Reaching unity in the faith without authoritarian control

Reaching unity in the faith without authoritarian control

Misty Bedwell bride restricted

The picture above represents not only the “bride” of Christ held back and controlled, but women in the “bride” of Christ held back and controlled.  It is a great concern to me that there are many in the body who think that authoritarian control is needed to keep people in line and to keep the unity of the faith.  But is the removal of the ability to question those in leadership or to question secondary doctrine a necessary thing to keep the unity of the faith?  Some apparently believe that questionable tactics are allowed if the end result is unity but I would like to propose that unity based on an abuse of authority produces artificial unity.

Wade Burleson
has been doing a series of posts on authoritarian control in the church and within non-profit groups and I believe that this issue is a major problem in the church today.  Those who use intimidation tactics to prevent people from asking legitimate questions have risen up in our churches at an alarming rate.  Where is this all coming from?  There appears to be an emphases in many seminaries that sways impressionable young graduates to the belief that pastoral authority must be defended at all costs.  Wade Burleson comments on the results of such teaching that creates an elite group of “the Lord’s anointed”.  While Wade’s comments are specifically about the Southern Baptist Convention, the application can be made throughout all denominations.

However, it is my belief that there has risen a culture in the SBC, reinforced by training received at many of our seminaries (not all), that emphasizes pastoral authority and seeks to convince people that they are not to “touch the Lord’s anointed.” It’s as if some leaders in the SBC expect to be treated as kings, and everyones’ calling in life is to serve the king and tell him how wonderful he is. CHRISTIAN ministry should be just the opposite. Any leader should be known as a servant to all. A true leader welcomes all questions and answers them fully, and he will not care what people say about him because he is not in the ministry for personal advancement but for the kingdom of Christ’s sake.

Elite and powerful SBC leaders must be reading from the same playbook. Do what you want when you want. Don’t accept being questioned. And, if somebody has the gall to question your decisions or actions, attack the person.

Turning back the tide of such authoritarian control is not easy, but it must be done for the health and true unity of the body of Christ.  There is great concern about these new spiritually elite leaders and their unwillingness to be held accountable for their actions.  Wade writes about the heat that must be willing to be faced to bring about change:

The best changes in any organization only come when someone is willing to take the heat for speaking about the need for change.

Wade lists a non-profit organization and a church that have come under scrutiny by concerned members.

Larry Jones and Feed the Children Ministries, based in Oklahoma City, are in the local news because of a lawsuit filed by five current Feed the Children board of directors who say that Rev. Jones made several decisions, without board permission, that have reflected poorly on the ministry.

Charges of financial improprieties and that of abuse of authority have prompted the directors to go to civil court to protect the integrity of the organization.  Wade reports:

The board members have also expressed concerns over what they believe to be an abuse of authority. They allege Rev. Jones is centralizing the decision making process at the one billion dollar non-profit organization to include only Larry and close family members and friends – excluding those who question him. Board members also say that there is a curtain of secrecy over financial improprieties, and at least in one case, a cover-up of a $100,000 embezzlement. Finally, board members allege there are intimidation tactics used to prevent anyone from finding answers to legitmate questions being asked about the operation of the non-profit ministry. Thus, the board members have gone to the civil courts to protect the organization they love.

Intimidation tactics are also claimed in the case of a “Watchdog” who has publicly reported the alleged misdoing of a pastor of a large church in Jacksonville Florida.

Wade Burleson reports about the “Watchdog’s” concern for changes that were slipped into the church by-laws that allow for authoritarian control.

This past week I spent an hour on the phone with a man who is the Watchdog Blogger, a long time member of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida. The Watchdog has blogged about problems that he believes have arisen at his church, and his concerns seem to parallel those of the board members at Feed the Children. The Watchdog is highly educated, has a family that loves the kingdom and their church of many years, and is intimately acquainted with First Baptist Church, Jacksonville. The Watchdog has expressed his opinion that there has been a curtain of secrecy over a land gift and other financial benefits to pastor Mack Brunson and his family. He has also blogged about church salaries and benefits (i.e. several thousand dollars in office remodeling) given to Mack’s wife, Debbie, Mack’s son, and Mack’s friends from a Dallas management agency. The Watchdog is most concerned with what he believes to be an intentional and radical change to the church bylaws which hands authority to a select group of trustees appointed by the pastor rather than the congregation as a whole. This bylaw change, according to the Watchdog, was pushed through the church business process with very little notice, discussion or debate. The Watchdog has also blogged about a number of other issues, raising questions that he believes need to be asked. The Watchdog has not gone public with his name, receiving a great deal of criticism for blogging anonymously, but explained to me he remained anonymous out of fear of retribution from powerful civic leaders who are members of the church and could intentional seek to ruin his name and business. He told me his compelling story, details of which are startling, because he said he trusted me.

The Florida church has brought a motion to the church membership that would allow the leaders to aggressively confront what they deem as “unjust criticism” and to take legal action against the blogger who exposed the changes to the church by-laws and also the secretive financial dealings concerning the pastor and his family.  As a result of the leadership’s actions against him, the “Watchdog” blogger is no longer allowed entrance onto the church property and is not allowed to attend any public service of the church even though Matthew 18 was appealed to by the leadership as the basis for “reconciliation and restoration”, there was no attempt at reconciliation or resstoration.   Instead of reconciliation, the intent quickly became retribution for daring to question the authority of the church leadership.  The “Watchdog” has provided a video of the motion brought to the Florida church that he calls “The Anti-Criticism Doctrine“.

