A woman recently wrote in who had been struggling with leadership issues in her church. She asked that I give more information about how I came to the conclusions that I reached on this subject. Among other things, she wanted to know if my conclusions came from materials other than the Bible, and what Scriptures influenced my decisions.
[She is the wife of an elder and a mother, and she along with her husband and children recently left their church and are having church assembly at home. They had been enduring problems with what seemed to be a lack of integrity in the church’s finances as well as issues regarding how the leadership leads in general. They were struggling with a church that has a board of yes-men who are expected to get behind whatever the pastor wants for the sake “unity”. She said that she was struggling with feelings of guilt for their confrontation with the leadership and for leaving and wanted to make sure she wasn’t being divisive. She seemed concerned that she might now be somewhat “anti-church” in her viewpoint because running away from “organized” church seemed very good to her now.]
Here is my response edited into more of an article form:
Dear _________ (name withheld to protect privacy),
Thank you for your email. I will attempt to answer all your questions.
My wife and I used to struggle with what you are struggling with regarding church leadership. Many other Christians struggle with the same issue. But actually, the church is supposed to be presided over by Christ and all of us together administering the written Word cooperatively. No one man or small group of men can be allowed to rise up and take over and have a “patent” on what “slant” on the Bible is taught. We need the whole of Scripture, not various slants and misinterpretations of it, and we need the whole body with its many eyes and ears to keep watch, to listen carefully and speak up to help keep things on track biblically.
One of the main gateways where much apostasy and other assorted errors enter the church is when various people are allowed to teach whatever they please without accountability, unchecked and without question from the Body of Christ, and all because they hold the nebulous title of “pastor” or “elder”. There is not a shred of evidence in the Bible to support this kind of dominating church “leadership”. The grand assumption (and a false assumption at that) is that this is how elders in the early church behaved. Nonsense! The early elder were loving, submissive, faithful individuals, not CEO dictators with a grand agenda and operating like they are running a business.
Actually, my conclusions on the state of the church and the needed solutions do not come from reading other people's books or listening to their messages. I have drawn my conclusions by thinking for myself, specifically thinking on God's written Word and applying it to these and other issues. I have read some things here and there that other concerned Christians have written and I have heard things that other discerning Christians have said that have been a confirming word to show that I wasn’t crazy. That has been helpful and that is part of what I endeavor that my website does as well. Many people have written in and reported that they have been helped from the materials there. But the source is God’s Word. There is nothing on my website that any Christian couldn’t figure out on their own from going directly to the Bible.
The pastor-led model was incorrectly added to church tradition by ambitious men many years ago. My guess is it started around 300 AD when church buildings starting being built, but I don’t have an exact date. The elder lead model is also incorrect. Jesus is the only one who we are supposed to look to for leading His church. We are to be lead by His written Word and by the Holy Spirit who leads us into a proper understanding of what the Bible teaches. An elder (or pastor) is not the leader of the church. They are simply supposed to help encourage Christians and help keep them on track by pointing them back to the written Word, not by creating their own rules and regulations. The Bible forbids such practices. All Christians, regardless of giftings and callings, are co-equals with other Christians and that includes pastors/elders.
Here are the 4 main critical steps that changed my life:
1) Before leaving the modern church system, I had never previously applied the Bible to church doctrine or church practices. I had just foolishly believed whatever pastors told me. For many years it did not even occur to me to check out this area of the Christian life. I just went with the flow. This was a big costly mistake in many ways.
2) The launch pad for me (that finally catapulted me out of the last modern church that I attended years ago) was when I actually literally believed and obeyed Rom 16:17-18 as it applied to the “church” that I attended at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I had believed that passage generally previously, but not specifically to my particular situation. This is a key.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. 18For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. Rom 16:17-18
Once I understood how these verses applied and once I actually did what it said, this single passage shot me out of that church on rocket sled right into the freedom and protection of Christ Himself. That Scripture was just about the only “separation” passage that I knew (or could think of) at the time, but because it was God’s Word it was enough to change my life forever!
