Sentire Cum Ecclesia and Subservience in the New Testament

One of the charges laid against me by the editor and commentators over at that other place, is that by adopting the motto “Sentire Cum Ecclesia” (from St Ignatius Loyola meaning “to think with the Church”) I have become “subservient”. This has become quite abusive at times – in one piece of personal correspondence, I was accused of “sucking up” to the hierarchy.

Lately, through teaching my adult education class on Paul, I have become aware of how pervasive the language of “slavery” and “freedom” is in the New Testament. With this goes a whole category of words – “master/lord”, “service”, “submit” etc. All these are an original and authentic part of the Christian picture, but which have hardly any “Sitz-im-Leben” today. Cognates of the verb douleuo (“to serve as a slave”) and the noun doulos (a “slave”) occur about 170 times in the NT, fairly equally spread through out all the books and authors of the NT. In fact the only books in which the words do not occur are 2 Thessalonians and 1-3 John.

Modern translations tend to mask the use of the words “slave” and “slavery” by using cognates of “service” and “minister” – but the latter refer to the word group belonging to diakonos (“servant”) and diakonia (“service”). These words are also common in the NT (about 100 times), and are equally spread throughout the NT, being unused in only 1 and 2 Thessalonians, James, 1-3 John, and Jude. Sometimes the two word groups are used as synonyms, but the fact remains that doulos in every instance means “slave”, as in “bought and owned by a Master/Lord”.

And here is the interesting thing: Paul regularly describes himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ”. A word search of the Greek NT for verses which use Christos and doulos/douleuo and its cognates together gives a result of no less than 20 results (16 of these in the Pauline letters)! Among these are:

Rom 1:1 Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ… (compare to Gal 1:10, Phil 1:1, Col 4:12 Titus 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Pet 1:1, Jude 1, Rev 1:1)

1 Cor 7:22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.

2 Cor 4:5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Master (Kyrios = “Lord”), with ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

Eph 6:5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.

From these passages it is fairly clear that Paul regards the relationship of the Christian to Jesus as a akin to that of a slave to his master/lord. In fact, perhaps we have lost what it means even to call Jesus “Lord”, because we have lost what it means to be his “slave”.

All this is, of course, in the context of the great freedom which a Christian has. In his commentary on Galatians, Betz remarks that freedom is the central characteristic of the relationship of the Christian before God. Paul is emphatic in Gal 5:1 “For FREEDOM, Christ has set you free; therefore do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The paradox is that Paul regards being in slavery to the Lord Jesus as the TRUE FREEDOM. It brings to mind John Donne’s wonderful lines: “Take me to you, imprison me, for I, / Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

But how about this passage from Paul:

Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be slaves of one another.

My friend Brian Coyne criticises me for an attitude of subservience towards those who are in authority in the Church of Christ. Apparently this is beneath my dignity as a free thinking individual. But having reminded us that we are called by God to FREEDOM, Paul exhort us not to use our FREEDOM to indulge the “flesh” but to submit to one another as slaves .

One could compare this with the infamous passage in Ephesians 5:21ff, where Paul exhorts husbands and wives to “submit themselves to one another in the fear of Christ”. Just as it is necessary for unity in the Sacrament of Marriage that husbands and wives do not “lord it over” one another, but willing submit themselves to one another, so it is in the Church. We submit ourselves to those in authority over us. Those in authority also, acting in the place of Christ, msut also do as he did and must take on the form of a slave, to become (in Gregory the Great’s immortal phrase) “Servi Servorum Dei“, ie. SLAVES of the SLAVES of [the MASTER] God (nb. Latin servus equals Greek doulos, Latin minister equals Greek diakonos).

So much for my reflections on this matter. One cannot begin to understand the attitude of “sentire cum ecclesia” if one has no knowledge of or familiarity with Holy Scripture. May I humbly suggest that this might just be one deficiency in the formation of some of our friends commenting on the forum at that other place?

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0 Responses to Sentire Cum Ecclesia and Subservience in the New Testament

  1. Shan says:

    I won’t comment on Mr Coyne’s view of you, save to say that having read his e-pistles for many years now I am not surprised that he doesn’t hold a positive view of those who disagree with him.

    A recent post at the Intentional Disciples blog “Bone Deep” suggests that many Catholics are simply unaware of the notion of personal discipleship. In my experience that has certainly been the case.

    No one denies that Jesus had disciples, but the truth that – as a Christian – I am also called to be one of them is something I only encountered in recent years. And only due to the work of the Siena Institute (credit, where credit is due.)

    I suspect that if someone had pointed that dynamic out to me earlier, then the blunt zeal of my post-reversion years would have been mollified and perhaps, just perhaps, I would’ve avoided the “ortho/heterodox” culture war that I fell into.

    From conversations with younger Catholics I have become persuaded that one of the most significant problems that we have in the Church in Australia is also quite solvable. Many young Catholics who have become quite “activated” after their reversion/conversion/whatever, struggle to find mentors who can guide them in the faith. Lacking these role models, they become attracted to the loudest voices they can find. Popularly this tends to be in lobby groups (e.g. Right to Life) or movements with secular appeal (e.g. Make Poverty History.)

    Please note, I’m not disparaging either of these groups. In fact, it is because both of these are founded in good convictions that makes them quite attractive. However the danger is that a Catholic becomes “for Apollo” or “for Paul” instead of for Jesus.

    Imagine the difference if newly energised Catholics were reminded – or informed for the first time – that they are to be disciples of Christ, and if older Catholics were willing to support these younger Catholics through mentoring and modeling the faith to them. Imagine that.

    Yes, I suppose some might regard that as a subservient view of the Christian life, but it needs to be remembered that the chief mark of a Christian is that he follows Christ.

  2. Sharon says:

    in one piece of personal correspondence, I was accused of “sucking up” to the hierarchy.

    I can’t imagine who would have said that!! lol

  3. Fraser Pearce says:

    And you could have included the beginning of Luther’s Freedom of a Christian. For ecumenical flavour. And all that.

    It’s also interesting to consider how many times the Apostles (and the Lord) use the words ‘authority’ and ‘truth’ in relation to such words as ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ and ‘disciple’. Not that there is an opposition between these things. But that, I gather, is the point. As you seem to be saying…

  4. Schütz says:

    Indeed Fraser. In my class on Paul the other night they got sick of me quoting from Luther – but he wasn’t wrong on everything.

    The passage to which Fraser refers is the beautiful and apt paradox:

    “Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

    No-one could put it better.

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