Monday, March 14, 2011

Power & Privilege and the Christian life

Below is a video of Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt interviewing Professor Margaret Aymer. They are discussing “power and privilege and what we can do with it.”

Now to be honest perhaps Aymer and Whitsitt are not talking about living the Christian life. But I am. So the Christian life, is it about using our power and privilege whatever that might be?

Believers do have power and privilege but where do they reside. It isn’t the personal power and privilege of the Christian but belongs to Jesus Christ the Lord. The Christian's power, their only real power, comes from Jesus and his resurrection. By union with Christ the believer has life that is full, abundant and eternal. And not only is it the power of Jesus’ resurrection, but it is also the promise of Christ’s righteousness, and his suffering. Paul writes:

But whatsoever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law , but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering being conformed to his death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:7-11)"

And privilege? It is not the privilege that race or nation, class or wealth, education and position offer. Those belong to the world and as Paul did, so the Christian must also count them as loss because of Christ. Instead is the wondrous privilege of knowing Jesus Christ. This involves everlasting life with Christ, As Ralph Martin puts it, “The person and work of Christ are inseparably joined. To gain him is to have him as one’s all-prevailing merit; and, in the classic words of Melanchthon, to know him in the intimacy of personal trust and surrender is to know his saving benefits.”

From this relationship which has nothing to do with personal power or privilege but with Christ’s great self-sacrifice the Christian walks in the good works that God has provided, never in contradiction to his word, always uplifting the person and work of Jesus Christ. The works, always in conformity to the work of the suffering and resurrected Christ, will be both comforting, redemptive and transformative.


Craig said...


I completely agree that any real power and privilege we have are rooted in God through the work of Christ.

However, as usual when I return from Haiti I am reminded that as an American we have a certain amount of power and privilege that many others in the world don't have.

My question is how do we acknowledge and use the power and privilege we have to further God's kingdom?

Craig said...


Twin Cities MN

Viola Larson said...

Hi Craig,
That is a very good question and one I was trying to answer but didn’t quite get there. I think what is missing in the video is that as Christians although we acknowledge our worldly power and privilege, we give it up. That is the part about counting it as loss. That doesn’t mean immediately striping yourself of everything that gives you power or privilege. It means counting them as nothing so you will give them away for the sake of gaining Christ if that is what is required of you. They simply become nothing. And I think doing such things as going to help in Haiti is, in fact, a small part of giving away any power or privilege.

But here is the other part of that. For the Christian, Jesus and our union with him really is our power. The rest of it is nothing. So it is his work in us. We can have a great deal of theological education and use it to misinterpret the scriptures. Some people can have a great deal of organizational skills and charisma which gives them a great deal of power, and still use that power to destroy others both in soul and body. Here I am thinking in particular of Jim Jones. He was very much into social justice, socialism and his charismatic gifts gave him power with many leaders, both church leaders and secular leaders. But it was his power, not the power, righteousness and suffering of Jesus.

I was looking at a posting I did way back before the General Assembly in which the PNS was quoting Aymer about the committee on marriage that she talks about in the video. We all know that we almost lost our way with that committee until the work of the minority which got joined to the majority. This is what Aymer was reported to have said, I am taking this from a posting I wrote:

“Responding to questions about the minority report coming from three members of the committee, Aymer admitted, "I haven't read it. Realizing that, despite all our efforts at covenant community, there was going to be a minority report was extremely painful but still, we all stayed at the table."

'The minority report,' Aymer added, "may consist only of things which were considered and voted down by the committee."

"It was eye-opening for many members to realize that people disagreed for biblical and theological reasons. We are called by our denomination to read the Bible, taking seriously the issues of language and structure of scripture, and the context of the texts. It was a little strange for me, being from the PC(USA)’s smallest and least remembered seminary, to be the only biblical scholar in the room!"
You can read my posting at but my point is in this case someone was taking their power and using it with the thought that they were the only person who had the right knowledge which isn’t true.

It just boils down to giving up power and privilege not using it. We all have this problem of exerting our own power and privilege thus doing harm; I see it in my own self far too many times.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Viola,

"It just boils down to giving up power and privilege not using it."

I hope and pray the pastors who signed the "letter to the PCUSA" take that to heart.

Steve Blair
San Diego, Ca

Dave Moody said...

Vi, am reading Marva Dawn's, "Powers, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God," she thinks and writes about these things far more deeply than either your subject or your detractors seem to have. I commend her to you.

grace & peace,

Viola Larson said...

Thanks Dave,
I have that book and have not read it for a long time. Now I know what to read.

Robert said...

Viola the theology is really rather simple. All that I have and all that I am belong to Jesus. The difficulty is in the application. I think the greatest sin in the PCUSA among the elite is the application of education as power. While it is wonderful to have a theological education it can make one prideful, particularly when a congregation always defers to you. We pastors and doctors of the Church need to remember that the education was given to us for Jesus, not for our pride.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Robert-that is the truth.