of the prophets and the apostles, the special way we can know him and fulfill his will is through Scripture.  Limiting himself to human language, allegory, cultural symbols, parables, and metaphors, God chose to condescend to the level of human comprehension and reveal his personality and purpose to us so that we can understand him and relate with him in fellowship and service.  Therefore, a Christian leader is one who serves the God of the Bible, not the god of philosophers, scientists, and business executives.  Our God is not always a "Yes" God; he is "Yes" and "No". According to God's Word, there is right and wrong, good and bad, sin and righteousness, life and death, judgment and mercy, heaven and hell.  Not everything is relative; God has absolute standards.  A Christian leader is expected to obey God's absolute truth unconditionally.  It is one of our vital responsibilities, as Christian leaders, to inculcate in the minds and hearts of the people we lead an eternal value, truth, and character that makes us light and salt in a world that is known for corruption and deceit, living and dying for temporal gain.

The God of the Bible is knowable; he is also incomprehensible. Even if a Christian leader masters Scripture cover to cover and becomes an authority in biblical theology, one can't claim a complete knowledge of God.  "Now I know in part" (1 Cor. 13:12b), said the apostle Paul. Knowing God with this human limitation should keep us humble and teachable, always in an attitude of service instead of grapping for power as we lead others.  This conviction is in headlong collision with the Enlightenment philosophy that champions the autonomous man whose supreme authority is Reason.  Paul Hiebert rightly said; "Our modern worldview engages in an extremely dangerous venture when it seeks on the basis of reason to analyze, define, and, in a sense, master God.  We must submit our whole selves to the totality of someone remote, majestic, and mighty, beyond all experience and comprehension, someone who cannot be reduced to logical consistency, but transcends human reasoning.  Our only possible attitude is one of submission-the recognition that this reality goes far beyond us in its sovereign majesty (Job 11:8)" (2008:291).

Man in his wisdom has been trying to destroy both the vertical relationship with God as well as the horizontal relationship among human beings that is guided by the revealed truth from Scripture.  Such human philosophy/wisdom has drastic consequences on the church and its mission. Let me outline the Kantian definition of autonomy and its effect on church and mission.

The word autonomy derived from two Greek words, autos, which means "self" and nomos, which means "law." Autonomy means being a law unto oneself.  The law is not outside of us, but inside our own being. The fundamental principle of the Enlightenment is the autonomy of reason in every individual human being. The resulting effect on our pattern of thinking and living is as follows:

1. God does not interfere in human life anymore. Each interference means a loss of calculability. No such interference is accepted and all special revelation has to be denied.

2. All the boundary-line concepts of life are denied because they disturb the calculating and controlling activities of man in relation to reality. For instance, death is removed as an interfering power in the progressive thought of controlling reality.

3. The classical understanding of death in the vertical line, which views man's life as coming from eternity and going back to it, has to disappear. In modern American society, one does not die; one just passes way.

4. A strange attack is waged on the idea of original sin. Sin is merely a temporary shortcoming. It is not "no" but a "not yet." Sin is the "not yet" of man's spiritual development within an already developed bodily organism. The distance of the gap between these two processes is what we call sin.

5. The fear of hell is also dismissed. The fear of judgment is the fear of hell.   Therefore this concept is removed.

6. The consequence of the removal of hell is that its opposite is also removed. Not only the idea of heaven, but also the idea of grace is destroyed. Since grace comes from outside of man, it undercuts the autonomous power of man.

7. Jesus is a mere example for man, not a savior. Christ is then an anticipation of a state that lies ahead for all mankind.  The fall is swallowed up by the idea of the evolutionary necessity of estrangement or sin.

8. Prayer is also removed, because prayer relates one to that which transcends oneself.  Kant said that "if someone is caught by surprise while praying he would feel ashamed." He felt that it is not dignified for autonomous men who control the world and possess the power of reason to be found in the act of prayer.

9. Salvation is not a matter of immortal life after death; it is not a matter of accepting a heavenly lawgiver. Instead, salvation is a matter of present participation in eternal life. Eternal life is here and now, not a continuation of life after death. In everything finite the infinite is present.

10. Progress is based on immorality, on the negation of ethical principles. The only principle by which man acts is that of self-love. The conscience is the result of punishment. Remorse begins where impunity ends. Since you're law to yourself do whatever you want with your body (Tillich 1968:320-431).

There is no doubt that the Enlightenment brought many positive things, such as scientific discoveries in the areas of medicine, technology, and astronomy. Modern democracy and technological development had its inception during the wake of this period. However, this period also resulted in negative impact on theology, Church leadership, and Christian mission. That is what we explore in this article.

As we observed earlier, the wisdom of this world negates the essence of conviction in the Word of God and faith in the God of the Bible.  We're nurtured to believe that we're meant to rule, dominate, control, exploit, and conquer this world and beyond, not to surrender. Since we are autonomous, our life should revolve around self-rule, our life quenches its thirst from self-gratification, our security is based on self-empowerment, and our freedom is manifested through self-reliance. By all means external interferences must be discouraged, if not eliminated. Growing up within such a worldview and operating our life by its principles keeps us distant from God's agenda. 

Christian leaders should make the Word of God the primary and authoritative source to guide their lives, develop godly character, and build effective personal and organizational values.  The exercise of the authority of Scripture is based not on force but truth. It is a derived authority not absolute authority like that of monarchs. The Psalmist said; "You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands" (Psalms 119:4-6). If we don't want to end up in shame and frustration, let us listen to the Psalmist and many others in Scripture who count the Word of God as "a light to their path," and "bread to their life."  In the world where theories of human behavior are constantly changing, uncertainty, lack of love and hope are sapping human beings of the desire, energy, and purpose to live. Affluence, technology, advanced means of communication, and transportation fail to give true meaning to existence. Knowing God through his Word, following him, and doing his will is the best way to sharpen our vision and renew our minds and hearts as we lead others.

Our preaching and teaching must not only be sound doctrinally; they must also be demonstrated in the life of the leader. When orthodoxy and orthopraxy contradict each other in the life of a person who is in a leadership position, it raises more questions, doubt, and confusion in the lives of the followers.  Authentic Christian leadership requires us to know God before we make him known. "When people know God, losses and ‘crosses' cease to matter to them; what they have gained simply banishes these things from their minds...Those who know God have great energy for God, those who know God have great thoughts of God, those who know God show great boldness for God, those who know God have great contentment for God" (Packer 1993: 27-31). One can't come to this level of knowledge of God without understanding the Scripture and obeying it unconditionally. "If the Bible is precious to the Christian believer, it is not because it is regarded as a paper pope or some kind of magical oracle but because it is regarded as one hears and receives the message of a gracious God who continues to reveal himself in and through the pages of Scripture. It is through the Bible that I know of the God who has declared his salvation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and with deepest thankfulness I embrace that saving truth and stake my life on it." (Marshall 1982:125).

--to be continued


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