Who Is In Charge Here?

There comes a time in the life of a believer, at least in the life of an old cantankerous believer like me, when the program of the local church begins to ring hollow. You might find that moment on the day that the preacher has delivered a thunderous sermon condemning the political situation, or when he says something “to make you think” which strikes you as being unusually insensitive or uncharitable. You might tell yourself afterwards “but really if I am honest with myself I rather like my liberal neighbors, and I simply can’t picture them with devil’s horns”, or “my that was an unnecessarily nasty way to put it”. But if you are like most people who warm pews you will reason “well, after all we are all human and prone to make mistakes” and you will allow these warnings to go unchallenged.

I would like to ask you just what is it that makes your minister fit (or unfit) to sit under? We are legally allowed in this country, at least for the time being, to choose where and how we worship or even if we worship at all. Yet when you hear what is being taught at many churches Roman Catholic and Protestant alike you would wonder just who believes in free will, which of our current crop of religious leaders believes that we should have freedom of conscience? There is much talk of “authority” and “being under oversight” the idea, at least in the more Traditional communions, is that there is a line of authority which stretches all the way back to the Apostles and it is mandated and determined by God to keep us on the straight and narrow. The more hide bound and/or controlling groups insist on some measure of obedience to the clergy from the laity.

Other communions prefer to confer authority based on education, they are endeavoring to make authorities, in the scholarly sense, of their ministers, so you see that they have “professional” clergy, who are perhaps trained in counseling, how to give an effective sermon, and the business of “doing church”. Then the group will choose from among these professionals to find the leaders of their communion.

Now if you are like me you are thinking, wait a minute, what if, in our human frailty we appoint a bunch of rascals to the offices of leadership in a church?

Yes, when you know for sure that a rascal is in charge of your church or denomination it suddenly becomes a different matter. This is precisely what happened when Martin Luther broke with Pope Leo X and the Roman Catholic church. It is reported that Pope Leo X would visit around town (Rome) leading a procession, a parade really, of his pet white elephant, clowns and jesters, and other exotic creatures from his menagerie. He was widely regarded as a bon vivant and a spendthrift. It is also true that he left an unbelievable debt for his successor. The monies to support his extravagant lifestyle were raised by a variety of means, but in part by the selling of indulgences. When Luther objected to the selling of indulgences and nailed the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church in 1517, Leo responded by imposing a command of silence on the Augustinian order (Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk) and he published a Papal Bull commanding that all Christians must believe in the right and ability of the Pope to sell indulgences.

Now, many of the habits of Pope Leo X are still being debated all these years later. And certainly his actions were not all bad, he gave freely to charities, he was kind to Jews, and he laid the foundations for the hitherto neglected study of the ancient Greek language in Rome. But one thing can be said of him, which I think few would disagree with, is that he was preoccupied with worldly and political situations and neglected the Spiritual needs of his flock.

We Protestants tend to applaud Luther’s actions in the face of these glaring examples of abuse. Yet can you not see that the things Leo did were not so very different from what many ministers and church leaders are doing today? Many of us have had to endure any number of sermons which are intended to dictate our political and Spiritual choices. Some groups actively excommunicate or “disfellowship” people whom they do not agree with, people whom they wish to silence. Most of us have seen ministers who live at a much higher economic standard from the rest of their flock. An example has just been brought to my attention, some friends of mine just pointed me to a vimeo video (http://vodpod.com/watch/4834215-god-wants-your-bank-account-number-and-10-of-your-gross) where a minister is demanding that his flock start up automatic withdrawals to his church from their bank accounts. This “pastor” is saying that they will gain a blessing if they comply and they will be cursed if they don’t. How is this kind of behavior different from the selling of indulgences?

Many people, and I have met many on the web, are scarred by careless or even hateful abuse from ministers, and of course there are many scandals of a more criminal nature perpetrated by ministers being revealed everyday, these harmful actions constitute a betrayal of the innocent, and trusting, and they leave a trail of victims in their wake. Are these abuses characteristic of the body of believers who were established by Jesus?

Of course not!

What we are seeing is an age old process, as soon as the Spirit led men of the early church died out the ones who lusted for power or riches, started to take over the hierarchy. Whenever a true follower, or a group of followers of Jesus has sprung up in this atmosphere the church structure has quickly moved to stamp them out, or neutralize them in some other way. The false church is all about power and greed. The true Church, the one which Jesus set up, is about getting to know Him in the Spirit, becoming one with Him, maturing in Him, and learning to love. It is about changed lives and hearts. You don’t need a multi-million dollar building or a million dollar budget to live the transforming life Jesus died to give us.