Rather than hold back questions, Wade Burleson, on the other hand, welcomes questions from his church members as he writes:

In my opinion there should never be any hesitancy for any Southern Baptist to ask any question he or she desires of someone in ‘authority.’ If a church member has a question about my salary or benefits, wants a copy of our church bylaws, or desires information about our ministries, he will be given answers to his questions in full -and commended for asking. The same freedom should be given to trustees and board members of Christian non-profits. Full transparency in all aspects of any Christian ministry is not just desired, it should be expected.

One of the signs of an elitist in authoritarian control is that they deal harshly with those who ask honest hearted questions.  Wade writes about how questions are turned into an attack on the character of the questioner:

My objections with the new doctrinal policies was a matter of conscience, but I soon found that gracious dissent, even when one signs his name to it, is treated quite harshly by those who consider themselves denominational elitists. When they don’t like the questions being asked, they tend to move toward attacking the character of the person asking the questions.

Instead of charging those who ask honest hearted questions with defying “biblical authority”, Wade treats his church membership with gentleness and respect.   In Wade’s post called “Lessons in Dealing with a Disgruntled Member“, Wade writes:

There are those who say that no church member ought to express opposition to the pastor’s decisions. Some say that the pastor is the Lord’s anointed, and to question his ministry, or his decision making, or his integrity is simply rebellion against God.

Not so. No pastor is beyond the scope of scrutiny. Further, it is not the questioning of the pastor that is the problem. Rather, it is the response of the pastor to the questions that is often the problem. Many pastors, whether it be for personal insecurity reasons, fear of exposure, or a false understanding of “church unity,” will deal harshly with those who question their leadership. This post is offered as an example of how a pastor and church can deal with a disgruntled member in an effective manner.

Wade Burleson’s open and honest approach to dealing with a “disgruntled member” is refreshing and Christ-like.  As a personal testimony to his upfront way of dealing with dissent, Wade offers his story of how he dealt with a certain member who was holding secret meetings with others to hash over their complaints about his pastoral decisions.  Wade writes:

The person who had told me about the meetings had been invited himself to attend, and he knew that the group was going to ask others to come and be a part the following Friday. There was obviously an intentional effort to make the dissident group larger. Yet, I had to settle in my mind and heart that my goal could never be to prevent, control or dominate these people in any form or fashion. Jesus came to set people free, and that means disgruntled church members should be free to dissent and disagree with their pastor – and tell others of it! And, I should be free to accept it as from the Lord. It’s a little like King David when Shemei was cursing him and Abishai, David’s servant said, “Shall I go cut that dead dog’s head off?” King David said, “Let him alone. God has bidden him to speak.” As pastor, I see every event, even the difficult ones, as God refining my character.

Wade dealt with the member with compassion and not confrontation.

I decided the best way to approach the disgruntled member was to personally contact him and let him know that I knew of the meetings, and that I affirmed all the members’ rights to participate. Further, I determined that I would volunteer to meet with them, if they desired, to try to answer all questions they felt important. I also wanted to express my appreciation for their prayers for our church.

When leadership cares about people, they are willing to affirm, lift up and serve the sheep and Wade Burleson is an excellent example of this.  Wade ended his talk with the disgruntled member by saying:

“I may have not been able to answer your questions completely, and even if I have, you still may not agree with my decision making. Please know that your disagreement with the pastor of Emmanuel is not only all right, it is healthy. The main thing you should know is that you have every right to question me … our disagreement will never be, in any form or fashion, an impediment to me loving you and being a pastor to you. Feel free to relay what we have discussed to those you are meeting with, and know that you have my complete support in continuing to meet. You can invite anyone and everyone you desire to join you, and if you have more questions, I will be happy to come meet with you. If, after evaluation, you feel you can’t worship with us because of a disagreement, please know that you have our blessing and full support to join another sister church and we will recommend you with Christian love and grace. Bottom line, I’m never above questioning, nor are you are ever beyond my desire to see our mutual walk with Christ strengthened.”

Pastor Burleson goes on to give the end result of his caring communication with the brother who had disagreed with his decisions.

He thanked me for answering his questions and addressing his concerns and said that after listening to me preach for 15 years he should have known that I would have responded with grace and transparency to any questions he had. He then expressed his love for me and mentioned how much he respected me. He said the group was no longer meeting, and all of them voiced at their last meeting that they wanted their families to be a part of a church where leaders affirmed them, even when they disagreed.

This is truly a godly example of reaching unity in the faith without authoritarian control.  I would like to end this post with a comment I found online regarding speaking in a diplomatic and loving way with our brothers in Christ who disagree with our biblical views.


It seems to me if we all engaged in diplomatic, rather than abrasive, conversations, there would be far fewer divisions in the Body of Christ.

We all have more to learn about speaking the truth in love and allowing people to disagree with us yet still treating them with no less love and respect than we do the rest of the body of Christ.

47 thoughts on “Reaching unity in the faith without authoritarian control

  1. Cloud/Townsend point out that it is false to think that compliance is always the loving thing and conflict the unloving and that often confrontation is loving, but it needs to be done correctly.

  2. My wife and I have been labelled as “divisive” within our own church family for daring to ask questions about church policy and even, *gasp*, preaching. Luckily, neither of us was brought up to follow any human blindly.

    It is funny how far we have strayed from the apostolic examples that were set for us in the new testament. Paul’s letters are nothing if not massive q&A sessions with the churches, and although Paul rightly claimed apostolic authority, and even “got into it” quite often with church leaders, he continued to lead through humble service to those church bodies. Sad that I rarely see a Paul amongst our pastors and
    elders these days.

