Why Church Control must be Crucified

The Church is about controlling people. The overbearing Pastor dominates the congregation, playing lead role and telling the others what to do. Some people avoid the Church like the plague, hoping they’ll be safer outside. Yet even there the Church interferes. One blogger commented on the decline of the Church in Australia. His solution was that the Church “stop sticking their noses into everyone else’s business: politics, child raising, court systems, sexual preference etc. etc.” With all our lobbying for political control, we’re known more for what we stand against than what we stand for. Our grab for authority and casting of judgment has obscured God’s grace and the call to life. … At least that’s how it’s perceived.[1]

Okay, is this what it should be? The Church isn’t an organisation; it’s an organism. It’s a bunch of people who when put together should look like Jesus. So how did Jesus wear his authority? Was he about control?

Well, first things first, there’s a big difference between legitimate, and illegitimate authority. I can’t walk into your workplace and start telling people what to do. Why? Well, I’m not the boss. But let’s say I was ….. So let’s try a thought experiment. If Jesus really is the Son of God, as he claimed to be, that changes everything. If it’s true, doesn’t he have legitimate authority? And can’t he extend this authority to whoever he wishes? Then the real question is, How did Jesus choose to use this authority? The bottom line is this: Jesus was no authoritarian dictator; he wielded his ultimate authority with absolute humility.

Have you ever seen that TV show “Undercover Boss”? The idea’s simple: the boss of a massive company dons the worker’s uniform and enters into their company as one of the team … scrubbing dishes, delivering mail, answering phones. The boss gets to know their staff on the ground, as an equal; and at the end of the week, everyone’s shocked as his or her true identity is revealed. Same with Jesus, the ultimate undercover boss. Take two incidents.

First, Easter. Everyone has abandoned Jesus. Peter backstabbed him three times. They feel like dirt, guilty as hell, as now that Jesus has been crucified, they’ve run in fear back to their old lives. Peter and the crew are out in the boat. But while they’re out fishing and serving themselves, who should be on the beach cooking them an awesome meal of fish over the fire, but the leader himself, Jesus. He beat death. He is the boss. Peter’s probably thinking, “I’m in deep trouble.” Now, there is stuff to talk through, and a relationship to mend. But there’s no lecture and no punishment. Just forgiveness and love. “For God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to savethe world through Him” (John 3:17).

Second incident, John 8.[2] Know the story? A woman is caught in the act of having sex with someone else’s husband. Under the religious laws, she should be killed, stoned to death. They throw her in the dirt in front of Jesus. “Your call, Jesus.” But he turns the tables: “Whoever is without sin, you cast the first stone.” One by one they drop the rocks, and leave. But notice what Jesus says. “Woman, where are your accusers? Now, go and sin no more.” … “Sin no more.” He’s not there to judge. But nor is he saying to this lady and her male friend (who has conveniently escaped, “Guys, do what you want: keep wrecking families and doing damage.”

The Church is meant to look like Jesus. Our role is not to judge, or grasp for control.  But nor is it to ignore when stuff’s not right. If we truly love someone, we won’t watch silently on while they hurt themselves, or others. As a parent, if your four-year-old went to stick a fork into a live power socket, would you say something? To not is negligent. Worse, it’s unloving.

Jesus did call out sin, but it was out of love. And Jesus gave the Church, as his body, that same authority. It’s not to condemn. It’s so people will turn from death, from sin, and choose what leads to life and freedom.

Jesus was no control freak. When the disciples fought over who would be first, he donned a slave’s towel and washed their feet. “Whoever wants to be first must be last. Are you greater than your master? I came not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom.” Jesus wore his authority with humility. He leveraged his power on behalf of the least. And as his body, the Church should too.

Jesus wasn’t about being the star of the show—he’s the undercover boss. And he gives equal authority to every Christian, not to one mega-leader to manipulate the rest.  It’s only when we’re all together, serving each other, that the Church looks like Jesus. The authority we have isn’t to control. Instead, our authority is to serve each other, and give up our life to help a hurting world. That’s why Church control must be crucified.

Harsh judgmentalism and control issues are often identified with the culture wars, especially in America. So before you go back to your everyday existence, to a society that prizes power, take a look at the cruciform Church’s authority expressed in an edgy city like San Francisco. Every week, dozens of followers of Jesus from different denominations gather together as one body, the Church, to serve the least of these under the Golden Gate Bridge.[3]

Dave Benson


[1] See, for instance, www.unchristian.com, the Australian Communities Report, Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus but Not the Church.

[2] Whilst this story’s location (John 7:53-8:11) jumps around John’s Gospel in the earliest manuscripts—it was clearly a later interpolation, though perhaps by John or another early editor—there are still solid arguments for its authenticity, and it resonates with both Jesus’ teaching and example. See here.

[3] From Dan Merchant’s DVD, “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers,” lordsaveusthemovie.com. Also, to further explore the question “Is the Church relevant,” see www.kbc.org.au/media/message-logos-is-the-church-relevant/  for a response to the perceived control, exclusivity and hypocrisy of the contemporary church.

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