“Asked who would be considered conservative Christian leaders today- with Graham in his 90s and the recent death of Jerry Falwell – Land said that “leaders are leaders because people follow them.” So says Richard Land.
Every year as we approach the commemoration of Christ’s passion, crucifixion and resurrection the people Jesus has saved recall his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
And the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”
Judging by the multitudes that followed him, and the words of Richard Land, in this grand triumphal entry, Jesus was a leader.
But after he drove the money lenders from the Temple, confounded the elders, scribes and Pharisees who sought to entrap him, and generally comported himself so as to rouse their anger, his enemies resolved to kill him.
So “Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priest and elders of the people…and laid hands on Jesus, and took him…Then all the disciples left him, and fled.” There followed the famous episode in which Peter,- so solid in faith that his Christ-given name signifies the stones that, when all men are silent, testify to truth- even Peter denies him.
In the moment of this desertion, was Jesus a leader?
Eventually, when Christ is taken before Pilate, an election is held. The Roman governor allows the multitudes to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, which shall be punished and which shall be spared. “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” So they did and Pilate released Barabbas “but Jesus he scourged and delivered to be crucified.”
In this moment of human election (choice), when all but a few had fled, when Jesus seemed to stand alone in the midst of a great multitude who were willing that he should be crucified- judging by the multitude, and the words of Richard Land, was Jesus a leader?
It is unsurprising that in a land where democratic election is the ultimate norm of human authority, people should be impressed by a multitude of followers. The experience of Christ does not simply invalidate this impression, for truth moves the multitude of God’s creation. But hearts broken by the crying truth of the innocent Christ crucified; hearts admitting in that brokenness the Lord of their salvation; such hearts have through all the generations since testified that in the darkest moment, when the multitudes had fled or turned against him, Jesus was a leader, whose leadership still calls through all the centuries of time, in living confirmation that he is risen from the dead.
In triumph and in suffering he lived by the words he had offered to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, even as his human flesh contested against the path of God’s election, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The key to Christ’s leadership was not therefore in the election of the multitudes. The key to Christ’s leadership was in the election of Christ, to die and live by the election of God.
Richard Land was asked to name Christian leaders. The standard of his selection was the choice of the multitudes. By that standard he may be right or wrong in what he says. But is the standard he chose the Christian standard, the standard raised for our consideration by our remembrance of Christ? With many or few, or alone in agony as his disciples slept, Jesus leads us to God, whether or not in multitudes we follow him. But those who do take up their cross and truly follow where he leads, are they not Christian leaders? Are they not Christian leaders who follow him, many or few or alone if they must; known as such most certainly by the one they follow, not so much by how many follow them? For, like Jesus in the moment of his death, isn’t that in the hands of God. (John 6: 37,44)