Is the Kingdom of God Egalitarian?

Jesus said:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Matthew 20:25-27 (similarly Mark 10:42-43 and Luke 22:25-26)

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only 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. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:8-12

Why isn’t a strict literal interpretation customarily applied to these passages?

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17 thoughts on “Is the Kingdom of God Egalitarian?

  1. Good question, Grace. I am so blessed reading your blog posts for so many reasons.

    I do wonder what would happen and how marriages and churches and institutions would be revolutionized if we took these verses at face value and really believed what they said and then went on to act as if they are true. Instead of arguing amongst ourselves “who is the greatest”, we should be trying to outdo each other, in each of our relationships, with who is the greatest servant. Jesus is our example, in this, and He showed us what true greatness looks like. It is when we stoop to the lowest level, don the towel of servanthood and do the work in service to others that is considered the lowest of the low. The business of foot washing was reserved for the least of the servants. All this striving to be ruler and leader and power posturing is not the message of the gospel.

  2. Gracey…obviously you can’t interpret Scripture…didn’t you notice that it says we are all BROTHERS – not sisters…sister. ;)

    I know many a “brother” who like to be called “Rabbi”, but rarely function as such…but I’ve had many “sisters” who’ve never been called “Rabbi”, but functioned as one for me – my wife, mom and sisters at the top of that list.

  3. Man, Grace, your head sounds like it’s right where my head is. I feel like I’m getting some clarity, but I also feel incapacitated when it comes to putting words to it.

    It’s just so…other. It seems like He is just so opposite to us, to our normal reactions, to our natural assumptions, to all of it. It’s no surprise that we take what we *do* understand of Him and then put it to work in our very human fallen ways. We have good intentions, but I wonder, on the whole, just how much we’ve really bombed this thing.

  4. Grace, this post is yet again misleading. The best of egalitarian thinkers today understand that the best of complementarian thinkers do not regard male leadership as power-hungry position-seeking self-exaltation. In fairness why don’t you get up to speed and enter the real debate. Why characterize complementarians as those into strict literal interpretation. They have long proven their desire for sound literal interpretation that is historically, grammatically, contextually and theologically informed.

  5. Thanks for your comments David and bjk.

    Corrie,
    Great comments. I honestly believe that looking past this issue of power has been a hindrance in our attempts to live the message of the gospel.

    fr’nklin,
    I suppose we could take the brother thing literally too, if we’re being literal. :)

    Beyond just the gender issue, what you said is true in many circumstances. It isn’t always the one being called rabbi or teacher who is living the life of a servant.

    Molly,
    I agree that it is always hard to articulate ideas that are still in process. I think the way things could/should be is very different than what we, as the church, have assumed and modeled.

    jim,
    I am having trouble understanding how presenting two scriptures with a question is misleading.

    I am not the least bit interested in entering a long-standing debate. I do not know the clearly established definitions of what is considered complementarian and what is considered egalitarian. I was hesitant to use the word egalitarian in the title for that very reason.

    The only reason I did was because it said in one word what would have otherwise taken a complete sentence – Is there equality among members of the body of Christ in the kingdom of God?

    I am speaking beyond the gender issue at this point. I have not characterized complementarians in any way in my post. I wasn’t even thinking along those lines.

    My last question was intended much more generally than that – Why, overall, in most structures of the church, in general, have we overlooked the specific words of these two passages in favor of establishing hierarchies?

    Jim, this is not a debate for me. This is me, on my blog, working through my own understanding and beliefs concerning leadership within the church and the kingdom of God.

    The understood disclaimer would be that the views expressed on this blog are solely the opinion of said writer of blog.

    You are welcome to agree or disagree with my conclusions. I would appreciate that you not accuse me of being purposefully misleading or falsely characterizing others.

    You are always welcome to express your beliefs also. In fact I would be most interested in hearing from someone why they don’t believe these two scriptures apply to titles and positions within the church. It benefits us all to hear thoughts from another point of view.

  6. I think it’s important to point out that these verses suggest that their will be and must be someone of “authority or greatness”. I hesitate to use the word great or greatness but Jesus did. :) As you pointed out, how one gets there is most often not as Jesus says in Scripture….servanthood.

  7. Grace-

    well said. it’s your blog. I too wonder about some of the higher-archies in the church and am wondering why some of the structures are necessary.

    And yet, time and time again i know its not just the people that matter. You can have good people and bad structures, or you can have bad people and good structures.

    Either way, jesus brought us a model of how to both use and redeem the structures he was a part of.

    then again, as white male, what do i know about oppressive strcutures?

