If You Are Looking for Change from the Top Down,
It Is Likely That You Are Looking in the Wrong Direction
by Stuart DiNenno
“God performs great things often by weak and unlikely instruments.”
— Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)
If you are longing to see change for the better and believe that it needs to flow through the existing political or ecclesiastical institutions in order for it to have legitimacy and be effective, and you are looking toward those shores in the expectation of seeing God raise up a deliverer to a position of power and prominence who will lead the reformation of the church, the renovation of our society, and raise up Christians from out of their current social subjugation, then it is likely that you are gazing in the wrong direction.
While we do have biblical examples of men being raised to offices of power and effecting political and religious reformation through them and we have seen this in European history as well, and therefore we cannot rule out the possibility of the same happening in our time, I believe we ought to give the most weight and consideration to the scriptural example of the men God used in the first century under Jesus Christ, as this was, and remains, the greatest act of reformation in the history of the world. What type of men were the apostles when Jesus called them? For the most part they were unlearned men and common laborers. Of course, they became educated under the tutelage of Christ but they never possessed credentials or had reputations that any of the religious or political establishments of the time assigned any value. Paul was a partial exception in that he had a thorough religious education prior to his conversion, having studied “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3), and so was already well-versed in the law, yet there is no indication that he ever held any high position of authority in the Jewish religious institutions of the time and it is certain that he was not treated with any respect by the Jews after he was called into the church. None of the apostles had any worldly power, influence, or esteem and yet it was rightly said of them that they “turned the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6)
God often calls and uses those who are powerless and regarded as nothing in this world to discomfit and topple those who are mighty and highly esteemed:
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
The reason why God does this is given at the end of the passage quoted above. It is so “that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:29). As He declared to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah: “I will not give my glory unto another” (Isaiah 48:11). God delights in displaying His power through the weakness of men, so that He alone is glorified, and if we are expecting Him to work only, or even primarily, through some mighty champion of our cause in a movement led from the top down, it is likely that we will not recognize a true work of God when it begins to manifest itself.