Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Leadership and God's sovereignty

Amy quoted John Adams on her blog yesterday: "No man has yet produced any revelation from heaven in his favor, any divine communication to govern his fellow men." I think he was wrong!

Surely Moses is one person of whom it could be said that there was "divine communication" in favour of him leading his fellow men. Exodus 3 recounts Moses' calling by God for a particular task in leading people, in particular Exod 3:10: "So now go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt." By anyone's standard leading 600,000 men plus women and children and hangers-on out of one nation (on foot!) into another demands a particular position of governmental power.

Later, the Israelites asked that Moses would meet with God apart from them and be an intermediary between them and God (Exodus 20:19). This position of intermediary was definitely in line with God's promises to Moses, for example in Exod 19:9: "The LORD said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you."..." I think it would be reasonable to say that God not only appointed Moses as leader of the Israelites, He also took steps to ensure that His divine appointment would be recognised, acknowledged and adhered to.

Then when Moses' (and then also Aaron's) leadership was challenged, as recorded in Numbers 12 and Numbers 16 & 17, God made it clear in no uncertain terms that His choice of leader - His choice alone - was to hold governmental and/or priestly power over the people.

There were other people who were God-ordained leaders of nations. The first two kings of Israel, Saul and David, were divinely appointed. 1 Samuel 8 records how the Israelite people demanded that God would give them a king, and God agreed to their demands (see 1 Samuel 8:19-22 especially). 1 Samuel 9:17 records, "When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, "This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people."" Samuel annointed Saul at God's direct instruction (1 Samuel 10). It was only later (1 Samuel 11:12-15) that the people of Israel had an opportunity to ratify God's sovereign choice of their leader.

Then, because of Saul's wicked presumption in offering sacrifices to the LORD, a task not in his God-given job description, God took away His favour from upon Saul. God chose David to be king, and Samuel anointed David following God's precise instructions. It was many years later that David came into his kingship officially, but from the time of his anointing, David was the chosen king of Israel in God's eyes, if not in those of Saul or the people. (See 1 Samuel 13, 15, 16:1-13 and following chapters.)

It is clear from all these passages that God does indeed appoint and anoint particular people for government leadership positions, or at least He has done so in the past. So I do not agree with Adams. (I find it particularly ironic that John Adam's wife was named Abigail, so I would have hoped that they would be familiar with the story of King David, if not the others.) Adams was one of the US presidents, right? Please forgive my lack of knowledge of US history.

Not knowing the context of this journal entry, it is hard to know whether Adams was presuming that God no longer acts (in these post-cross "last days") to choose national leaders in the way that He did in the past, or if Adams believed God never did, or only did with Israel. Perhaps you can hazard a more educated guess.) Even if I presume Adams held the first belief, I think this is a wrong stance. Paul wrote of a gift of leadership that is bestowed by God's grace in Romans 12, in particular where he wrote, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is ... leadership, let him govern diligently..." (from Romans 12:6-8). By God's grace, some people are specially gifted for governance. And God does not gift people for a task if He does not expect them to carry out that task. So by gifting certain people for governance, He is showing His divine favour for their leadership, in my opinion.

Furthermore, Paul wrote on the subject of general (non-Christian) governance in Romans 13:1-7. In the first verse, he wrote, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.". Paul's opinion on the matter could not be clearer. All human authorities, whether godly or ungodly in their administration of their duties, are established by God.

Perhaps, as in the case of Saul's oft-times despotic rule, we may see that God is visiting judgement upon us by His choice of leader over our nation(s). Then again, we shouldn't be too quick to assume that God is giving us what we deserve. It is certain that God plans to use our trials under ungodly leaders (and even under the most God-fearing leaders) to bring us to maturity in Christ. As Paul had written earlier in his letter to the Romans, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." In my view, the important thing is not so much who God appoints for leadership over the nations, but how we, as Christians, respond to their leadership.

Of utmost importance is our response to God's supreme choice of leader for us: our King and Saviour, Jesus Christ, God's Son. In Ephesians 1:9-10 & 22-23, Paul wrote, "And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. ... And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." Jesus Christ is the God-appointed leader over all Christians throughout time, and one day God will reveal that He is also sovereign over all that exists, whether they have recognised Christ's authority in the past or not.

Paul wrote of Jesus in Colossians 1:15-20, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness well in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Jesus is the Lord and King over all things because it was through Him that all things were created. But Jesus' lordship is not dependent solely on something that happened long ago. Jesus is Lord because God has made Him Lord, dwelling fully in Jesus Christ, revealing his invisible nature through the visible man, Jesus, who once walked the earth and was killed on a cross, but who was brought back to life by God's choice and power, and now reigns in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. All praise be to God, the LORD, who is King and Lord of all! Do you recognise Jesus Christ as having authority over you, because He is your King, Lord, Boss and Master?


Mrs. Edwards said...

I'm cringing that you didn't put the quote from John Adams' journal (written a few years before the colonies declared independence) into the context of his full thought, which was in regard to human nature and a specific reaction to the British government's "divine right of kings." In other words, Adams' point here about divine revelation was in regard to the British king. That is, he felt that the monarchy presumed a divine revelation that in fact was not evident. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think it is possible to see the wisdom in this without detracting from the Scriptural truth of Paul's teachings about authority. The Biblical view of human nature was foundational in John Adams' concept of how best to set up a government that preserves freedom and liberty, depends upon a social contract, and is founded on the rule of law rather than personality.

Please don't misunderstand and think that Adams argued against the existence of government and leadership. He argued for the rule of law that would limit a government's leader ability to encroach on liberty and potentially trample what Jefferson called the "self-evident" rights of humanity. As Abigail observed, human nature can only be counted on to fail and even the best leader should be constrained.

