Power-Inverting Kingdom, take 2

On Friday I said a few words about the twelve disciples. How normative is Jesus’ selection of twelve men to be his ministry-extenders while on earth? This is a question that cannot be answered in a way that is abstracted from the narrative. The story of their failure, of their rejection of the gospel of the crucified messiah, undermines the claims to their normativity.

We have to remember that we’re reading stories. In stories, characters develop. Events in the narrative shape them. They respond. We all know that the twelve includes the betrayer Judas, but we also need to look closely at the other eleven and their betrayal of Jesus.

As I mentioned Friday, the turning point in the story is a turning point for the twelve: Yes, Jesus is the Christ (Peter’s confession in ch. 8), but this Christ is a suffering Christ–a claim for which Peter rebukes Jesus in a Satanic denial of the road ahead.

From this point on, the disciples lose their kingdom-extending role. Their failure plays out in several subsequent scenes.

After the second passion prediction, Jesus confronts the disciples about what they were arguing about on the road. They are shamed. They had been arguing about which is greatest.

Jesus inverts their assessment of the world: to be great is to be least and servant of all.

Then, Jesus takes hold of one of the least, the most powerless members of society, and shows the disciples what it means to be agents of the kingdom: “Welcome the child in my name.”

Of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with who can minister in Christ’s name, right? I mean, this is just about patting little kids on the head, right?

Well, that’s what John thought: “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

Clearly, welcoming kids is one thing, taking up the master’s name and performing unauthorized ministry, ministry not delineated by the Twelve is something else!

Or maybe not.

Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. Whoever isn’t against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40, CEB).

So I ask again: does the narrative of Mark uphold the idea that the twelve delineate the parameters for faithful ministry in the church?

And again the unfolding story itself pushes me in a different direction.

To the extent that we use the disciples as paradigmatic figures for excluding people from ministry we are embodying their own failed understanding of ministry in and for and under the Reign of God in Christ.

The gospel of the cross overturns such understandings of insider standing, power, and status. It rebukes our natural tendency to affirm as eligible leaders only those who are like the original insiders.

When we use the Twelve as a weapon for fending off women from church leadership we align ourselves with the misapprehending disciples rather than the gospel proclaiming Christ.

15 thoughts on “Power-Inverting Kingdom, take 2”

  1. It does seem that Jesus points to the “feminine” traits as those to follow, as he uses women as examples of faithfulness over and over again. Meanwhile, he admonishes the “masculine” traits of the disciples who would take a sword to the priest’s servant.

    And even considering Paul, you have to admit that the “masculine” traits are measured on the wrong side of faithfulness and the “feminine” traits of gentleness, kindness, love, peace and patience are celebrated. The Apostle says to do away with selfish ambition, violence and to put on submission and gentleness.

    One just has to wonder what Peter meant when he said, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Was he only talking about the men, or are women part of this priesthood too? He said to be sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble. To not be vindictive, or quarrelsome. These seem to be the traits the muscular Christianity troupe say are “feminine traits” and when men in the church today practice these disciplines they’re “chickified” and “sissy.”

    Certainly Paul and Peter both told wives to submit to their husbands, but Paul said “everyone submit to everyone” and Peter said the husbands should act “in the same way” he told the wives to be considerate, saying the husband and wife are co-heirs.

  2. why the exclusive language of kingdom? is that in itself not a word against the inclusion of women? why not use “realm” or “kindom” or “commonwealth”? anything but KINGdom.

  3. Hmmmm. Is ‘basileia’ a masculine or feminine noun, in Greek?

    Either way, someone with JSTOR access should look up this article: Women and Basileia: Legitimacy and Female Political Action in Macedonia.

    Key argument: that kingdom denotes domination by a clan, not an individual.

    To the contrary point, I’m guessing we could find a reference somewhere to Cleopatra and ‘her kingdom’. Again, someone with better research access should jump right on that, if they want.

  4. βασιλεία is feminine noun according to Strong’s…Thayer however wants to make sure it is not confused in a feminine way. Classic!
    Rule…dominion…seem equally english in translation.