And authorities? What about them? Well if you read the New Testament carefully and with an open mind you might start to notice that Paul was not setting up a hierarchy like the hierarchy in Jerusalem, he was encouraging relationships. In his letters he tells his flock to respect those who are older in the Lord (more mature) and to give them honor. But ultimately when you start to think about it does Paul say that he had to check everything out with Peter? No he doesn’t, his Authority was Jesus, and his personal authority was from Jesus. I don’t think that this was something peculiar to Paul the Apostle, we should only have one Authority in our lives, and that is Jesus. Furthermore I do not see any particular division of the believers into clergy and laity in Paul’s letters. I do see that we are to honor and support the efforts of the elder members of the congregation (that would be those who are mature in Christ). I do see that in Paul’s epistles there are pastors and deacons who serve the needs of the flock. I am not sure that these offices were meant to be professions, although they would still fall under the heading of supporting the elders in their work. The word pastor means shepherd and deacon means servant. These words can still be seen as defining the relationship the person has with the group of believers. If God has equipped you to do these things, your local group may recognize that and ordain you, but even if they don’t, it doesn’t mean that you are not what God has chosen you and equipped you to be and to do.

Is it not obvious that any mature believer in Christ would be doing the Lord’s work as he or she understands it?

In the book of Acts it is clear that God is choosing His instruments. I mean, do you really think that Peter and John and James would have chosen Saul/Paul to be an Apostle? No, they were hiding out from Saul. It took a Sovereign act of God to bring Saul to his knees and it took the movement of the Holy Spirit in his life to shape him into the Apostle Paul. In Galatians 1:15-18 Paul describes how the Lord taught him, on Mt. Horeb, in Arabia. God clearly chose and shaped His instrument for the evangelization of Asia Minor, Greece, and eventually Rome. Saul/Paul was not voted in by the elders in Jerusalem, he was chosen by God.

Now days people go into the ministry for a variety of reasons, perhaps they crave the honor of being called Pastor or Father, perhaps they are just lazy and they think in that profession they won’t have to work hard, sometimes they just cannot think of anything else to do with themselves. Well none of the things I have mentioned constitute a clear call to the ministry, and I would like to extend my apologies to those who have had a clear and unmistakable call, but many, many men and women have not. You see the point is, God must choose, He does not equip people who are not His choice. There is a tremendous amount of Scriptural evidence for this, He chose Abram-Abraham, He chose Moses, He chose Gideon, He chose Samuel, He chose David, He chose each of the Prophets, in the person of Jesus, He chose the Apostles.

This is the way He goes about His business with us. He chooses us, and he equips us. There is only one instance in the New Testament of someone being chosen by committee, in Acts when the disciples chose someone to replace Judas, and Matthias was chosen by lot, (they drew straws) and after he was mentioned we never hear another thing about him in Scripture.

So we need to carefully weigh the traditions about authority which we have received and which we have seldom questioned. We need to resist the fleshly urge to canonize tradition with a capital “T”. Have we gotten good fruit from just following the traditional notion of hierarchy? Or is the history of the church organization one of greed, corruption, and perversion?

Institutional church history is full of situations where congregations only knew Jesus as someone the priest or minister talked about, and the real authority in their lives was the priest or minister. There have also been many, many gross abuses and they continue today. God is certainly gracious, but these kinds of “ministries” are not to be tolerated. We should not tolerate any situation where a man is usurping God’s place in our lives.

It is time that we all sought the Lord about this, humbly and sincerely. To seek Jesus as our Authority, to discover what impediments we have constructed for ourselves over time, so that we may shed them and regain the freedom to fully mature into the image of Christ. If our hearts are truly in this Spiritual endeavor then we are really not followers of Billy Graham, or Calvin or Luther. We are followers of Jesus the Messiah. We ought not to look to a human agency, Jesus is the one who has called us, He has chosen us, He is the one who will re-build His Church as it ought to be.

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4 Comments on “Who Is In Charge Here?”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Great post. The church system has created a hierarchy of authority and deemed it of God when I don’t believe it is at all. It is a very dangerous venture. The church has gone so far from what is truth and the intentions of Christ. They have put man where God should be.

    At some point true followers won’t be in the church system as it becomes filled with darkness and deception – for what fellowship has light with dark?


  2. Nathan Says:

    Thank you for your kind comment Rachel. I have had a terror of authoritarian congregations lately. The news keeps drawing my attention back to the problem with each reported abuse vying to be more outrageous than the last.
    Thank God we have a refuge in Jesus which we can resort to and which we can recommend to others.

    Bless you Sis


  3. Good to see you’re still blogging Nathan. I enjoyed this post.


    • Nathan Says:

      Thank you Ken,
      Yes I am still plugging away at posts as I receive them. it is a grand thing to be able to rest when a post is done and carefully edited.
      It is good to hear from you.


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