  3. I should add, of course, that the opposite extreme of authoritarian control is anarchy. We certainly don’t want that either. I think Burleson’s approach is quite right – it isn’t the existence of authority that is the problem, it is the expression of it.

  4. Actually, we do have an Authority… it just isn’t human. 😉

    We have the NT which is “the teachings of the apostles”, and we have the Spirit. While many believe anarchy would be the result of doing away with all hierarchy in the church, I would disagree. As noted, Paul served, as did Jesus of course. They laid down the rules: the “one anothers”. In this there is no anarchy.

    There are those who are gifted to protect from false teachings, and the writer of Hebrews tells us it is wise to follow their advice. And we are to emulate the examples lived out by the apostles and those who are like them, copying their lives and learning from their wisdom. This is not leadership by decree but by example, and there is no need for authority.

    I would ask: what exactly would this “anarchy” look like anyway? What would people be doing without authorities over them? My guess is that instead of anarchy, what many leaders fear is loss of control over others– that were never theirs in the first place.

    In a message board someone was listing the abuses of the obvious hucksters selling the “gospel” for profit. But I added:

    Sadly, though, and truth to tell, most churches and pastors are only different by degree. They elevate one gift of the Spirit and turn it into an office of authority. They think themselves “the priesthood” even though we all are. They call their temples “the storehouse” even though Gentiles never had such a thing. They demand a “tithe” even though the NT never commands such a thing. They make up rules about dress, magical coverings, flesh-based “ministry”, and a host of other ever-changing rules that would make the Pharisees green with envy. They turn the Body into the Business and completely ignore “not so among you”.

    It’s time for not a reform or revival but a revolution! Back to “your body is the temple”, “not so among you”, “submit to one another”, back to scripture and not the doctrines of people or demons, back to family and community instead of religious ritual. Let us be the community we were meant to be, and interact in each other’s lives instead of visiting near strangers once a week as if we’re visiting a relative in a nursing home. Let us sink our teeth into the meat of the Word instead of nibbling on the crumbs of philosophy and pet theological systems, pre-digested for us by “clergy”. Let us learn to recognize those who both have mastered the scriptures and live its precepts, and follow their examples.

    We say Christianity isn’t a religion but we don’t practice what we preach. We act like every other religion: buildings, clergy/laity, rituals. For the first 200 years of Christianity there were no temples, no props, no liturgical calendars, no elevated priests. And the Assembly was pure; it “turned the world upside down”– without committees, without boards of oversight, without fundraisers, without advertising, without youth programs, without nurseries, and without any of the other trappings of religion.

    A salvation that cannot stand alone but must leach its life from others is not the victorious living promised to those who have accepted reconciliation with God through the shed blood of the crucified and risen Lord. We should get together and build each other up, but then go out and be salt and light. Salt is not all poured out in one spot, nor do we take our food to it and dip it (i.e., bring the lost to “church” and hope they catch something). Salt is shaken, it is spread out, and each grain is to season and preserve wherever it is sent. We need to return to that.

    Let’s get out of our safe little monasteries and change the world!

  5. One of the biggest fears that any authoritarian regime can have is transparency. Fear that what the regime is doing behind closed doors will be uncovered and found wanting. Burleson is right, no legitimate organization need ever fear transparency.

  6. Paula,

    For the first 200 years of Christianity there were no temples, no props, no liturgical calendars, no elevated priests. And the Assembly was pure; it “turned the world upside down”– without committees, without boards of oversight, without fundraisers, without advertising, without youth programs, without nurseries, and without any of the other trappings of religion.

    I would disagree with this quote to a degree. The 1st century church did indeed have committees (Acts 6:1-6) and boards of oversight (1 Peter 5:1-2 amongst others; Greek presbyteros is inherently authoritative and hierarchichal)

    The church has always had hierarchies in place from the very beginning with the Apostles and Paul had no problem exercising his authority when the situation called for it.

    Anarchy is an inclination of the fallen human heart, essentially the selfish nature within each of us to “rule” ourselves. As much as we would like to think we could operate in a authority free system it simply is not possible. Burleson is by no means advocating that we remove all authority and hierarchies within the church. What he is suggesting is that those who function within those structures need to operate out of love and humility, not greed for power. That is the apostolic way.

  7. Acts 6:1-6 is a food-distribution issue, which really isn’t related to hierarchy at all but providing a solution to meet a need. Perhaps that can be defined as a “committee”, but it was not for the purpose of forming doctrine or putting a layer between the people and an alleged clergy class. And it was temporary, as far as we know. That incident is never mentioned again in scripture, nor cited as the basis for a “diaconate”.

    1 Peter 5:1-2 says nothing about rule or authority, but example and care. I disagree that presbuteros is inherently authoritative and hierarchical in NT usage; that would be begging the question. The Greek wording there is of voluntary deference as a matter of wisdom.

    So no, I don’t agree that “the church has always had hierarchies in place from the very beginning”. Jesus is portrayed as the cornerstone, and the apostles as the foundation, with all the rest of us– every believer who came after them– as equal bricks in the building, a building whose “hierarchy” starts at the bottom. Jesus said He came to serve, not be served, and “not so among you” is a command to all believers without exception. Jesus certainly has authority, and the apostles were commissioned by Him. But no one since then has the authority to write scripture, to speak “thus saith the Lord”, or to give order to the other parts of the Body.

    Anarchy is not the absence of hierarchy, but the breakdown of all moral restraint; I believe it’s a false dilemma to say otherwise. Certainly the Spirit is capable of guiding and restraining us without human help. And as history shows us all too well, human hierarchy is no guarantee of safety or order based upon the Spirit and not the flesh.

