From external appearances the church seems no closer to revival than it did 10 or 20 years ago. The signs that precede revival, such as humble confession and deep repentance, are scarcely popular. In addition, the many abuses of power and privilege in that I have written on over the years remain largely untouched. In this article I want to discuss a foundational issue that I believe is holding back the new wineskins needed for the Holy Spirit to indwell us in power. I will begin with a dream which will lead us into biblical discussion and contemporary application.
(Please note that in the discussion below “brotherhood” is used inclusively of women)
A Dream about “Father – Hunger”
Earlier this year I had a very clear dream that came in response to earnest prayer about personal ongoing struggles. There appeared in the dream a pastor from another state, followed by a succession of men all of whom were being put to death for homosexuality. The environment in which this homosexuality was happening involved “admiration”.
The first man was the spiritual “oldest son” of a well known Christian leader who had recently retired from his position. The younger pastor chose not to follow the older man in his prominent ministry, to the surprise and disappointment of his spiritual “father”. The alternative ministry he entered into was however richly blessed by God.
The homosexuality in the dream was not physical but a symbol for emotional states. At the root of much physical homosexuality is what the Christian writer Leanne Payne calls, “the cannibal complex”. A son, whose emotional bonding to his father has been incomplete, seeks in later life to find this intimacy by entering into sexual union with other males. The “cannibilisation” refers to taking into oneself properties that are admired in the other man.
I believe God was saying that (like me) many Australian males had sought to attach themselves to father- figures in ministry whose favour and appreciation would impart to them what they lacked from their childhood. In doing so they “idealised” these figures – focusing on their good points and overlooking their faults. This took place in a climate of seeking and receiving “admiration” or respect in the leadership community of the church. This phenomenon has caused great pain in many relationships and is holding up reformation and revival in the church.
No- one Wants to Lose a Father
The emotional impact of losing a father- figure is enormous. Whether it is a natural father, a spiritual father (like the Pope) or a “fatherland”, “father” means “life –giver”. The loss of the life – giver tells us deep inside that we too are destined to die. (Hence the death of all people is contained in the death of Adam, Romans 5:12). In the natural order of events, since death is so feared by humans (Gen 2:17; Heb 2:15), no – one wants to lose a father either by physical death or the loss of a favoured relationship.
For this reason, people will do almost anything to hold on to their image of a father figure whom they believe loves them. Hitler and Stalin were such figures for the mass of their people up until their deaths; likewise masses have chosen not to “see” the darker side of pastors and priests (“fathers”).
All top down hierarchical systems, whether in state or church, image a certain sort of patriarchy where the common people look up to a father- figure to fulfil who they are. These systems are therefore what psychologists call co- dependent. Leaders and people are dependent upon each other to fulfil their emotional needs. The leader at the top appreciates the acclaim of the people and the people feel their needs for significance are being met by the approval of the leader. This is a very powerful attachment to break, but history shows God can achieve it.
Reformation in the Church
In 1520 Martin Luther wrote a treatise called The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. He argued that the structure of the church had been taken captive by ungodly forces and the whole institution needed reform. Luther’s kingdom key to break the power abuses of his time was the doctrine of justification by faith. Justification made all Christians equal as priests before God and undermined the dominance of the clergy over the laity. This teaching called for a new wineskin that rejected central control and gave voice to the common people.
A key for reformation in our day will be the rediscovery of Christian brotherhood. Jesus said, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one master, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (Matt 23:8 – 9).
The importance of these words cannot be over – estimated. The levels of abuse to which Christian or non Christian people submit is in direct proportion to their desire to find a true father on earth. This is an impossible quest from which we can be spared. Once we realize that it is relatively safe to lose a brother rather than a “father” the power that holds together all hierarchical systems of dominance – whether by title (“senior pastor”) gifting (“anointed”) or personality (“extrovert”), vanishes.