Needless to say, the American government as it exists today is quite different from what Adams had in mind. It would do all of us well, myself included, to brush up on our understanding of the role of government, the derivation of its authority, and the social contract.

For Australian readers I feel compelled to note that John Adams was one of America's founders and that he was also a Christian man who believed in the Bible and the providence of God. He was our second President. I am not an expert on Adams, but from what I know about him I think that he would not question God's divine hand on Israel's history, nor his sovereign authority over all.

In short, Sharon, your points are good ones with which I cannot disagree, I just think that you have unfairly characterized the point that John Adams was making.

I made some other comments over on my blog, in the comments section. I urge you to read the biography of John Adams and suspect that you would find his story and especially Abigail's inspiring. She was indeed an amazing woman. (I don't say this simply as a patriotic American. The fact is that they have a very compelling story and remarkable marriage. Interesting, however, that their son John Quincy Adams was never his father's equal in character or accomplishment in spite of the fact that he was also elected President.)

Sharon said...

Amy, I am sorry that I only responded to some of your quote and not the whole thing, but that line was the first to catch my eye, and I didn't have time to think about the rest. Please take my comments as responding only to the idea that Adams espoused in that particular quote, rather than as being a response to Adam's overall attitude to authority and leadership.

Later in your quote Adams wrote, "The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved..." I don't think Adams was was right with his emphasis here, either. Perhaps this stance of Adams provides a hint to why the US system is, in the eyes of many, not delivering much that is "good" today.

I would argue that it is not sufficient for a nation's people to be knowledgeable and morally upright. It is possible to be a highly educated person who obeys the law in all respects merely because they calculate that the costs of evil behaviour outweigh the benefits. Thousands of such people would not make a very loving or even pleasant society, however.

The only thing that makes the difference, IMO, is the inclination of the hearts of the people towards, or away from, God. Where the overwhelming majority of the population fear God and obey His commands, there will be far more peace and loving kindness displayed among the people, than in any society where the populace is overwhelmingly intelligent and educated, or upright and moralistically pure.

The significant education and high moral standards of the Pharisees and Scribes did not benefit them when it came to their response to God's Son, did it? Likewise, we see problems arising in other parts of Church History, such as the stellar education of the Jesuits who have upheld the pope's authority over Scriptural mandate. In our own times, the intellectual elite have rebelled against the core doctrines of the Christian faith held over the centuries, in many of the liberal philosophical interpretations of Christianity abounding today. It is also a complaint of the far more doctrinally and morally conservative evangelicals (of Australia, at least) that many of us suffer from academic over-achievement at the expense of a heart that does not ache and hands that do not act in response to sin and suffering in a fashion that should reflect the compassion Jesus showed to the sick, the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast.

I would argue that, rather than concerning ourselves with intellectual or moral advancement, we should concern ourselves with evangelism and discipleship. It is of earthly and eternal consequence for our children and neighbours to have a sound faith in the One True God. Intellectual growth and moral improvement are things that will be achieved as a secondary side effect of a sound, deepening Christian faith. They are an inevitable results of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within believers, and a thirst for the knowledge, understanding and wisdom that comes from knowing the Almighty personally.

In contrast, without a Christian faith but with a focus only on the worldly saviours of education and good works, I believe we will see the next generation halt and falter, in their faith certainly, but in their achievements as well. Just as you wrote happened in the case of the Adams's son.

Grace and peace in Christ,
~ Sharon

Mrs. Edwards said...

Of course you're correct that "The only thing that makes the the inclination of the hearts of the people towards, or away from, God." And therein lies the rub. The lesson of the Bible's history of redemption is that there will be no successful governance of man until Christ rules His Kingdom, for generation after generation men turn away from God. In fact, even with all the instructions God gave Israel in regard to instructing their children so that they would never forget, the lessons were forgotten.

A brief comment on "Perhaps this stance of Adams provides a hint to why the US system is, in the eyes of many, not delivering much that is "good" today." I would argue that the U.S. system has broken down for two main reasons: 1) Until roughly 100 years ago all Americans, whether or not they were believers, were instructed in the Bible and held it as a common book--or a book held in common. Today there is no unifying book that all Americans share. We are not thinking together and do not share ideals in common. 2) America as it appears today is the result of 100 years of progressive politics that have drifted from the founding Constitution.

America is exceptional in its idea, but it has drifted from this idea and lost its way.

Finally, one last thought. We are all a product of our age, like it or not. (Our only hope for transcendence lies in the study of Scripture, which transcends cultures and ages.) In that, reading about John Adams is incredibly humbling. There is really nothing that I can say to truly comment on his words, for I'm unqualified to do so. It surely reflects my generation that I'm willing to spill so much cyber-ink opining on subjects beyond my expertise. That is, Adams read the classics in their original languages. He carried around poems by Milton and Shakespeare to read in his down time. He knew thoroughly the writings of John Locke and others about government. I cannot do these things. I read Milton and Shakespeare with effort. He was educated in the law. He wrote the constitution of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the oldest constitution still in use today. He applied his knowledge and experience in the nature of man and politics and government toward the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

My education--and ability--fails me, but like most of my generation, it hasn't kept me from forming opinions. Reading Adams reminds me that this is a frightful thing, not just for myself, but for our age. Finally, it humbles me to realize that my high ideals of "Veritas at Home" and imparting a classical education to my children are really just child's play.

Sharon said...

That last paragraph was true for me also. Thank you for showing me my need to be humble! And thanks, as ever, for the conversation.

~ Sharon