  8. The way I see it is that authority is in the gift and in the giver therefore it is God who is the authority and not man. Authority is given to use our gifts for the benefit of the body, not for lording over the body or forcing the body to fall under us.

    I think we see this when we look at the scriptures where we see the entire body making decisions instead of one man.

    Act 6:2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
    Act 6:5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.

    It was the whole congregation who were summoned by the apostles to make a decision and it was the whole congregation who chose men to do the work on their behalf.

    We can also see that authority could have been asserted, the apostles chose to not lord it over the body of Christ.

    1Thess 2:5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness–
    1Thess 2:6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.

    I also see presbyteros as non-hierarchcial since those who were to be great among the congregation were to be servants of all. How can there be hierarchy when one is acting as a servant? It doesn’t make sense to me as a hierarchy.

    What I do see is the leaders going underneath the flock and lifting them up. It is an upside down model where the leadership is underneath not on top. It is lifting one up not putting one down underneath yourself. It is the example of Jesus who did not use his authority to put people underneath him when he was here on the earth.

    When leadership starts thinking of hierarchy they run into major problems. All of a sudden the sheep become their sheep and are there to serve them. When a leader starts to think that the sheep are there to serve them, it is very easy to slip into an abusive model.

    The way I see it is that I have authority to use my gift of teaching and I use it wherever and whenever I can. Yet I do not have the authority to force people to listen to me. It is only when people submit to learn from me that my gifts can be fully used. The power is in the hands of the body of Christ, not in me or in any other leader. I believe this is why submission is so important. I also believe this is why submission is emphasized and taking authority over people is never given as a solution in the scripture. When we submit to the gifts of the body, we will grow and be in unity with others who have what we need.

    Does this make sense?

  9. It looks like Paula and I were posting at the same time and our answers were very similar even though neither one of us knew what the other was writing.

  10. It looks like Paula and I were posting at the same time and our answers were very similar even though neither one of us knew what the other was writing


  11. I have one other take on what gengwall said. He said “I should add, of course, that the opposite extreme of authoritarian control is anarchy. ”

    What I understand is that gengwall is saying is that authoritarian control is an extreme on one end and anarchy is an extreme on the other end. It is the middle that is the balance that we should aim for. The middle is not free of authority but it is free of authoritarian control. Authority then is used to build up and not to push down.

    If that is what gengwall meant, then I am in complete agreement that both ends are the extreme and we should avoid both extreme ends.

  12. Paula #4 said:

    I would ask: what exactly would this “anarchy” look like anyway? What would people be doing without authorities over them?

    I think there is so much wisdom in what you wrote in your comment #4. I would just add that true biblical authority is always “under” us and not “over” us since the gifts are to build us up and are never given to allow a person to “lord it” over another.

  13. I agree with Paula on this one. One of the things I saw up close and personal in many situations was a ‘leader’ who over time came to expect to be followed. This is what happens when you use terms like ‘leader’ instead of servant. Servant is what is used in scripture.

    Another problem is that folks do not understand that all authority between believers is Jesus Christ. Not another human. We are not to be like the world. But we are. There is a great danger that we do not grow past whoever is the leader. We see that happen all through history except for a few brave souls like Luther and even those who went against Zwingili and Calvin hiding in caves for the doctrine of believers baptism and a church of true believers…not a state church.

    I think it is instructive that most Epistles are written to the church and not the ‘elders’ of each church. If this hierarchical structure were as many teach it, then why would Paul dare allow the entire Body to be involved in carrying out the instructions in his letters? He would have written to the elders to handle it.

  14. I also think that when we as the body of Christ “look to the leaders” i.e. see them as rulers instead of seeing them as the example for us to follow, we become pew sitters and the body becomes anemic instead of raising up warriors for the faith.

    In the proper balance the servants of the church are our cheer leaders as we “do” and “go”. In an unhealthy church the leadership uses the sheep for their own purpose. In the Old Testament God gives a “woe” to these shepherds who dominate the sheep:

    Eze 34:1 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,
    Eze 34:2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock?
    Eze 34:3 “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.
    Eze 34:4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.

  15. Since I am charismatic, sometimes God can speak today, but always in alignment with Scripture.

  16. Cheryl #11
    Exactly what I was trying to say. Burleson is not advocating the complete destruction of all hierarchy and authority in the church. His assertion is that “authoritarian control” is misused and abused authority. He is still in a position of authority in his church, but he exercises his authority through humility, service, and love.

    There are three words used in the NT for church authorities. Now, Strongs may have it wrong, but here is what they say about each specifically as it applies to the church.

    presbyteros – elder
    2) a term of rank or office
    b) among the Christians, those who presided over the assemblies (or churches) The NT uses the term bishop, elders, and presbyters interchangeably.

    episkop? – bishop
    b) oversight
    1) overseership, office, charge, the office of an elder
    2) the overseer or presiding officers of a Christian church

    diakone? – deacon
    1)) to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon
    c) to minister i.e. supply food and necessities of life
    2) to take care of the poor and the sick, who administer the office of a deacon
    3) in Christian churches to serve as deacons

    Now – if people can’t see any hierarchy and authority in those definitions, I really can’t help them. even the position of deacon, while primarily a serving position, still required administration which involves authority. There simply is no way to wave a magic wand and pretend that even in the earliest days of the church that there was no authority structure.

  17. I’ll add one more just because those reading this will support it. There is mouch argument over Phoebe and whether or not she was a deacon. What is often lost in the argument is the more important word that Paul uses to describe her – prostatis Most versions translate it very poorly (and very gender biased). Strongs again gets it right in definition.

