Power Seduction

In this, my second year of seminary, we have had two courses in “The story of the Christian church”.  The first took us from the very beginnings of Christianity up through the Age of Anxiety (just prior to the Reformation).  The second class was entitled “Reformation to Present.”  Although these classes were comprehensive as far as covering the lifetime of Christianity, content-wise, they were certainly not. This is, after all, an MDiv program, which means we only get a survey of history, theology, church leadership skills, Christian ethics, etc.

In spite of the limited nature of this overview of Christian history, something struck me, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It seems to me that whenever Christians come into possession of power, we lose sight of Christian character. We losesight of the Way of Jesus.  With Constantine came peace and power for the church, as well as violence and coercion and corruption.  With the conversion of various political leaders, came the unique phenomenon of whole people-groups becoming Christian without a conscious decision to do so, without understanding the cost of following Jesus, the meaning of that decision.  The history of the Papacy at Rome is filled with abuses of power, love of money, manipulation, bribery, simony. The church-state relationship that the Protestants enjoyed in Europe meant more conflict, aggression and bloodshed, among Christians themselves! My own ancestors were burned and drowned and tortured in ways that I find intolerable to even think about for very long. In Calvinist Geneva, the Consistory and City Council believed they should lead their people into Christian morality, disciplining and punishing those who erred in behavior or belief.  They executed people for certain sins.  Executed them.  This is frightening to me.

Power is sexy. We love it. We grasp for it and hold onto it at all costs, it seems. It seduces us with promises of being an avenue for good, for change and transformation.  “If I held that position, wow, what I could do!” “If the church could just have more Christians in politics. If we could rule the land for God… if we had people in the right places….”  I hate to think.  I am not sure we are ready to handle the demons of power.  History proves we use it for ourselves; we use it over others.  We cannot be trusted with it.

Jesus shunned power, walked away from it every time people tried to give it to him.  He brought in the Kingdom with meekness, humility, poverty, nonviolence… by working the margins of society, not by becoming a member of the Sanhedrin or a leader of the Pharisees or a leader of a violent revolution to overthrow the Romans. This does not mean he was without passion or was not a leader of any kind.  What has captured my attention is WHERE he exercised his leadership and WITH WHOM. Perhaps we should learn from his example.

A fellow blogger has an interesting post related to this topic at—



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robert Martin
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 08:19:16

    It is for this reason that I think Christians should really examine the goal of “restoring the Christian nation of the US of A”. Such a thing is a fiction and a dangerous thing. We’re not in the business of running secular institutions because, after all, we don’t belong to the kingdoms of this world. We are aliens and strangers, ambassadors from the heavenly kingdom.

    Excellent thoughts, Kris!


  2. krisanneswartley
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 08:33:23

    Agreed. But even beyond politics, I think we should be more discerning about how we structure authority and leadership in the church. When we isolate decision-making power or spiritual authority in the church, to a few select people, when we do much of our business behind closed doors, I wonder if we create dangerous situations where corruption and abuses of power can creep in without us even being aware of it. These situations may not be as physically violent, but perhaps just as spiritually violent. We can get drunk on power and become so attached to our priviledged position that we don’t hear one another or God anymore.


  3. Robert Martin
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 08:41:26

    Excellent point. In fact, one of the factors that contributed greatly to the recent intra-congregational strife in my home church is a communal memory of the abuses of power amongst the bishops of the Franconia Conference some years back. There is a great distrust of strong leadership within my congregation because strong leaders in the past have used their position for personal gain.

    This is something that I have to be careful of in my own budding ministry within my congregation, both because of this history and because I don’t want to end up repeating the sins of the past.


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