Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls
It’s sad how this verse has been the go-to for so-called pastors and elders. I had a man tell me, “I’m your spiritual authority!” And the crazy thing is that he actually believed it. He believed that he “watched over my soul!”
I told him that, contrary to his ego-induced madness, he was not entrusted with my soul and would never steal the authority from Jesus Christ.
While this might be considered an extreme of what I see all over the place in so-called Christianity, it’s just a festering infection as opposed to the unseen cancer that has infected Christ’s congregation since the tares were planted early on.
Consider those who wanted to tack Christianity into Judaism. They insisted that converts had to be circumcised. That was a big battle. Then they swooped in and tried to lead the Galatians away from their freedom from dead rituals.
Others brought heresy of gnosticism, claiming that the body was the flesh and the true person was the spiritual person and not affected by what went on in the body. Basically, a creative way of saying, do all the sin you want, because this body isn’t the true reality.
Some taught that the resurrection already took place. I don’t doubt there were what we’d call universalists back then.
There were those who sought to bring others under control by their ego and personality. They saw the Gospel as a means of gain.
These are all things Paul, Peter and Jude address in their letters. None of this is new.
The first century congregations struggled against all the same temptations as we do. But one was perhaps the most detrimental: Acceptance by the world.
While Augustine and other theologians came to repentance and experienced the grace of God’s salvation, Constantine and his mother-in-law did great violence to centuries of God’s people. They established what we call “church” today. This includes the perversion of the “authority” of the church.
When I was young, I learned that the “church” was the people, not the building. That’s true. Although, a better translation for ecclesia is congregation, not church. Church actually comes from a root word from which we get circus. Interestingly, the two things today are very similar.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus and I know there are congregations of humble, repentant believers who are groaning inwardly at the hell-bent condition of the world around them (and of popular Christianity). But many of those remnant people of God are also held captive in the Babylons of the churches that dot the countryside. They keep quiet under the dubious rule of the Herods and Pilates, Caiaphases and Annases.
But it is interesting how the “church” is the people, but when it comes to so-called authority, the “church” is the pastor and elders.
The truth is that Jesus didn’t leave us authority to use of our own accord. Rather, He is the only authority in His congregation. His Word is left with which we can study and share and encourage and reprove. And when I say “reprove,” I mean to warn our friends from something that is harmful to our glory of God. It certainly is not to re-prove how wrong someone is and how right we are.
Paul, Peter, John, Luke, Jude, etc. wrote letters and accounts under the inspiration of Jesus’ spirit. But, when they weren’t under that inspiration, they disagreed and confronted one another.
What I see in America is what I call Corporate Church. A church is big business (or it wants to be). It masquerades as a ministry, but it is really just designed to bring in paying customers. It does this by providing programs and promises. The programs entertain while the promises imply that people’s lives will be changed and improved.
The Roman church did this without the entertainment because they developed the authority to absurd levels. They held the power of heaven and Hell, having wrested it from Christ’s hands, apparently. Nobody wants to go to Hell, so they will listen to the glittering, pontificating priests in hopes of being granted access to Heaven.
The Reformation shook those foundations … to an extent. While Luther and Calvin stole the issue of personal salvation from the Roman Church, they left the blasphemous ritual of infant baptism alone, allowing the anti-christs to pretend they could ensure children’s entrance to heaven (should anything happen to them).
This is still used in politics today: It’s for the kids!
The true reformation was that of the Anabaptists. These brave, sanctified souls broke from the horrendous, gaudy buildings and blasphemous formalism. They met at lakesides and near rivers. They baptised believers in obedience to Christ. For this they were hunted, driven from their home and land, drowned, burned at the stake or impaled.
Oh, and all these horrors were done by the church.
This is still done. If someone brings up a doctrinal issue to a self-proclaimed shepherd of God’s flock, they castigate the person, the railroad them out of relevance within the congregation. Their e-mails will be deleted, their questioned ignored and their character assassinated. And they’ll do this in the name of peace and unity.
Same as the Roman Church.
So, what is the authority of the people of God, His congregation? Our authority is to exercise clear obedience to His Word through humble faith and meekness. We show this when we share the hope we have for the life to come (not this life). We demonstrate our obedience when we turn the other cheek when we’re struck by the world. We allow the power of God to flow when we boast in our weakness.
God’s people–the true people–will be seen as last in this world. But that’s where Jesus was, too. And yet, through this dark valley of death’s shadow, we’re accompanied by One who has trod these stony paths and come through victoriously.
I walk with Him. His authority is all that matters.