One is Your Master, Even Christ
By David Henke
"But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brothers. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for One is your Master, even Christ, But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. Matthew 23:8-12
The confrontations depicted in the gospels between Jesus and the Pharisees were one of escalating tension. Jesus spoke the truth to them openly in the hearing of all. The positive response of the common people disturbed the Pharisees. Their response was to stiffen their resolve to rid themselves of this troublesome Rabbi.
In the end Jesus was crucified for our sins, which was God's plan from the foundation of the World. But that was not the final end of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.
The willfulness and unbelief exhibited by this pseudo-righteous sect was characteristic of the Jews at the time as they sought salvation by means other than Jesus. That willful unbelief ultimately led to the destruction of their power and influence when the Roman General Titus sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and scattered the Jews.
This article is written to foster understanding and insight into the potential influences at work when a religious group is set up without the polity needed to constrain our fallen human nature.
Spiritual leaders struggle with the same sinful nature as those who follow. The efforts of leaders to see their church move forward can run into frustrating obstacles which can lead to the temptation to manipulate. A viable accountability structure is a guard to the congregation and to the pastor.
The alternative is to let an abusive situation worsen to the point where it is almost unavoidable that many people will be affected by spiritual abuse. Scripture nowhere countenances such a situation to exist.
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:4)
As I write this article I am working with members of a church that is dealing with the results of having allowed unbiblical procedures to rule.
There is a struggle between a controlling and manipulative leadership that has seated itself in "Moses seat" (Matthew 23:2), and a growing group of "dissidents" who are calling for a reformation in the governance of their church. An internet discussion forum has become the means by which people have been able to communicate and begin to sort out truth from error.
Two decades ago another discernment ministry issued a report of their findings about this church. That report said, "In actuality, there are currents within the organization that are quite orthodox and evangelical, and there are other currents that have definite cultic tendencies. The decisive question has always been--which element within the organization will ultimately prevail?"
A Little Background
There is one primary source of the Pharisaical motive to control, the sinful heart of fallen man. However, that motive will play out in one of two ways. First, there may be insecure people in spiritual leadership who compensate for their weakness by trying to be big. Just like the Wizard of Oz who sought to be big by using sound and lights to frighten people into submission. Though Toto found him out, the Wizard tried to remain big by saying, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."
A second way control finds its way into a Christian setting is through a false teaching of the biblical doctrine of submission to spiritual leaders. There have been numerous Christian groups that have used "shepherding" as a method of discipleship. This teaching holds that the shepherd should be consulted for all life decisions and failure to do so, or to follow the counsel of the shepherd is the sin of rebellion and a sign of spiritual immaturity.
Another way submission is required is through the teaching of a "chain of command" in one's church and family relationships. It is also called "delegated authority." These terms have been associated with abusive, controlling authority in the Discipleship, Shepherding groups.
This false teaching came into American churches through Watchman Nee and his book Spiritual Authority. Nee says on page 71, "If God dares to entrust His authority to man, then we can dare to obey. Whether the one in authority is right or wrong does not concern us. The obedient one needs only to obey. The Lord will not hold us responsible for any mistaken obedience, rather He will hold the delegated authority responsible for his erroneous act." In addition, he states, "We should not be occupied with right or wrong, good or evil; rather should we know who is the authority above us" (page 23).
So, What's Wrong With That?
Watchman Nee learned this concept of delegated authority from the ethics of Confucianism. Confucius taught that parents should always be obeyed, that they were never wrong, but if they were they should still be obeyed. Among Confucianists loyalty is one of the greatest virtues and can lead to the blind loyalty described in Nee's statement.
To bring this concept into Christianity antagonizes one of the most fundamental principles of New Testament Christianity, the Priesthood of all believers. When the veil of the Temple was torn in half God was signifying that we all now have equal access to Him. There is no person who has spiritual authority (power) over us. We are all siblings in Christ and there is no chain of command among siblings.
Authority in the New Testament is of a completely different order. In some settings in our life we experience the kind of leadership that has the power of command. Our jobs are many times an example. But in the church a very different kind of leadership is needed.
