Saturday, April 1, 2023

When “Who’s in Charge Here” Is a Lethal Question


Musicians in Costa Maya, Mexico (, picture is by Aída Besançon Spencer 2/27/2023.

We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a cruise from Miami to several Central American countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. While on the cruise, we learned of the Mayan civilizations that lived in Mesoamerica before the Spaniards arrived. One Mayan leader, Rigoberta Menchú, helped, with others,[1] to end a 36-year war (ending in 1996) between the Guatemalan government and the Mayan guerrilla opposition. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her peacemaking efforts.[2] She helped negotiate the return of Mayan land and Mayan rights and respect. Now Guatemala has at least 30% pure Mayans (41% indigenous people).[3] The resultant sharing of power and benefits between the Spanish descendants and Mayan descendants are a model to all of us, including us Christians, in our churches and institutions. How is that?

We learn from the New Testament that all we believers are living stones being built into a spiritual house in order to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, our spiritual living cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-6). In a priesthood of all believers, everyone deserves respect, power, recognition, and space to exercise each one’s spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:8-11).

We do not always appreciate the practical importance and application of the concept of the priesthood belonging to all. Sadly, the ancient Mayan culture did not have the concept of a priesthood belonging to all. As priests we Christians serve as intermediaries between people on this earth and the living God through Jesus, who is God, our one and only high priest, taking our concerns to God.[4]

As we visited the ancient sites of Quirigua, Guatemala and Chacchoben, Mexico, we learned that at these sites and elsewhere in A.D. 250-900 (and earlier) a religious and educational elite of around 1% of the population chose the occupations for all. The elite themselves inherited their roles and status. The elite were engineers, astronomers, as well as priests who lived together but separate from the poor in special elevated housing. The elite promised favor to the peasants from the 68 deities, if the elite’s control and rulership of society were accepted. They were intermediaries between the underworld and the higher spiritual world. At Quirigua, the ruling king was pictured on stelae (limestone structures) as intermediaries. At Chacchoben, we can still see Mayan trees where the roots symbolize the underworld and the branches symbolize the spiritual higher world.  But around A.D. 950, a great drought came upon Mesoamerica and the peasants became disgruntled with the structure where the majority served like slaves for the minority. It is hypothesized by archaeologists that the peasants felt driven to revolt and to destroy the elite royals, who had not succeeded in providing them fertile grounds with abundant food.  When the elite died, who could then read their marvelous calendars[5] and books? The unempowered peasants were not literate. That is the lethal underside of a stratified culture where an elite provide certain benefits to an oppressed majority. When the benefits do not come through, the elite are blamed; there is no community responsibility. But, no human or humans can fully guarantee happiness or accuracy in prognosis for their underlings.

When James and John tried to set up special future benefits for themselves from Jesus, the remaining ten apostles were angry. As a consequence, Jesus explained that they were all acting like the “Gentiles” or nonbelievers who have rulers who “lord it over them” and these “great ones tyrannize them.” Instead, great Christian leaders should serve as slaves of all, as Jesus did (Mark 10:41-45). Possibly the Mayan elite thought they were serving all, therefore they deserved special benefits, but, as soon as others saw them as tyrants and failures, their hierarchical and stratified society collapsed and the privileged lost their privileges and their lives. Within 500 years their civilization collapsed.

Now, over 30-40% of Guatemalans are evangelical Christians. Lonely Planet notes (in 2016), “The number of new evangelical churches in some towns and villages, especially indigenous Mayo villages, is astonishing.”[6] And, what the elite could not accomplish, the Holy Spirit accomplished many years later (1974-75), creating from the ground enormous vegetables in Almolonga, Guatemala that did bless many and astonish the world.[7]

Who recognizes God’s spiritual gifts? All followers of Christ must be involved so that all take responsibility for successes and failures. We know that no spiritual gift is greater than any other (1 Corinthians 13:4-30). It is the triune God who appoints, gives, arranges, and activates (1 Corinthians 12:4-30) and no elite group in the church should control the recognition and acceptance of spiritual gifts.

Who’s in charge here? Who can be our intermediary to God? The answer for Christians is all of us by means of the triune God.


[1] In 1996, Álvaro Enrique Arzú Irigoyen of the Pártido de Avanzada Nacional (PAN) and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Party (URNG=4 guerilla organizations) signed a peace accord (Steve Fallon, Bridget Gleeson, Paul Harding, and John Hecht, Central America on a Shoestring, 9th ed. [China: Lonely Planet Publications, Oct. 2016], 215).

[2] “Santo Tomas,” Currents (Feb. 24, 2023): 1. Rigoberta was a Quiché Maya and an advocate for indigenous people throughout Latin America. Thanks also to the helpful informative tour guides, Fernando and Alvaro.

[3] Fallon, et al., Central America on a Shoestring, 217, 718.

[4] Jesus died on human behalf to save us, while each of us humans pray for ourself and others to the triune God. Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:25-8:2; 9:11-15; 10:19-21.

[5] These Mayans had 3 calendars: the solar calendar with 19 months (365 days), a lunar calendar with 13 months (260 days), and a cycle of life calendar of 52 years.

[6] Fallon, et al., Central America on a Shoestring, 218.

[7] Mell Winger discusses the radical transformation of the city now “marked by family harmony, prosperity, and peace in the Holy Spirit,” compared to its earlier poverty, alcoholism, and devotion to the demonic idol Maxirnon. Mell Winger, “Almolonga, the Miracle City,” Renewal Journal (11 May 2012), Stephen R. Sywulka, “The Selling of ‘Miracle City’” (April 5, 1999) observes that residents of Almolonga should avoid the prosperity gospel and maintain humility (

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