    1) a woman set over others

    Digging into this word reveals that it is the feminine form of the word proistemi which literally means and is most often translatede “to rule over”. The verb is used, most notably, in 1 Tim 5:17 where the elders are that rule well are to be commended, and in 1 Thes 5:12 where it is clearly stated that in the church there are those who are “over (proistemi) you in the Lord, and admonish you.”

    It is a simple reality – Phoebe was a ruler in her church; a person in authority over others.

  18. gengwall,

    I think it would be helpful for us to define our terms because some reading this blog may not understand what we mean by “ruling” people. We must look to scripture to see what the context is that will define the terms.

    Analytical Literal Translation:

    1 Thess 5:12 And we request of you*, brothers [and sisters], to know [fig., appreciate] the ones laboring among you* and leading [or, caring for] you* in the Lord and instructing you*,

    International Standard Version:

    1 Thess 5:12 Brothers, we ask you to show your appreciation for those who work among you, set an example for you in the Lord, and instruct you.

    The Greek word for being “over” you literally means to stand before you. This is clearly shown in the interlinear of Scripture4all at

    These ones who are standing in front are to be the examples and 1 Thess. 5:12 shows that what they do that is “over” you is admonish, exhort, give you instruction. This doesn’t give them “power” over us as if they have some kind of authority to lord it over the congregation, but by their gifts and by their maturity they are to protect the congregation, be an example of mature Christianity and watch out for the flock while instructing us in the right way from scriptures.

    The world’s idea of ruling is not be responsible to be an example. It is the “boss”, the one who takes authority over the underlings.

    In the verse about “rule” in 1 Timothy 5:17, the rule is defined as preaching and teaching.

    1 Tim 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

    The International Standard Version thus translates this verse as:

    1 Tim 5:17 Elders who handle their duties well should be considered worthy of double compensation, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

    The duties of an elder is in protection, teaching, preaching and generally caring for the flock. I haven’t found any examples of “ruling” to be taking authority over the flock. In this way preaching, teaching, protecting the flock all come under the definition of service. Not lording over the flock but doing everything for the benefit of the flock in service.

    As far as Phoebe, she was a prostatis and this is a very strong word. It is someone who is a protector, a guardian and one who protects with their resources. Such a one can be a protector by being a teacher exposing error. The person can also give aid in many ways to protect others. This is what is meant by “set over”. It is the opposite of a person who rules others so that others serve them. It is a powerful word but it means to undergird others – to come alongside and underneath them to lift them up when they are helpless.

    Once again we have a servant heart. Some think that being a servant is a powerless position and degrading, yet I believe that in scripture a true biblical servant is a powerful place to be in because one is using power under control for the well-being of the receiver not control for the well-being of the person themselves. Everything points to service not taking a position of authority to cause someone to serve you. If we can keep that in mind, I think that we will understand that Christianity puts hierarchy on its head. Those who are the greatest are to be on the bottom and not on the top. The strongest Christians are to serve others by lifting them up.

    If I am wrong on this, I welcome anyone to show me where I am wrong. It is a completely different concept than rulership from a worldly, hierarchical view. If we see “presiding” as protection and loving care, then we are well on our way to understanding the place of elders and helpers.

  19. So long as there is human foible and weakness there will be scandal in even the finest of secular and religious organizations. Those who crave power and control will do just about anything to lay hold of it, and do away with transparency in order to maintain it.

    No wonder Jesus answered Pilate and said “My kingdom is not of this world…” Question is though, how does the church universal navigate this world without becoming corrupted by its worst abuses?

    I think all have brought up valid points for discussion here.

  20. Yes, human beings have a weakness for power, and the last thing they need is an Institution to give it teeth

    We should also remember that Strong’s is a concordance, not a dictionary of Greek with full semantic range based on the latest findings. Strong’s is based primarily on the KJV and lexicons that are not up to date. Discoveries of Koine Greek documents have largely been ignored. So relying on Strong’s can be circular, and there is certainly ample basis for disagreement with the KJV’s known bias toward “the divine right of kings” and the autocratic rule of “clerics”.

    I highly recommend the interlinears, even old ones, for great enlightenment into the original words.

    And I still challenge anyone claiming “chain of command” for the church to explain it or justify it in light of Phil. 2:5-11 and Mt. 20:34-28.


  21. Cheryl #20
    I totally agree but we are splitting semantical hairs here. It still remains that the existence of hierarchy and positions of authority in the early church is undeniable. Scripture’s instruction for those in authority, as you clearly point out, is that they are to exercise that authority in a new and radical way. But it doesn’t change the fact that hierarchy, organizational structure, and positions of authority existed and are necessary. Is that not what Burleson is saying?

  22. Paula,

    Anarchy is not the absence of hierarchy, but the breakdown of all moral restraint

    Ha. Now who is looking to dubious sources for their definitions. Anarchy has nothing to do with the presence or absence of morality. It is the absence of organizational structure and governance. American Heritage has – “from Greek anarkhia, from anarkhos, without a ruler”. Your suggestion that the church be a place where “no one…has the authority…to give order to the other parts of the Body” is indeed anarchy.

  23. Gengwall, where is any Greek word for “authority” or “rule over” in those passages? I see mention of the ones who brought the gospel as being good examples to follow, and I see people who served by protecting and providing, but I see no Greek words such as exousion or arche.

    We cannot be both a servant and a ruler at the same time. We are either the served or the servant. “Servant leader” is an oxymoron that tries to make domination a new form of submission. But Jesus’ example is that of one who had power but laid it down.