The Church is
a voluntary association of free people
who accept the authority of God
but recognize the equality of every believer.
The Church is a voluntary association of free people who accept the authority of God but recognize the equality of every believer. Because God is no respecter of persons, and because we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and because we can come equally before the Throne of Grace, the only valid authority and leadership we can follow is one of servant leadership.
Jesus, the Almighty Creator of the Universe had the valid authority to command and coerce. He instead chose the opposite of power and became the least. He took a washbasin and cloth and washed His disciples feet. The contrast between Who He is and what He did is so great that it should be impossible for anyone to misunderstand.
Nee's "delegated authority" also blatantly violates Jesus' own counsel at Matthew 23:8-12. "Neither be ye called masters, for one is your Master, even Christ." Spiritual leaders have moral authority but they do not have coercive authority. Theirs is a servant leadership. Only the whole congregation acting together has the power to coerce according to Matthew 18.
For example, we are to submit of our own volition to godly leadership (Hebrews 13:17). But, we are to discern the godliness and scriptural validity of that leadership (1 Corinthians 11:1). Also, we must not submit if our conscience or biblical truth are violated. If a leader is leading contrary to truth then we should first consider that "a word to the wise is sufficient." If that is not heeded then we must consider whether the issue is of little or great weight. If it is serious enough then we must confront (1 Timothy 5:19) with witnesses, and if the charge is denied then Matthew 18 says we must take it to the whole church.
It is the congregation as a body that decides such issues. And therein lies the problem in abusive churches. They have short-circuited the Matthew 18 mechanism so the "whole congregation" is prevented from exercising its power. So, the one who brought the accusation is left with the question where does he go from here? How will he get the issue before the whole congregation?
This frustration was expressed by one of the posters on the internet who is trying to bring accountability. He said, "(Our church) will not even deal with a Christian organization. They would have a problem with "ANY" (geez do we get it now, ANY, ANY, ANY!) group dealing with these problems that was Christian and not somehow connected to them. Even from within they don't deal with these issues. There is NONE, not any, nothing, complete void of any polity to create accountability for most of the leaders. When they make mistakes that are abusive nobody has a way of dealing with these abuses. None, nothing, not there. Do we get this now? Nothing, nobody, no place, just a void."
In any healthy Christian church there is a polity that provides for resolution of conflicts, or better yet, prevents conflicts by providing an atmosphere of orderliness and accountability. The first provision is in scripture itself. The second is within the polity, or form of church government, adopted by the church or denomination.
Frequently church bylaws will specify that their business meetings are conducted according to Robert's Rules of Order, or something similar. In this case the New Business portion of the meeting affords the opportunity for bringing up the issue. That usually requires one must be a "member" to have standing in the meeting. But the church described above has no membership outside the handpicked Board members.
In church history there have been three primary systems of church government. They are the Episcopal, the Presbyterian and the Congregational. Other systems have existed but the common denominator with them is they are either dictatorial, meaning no real polity, or heretical, or both.
The Episcopal polity emphasized apostolic succession, the passing of spiritual leadership authority down from the Apostles to bishops, then to succeeding bishops, etc., until today. In this form, which arose from the tradition of the churches in Jerusalem and the surrounding area during the first century, the leading Apostles, Peter, John, and later James, appointed other leaders who had their authority in Apostolic appointment, and so on through history. The local church in this polity is accountable outside the church to the denominational leadership. The major denominations using this polity include the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Anglican/Episcopal churches.
The Presbyterian polity gained a strong following during the period of the Reformation under the influence of John Calvin. It is a sort of middle position between hierarchical and congregational polity. The church using this polity typically will have elders who are selected, or approved, by the congregation and these elders will govern in the daily affairs of the church. There is also an external accountability by the local church to a denominational authority. The main adherents of this polity are, of course, the Presbyterians.