  5. When studying Luke-Acts from the literary angle, the reversal from Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 22:27 and how the story of the named apostles changes from Acts 6:2 -ff. is striking. That would support your great reversal theme, Daniel. It also answers, by example, John Murphy’s mistaken focus – Paul was clearly an exemplar of the power inversion dynamic. All that past “glory”…so much skubala! ἀλλὰ μενοῦνγε καὶ ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ζημίαν εἶναι διὰ τὸ ὑπερέχον τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου, δι’ ὃν τὰ πάντα ἐζημιώθην, καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα ἵνα Χριστὸν κερδήσω …

  6. I appreciate your writing on this issue very much, Daniel. My own response to the latest Piper controversy takes a similar trajectory, examining his preoccupation with power: http://whitherthougoest.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/of-piper-and-power/

    I think we’re really wrestling here with certain anxieties and insecurities that lead ultimately to abuse (and in other contexts, to violence). They need to be renounced and repented of by all of us.

  7. If Jesus had really wanted to drive home the point that St. Peter would be the founder of the Church—why on earth didn’t he appear first to Peter after the resurrection? Who is the first person to see Christ who had risen from the tomb? MARY MAGDELINE! Boy, if it had been one of the 12 disciples—you would be sure we would have made some theological truth or statement about that. But because it is first a woman that Jesus appears to—we don’t know what to do with it. Mary was not only the first he appeared to—but then he entrusted her with the message to give the good news to his 11 disciples. He could have just shown up to see them without a messenger. Why did he do this?

    1. Certain early Christian traditions made a pretty big deal out of this and gave the Magdalene and her supposed gospel a significant role as a result. It is interesting to think of how different current Christian theology, dogma and practice would be if Constantine’s wife had been converted by something other than a Pauline sect.

  8. Thanks for your three posts on women in the NT. It is something I couldn’t quite put my finger on – the ‘Satanic’ in the obsession with authority in the church. I just felt it, but couldn’t think of any Bible versus to back it up. But, it was what Jesus called Peter’s desire for a more worldly Messiah. I think I need to remember that servant-authority (when fully understood) can be Godly and beneficial, thanks for the reminder.

    That and I feel like the church is confusing authority (making decisions for the direction of the church) with control (being gatekeepers and paranoid ones at that). I tend to tune out most preachers these days because 1) they think the Bible is so clear that women can’t do x,y or z and 2) they are so convinced their reading of the Bible is right, they throw out scientific evidence that they don’t contradict in other circumstances. Example: Genetics: we were never down to a couple in human populations, but it is fine to use genetics to convict and kill a criminal! What? Which one is it? Why don’t these guys stand outside courtrooms with posters protesting genetic evidence? They quickly throw out genetics when it shows us Adam and Eve were not the parents of us all.

    But, we scientifically-influenced types are all heretics if we point out this irony and (double-whammy) I am a female questioning their teaching abilities, so I can’t really read my Bible properly without being taught by a male pastor who is about two generations out of date on scientific evidence about humans. Because only he has any authority on this issue – I am just a yellow-bellied weakling who is being lead astray by evil evolutionists who won’t admit the huge gaps in the fossil record (they don’t get that geneticists aren’t palaeontologists – and that the evidence I quote doesn’t include the fossil record).

    But, I needed to remember that it is worldly authority that is the problem, not authority itself. I wish women could decide who gets to lead them, even if they can’t lead. At least give them equal veto power in a church (move the vote/vetting of candidates from the Elder’s board to a members panel. I just wish they could be elders – not to lead, but to offer input on decisions.

  9. I think the position of the 12 is unique and therefore must be treated carefully when applying to post Pentecost Church. I therefore cannot agree with your treatment of the passages in the Gospels in relation to Church Government however I think you are right when you say that we cannot use the 12 for fighting off women from ministry, there are other parts of the Bible that deal with this issue… I believe that they are quite clear, but am open to debate it because I do not have a closed mind to possibilities…
    The interesting part about many peoples reactions to the teaching that says that women cannot be Elders or have Authority over men is that of the Aggressive and sarcastic tones… it is so off putting, making the whole debate rather distasteful… on both sides it is nasty… and that is so sad, because what we are trying to do is God’s Will (because if it is not what we are trying to do then we’d better stop…) what does He want? Our Great Loving and compassionate God … his Glory is at stake here when we attack and belittle each other…
    Percieved and felt injustice can cause pain but it can produce bitterness… envy and all kinds of evil. James speaks about wisdom from above and below… we need to be careful that we are not being filled with satan and his words and heart over this issue. Bottom line. We are Christ’s bride … let us Love one another…

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