  8. shannon,
    I agree with you, but it seems that our human tendancy is to focus on the greatness rather than on being a servant or slave to others. I hope to address this more in discussing leadership.

    joshua,
    That’s true, and I think that a lot of really good people do work and function within structures of hierarchy. However, I don’t necessarily think the structures themselves are mandated by God.

  9. I guess you’re right…but what if we could see structures not as outside of God’s mandate, but more of a reality of the world in which we live and thus in need of the redemption and infusion?

    I have to be honest, as a once anti-structuralist (hated everything to do with structures and believed God could never use them) who is now more of a neo-strucuturalist (believes that structures are good when put to good use; or in the case of religion, have the capacity to mediate the presence of God but only when those who experience the structure positively see them as such) I think it is really important to explore how even Jesus did not throw out the structures of his day, but actually brought new life through them.

    Guess this wouldn’t be God mandating the structures, but maybe madating the people within them to use them towards God’s good promises?

  10. Jim, Grace doesn’t need me to defend her, but from my own perspective, I have to ask why you are making these types of accusatory comments while 1) hiding behind the relative anonymity of not having a blogger profile, and just using a simple first name, and 2) not answering the questions that are asked of you in return?

    In light of those two aspects that I pointed out, your comments amount to nothing more than “cheap shots” and weaken the very positions you appear to want to defend. The technical term is ad hominem.

    In recent posts, I have watched you accuse Grace several times without warrant, and not offer any valid counter-arguments of your own, even though you have been challenged by more than one person to do so.

    I would strongly suggest that you rethink the tone, content, and approach of your comments if you are at all interested in dialoguing with anyone.

  11. Grace,
    I wonder why certain people try to pick fights on other people’s blogs? I just don’t understand the point. If it’s to correct or instruct, well that’s just rude unless it’s invited. I don’t go into other people’s homes and start telling them what they are doing wrong according to my narrow interpretation of how the world should be. Very strange.

    It’s one thing to offer a contrasting opinion. And there’s a world of difference between condescendingly instructing and simply sharing my personal perspective. Different views can still be presented with respect and gentleness.

    My wife and I just watched “Pride and Prejudice” last night. I’m sure that the parson was completely convinced that he was morally correct in all that he did, but he was totally oblivious to the most minimal social skills required to communicate effectively other human beings.

    Sometimes self-righteous people online can be just like that. For people like that, “being right” far outweighs any possibility of respectful relationship. I confess that I have been such a boorish prig, and probably more often than I’m aware of. I’ve been called a “troll” more than once when I stuck my nose into an online forum with no intention of doing anything else but trying to prove the host wrong, or at least provoke a fight. That was a few years ago. Hopefully I’ve improved a bit in this regard, and I hope that this post is not an exercise in hypocrisy.

  12. joshua,
    Good point. I agree that there will always be structures, and like you, I don’t believe that I am anti-structure. I would say that I am against authoritarian hierarchical structures that presume to have power over other believers.

    I believe that the redemptive use of structures would require that those involved in them recognize their function as empowering others rather than gathering power unto themselves.

    I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts as I discuss how we view leadership without the grid of hierarchy.

    Steve,
    You seem to be really good at engaging conversation with those who don’t agree at your blog. I was hopeful that Jim would stick around and share his point of view with us. Perhaps I don’t write in a way that encourages that kind of dialog.

    Gary,
    I’ve not known that side of you. I’ve seen you go out of your way to include and engage others in conversation both at your blog and others.

    jim,
    The invitation to share your thoughts remains open.

  13. Grace, I sure didn’t intend my comment to imply that Jim needed to leave. I would love to see Jim engage in meaningful dialogue with you, and not just resort to the personal attacks that he was using.

    (Besides, I couldn’t rightfully ask someone else to leave someone else’s blog!! hehe)

    I hope you didn’t think I was trying to run him off!! :) I think you do just as well, if not better, at engaging people on your blog as I do. Keep it up!! :)

  14. Steve,
    No, I wasn’t worried about what you said. Like you, I would love to see Jim engage in some dialog with all of us. I just wanted to make sure he knew that invitation was open to him.

  15. My pastor, sorry, “Apostle” just told me that everybody believes in using titles and that I am the only person in the world who believes that Jesus said in Matthew 23 that we were not to use titles. He used the lame excuse of interpretation to say that if that was what Jesus meant, that I could no longer call my biological male unit “father” or I would be in sin. I could not believe he told me that or that I was the “only one in the whole world who thought that Jesus spoke against titles.” How could I be “sooooooooo right” and all other “Apostles” be wrong?

    Thanks for the link and article.

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