    Does the eye rule over the hand? Do the feet give orders to the arms? I see Phil. 2:5-11 and Mt. 20:34-28 as doing away with all chains of command.

  24. Gengwall, no need to start getting upset or mocking, let’s just talk.

    Who is the Ruler but God? Have I denied this Ruler? No, I have not, so your charge against me is false. There is only one Head to give orders to the parts of the Body, and none of us are it.

  25. I’ll say this last and then drop out of this one as I am just spinning my wheels. I understand what Cheryl and Paula are saying but it is naive to believe that such a utopian commune can exist in a fallen world. The presumption that those in authority can always operate in a bottom up, service mode requires that everyone they are serving a) knows exactly what they are supposed to do and how to do it, and b) never behaves badly. Neither of those are even remotely a reality. Therefore, even when the church is operating at its best, you still need rules and you still need rulers to enforce those rules – you still need some to “give order to the other parts of the Body”.

  26. Gengwall,

    If people will not listen to the Spirit or the NT, then no amount of worldly hierarchy will solve any problems, and it has a long history of creating more of its own. Nobody is advocating utopia here on earth, but only saying that we should not add the world’s chains to spiritual problems. This isn’t complicated; we all just need to live by the “one anothers” of Scripture and start actual discipleship instead of running people through Sunday School like parts on a conveyor belt.

    No, we don’t need rules beyond “love God and love your neighbor”, and more control will only bring more repression of the Spirit. The Head has not left the Body, nor has He delegated His authority to the left hand to boss the right. For any Body part to aspire to such rule over another is a sign, IMHO, of pride and immaturity. If we truly follow Jesus, we will want to be like Him– a servant, one who makes sacrifices, who lifts others up instead of pressing them down to keep them in line.

  27. I think there is false authority that is based in external control. It is immature and leaders with false authority must control, coerce, use force, manipulate etc to have the power they need.

    Then there is mature authority. A leader with mature authority is a whole person who can authentically self-define his or her point of view, beliefs, feelings, thoughts. They do not need to hide or cover up. They are non-anxious and do not need to control others. They invite, speak the truth in love, listen, hear, listen, hear, listen, hear.

    Those with mature authority use respect, are respectful. They earn trust because they are trust worthy. their authority comes from within them as a mature, Spirit-filled person. They are emotionally mature.

  28. Arlene,

    That’s all true. But who in the church has been given authority over another? The question isn’t how an alleged authority is carried out, but whether there is such a thing in the first place.

    If Christians had authority over other Christians, then of course we’d expect rulers to rule well. But the scriptures never give any one Christian authority over another, nor any group of Christians authority over others. There is leadership by example, and if Jesus’ example is to be followed by all (which I believe it is), then all should lay aside power and command in favor of humble service. We are told that it is wise to follow the spiritually mature, to copy their behavior, and to listen to those who “rightly divide the Word of truth”. But there are not commands to obey rulers.

  29. ” I understand what Cheryl and Paula are saying but it is naive to believe that such a utopian commune can exist in a fallen world. ”

    I can relate to your frustration because I have been there. Seeing what I have seen I had to come to the place to ask what does a real Christian look like and what would a true Body of Christ look like?

    I have come to the conclusion that few of us have seen a real Body of Christ operating. I know I will get rocks thrown at me for that. The problem is that we really do believe that a human has to be in charge. We bring our worldly thinking into the Body. We have been trained that way (even in church) to follow men instead of Christ.

    What if the Body was made up of the truly regenerate who only sought after the Holy Spirit? Seeking unity ONLY in truth? Seeking true gifts with which to edify the Body. Everyone making others more important than themselves as scrpture teaches. What would that look like?

    We tend to think this is unrealistic. A ‘utopi’ as you call it. I say this is exactly what the Body is to be. And when the church was first being built, God sent a strong message with Ananias and Sapphira that the Bride was to be pure. And then the Epistles give us examples of that not happening. That does not mean we throw in the towel. We have plenty of warnings in Revelation of this.

    I have had so many pastors on blogs talking about Paul commanding this or that to prove he was a ‘ruler’. Funny how I read him begging, persuading, exhorting, encouraging, etc. Standing for truth. His power was truth. His authority was truth. Not him.

    There are ‘elders’ in my life who are not official elders. But they ARE elders according to scripture. One is even a woman. These are folks who live out Matthew 5. Their fruit is obvious and they do not need a title conferred upon them by mere men. They do not have authority over me. They ‘stand before me’ as examples of Christ. As Image Bearers.

  30. Paula # 28,

    Fascinating observation about conveyor belt churchianity. When you consider that American protestantism is largely the product of our Puritan (reformed) forbears and consolidated into an industrial model during the 1st gilded age, it makes sense that institutional churches place such heavy reliance on it.

    On the other hand though, I can understand that gengwall’s position is much like the founders convened at Philadelphia in 1787, when they saw a need for an authoritative document that would hopefully restrain the worst abuses of human nature.

  31. Ya know, Greg, it truly amazes me that the US Constitution lasted as long as it did (I consider it pretty much shredded now). It presumed upon the moral fiber of the people, but that fiber can’t be dictated. As I blogged about Here, convictions can’t be enforced, and the beginning of decay is when people forget why they have them at all.

    I don’t remember who said it, but I think it was a Puritan who realized the irony of the Protestant work ethic, in that it would inevitably result in greed and materialism. It only takes a light push to move from responsible provision to competing to “win the game”. And it is inherent in evil to take advantage of good, because evil plays by its own immoral rules. So unless every individual in a society is morally strong, evil will take over in time.

