Judging the wolves

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). He never told us to judge ourselves by our fruits. If we want to know whether or not we are saved from evil and promised a place in heaven, we look to the Word of God. We trust what God has said there about our forgiveness and our place in his kingdom. We turn to the Church—the people of God gathered around God’s Word—and to the special blessings of the Church for confidence that we are the people of God, redeemed from all sin and evil, and guaranteed eternal life in a new creation.

We do not judge ourselves, but we do judge others. Especially those who claim to be prophets and teachers must be judged so we will be safe from false prophets and lying teachers. The best way to judge such a teacher is to compare the teacher’s words to God’s Word. If their teachings differ from the Bible, they are to be corrected; if they refuse correction, they are to be ignored. (Under the Law of Moses, they were to be executed.) Another way to assess the fruits of a preacher or teacher is consider their lives. I Timothy 3:1-7 describes the qualities that the leader of a congregation must have. Fourteen qualities are listed. While I do not want to comment upon all fourteen, several are worthy of special mention.

“Above reproach”—no one but Jesus is without sin, but not all sins are equal in this world. All sins equally separate sinners from God, and all sins are forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice, but in other ways some sins are worse than others. A leader who does not abuse authority can be considered beyond reproach. One who uses authority over others to take advantage of them does not belong among the leaders of the Church. The Church’s leaders are to be servants rather than lords.

“The husband of one wife”—aside from excluding polygamy, this qualification has generated controversy. Can the leader of a congregation remarry if his wife dies? What if the marriage ends in divorce, but it was entirely the fault of the wife? I am uncertain of the answer in these cases, but in other matters I am certain. A church leader who commits adultery, or one who abuses women or children, cannot remain in leadership or return to leadership. The sinner might repent, confess, and be forgiven, but even being forgiven that former leader cannot return to leadership. The harm he has done to others is too great to ignore, even under forgiveness.

“Not a drunkard”—sad to say, many Christian leaders buckle under stress and turn to alcohol or other addictive substances or behaviors rather than finding their strength in the Lord. While a person is under the power of an addiction, that person cannot lead others. Following recovery, including repentance and confession, I believe such a person can return to leadership in the Church.

“Not violent, but gentle; not quarrelsome”—how many prominent leaders in the Church do these words disqualify? When a person is causing fights and schisms in the Church, either by beginning such fights or by entering them as a participant rather than working as a peacemaker, that person should not be entrusted with a position of leadership. In this case, also, recovery, including repentance and confession, can be considered grounds for returning to leadership.

“Not a lover of money”—anyone who considers wealth to be proof of genuine faith and Christian living is unworthy of leadership in the Church. Anyone who teaches others to believe the same is unworthy of leadership in the Church. Some Christians are obsessed with money and worldly property. They have turned their backs upon God and upon treasures in heaven to claim as much wealth as they can seize on earth. Worse, they are using God’s name to gather such wealth. If they persist in this error, they face serious judgment on the Last Day. Meanwhile, those who will not be corrected should be ignored.

Many famous and prominent leaders in the contemporary Church fail to show these qualities. They are not fit to lead God’s people. So long as they persist in their errors, they should be regarded as ravenous wolves. Every Christian is advised to flee from such wolves and to seek protection from Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. J.

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A government of our peers

The foundation of American democracy is the belief that, when a government is not working, citizens have the right to change their government. The time has come to consider such a change. My proposal would require a constitutional convention whose decisions would have to be ratified by the various states, but I think approval will happen, given the problems with our current system of choosing leaders.

I propose that we choose our President and members of Congress in the same way we choose our juries, providing a government of our peers rather than a government of expert politicians.
The best leaders are those who do not seek power. In ancient Athens, governing officials were selected by lot for one-year terms. In the early Christian Church, new leaders were selected by those already in office—often the best of them declined their nomination, since they did not feel qualified to lead. They just wanted to learn more about Jesus. They were forced into office against their will, and they proved to be qualified all the same.

Imagine that in each Congressional district of the United States, the names of all registered voters are placed into a pool, and twelve names are randomly selected. A board of attorneys (consisting of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) reviews the twelve citizens, researching their lives and removing the names of those who are not qualified for a place in Congress, but leaving a list of five nominees for the position (even if a further drawing of names is needed after the first twelve are exhausted). During the summer, information on the five candidates is sent to all voters at public expense. They debate one another in public, but privately funded campaigning is discouraged. On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, voters choose from among the five. If none of them receives more than half the votes, the two who received the most votes are placed on a second ballot which is presented to voters on the third or fourth Tuesday of November.

The members of Congress would meet in Washington as is done now. They would be guaranteed the right to return to their former jobs after their time in office has ended, just as jurors and reserve military personnel are guaranteed now. A provision could be made for incumbent Representatives to be reelected if the voters so choose, although they would not run unopposed. Once the system proves itself in the House of Representatives, we will begin selecting Senators in the same way. Eventually, the President of the United States will also be chosen in this manner.

The writers of the Constitution did not trust voters to make good decisions about their leaders. The Constitution allowed voters to select Representatives, but it had state governments choose Senators. (An amendment to the Constitution changed that in 1913.) The Constitution still does not allow voters to choose a President, but only to choose electors who will choose a President. (Electors promise in advance who they will choose, so voters have confidence that they are choosing their President.) The Constitution says nothing about political parties, because the writers of the Constitution were opposed to the idea of political parties. For most of American history, party conventions chose candidates for office with little participation from the average voter. Often candidates were chosen by compromise in “smoke-filled rooms.” When Hubert Humphrey was nominated by the Democrats in 1968 without having won a single caucus or primary election, both major parties changed their rules to hold caucuses or primary elections in each of the fifty states. Both parties still seat additional delegates not chosen by the voters, and these so-called “super delegates” can still swing a nomination away from the choice of the voters.

Perhaps this idea should be tested in several states before a constitutional convention meets to propose this change for the entire nation. If four or five states selected their legislators and state-wide officials in the same way that juries are selected, we would see whether or not this idea works. The final change would be many years away, but the pain of this year’s presidential election might be remembered long enough to fuel a drive toward this change.

Our form of government is designed to change, responsive to the will of the people. Changes have succeeded in the past, so changes can succeed in the near future. Surely we can do better than we are doing this year. J.