Sunday, December 16, 2007

Servants With or Of?

There has been discussion here at The Voice of the Martyrs lately about whether it is best to say that we are servants of the Persecuted Church or servants with the Persecuted Church. Presently our motto is the former. Some might say that the prepositional change is mostly semantic.

It's not.

Such a change would represent a shift in emphasis that I believe is not only contrary to the vision that Richard Wurmbrand had for The Voice of the Martyrs but (more importantly) difficult to reconcile with the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself.

To serve with someone is not at all the same as serving someone. To serve with implies a partnering relationship, hopefully between equals but not necessarily. It does not exclude the possibility of superiority especially if one of the partners is the patron or benefactor, providing assistance or aid in the relationship. To serve someone, however, implicitly suggests a position of preference to the one being served. I suggest that the later is the kind of relationship that The Voice of the Martyrs needs to nurture in its service to persecuted Christians around the world.

The context of the passages in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in which Jesus addresses the issue of servanthood and leadership is suggestive. In Matthew, when the mother of James and John asks for her sons to have places of prominence in the kingdom, Jesus asks if they are able to drink the cup of suffering and sacrifice that He will drink. The same response is given in Mark's gospel, while in Luke, the dispute over who is the greatest (Luke 22:24-30) is book-ended with the prediction of Judas' betrayal (22:22-23) and Peter's denial (22:31-34).

These passages draw attention to the truth that the kingdom community when obedient to the call of Jesus is marked by self-sacrifice, suffering, and servanthood, not self-seeking and status. Jesus calls for a radically new way, one that He lives out before the disciples. In Luke 22:27 He sums up His whole life and ministry with the words, "But I am among you as the one who serves." Just as sacrifice and servanthood mark the Lord's life, so, too, they are to be the overriding characteristic of those who follow Him.

To shift the emphasis of serving the Persecuted Church to serving with the Persecuted Church would represent, in my opinion, a move away from this model and towards a model more characteristic of the Gentiles (Luke 22:23-26). It is not a significant further step to move from serving with to lording over, especially if one is in a relationship where one is the benefactor (Luke 22:25).


Dory said...

Dear Glenn,

I welcomed the semantic change because, as you say, it implies equality. To simply serve, may mean VOM is serving, or filling a need, because the person being served is unable to do it themselves, and are thus inferior.

Therefore, to say "serving with" means we both bring the abilities and experiences we have and share them, exchanging encouragement along the way. We're equal partners in the body of Christ, with Christ as our head, and the one for whom we serve each other.

Glenn Penner said...

So, let me get this straight. When Jesus commands us to serve each other, He is asking us to treat each other as inferiors? The important issue, it seems to me, is not how words are perceived using our modern understanding of terms; the issue is what is a more biblical model of ministry. Does equality in Christ mean that we do not serve each other? Of course not. Certainly serving another does not mean that the one being served is inferior. From a biblical perspective (and for me this is the only perspective that really matters), the one being served is always being treated as a superior. So, by serving the persecuted, we are saying that they are the ones whose priorities and needs are paramount, not ours.

Dory, I would have liked to seen you actually interact with the biblical text that actually talk about servanthood, a concept that cannot simply be dismissed because we misconstrue its meaning.

Dory said...

I agree with you Glenn, that the Bible is our ultimate authority, and it's definition of servanthood is supreme.

I did not mean that in serving each other, we are treating one another as inferior. We serve each other, out of humility on both sides.

What I meant was, in terms of communicating VOM's purpose and mission in a way that can be understood by people, is that the word 'with' can help us move away from any cross-cultural feelings of superiority.

To say "by serving the persecuted, we are saying that they are the ones whose priorities and needs are paramount, not ours" seems to say to me that they are better. I think we take just as much from them and their testimonies as they take from us.

Glenn Penner said...

I agree that we take as much from them as they take from us. This is exactly my point, which is why I believe Richard Wurmbrand said that we were servants of the persecuted church. Servanthood, correctly understood, is far more effective in moving us away from any cross-cultural feelings of superiority than serving "with" someone. It is my concern that it is this very concept of serving "with" that leads more easily to a sense of superiority. When you serve "with" someone, your priorities as just as important as the other. In fact, if you are the one with the money, your priorities inevitably are paramount. Servanthood negates this. To serve someone says, my resources are at your disposal. I want to to hear what is really important to you. Let me serve you.