Greatness in the Kingdom of God

In my work with the Emerging Scholars Network and Faculty Ministry, we call Christian students and faculty to be “redemptive influences within higher education.”  People often ask me what that means, and it’s tempting to paint a picture of thousands of C.S. Lewises, spiritual giants at every college in the country.  First of all, that would be unrealistic – someone like C.S. Lewis comes along once in a century.  But more importantly, it would give a distorted image of what a faithful follower of Christ in the academy looks like.  C.S. Lewis is famous because of his many acclaimed books, now being made into blockbuster movies, and his justified fame as both an apologist and scholar. However, as Lewis himself pointed out in The Great Divorce, greatness in heaven is very different than greatness in the world.  Worldly success, such as that enjoyed by Lewis, is not a guaranteed result of faithfulness to Christ.  The very opposite may be the case.  

Two passages that I’ve recently read reminded me of this.  The first is from Life Together: 

“Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” (Mark 10:43). Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service.  Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing and proclaiming is carried out.  Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for “episcopal figures,” “priestly men,” “authoritative personalities” springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.  There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (I Tim. 3:1 ff).  One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality.  The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry.  In the man himself there is nothing to admire.  (Bonhoeffer, 108)

Perhaps this is a better description of “redemptive influence: the simple, faithful man (or woman), sound in faith and life. 

The second passage comes from Jonathan Wilson’s Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice. The people that we minister to in ESN and FM are, let’s face it, powerful people, even if they don’t realize it themselves. They are among the world’s intellectual elites: the most educated members of the wealthiest society on the planet.  This position carries with it a whole set of temptations to the Christian, not the least of which is the confusion of worldly success with spiritual faithfulness.  Too often we think that suffering or failure is the result of personal weakness, when it may be exactly the reverse. 

After considering the mysterious phrase from Acts 5:41 – “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing, because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” – Wilson writes of the connection between power and suffering in the Gospel:

This is the lesson of the early community of disciples: the power of the Spirit is the power to suffer as witnesses to the good news of the kingdom of life in Jesus Christ.  This insight is key to the church’s practice of power.  Power is not the means to avoid suffering or protect oneself or one’s community from suffering.  Nor is the suffering of the church a sign of our powerlessness.  Nor is suffering in itself a good.  Rather, when the church is empowered to live by the kingdom of God in a world that is in rebellion against that kingdom, suffering is the consequence of faithful witness. (Wilson, 137)

May I too be considered worthy to suffer disgrace because of the Name. 

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