The Church’s Long and Awkward Relationship with Power



The Church has long had an awkward relationship with power. We follow the One who gave up His Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence in order to move into our neighbourhood, becoming one of us. That sentence is an oxymoron right there.

We were created in God’s image and were given dominion. That means inherent power for every person. Power to rule the earth, but not each other. We interpret that concept as being “in charge,” but another word for dominion is “protectorate” which means “something to be responsible for.” The implication there is to be responsible for something without deciding it belongs to us.

Jesus chided His hearers that the rulers of the earth want to be in charge of everyone and everything, but He made it clear it must not be like that among His disciples. He went further to say that in His Kingdom, greatness could only be achieved by serving.

Power is an aphrodisiac for evil more potent than we could possibly imagine. It arouses lust to own and subjugate. It makes ordinary people rage. It facilitates horrendously cruel laws and the most vicious of actions. It caricatures arrogance, callousness and psychotic, despotic behaviour as normal for a ruler.

Think: the worst kings in the Old Testament. Think: Adolph Hitler. Think: Kim Jong-Un. Think: Islamic State. Think: the controlling, abusive, domineering father. Think: the dictatorial pastor whose legalism and hypocrisy ruins multiple lives and turns the faithful into the fearful.

Power is also the most incredibly potent force for mind-blowing goodness, the exercise of which is able to change the world, and the course of people’s lives for good, forever. It can open the borders of nations. It can redirect economies to feed the hungry. It can save the unborn. It can appoint girls as well as boys to leadership in the world. It can free slaves of every kind, both the perpetrator and the abused. It can overcome and destroy addictions. The death of power on a cross stands starkly on the landscape of human history as the only hope for our planet.

The ownership and exercise of power seems random, driven by mysterious, unseen, strategic alliances. Power is amoral; an intoxicating force the moral tenor of which is dictated by the one who wields it.

What is it about the exercise of power that corrupts good people, and ruins great societies and organisations, and destroys churches whose genesis was the worship of God but whose end was the worship of power?

The abuse of power was birthed in the Garden of Eden. The decision, which both our parents used their personal power to make, to judge for themselves between right and wrong rather than wait for God to show them, operated like the fall of the first domino on the world we live in. Shame rushed into their hearts as they saw themselves without the rose-coloured glasses of innocence, and hard on its heels came fear, especially fear of the One who loved them.

Flowing out from those two negative emotions came rejection as they were expelled from the security of the Creator’s presence on the very day of their appalling decision. Soon after, hate and then murder joined rejection, fear and shame and the tumbling dominos spilled over into every heart, and from there into every family, nation, church, government, organisation, work place, because each of us are host to those same traits in our own nature. Each of us have choices to make as to how to deal with our own shame, our own fear, our own rejection, because tragically, all the bullying, narcissism, sycophancy, avoidance, fear of not belonging, loss of initiative, loss of courage to stand alone, craving for approval, competitiveness, humiliation, self-pity, craven behaviour, mercilessness, and a myriad other Pandora’s boxful of negative feelings, stems from those initial broken emotions—shame, fear and rejection.

It is God’s intention that humankind have power. It was an integral aspect of our Imago Dei, and having lost it at Eden, Jesus came to restore it to us. He sent His Holy Spirit so we could again be filled with the sort of power that only Heaven can give, but still we lose context and make it about us instead of about His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. The use and abuse of power boils down to this:

The Kingdom of God vs Everything Else.

It’s not about the Christian vs. the UnChristian, no matter how hard we try to make it that. It’s not about the good vs the bad. It’s not about me vs you. It’s about Light vs dark. It’s about whose kingdom will come in any and every situation we find ourselves in, be it the good, the bad or the ugly. Being filled with power from on high gives us a choice, whether we know it or not.

All power is from God, and the true nature of the power He gives can never be power over another person, whether in a marriage, a nation or an organisation.

The dominion we lost and the power we are given when filled with Holy Spirit are both in the context of protectorate, which is to care for, not in a patriarchal “I’m in charge and I know what’s best for you” way, but in the way of Christ, which is (Luke 10:19) “Behold I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

The normal Christian state is one of empowerment over all the pseudo-power of the enemy, not over each other. This power is intended to usher in the Kingdom of God, not our own imitation that draws its strength from our fear, shame, and rejection. Our enculturation and the Kingdom we long for have become horribly mangled together and it’s so easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that our mindset and God’s are the same; that we mean the same thing when we refer to His Kingdom.

I have no answers for this. Even writing now I feel powerless because I have no solution except one that seems unattainable, which is that God’s people forsake their own interpretation of what His Kingdom looks like, to embrace His. Much easier said than done, but I firmly believe that if every Christian on the planet was able to do this, His Kingdom would come because according to Jesus, we have power over ALL the power of the enemy.

The problem is that our perspectives on power, our own and other people’s, are so inextricably twisted and contorted by our history that grasping the truth, beauty and potency of the power He gives, is a lifelong process and one which requires the death of so many subconscious opinions we are chained to. In the end, only our arrival in heaven will give us clarity on what this looks like.

That sounds so depressing, doesn’t it, but I am not depressed. I’m heartened. I’m energised. I’m encouraged to keep going, to keep leaning into Him, to keep determining in my heart that the way things are now for me and for the world is not how He intended it to be. He said He was giving us His power! Wow. His. Power! That means if I will keep looking to Him, asking Him to delineate between my own pitiful understanding of Him, and His power, if I will surrender my weakness to the One who gives me the strength to do all things, I am assured that His Kingdom will come in my own little world.

When Christians do that, we become infectious, and others are encouraged to do the same. I’m sure of it, because approximately 2100 years after He first promised that we would have His power, the Church is still the greatest force for good in the world.