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Boromir And Faramir

August 30, 2010

I could not find a good artist’s rendering of Boromir and Faramir, so I chose an image from the movie of Lord Of The Rings. I think this one comes from an extra scene in the Extended Versions. The great part about this image, is that it came with the subtitle. Comparing and contrasting the two sons of Denethor as a metaphor for my experience with my former Evangelical Church, and Orthodoxy, so it is something of a Story of Two Brothers. My attempt is to make a comparison with the book characters, not the movie characters. I think there is a big difference between how Tolkien and Jackson portray these two men. If you have read the Lord of the Rings (or even if you have only seen the movie) you can probably guess who will be who in my metaphor.

This reflection was spurred by an evening of hanging out with some old friends. There were seven of us, four of which used to attend the same church. The other three had contact with that church at one time or another, but never attended. None of us now attend this particular church. I will say that it is a Calvary Chapel in the Southern California, but I don’t want to give any names, so as not to seem to be disparaging anyone’s character. We were laughing about some of our own personal shenanigans back in the day, but then the conversation turned to a more serious topic; the things that have become unsettling about our former church. We noticed a tendency for things in the church to be driven by personalities, rather than led of the Holy Spirit, though they are labeled “Spirit Led”. We also noticed how many people who had once been in leadership at our former church, that are no longer there. Many of these people were suddenly “led in a new direction” (which meant they were asked to leave), usually after some kind of disagreement had occurred. Our former church had once been a small, humble congregation that has since become a stereo-typical mega-church. Our biggest lament was the number of people that have come, then been brushed aside in the name of spirit-led progress, all on the whims of a single personality.

And so comes my comparison.

Boromir, the elder son of the ruling Steward of Gondor was a large, charismatic warrior with a great desire to defend his home and people. He was loved and admired by many. While many of his traits were positive ones, he had a major flaw; he allowed one of his major strengths to become his downfall. In his courage and desire to defend his people from the evil of Mordor, he let himself fall victim to the enticement of the Great Ring. Wishing to use it against the enemy as a weapon, he disregarded any warnings that such a feat were impossible by the very nature of the Ring and the power it possessed. Eventually the delusion of being able to wield the power of the Ring led him to try and take it from Frodo. The ensuing chaos that followed led to the breaking of the Fellowship, and his own death. It is noteworthy that he did in fact die nobly, and recognized his delusion just before he died.

Such is the problem I have seen with a personality-driven church. In many cases the intent of the leadership is good, and worthy of praise. Much of the programs and things of that sort are good. The sinister nature of the personality-driven church lies just under the surface. A strong personality is very attractive to people. As people begin to gather around such a person (though people suppose they are simply gathering around the Word of God) there are inevitably those who begin to stroke the person’s ego.

Let me back up just a little. In case you are wondering, the model that churches like Calvary Chapel follow as their template of leadership is Moses. He heard from God, the people heard from and obeyed Moses. Only problem is, Moses had an actual encounter with the Living God in a radical way (such that his face physically glowed), and was extremely humble. Now back to our church…

With a model as described above, a person begins to be “led of God” and gets people to agree with his ideas. This is the beginning of delusion. For there is no real accountability, or hierarchy. If people disagree with the “vision” of the pastor, they are simply “being led elsewhere” because they do not fit the mold – uh – I mean, “aren’t keeping unity.” Unbeknownst to the pastor, people also begin to see getting into his circle as power. This is never overtly stated or thought, but it lies under the surface. Once in the circle, people begin to use manipulation as a way of keeping others “out”, getting others “in” or getting those that may be yet closer “out of the way”. This can be divisive, destructive and before you know it, the Word of God becomes mere pretense for personal agenda.

Just to make sure I don’t sound like I am picking on my old church (which I am not intending to do), I will say that this story is played out in many mega-churches with this kind of leadership structure. I also want to clarify that I am in no way judging the character of people in these churches. I don’t think many of them even know that this is the case, and would desire to change it if they found out this was going on. It is a tragic reality that should be lamented, and prayed for.

Faramir, the younger brother of Boromir, comes into the story by a more hidden route. He his defending Gondor from a secret outpost right under the nose of the enemy’s lands. He is every bit the leader of his older brother, but less brash. When he comes across Frodo and Sam’s path, he questions them only to discover that they hold on their person the “secret weapon of the enemy”. Yet unlike his brother, he tells Frodo that even if he found it himself, he would have nothing to do with it, because of the evil that it possesses. Faramir obviously possesses a wisdom that his brother (and as the book points out, neither did his father, in using the palantir stone) did not, or at least chose not to heed wisdom. This account comes from the book. The movie version is very different, and in my opinion, weak. Frodo notes that the character of Faramir is very much like Aragorn, the coming king. In his wisdom and virtue, he allows for what would end up being the “salvation” of Gondor and all Middle Earth.

In my experience thus, the structure of the Orthodox Church is more like Faramir, than Boromir. The leadership seems to always have someone, or a group that they are accountable to. There are no charismatic personalities making unilateral decisions because they hear from God. The leaders take their anointing, ordination and apostolic succession very seriously. Just as Irenaeus centuries ago, the bishops of the Church can trace their lineage of authority to lead and teach directly to the apostles. The Holy Mysteries of the Church are God’s Kingdom joined to our creation, and are therefore taken seriously by its leaders. No need to try and be relevant, because the mysteries of the Church have been, and continue to be, the healing of the whole person. Just like Faramir’s complete rejection of the allure of the One Ring, so the leadership of the Orthodox Church reject the allure of “celebrity” that is so rampant in Evangelicalism, especially the mega-church. And ultimately the decisions to reject such things is for our salvation.

I know that the Orthodox Church is far from perfect. The sins of the Evangelicals is no greater than the sins of the Orthodox Church. I lament the many divisions and breaking of communion within the Church over the long centuries. I am hopeful that the international leadership will begin to work these things out. Until they do, I continue to pray for the healing of the Church.

My intent with this post is simply a reflection on the intense spiritual danger of a personality driven church. The Scriptures exhort leaders to not lay hands on a person too quickly, or allow a novice to teach, lest the devil ensnare them with pride. I have witnessed the destruction the devil has and still does bring through a delude leadership. I acknowledge that there are a lot of good things those churches do, but how fearful should these leaders be of there hidden pride? While the Orthodox Church is not perfect, what a comfort and consolation to the soul that the Anchor is Christ revealing Himself in the life and Tradition of the Church, and has been doing so for nearly 2000 years.

Any Cradle Orthodox out there with other experiences of the Church, let me know.

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