    Yet the solution is not to enforce stronger rules, or to increase the police force. Any society– or church– that resorts to such strong-arm tactics has already lost the war. Moral decay is defeat. The solution, then, is to keep passing down morality, not by decree but by example. And that’s why the NT teaches this model; evil cannot prevail against it. But it always prevails against hierarchy, because hierarchy is its native language.

  32. Paula,

    I hear what you are saying and agree. I did not mean to convey the idea of authority over. I am speaking of authority in oneself.

    It is a quality of embracing my full personhood in which I know myself. I can differieniate myself from another person. I can speak my own truth and say to another person what I think and believe and feel. I don’t need to have authority over someone… but my own voice has weight and strength. Not authority over… that would be external and coercive… but authority in my person, in my area of expertise or giftedness. It’s an inner thing born of Christ and maturity.

    None of this authority is about power or control over someone.

  33. Thanks for the clarification, Arlene. 🙂 I agree, we are all sealed with the Spirit and are each a “royal priest”. God can manage His sheep.

  34. My opinion only, obviously, but no one has authority BECAUSE they hold an office as I see the text of scripture properly understood. That is foreign to the New Testament. Paul the Apostle himself had to defend his Apostleship and did it, not on the basis of the office itself but by virtue of it being the work of the Spirit having set him aside for it. [He requested them to see the work of the Spirit in it. No work of the Spirit no Apostolic authority.] 1Tim. 5:17 says the same thing in speaking of those Elders that “give oversight well”….”are worthy of double honor.” It is that “give oversight well” that is the reason for any authority they might have. I would call it the ‘annointing of the Spirit.”

    But in our culture the ‘office’ of Elder or Pastor oftentimes carries a status or position with perceived authority along with it that has even some legal authority in the minds of the people of our culture. [Performing marriages for example.] We understand that. But that is far removed from biblical reality as described in the previous paragraph. I can understand how a non-believer might make that mistake. For a Pastor or Elder to make the same mistake [authority by virtue of the office] is unfortunate and a genuine forgetfulness of the nature of servanthood in the New Testament.

  35. Paul… i agree… we have authority to serve one another–none of it is over anyone–it’s power to serve. I was refering to the aspect of emotional maturity that helps persons develop voice and an inner sense of who they are in Christ. As persons become more grounded in Christ they have more inner authority. It is not an office but a maturity of persons in which we are no longer pleasers of men but anchored in God. Anyway… not sure i am getting my point accross. It’s not an office.

  36. #21 Greg,

    Question is though, how does the church universal navigate this world without becoming corrupted by its worst abuses?

    This is a very valid question. I think that the way we do this is to be a body and not an organization. The body will care for itself while an organization lays claim to a “system” of “whose on top”. In contrast to this, the hand doesn’t worry if it is above or beneath the ear. There is equal care and yet no concern for selfishness.

  37. Paula #22,

    Your challenge is worthy of consideration. I too would like to see the scriptures adequately explained.

    gengwall #24,

    You said:

    Anarchy has nothing to do with the presence or absence of morality.

    I beg to differ. In the dictionary online at meaning #1 and #4 have to do with morality.

    1. a state of society without government or law.
    4. confusion; chaos; disorder: Intellectual and moral anarchy followed his loss of faith.

    This dictionary also lists the Greek anarchia as the origin which means lawlessness. Lawlessness has to do with what is right or wrong and it deals with morality.

    A couple of weeks ago we met with the District Overseers for our denomination and they gave a teaching on the anarchy of determinism. What they said was, if there is determinism so that God commands everything to happen, then there can only be anarchy. From what they told us, anarchy has a lot to do with the absence of morality.

  38. #26 Paula,

    You said:

    There is only one Head to give orders to the parts of the Body, and none of us are it.

    I know a pastor who says that he is the “covenantal head of the church”. I asked him to show me this from the scriptures and he has not yet been able to do that. I asked several pastors who support the doctrine that his particular pastor holds, about what they think of a “covenantal head” and they all said that there is no such position given to anyone in the body of Christ. Jesus is our only “covenantal head” of the body of Christ. When men think they have this position, no wonder they get the idea that they are allowed to rule over others. But this is the fallen human nature that wants the right to rule people. I have never seen such an attitude of entitlement turn out for good.

    #27 gengwall,

    I understand what Cheryl and Paula are saying but it is naive to believe that such a utopian commune can exist in a fallen world.

    I think that Paula answered this quite well in post #28. We are in a fallen world and we do not have the ability to live as God wants us to live without the work of the Holy Spirit. What is impossible with man is possible with God.

    #31 Lin,

    The problem is that we really do believe that a human has to be in charge. We bring our worldly thinking into the Body. We have been trained that way (even in church) to follow men instead of Christ.

    I too think that we have let the world influence us. Yet in the body of Christ we are all to attain to maturity. It is so easy sometimes to just follow a man and let a man or men tell us what to do. When I worked for many years helping people come free of the cults, I found that they were trained to believe they needed leaders to tell them what to do, say, think and act. One former cult member really helped me to understand this. She was raised in a cult and so she “put on” the cult mentality since she was a child. Everyone looked and thought the same because it was considered a sin to think independently. They were all taught that no one can understand the bible without being taught what it means. Then when she got out of the cult she said that it was a fearful thing because now she had to think for herself. She said that she didn’t even know who “she” was. Since she was raised in the cult, the cult was who she was until she left. Learning to think for herself was a very difficult challenge for her.

