When studying through Ephesians for By His Wounds You Are Healed, I was particularly struck by this quote from John Stott on the authority figures in Ephesians 5 and 6 – “ it is not the exercise but the RESTRAINT of their authority which (Paul) urges upon them.” This is very true. Apart from Christ, we see in the curse in Genesis 3 that the man oppressively rules over the woman. But in Ephesians 5, Paul puts specific limits around the husband. He’s limited by CHRIST. He’s to love sacrificially with Christ as His example. Masters of slaves are given similar limits. Serve sacrificially like Christ. If Christ wouldn’t do it, neither do you. And parents are given a particularly limiting phrase – do not provoke or exasperate your children.
Historically speaking, authority figures in Christianity are always the last to see their sin. That’s been the norm in every church and parachurch organization with which I have experience (and I have a lot of experience). It’s why I believe so strongly in the church government of a plurality of elders. Everyone needs accountability, and the higher you are in the authority food chain, the MORE you need accountability. The most dangerous person in all of Christianity, in my humble opinion, is the unaccountable senior pastor.
In terms of the restraint of parental authority, I have heard precious little over the years to Christian parents on how NOT to exasperate your children. I have heard tons on children obeying their parents. But the reason Paul commands parents not to provoke their children is because Christian parents WERE provoking their children. The reason Jesus warned against causing a little one to stumble was because there were people doing that very thing. And Jesus says to let the children come to Him because His disciples were preventing kids from coming to Him in that very moment. In other words, the instructions are given because they address a legitimate problem. The first step to correction and obedience is to understand the ways we fail this. The problem is that Christian parents often DO exasperate their children. Many pastors DO create stumbling blocks for children. Just like Jesus’ disciples, some modern followers of Christ see children as a distraction and would rather usher them out a room than facilitate their access to God. It is a real problem even among those who sit in churches (like the one at Ephesus) or who figuratively sit at the feet of Jesus (like His disciples).
I came across this story today – a classic example of a church authority structure putting a massive concrete stumbling block in front of one to whom they were called to point to Christ. The comments after the article are telling. True to Biblical warning, such actions cause many to stumble, doubt their faith, and dismiss the church. I’m tempted to react in retaliatory anger. “****ing expletive!! You have made my job of representing Christ in my community 500% harder with your blankety blank behavior.” But one thing constrains me from that response. And it’s my understanding of the doctrine of the Church as presented in Scripture. The Church is a mess. To be blunt (as Scripture is), she’s a whore. So when she participates in disobedient practices that harm someone, I remember that she has done that from her earliest history. You may argue the group in question in the article isn’t REALLY part of the church. But that is a simplistic diversion from the truth – even those of us firmly in Christ believing the true gospel are capable of pretty bad things. It’s grace because we deserve something so different. And this story reflects that truth quite brilliantly. I have hope that gospel grace can redeem and transform even this bit of perversion of God’s plan for His people in general and pastoral authority in particular. If I didn’t have that hope, I’d be sunk. But that transformation requires FIRST the acknowledgement of the sin. It requires repentance – confession that includes honestly admitting the sin as God defines it. It absolutely will not go away any other way. The options are repentance or destruction. I am confident that something good CAN come from this in the Body of Christ. But it will not happen, it could not possibly happen, until those involved first REPENT.
Perhaps the larger problem than what the church authority structure did in that situation was what the parents allowed in that situation. Who knows where they were?! (And if you do know, don’t tell me because it’s none of my business). And while it is not my business to know why the parents abdicated their responsibilities in such a way, it does make me think. I have written several articles on parenting our children the way God parents His. My boys are young, so I’ve only just begun wrestling with this on my own. But here are a few older articles on gospel centered parenting if you are interested.
P. S. I want to give a shout out to our church’s children’s ministry. I am daily thankful for the informal and formal positive peer pressure and constructive teaching I receive that equips me to value my children as God does and parent them in ways that reflect His grace centered adoption of me.