I remember how, some years ago, Argentinian pastor Juan Zuccharelli, addressed a gathering of church leaders in our local church. A few of us in our city had been following with interest a spiritual awakening in Argentina under the leadership of Ed Silvoso and others. They were impacting businessmen, civic leadership, and many prisons across the land (some prisons claimed the conversion of 80% of their inmates, who would foster prison discipline and feed the local street children). It was Juan’s first visit to South Africa. He related how, as his plane banked low over Cape Town, he had a powerful inner impression of a spiritual principality (cf. Eph. 6) dominating our nation:  he identified it as a spirit of ‘control.’ At the time, and now much more so, I recognised a strong political manifestation of that ‘power’ in our relatively young democracy. Just the other day our President declared that if his ruling party goes down, the whole nation goes down (this after declaring many times that his party would reign until the return of Jesus Christ). Now I am not engaging in party-politics at this point, because I think all parties are flawed in one way or another. What I am saying is that our South African society in general, our morality, prosperity and economy are being greatly hampered by leaders obsessed with political control, forever and a day, come what may. That’s bad control!

Sadly, bad and ugly forms of control are also rife in many churches across our land, continent, and globe:  in mega-churches and smaller churches. In many scenario’s the ‘Senior Pastor’ (or ‘Man of God’) has made it publicly known that it’s either his way or the highway. Other leaders are a little more subtle, but everyone knows who is in charge and who must not be crossed. I know of totally broken senior leadership, junior leadership and members in institutional churches in our city, whose personal health and family life have had to pay the price of unbiblical control. Leaders and members are manipulated emotionally and spiritually, made to feel guilty about unnecessary things, etc. I try to listen to such people and help where I can, but its difficult. You see, members and leaders are victims of a system innately flawed and wired, more often than not, to destruct rather than construct. That’s ugly control!

While we can understand this kind of thing happening in our highly secularised and materialistic world where dog eats dog in pursuit of ‘success,’ but in the kingdom of God? A recent BBC report, under Earth Blog, highlighted that many mammals practice male/female infanticide. A new study of spider monkeys has revealed males killing male babies in order to prevent sexual competition. What’s more, the infants were all from the monkeys’ own social groups. Enough said…

Is there a place for control in God’s economy, and in his Church? Is there good control?

  • The Genesis account depicts the Eternal God, magnificent Creator and loving Controller of all things, creating the earth as a kind of tabernacle to live in. He also creates mankind in his own image to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ on his behalf. Of course, biblical and contemporary history illustrate man’s graphic failure in fulfilling that mandate.
  • But God has a sovereign and saving purpose for his created world, viz. to redeem and re-create it after his will. His chosen instrument is his Son, who comes to cure our sin and empower us to fulfil our destiny in Christ. God’s ultimate purpose is magnificently set out in Eph. 1-2 and Col. 1. Writing to the Philippian community the apostle Paul urges God’s people to press on toward the goal of Christ:  3:20ff, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers… that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” Surely a timely word of encouragement for God’s saints today, as we face increasing suffering and persecution in so many parts of the world (as I write we have learned of the death of three South African believers whose home in Afghanistan was torched by the Taliban – they weren’t even career missionaries as claimed by the Taliban but part of an NGO working for the upliftment of Afghani people in terms of agriculture and other vital skills.
  • There is the self-control of faith communities and their members under the gentle, loving control of the Holy Spirit. We are of course totally unable to control our natural, selfish desires and speech without the indwelling presence of the living Christ! But he indwells us corporately and individually. References to this self-control are manifold:  Prov. 29:11; 1 Cor. 7:37; 1 Cor. 14:26ff (spontaneity and order in worship); 1 Thess. 4:4; and especially Rom. 8:5-14! By this good control we display the beauty and glory of God in an increasingly disorderly world.

Coming back to control in the body of Christ under his headship. I think it was Frank Viola, in addressing a denominational leadership conference in Chile some years ago, who said that any kind of leadership in the body that did not set members free in Christ, was not true leadership. He’s right. We only have to look at Christ’s example and mandate in Lk. 4, given in his home synagogue, quoting the servant passage of Is. 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” As a low-key facilitator of organic house churches in our city, called to fulfil Christ’s ultimate purpose in the earth, I have to constantly ask myself:  ‘Am I setting God’s people free??’ And you, my brother, my sister?

[PS. I am currently reading Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Church Life. Writing about the relationship of apostles and members he states clearly:  the local church must never control the work of an apostle, though it is free to help him/her in any way. On the other hand, an apostle must never control a local church. Nee cites Paul on arrival in Rome:  he didn’t take over the local church or become its ‘pastor!’ But that discussion must wait for another time…]

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