The test for the existence of “brotherhood” is simple; does everyone have an equal voice? Some may in practice say more than others, but in principle the voice of any person could be the deciding factor in hearing and obeying the voice of God. Isn’t this what it means for the Spirit to be poured out on “all flesh” (Acts 2:17cf. 1 Cor 14:26)?
A Jesus Revolution
We desperately need a brother who identifies with us. We have neglected the important New Testament revelation that Jesus calls himself our “brother” (Matt 28:12; John 20:17; Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11- 12, 17). This is a term of equality both with and for us and was achieved by his whole life.
Even though he was “equal with God” (Phil 2:6), Jesus united himself to our weak and human “flesh” (John 1:14; Rom 8:3). This means entering into a state of limitation where he is so much less than the Father (John 14:28) that he is able to die. On the cross, Jesus loses all sense of attachment/ bonding to his Father (Mark 15:34). This is the terror of his death. Unlike us however, Jesus never sought to find a Father – substitute, and in the end released his spirit back to the Father (Luke 23:46).
As the Son honours the Father in death, the Father honours the Son in resurrection. Jesus as a human being (1 Tim 2:5) is exalted and given “the name that is above every name”, this is the name “Lord” (Phil 2:9- 11), the Old Testament name for God. Jesus now enjoys deathlessness (2 Tim 1:10) and an equality of glory with the Father in heaven whose attachment can never be broken.
In treating us as brothers, Christ shares with us his present experience of the Father’s love, power and security (Rom 8:6- 17; Gal 4:4- 6; 1 John 3:1). We no longer need to feel any need to surround ourselves with substitutes for our earthly fathers. Our immortal brother assures us we will never lose the love of this Father (John 10:29).
A New Type of Apostle
There is much talk in certain parts of the church about a new wave of apostles leading us into revival. Apostles do have such a ground- breaking role, but what sort of apostle s are we talking about? After all, many prominent “apostolic figures” appear to be promoting their own ministries.
God is in fact raising up a new type of apostle, one’s like Jesus, who is at the same time our chief apostle (Heb 3:1) and our brother (Matt 28:12; John 20:17; Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11- 12, 17). We find exactly the same combination in Paul, apostle of the Gentiles (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1 etc.) and brother of those to whom he ministered (1 Cor 5:58; Eph 6:21; Phil 4:1; Col 4:7; 1 Thess 1:4; 2 Thess 2:13; Phlm 16).
True apostles understand that their authority is essentially expressed in brotherhood. They seek to bring men and women together into a community of equals before God. “26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith….28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26, 28). The children of the one Father live together as brothers. “11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying,” I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” (Hebrews 2:11 -12).
The release of brotherhood is the revival of New Testament life that will prove to be “the new apostolic reformation”.
A New Type of Blessing
For years Psalm 133 has been quoted amongst Christians seeking unity – and – revival.
“1 How very good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.”
Psalm 133 proclaims an automatic blessing on the brothers who dwell together in unity; it does not proclaim a blessing on a situation that mirrors inequality or dominance – submission. This is one of the key reasons why the church in western countries is not experiencing the spiritual prosperity of God.
Similar foundations for revival are found in Jesus’ prayers in John 17:20- 21, “20 I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word. 21 That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
All Christians believe that the differences between Father, Son and Holy Spirit are compatible with the equality and unity of God. This principle is essential to the healthy life of the church. Until we live as a community combining diversity and the equality of “brothers” the world will not see that Jesus was sent by the Father.
It is time we stopped expecting perishable “flesh and blood” (1 Cor 15:50) to satisfy our eternal needs (Eccl 3:10). We need to repent of looking to human figures in leadership to father us in a way only God can.
As long as we relate to men as men through men, and not men as men through Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5), we can never appropriate our common brotherhood. Paul understood this truth of apostolic fatherhood (1 Cor 4:15). This was a struggle in his time (2 Cor 10:11- 12) and it is one we must engage in today. On its outcome depends the whole future of the church as we know it.