3) Even though I had always trusted the Bible as a Christian, I had never committed to going with what it says in EVERY area of life. I would pick and choose. The light finally went on for me and the door opened to really learning the Scriptures when I finally committed to applying and obeying the Bible in every area of the Christian life, above anything that anyone or any pastor says. By allowing the Bible to permeate every area of life, not just popular topics, that put God squarely in control and was a crucial step of overall liberation for me. Finally God was able to really begin using me. Until I believed these things in my heart (which ironically comes from obeying those things) nothing happened. No change. Up until then I was not fully available to God. I had inadvertently made myself mostly available to the false religious system in so many ways and I was a pawn in its hands.
[I think most of us believe that we are already submitting to God in every area but most of us are really not. A lot of us just go to the Bible for help with personal problems and issues or help with our marriages, children, etc. and that is good, but that is not enough. We must also allow the Bible to control every other area of our lives as well including how we are to behave as the church and how we are to really assemble with each other. This topic is usually a taboo area among most church leaders. They typically want us doing things their way in order to maintain their status quo. We cannot leave God at the doorway of any area of the Christian life. He must rule all.]
4) The fourth big step was, over time, realizing who I really am in Christ, discovering the heritage that was stolen from all of us by clever ambitious men. We are complete in Christ. There are so many things that we already have that the false church dangles in front of us like a carrot, tempting us to chase things that are already ours, or worse chase things that we ought not pursue. It’s a huge mess. A big part of this step was finally believing that yes I (any every other Christian) can be led by the Holy Spirit into all truth without needing any man to interpret God’s Word for me. It wasn’t until this that I discovered a treasure trove of things that we already have as Christians and that we do not need to chase.
It’s OK to be anti- false church but not anti-church. I am all for the church in the Bible but what we see going on today in most "churches" is nothing close.
The reason that running away from organized institutional church sounds really good to many Christians right now is because it is good and their eyes are being opened to the fact that the prevailing popular church system is probably a counterfeit (and it is!). We need to run to Jesus and to His Apostles’ way of “doing” church. It's simple. It doesn’t cost any money and there is much love, joy, peace and mutual participation. Everyone is equally important, and everyone has a say, not just one man or a small group of men.
It is absolutely amazing how edifying it is to worship at home. For years we missed out on this simple yet profound truth. We were too busy being led around as puppets on a string by ambitious controlling men. The truth is there are numerous examples in the Bible where we see Christians meeting in homes, but not one single example of Christians meeting in some costly special-built luxury building for their comfort and convenience. We have wasted a lot of money on foolish things. [I am working on an article that goes into depth on this subject of house churches (not real-estate acquisitions) in Bible times.]
As far as the Scriptures you requested, I don’t think there is anything more I can say here that I haven’t already said in my articles, but allow me to summarize and give some highlights:
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matt 28:18).
- Jesus alone is the Head of the church (John 5:26-27, Eph 1:22-23, Col 1:18).
- God does not permit Christians to have controlling authority over other Christians in the church (see Matt 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:24-27, 1Pet 5:3, Matt 23:8-12, etc.).
- We do not have multiple special high priests over us. There is only One High Priest, Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 3:1, 4:14).
- We have One Master Christ and we are all brothers (see Matt 23: 8-12).
- You cannot obey two masters; you will love the one and hate the other (Matt 6:24, Luke 6:13). You simply cannot obey Jesus as master and a pastor (or elders) as master at the same time.
Also consider this:
Who has the Rule Over You? / Solving The Hebrews 13:17 Dilemma
Lastly, there is nothing divisive about asking questions and calling for accountability. But cult-like churches with authoritarian leadership perceive such things as a threat and so they typically marginalize, insult, ruin reputations and blackball those who questions them. We are called to submit to Christ and to each other as co-equals, not submit to a man-centered authoritarian dictatorship. There are many biblical reasons to leave such a church. Many experts agree that one sure sign that a group is cult-like (or a full blown cult) is when you can’t leave without their permission and still keep your reputation among them intact.
I hope this helps. Let me know if you or your husband have any other questions.
May the Lord bless you and your family,
Note to readers: This dear soul asked many excellent questions that represent what many Christians are going through today in abusive churches. I commend her for her letter.