Many people are eager to get control over others, and far, far too many are eager to be controlled: to give their allegiance to The Leader, to do what he says and to believe that whatever he does is right. I believe the psychologists call it authoritarianism, and I suppose we all have a touch of it. Most of us get a little starry-eyed over royalty. Admit it. Wasn’t that last wedding in England just gorgeous, and don’t you think those babies are something extra special? How many have run to copy Kate’s dresses, or to find the same bonnet as the one on the new princess?
All of that’s rather story-book and harmless, but it gets dark in other realms. We’re seeing a grim example in the effects of Bill Gothard’s authoritarian organizations. The young women he accosted during his “ministry” seem to have taken a long time to speak out and expose him as a dirty old man. They must have been intimidated by his being the leader, the teacher, the one to whom they had pledged allegiance. Families in the flock are following the pattern. (See "Power and Perverts.")
It happens with more admirable leaders too. Francis Schaeffer, for example, was a brilliant theologian who devoted his life to counteracting modernist decay in the interpretation of the Bible. His L’Abri refuge in Switzerland helped many come to a firm faith in the God of the Bible, and many of his disciples have become valuable teachers, authors and leaders. I haven’t heard of any sex scandals. But I did feel the wrath of one of his devotees when I voiced mild disagreement with a point in one of his published studies. I thought his statement about the nature of the church was true, but I didn’t think it followed from the passage under discussion. I got the “look of death” from another member of the group, a person who often sought to settle a question with “Dr. Schaeffer says…” in exactly the way the prophets said “Thus saith the LORD.” This person stayed angry with me for weeks.
As usual, the Apostle Paul saw it coming and warned about it. In 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, he wrote, “… there are quarrels among you… One of you says ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; … Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Then in chapter 3, he asks, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants…”
We have all too many examples in recent history (and the present) of what happens when a man is set up above God, from Bill Gothard to Adolf Hitler. People are caught up in the thrill of adulation and the comforting sense that a superior leader is guiding us though this uncertain world. The results are almost always horrible. In the United States, we run a great risk when we set a man up above the Constitution. I’ve noticed that many who were sure Obama would lead us into all perfection have toned it down, bless their hearts, but the phenomenon is still out here. This one will save us! Or maybe that one!
Warning: if you’ve hitched your life to a teacher, preacher or politician, a movement or organization, you’re on very shaky ground. Sand, one might say. When what you need is rock.