Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Religion involves ultimate concerns: Ultimate truth, ultimate power, ultimate reality.”
Philosopher Herbert Spencer once said, “Religion is the recognition that all things are manifestations of a Power which transcends our knowledge.”
Do we ever really think of religion in that way – as ultimate power? Perhaps we ought to consider what that means for us.
Because by witnessing to that power, we are clearly saying the power that is ultimate, the power that transcends our knowledge is not our power. It is the power of God, which Christians see in His Word and in His Son.
Therefore, we witness to power that is already present in God’s Word. And we witness to power that is already present in Jesus. We do nothing to that power to transfer its ownership. It resides in God’s Word and His Son regardless of whether we recognize that or not.
And that has implications.
One implication for us is simple: We are called to expose people to that power. My job as pastor is not to twist anyone’s arm. God does the nudging. After all, He has the ultimate power; I just show people where the power outlet is.
We simply point people to the Word (it’s amazing how many atheists have never actually read the Bible) and to Christ. Too often, we become the imperfect vehicles by which our neighbor learns about Christianity. Imperfect, because we are not the source of the power we witness to.
Another implication is that we ought to provide a safe place for that power to manifest itself in the life of an individual.
That is, since we have access to power, we must be vigilant to never abuse people with it. Churches can do that, even subtly. Rules, memberships cliques, personal dramas can all shift the focus away from God’s power and toward the church’s power.
One other important implication of our role in showing the way is that we must be careful not to confuse people with the notion that the pastor himself has or is the power they seek.
We certainly are not.
I worry when a pastor sets himself up as a moral exemplar, or when the community knows the pastor more than they know the church. That is sure predictor of failure.
If, or perhaps I ought to say when, that pastor fails in some way, that dramatically affects that church’s witness. After all, goes the thinking, they put their pastor on a pedestal (or he put himself on a pedestal and they let him), and they were wrong, so obviously they are hypocrites.
But, more importantly, by creating a pastor-centered environment, the focus of the church has been shifted from the source of any power the pastor has.
Ultimate power. That is what we witness to in the church.
Our job is to introduce people to that power, show them what that power has done for us, and get out of God’s way.