Sarah Whittle on Paul’s view of the church and the purpose of power

I just came across an article written by Sarah Whittle regarding Paul’s view of the church and the purpose of power. It’s really well written, and there are plenty of insights. Here are a number of good points mentioned.

Ehrensperger highlights the need for trust. And, although trust “does not render a relationship symmetrical and does not presuppose that those committed to each other are equals or the same, it presupposes mutual respect on the basis of their shared trust in God through Christ.” This trust is crucial for Ehrensperger’s transformative relationships, which must never exert force, domination or control. She describes power emerging “in communicative action.” “[W]here power-over is exercised in a non-dominating, non- paternalistic but transformative way, where people act together in solidarity, trust is the indispensable core dimension.” It is important that such a transformative power remain in view, and the goal as the transcendence of asymmetrical power. Losing sight of the goal of a transformative power relationship—that is, its own eventual transcendence—and falling back to maintaining the relationship as an end in itself—can only result in a dominating rather than empowering relationship.

 (The above paragraph cites/refers to Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul and the Dynamics of Power, Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ Movement (LNTS 325; London: T&T Clark, 2007), 29, 183.)

 So Paul’s master story of Christ’s incarnation and self-emptying, the downward movement of servanthood and humility shape his own ministry profoundly. It also shapes Paul’s expectation of his communities. Consequently, they are not to model themselves on the power structures of their social world—those based on hierarchies, asymmetrical relationships of reciprocity such as patron-client relationships, maleness, ethnicity, privileges of birth, and access to resources. Rather, just as Christ has welcomed them, so they are to welcome one another. The strong are obligated to the weak. They are not to perpetuate worldly social structures but to exercise Christ like transformative power with the goal of the transcendence of unequal power relations. Furthermore, members of Paul’s communities, “each of us,” are urged to “please our neighbour, for the good purpose of building up the neighbour” (Rom 15:2). Again, the rationale is Christ, who “did not please himself” (15:3)— another allusion to Paul’s “master story.” Here Paul shares the responsibility equally: those without the kind of power required to get ahead in the social world of Rome are still expected to contribute fully to the life of the in-Christ community, without exception.

 Our global church has much to learn from Paul’s challenge to the prevailing social order and the kinds of leadership structures which it generates and perpetuates. Clearly those who are under-resourced, lacking in connectivity, unable to access education, and lacking global influence will continue to struggle at the periphery of the global church.

Source: 18th September 2014

 Dr Whittle then talks about the role of women, which is very insightful. Take a look at the article (via the web link above).