  39. #37 Pastor Paul

    My opinion only, obviously, but no one has authority BECAUSE they hold an office as I see the text of scripture properly understood.

    I agree with your post. Any authority we have is to be used for servanthood. When we lose sight of that function, I believe we start to change the focus from the body to ourselves and selfishness is a terrible example and a poor leader.

    Great comments, everyone! Even if we disagree to some extent, these disagreements can push us to reason these things through. We have been pushed in this post to think things through clearly. What does scripture really say and can we rely on it alone and not on societal “norms”? Where is “authority over” listed in the scriptures as something that is to be cultivated in the body of Christ? Sometimes thinking outside of the box of “the way we always have done things” takes a good amount of work. It may also be uncomfortable, but I think it is productive. It stretches our minds and it causes us to place our comfortable positions under the light of scripture.

  40. As someone who has studied Scripture, Christian history and theology for several years, I find myself in essential agreement with Cheryl and Paula as to the nature and function of Christian leadership. I believe that a synthesis of what Jesus, Paul and Peter teach in the NT on this subject leads one to conclude 1) the men and women who were leaders were mature, Spirit-gifted and called individuals whose responsibility was to nurture, train and equip the entire congregation for works of ministry (cf. Eph. 4:1-16); 2) in the NT situation, the term “elder” as described the maturity and stability of those who served as leaders, while the terms “overseer” and “minister” describe their primary functions (cf. Titus 1:5-2:5); and 3) when the Spirit-gifts and calls people in the congregation to ministry to the congregation or to the outside world, besides doing their part to train and equip these people for ministry, the elders are to lay hands on these people as an act of recognition and blessing upon them as ministers of Christ, called by him and having his power and authority to carry on this ministry (e.g., Acts 13:1-3). And while elders have responsiblilites to nurture, train, and equip the saints, and to also guard them from spiritual wolves, having Christ’s power and authority for the work they do, they are not lords and masters of the congregations (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-4). And as for decision making in the church, whether it has to do with doctrinal or practical issues, I think Acts 15 indicates a process of open discussion and mutual consent, first, among the leaders as advocates of the congregations, and then between the leaders and the congregations. Though I know others may not fully agree with me, I do think this a biblically and theologically sound analysis of the nature and function of NT leadership.

    Furthermore, I think it is interesting that Alister McGrath, in his recent book the history of Protestantism, PROTESTANTISM’S DANGEROUS IDEA, points out that the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” was understood to involve, among other things, mutual accountability for doctrine and practice between the church leaders and congregations. The leaders were to teach the congregation sound Christian doctrine and ethics so as to live godly lives and be effective witnesses for Christ, but the congregation, on the basis of this same sound Christian doctrine and ethics, also had the responsibility to test the doctrine and practice of the leaders, and to call for their rebuke and discipline when they clearly had strayed. This understanding of the “priesthood of believers,” according to McGrath, was the Protestant answer to the Roman Catholics charge that Protestants had no means of restraining false doctrine or immoral living in their midst. Perhaps, if Protestant churches really understood and practiced “the priesthood of all believers,” some of these present church leaders would be humbled and reminded what their true role and function in the congregation is supposed to be. The question is, of course, whether or not Protestant churches and seminaries are willing to really practice what they preach.

  41. Frank,
    Wonderful words!

    the elders are to lay hands on these people as an act of recognition and blessing upon them as ministers of Christ, called by him and having his power and authority to carry on this ministry

    The ministry of those gifted by God should not be a threat to pastors and elders. Instead they should openly recognize God’s gifting and bless those who desire to serve the body with their gifts. Too many leaders in churches today think that allowing people to serve depends on people being “yes men” who will not challenge the pastor so these types of leaders withhold the ability to serve at their own discretion. In this way “service” becomes political games and fear of being shut out causes some to be silent when a leader should be rebuked.

    This understanding of the “priesthood of believers,” according to McGrath, was the Protestant answer to the Roman Catholics charge that Protestants had no means of restraining false doctrine or immoral living in their midst. Perhaps, if Protestant churches really understood and practiced “the priesthood of all believers,” some of these present church leaders would be humbled and reminded what their true role and function in the congregation is supposed to be.

    Amen! What a wonderful word for today! Thank you, Frank, for taking the time to write and encourage us as believers. Your words have really rung true and I am sure that there will be many who read these words who will also be pricked by God’s Spirit who can see the difference between true godly leadership and the politics of many churches today.

  42. Frank, you have described what I was taught by my mother and the church in the SBC about the Priesthood of believer. Sadly, those days are over.

  43. Well, Cheryl, I thank you for affirming that I am apparently fufilling my gifting and calling to be a prophetic teacher, like my hero and role model, who instructs, encourages and equips the saints in their life and work for our Lord and his Kingdom. And may the Holy Spirit always help me to do so, while keeping me from pride and arrogance, so often encouraged by the devil in sly, enticing ways.

    Lin, I certainly understand what you are saying about the days for the understanding and practice of “the priesthood of believers” apparently being past. I hope and pray they are not, but I will admit things do appear rather bleak. Still, even the Church is not beyond the renewing, healing and restoring grace of our Sovereign God. I can’t help but wonder if Pastor Wade Burleson and others, whether they recognize it or not, have been called by the Spirit to a prophetic ministry, where they are calling “Israel” (i.e., the Church) to turn away from false doctrine and sinful practices and once again be the true bearer of Gospel light in the world, as did the prophets in the OT and the Apostle John in Rev. 1-3. We can certainly hope and pray the churches will hear what the Spirit is saying to them today, if they do not wish their lampstand to be removed. But whether they will or not, I cannot say.

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