How dangerous is pride anyway? The Russian Orthodox church seems to think it is very dangerous. The November 2006 issue of Christianity Today reports on a Father Sergey who had a very successful ministry of exorcism. (Agnieszka Tennant, “The God Who Lives and Works and Plays in Russia,” p.40)
He was so successful that he was forbidden to do anymore “lest he succumb to the sin of pride.” Instead he is now “bringing up about 20 orphans he and his wife adopted.”
It is hard to beat raising 20 orphans to bring one down to earth.
The report struck me because most of us would have handled his case rather differently. Modern evangelicalism would probably have set him up in some high profile ministry so that he could touch more lives. He would have been invited to speak at all our major conferences and visit our largest and most influential churches.
Stopping his exorcism ministry would have been seen as a waste. Imagine the number of lives he could touch. No, we would have handled our Sergeys’ quite differently from the Russian Orthodox Church. But guess which tradition Ted Haggard comes from.Perhaps our Russian Orthodox brethren have a much clearer understanding of the danger of pride.
In his analysis of the Ted Haggard fall, Gordon MacDonald talks about the inner assassin that dwells in all of us:
“I’ve spent more than a little time trying to understand how and why some men and women in all kinds of leadership get themselves into trouble, whether the issues be moral, financial, or the abuse of power and ego. I am no stranger to failure and public humiliation.
>From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin. This deeper person (like a contentious board member) can be the source of attitudes and behaviors we normally stand against in our conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses energies that—unrestrained—tempt us to do the very things we ‘believe against.’
If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones) have, you never live a day without remembering that there is something within that, left unguarded, will go on the rampage.”
Ted Haggard has to give an account to God and to the church. I am not so concerned about Ted Haggard. I am more concerned about my own soul because I am part of a church culture that encourages ecclesiastical superstars, a practice not much different from the world. And like the world, when a superstar falls we distance ourselves from him or her and move on to the next superstar du jour. God forgive us.
Gordon MacDonald has chosen a very disturbing word, “assassin,” for this propensity for destructive pride that dwells in all of us.Here he is one with Scripture.
The apostle Peter was very clear about the danger of pride.
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.’Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” [1Peter 5:5b-7 TNIV]
Paul warned that young Christians shouldn’t be made leaders prematurely lest they succumb to pride. He didn’t seem to make exceptions for the giftedness of the individual or the need of the hour.
“He (an elder) must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” [1 Timothy 3:6]
In other words in our decision making we must always bear in mind MacDonald’s assassin. Always.
Indeed Paul himself had to have some very painful divine pedagogy to keep him from pride. Here are his own words:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”[2 Corinthians 12:7b-10]
It seems that everywhere we turn in the Scriptures there are urgent red flashing lights warning us of the danger of pride. Our cultural blinkers blind us to these warning lights. Otherwise we wouldn’t treat our “successful” leaders the way we do.
Our leaders need as much encouragement as they can get. But we are talking here about honest loving affirmation that includes correction where needed. We should avoid like the
plague, all behaviour that implies that capable leaders are somehow more important than other saints. We must be careful not to feed the inner assassins.
The New Testament works so hard to demolish elitism of all sorts, whether based on knowledge, money, race, sex, and/or social standing. All are equal in God’s family. All are equal at the Lord’s table. And if one has visible success in ministry, one learns to say like Paul:
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things
grow.” [1 Corinthians 3:6.7]
Now that is a verse worth taping on the bathroom mirror especially for those who think they are doing great things for God.
We may not end up doing something as severe as our Russian Orthodox friends. Imagine asking all successful senior pastors of megachurches to take three years off to run a Christian bookstore or yes even an orphanage. I can hear all the yells about the wrong fit of giftedness and roles. I guess.
But maybe we just don’t understand how dangerous pride really is. Or maybe we just don’t love our leaders enough.