The Congregational polity is very democratic in form. The congregation chooses its ministers, its lay leadership, and also decides more mundane matters as they come before the church. This polity arose from the English Reformation. Churches organized on the Congregational line do not recognize any authority above the level of the local congregation. There is no external authority. There may be associations of local churches organized for their common purposes but they do not have authority over the local congregation. The main adherents of this polity are the Baptists.
...the best polity can be corrupted
to serve the purposes of human leaders
if those to whom they are accountable fail
to hold them to account.
The polity of any of the above churches can function effectively in the hands of godly leaders. On the other hand the best polity can be corrupted to serve the purposes of human leaders if those to whom they are accountable fail to hold them to account. The most important element in any polity is that two-way accountability be built into the system.
In any of the above polities true spiritual authority comes from the moral authority of servant leadership. It wasn't just the words of Jesus spoken publicly against the Pharisees that turned them against Him. It was the stark contrast between the humble servant with great moral authority in comparison to the Pharisees who held positional authority and were arrogant and uncaring for the people. When the people responded to Jesus the Pharisees had to act to silence this exposure of their own hypocrisy.
Fight or Flight
So, if two way accountability is not present in the system, what does a person do? Flight, or leaving the group, is one option. In some cases that is the only option. If a person has been so deeply injured that any effort at correction just reopens the old wound then leaving, at least for a time to heal, is best. The reader may find it unusual but many who have been deeply injured cannot bear to even darken the door of a church again. The burden of their injury is as much as they can bear. Such people need intensive grace and time.
On the other hand some are motivated to act. Anyone who chooses to act must check their motives. Are they vindictive? Are they based upon biblical truth and principles? What are the ethics they will follow in their opposition? In their efforts to expose and correct will they sink to the same low standards to which they object? These questions and many more must be considered as part of the decision to take a stand as a "dissident."
Those loyal to the abusive system will accuse the dissidents of being angry. Anger is a God given emotion. It tells us when something important to us has been trampled. Anger is an initial emotion. If handled biblically it serves a proper purpose. However, mishandled it can become bitterness and lead to cynicism.
Outrage might be a better term to use. Anger occurs when we are injured. Outrage occurs when we see another who is injured. It is selfless. Outrage is the emotion upon which to act when God's Truth and God's people are suffering at the hands of false spiritual authority (Jude 3,4; Galatians 5:1; 1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11; Acts 20:28; 2 Pet. 2:1; Ezek. 33:7-9; 34:1-10.
Christians, all Christians, have the common duty to confront and correct false teaching. False spiritual authority usually rests upon a foundation of false teaching, the power posturing described above. The following scriptures command us to this duty - Romans 16:17-18; cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-4; 4:16; 2 Timothy 1:13-14; Titus 1:9; 2:1. It is not a rebellious spirit, gossip, anger, or spreading division to pursue truth and correction. However, in everything our motive must be the same as our Lord, our reconciliation with God and man.
A Matter for Prayer, and Learning
The words of two "dissidents" posting on the Internet discussion board will illustrate the problem of those who suffer in dictatorial systems. I conclude with their words as a reminder that there are "friendly fire casualties" in the Army of God. As soldiers of the Cross we must care for our wounded, not shoot them. Would you pray for correction and reconciliation among these fellow believers?
#1 "What you don't seem to understand is how subtle these kinds of manipulations work on the human mind in systems such as (church name). They break down normal critical thinking skills of the individual; you slowly stop thinking outside the current groupthink. Your own individual views become narrower and narrower, you truly believe you are still independent and a free thinker but you are not. It is subtle and over time, life's many gray areas become simplistic black and white. There is always a simple answer to complex questions."
#2 "I woke one morning during this time and my thought was 'my two decade nightmare is over.' We have belonged to a Christian church that teaches grace but operates like a cult. We slowly stopped thinking rationally, we put into our brains techniques to constantly stop that rational voice from speaking. And yet our spirit deep down knew. I hold Pastor directly responsible for setting up this counterfeit kingdom that has served him well and hurt many. I do not hate him, I am not out to get him, but I will hold him accountable and I am compelled to do something about it.
How can a leader read these posts and not see the scope of the pain caused by allowing this type of illegitimate authority to continue."