The “seven deadly sins” are a classical way that the church has defined those particular sins that most clearly kill the work of grace. Pope Francis recently rebuked the leaders of the Roman Curia (12/22/14), the governing leadership team of the Roman Catholic Church, and gave them 15 Ailments that indicted the bureaucracy of the church for its spiritual hypocrisy. These ailments are worthy of more careful consideration whether we are Catholic or not. I am counting these down, with my own comments. Today we see three more of the 15 Ailments.
Church leaders can easily begin to think that they are the indispensable ones in the church. I read a story a few weeks ago that underscores this for me. A lay Catholic was witnessing and sharing their faith in Christ powerfully and a leader rebuked him for taking the lead in such matters. He was asked, “Under what authority do you do this without the priesthood?” He answered, “Under the authority of some 2,860 bishops of the Catholic Church who clearly commissioned the laity to do this work at Vatican II.” Good answer. Pope Francis understands mission and evangelization as the work of “the people” (which is the true meaning of the word laity). He also understands that bishops and leaders of the church can stand in the way of the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the product of a rich and robust charismatic and ecumenical context in Argentina and he has carried this thinking into his reformation of the Curia.
No. 6 Having “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
I read a statistic the other day that sobered me. I am 65 years old. If I live to age 85 I have almost a 50% change of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Makes me not totally sure I want to live to 85 but that is beside the point. (I do not determine the length of my life so I will seek to adjust to what aging brings by faith in God alone.)
The pope used a powerful medical term to make a point. Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and gets worse over time. The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events (short term memory loss). As the disease advances the person has a host of problems that go from bad to worse. Pope Francis uses this powerfully suggestive medical term to refer to the things of the Spirit. Leaders can have a form of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that becomes a chronic illness that causes them to forget who they are and what they have been called to do. When such an illness has set in their is little to be done to change the situation unless there is a complete and total transformation by grace.
No. 5 Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise.
This metaphor works so well for me personally. So much of what I’ve seen in the church, all of it actually, is that leaders work without coronation and the result is religious noise, not beautiful music. People go from being confused to being abused. The leaders just keep telling themselves, and the people, we have this under control but the truth is there is no humility, the reality of which is necessary for their to be coordination.
Over dinner last Sunday evening my friend that I referred to above, who was pushed out of his pastoral role for no good reason, shared an interesting story with me. A black congregation and a while congregation considered merging their churches. The two pastors had a good friendship and this made it possible. As they got closer to the merger the black pastor said that there was only one agreement the two men had to reach to merge their work. The black pastor would need to be the “senior pastor” in the new church. He said, “My people know me as their senior pastor and if this changes this will not work. I do not need to lord this over anyone but I know my church and this is the only way it will work.” The white pastor said, “I cannot surrender my role as a senior pastor so we cannot do this.”
Regardless of what you think about the titles and roles the point is fairly obvious. One pastor would not surrender his role in order to serve and work in coordination with the reality of the other pastor and his role before his people. Some will criticize the black pastor but he knew the culture and reality of his congregation well. I believe I would have gladly given up a title in order to serve my brother and to make the merger work so the world could see what unity looked like in a “new” congregation. But roles were more important than the beauty of love and unity.