Authority, Obey, Submit?

I recently made a Facebook post which had more activity than most of mine attract. It had to do with the topic of biblical submission to a pastor or elder. I love this topic of discussion because we know something about the quote from personal experience. Here is the Tweet from the “pastor,” which I assume he is but didn’t check to see.

It spurred enough discussion that a friend reached out and asked if I had any articles on the topic. I couldn’t recall any at that time, but now that I’ve searched the memory banks, I remember an article I wrote a long time ago.

I’ve since removed it because I don’t believe in what I wrote any longer. I want to clarify that I’m not against biblical submission, I’m not against biblical authority, and I think that pastors/elders have a certain amount of both. However, it must be within the context of the limits of how far the Bible extends this authority. Herein lies the rub for the fundamentalist crowd.

Here is how I started that article from 2012

“The human condition is to rebel against authority.  It’s in our fleshly nature.  Our desire is to seek self and when someone tells us what to do that generally goes against our own self interest.  If you had a negative thought when you read the title of this post, maybe I’ve already made my case.”

The tone with which I spoke is enough to nauseate me today. While I don’t believe the paragraph is untrue, it needs a different presentation. While I also think that I made some decent points, I lacked experience, and I also lacked grace.

Suffice it to say that we need to be careful who we listen to and how much stock we place in their analysis of the Scriptures. I’m not trying to discount my knowledge or my sincerity, but sometimes we/me can be wrong.

So what about it?

Where do we allow the authority of elders to enter into our lives? Many that I call my friends are fundamentalist survivors. They’ve been through the over-shepherding model of church, and they have rightly rejected it. Whether knowingly or not, this over-shepherding is a product of the 1970s. I’ve written briefly on the topic before here.

John MacArthur famously said when asked how much authority he has, he said “none.” I like the answer because he was expressing his power only comes from God. In Fundamentalism, overly anxious elders love authority, submission, and obedience.

Diotrephes loved authority, but only his own.

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority  (3 John 9).

Pastors and elders that love authority tends to place themselves in a hierarchical position. They are the leaders, now obey. At the root of the problem is the desire for control or power. The leader elevates himself to the top position where there are usually rules for thee but not for me. It is all very predictable.  

What’s the right balance?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).

The biblical call to obey leaders is evident from this passage. It is a good passage, I love the passage, but if I’m to be a Bible student, I need to prevent this from being an authoritarian’s delight.

A quick aside: since leaving former fundy church (over three years ago now), I’ve never heard this passage brought up by any leadership we’ve been apart. Not once. In the former fundy church, Hebrews 13:17 made the quotation rotation regularly.  I dare not say weekly, but it might have been weekly.

If I need to boil it down to the most base position, it’s these areas where church leaders possess authority, and by no means is this comprehensive, but it outlines some basics.

Humility – all flows from a humble spirit

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews (Acts 20:18-19).

Paul sets an example of how to lead and how to live before the people of God. Any leader that does not walk in humility is not worthy of following.

Preaching – a primary task of pastoral care is appropriately handling the word of God

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

False teachers, unqualified leaders, and Diotrephes types will distort the truth, bend the truth, and manipulate the truth to suit their desires. Be on the watch.

Error in the church – conflict is inevitable, and the humble, servant leader must confront blatant sin

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30).

Notice, I said blatant sin. Sin that is really sin. Not some hyped-up, made-up sin. I have something in mind, and those that know, know what I’m talking about.

I was thankful to have an opportunity to preach on this topic:

Love People – Most people recognize love when they see it

For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you (2 Corinthians 2:4).

Through humility and love, Paul’s example of servant leadership is an example we should all seek after. His love for the church was evident. He confronted when needed, but it was always in humility and with a desire for restoration.

These are just a few of the ways pastors and elders should exercise authority, but none of them should ever be in an authoritarian manner.

The above quote (Tweet) is an attitude of entitlement and authoritarianism. The man above has a desire for preeminence. He desires to be the go-to guy. If you need advice, he has it. If you don’t need advice, you should ask him anyhow.

“Hey pastor, should I wear the blue suede shoes or the red shoes?” Unless he’s asking you to sin, you should take his advice, says the authoritarian pastor. Be aware, dear friends, there are many of them out there waiting to prey on their next victims. Stay in the word, stay in prayer, seek discernment and wisdom. Stay humble, or get humble.


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