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Authority Debate: Balance of Power

Authority Debate: Balance of Power

Posted in Craigs Keystone articles

We were in an independent fellowship for 14 years, all our married life, where all our children grew up,  where all our best friends were, our only spiritual home. When the Lord developed within us through His Word the convictions of Christian education and home schooling, we were stunned that others did not share our enthusiasm for this way of raising a generation of disciples for Christ. We thought their disinclination for bringing the Word of God to bear on tbe political scene regarding public morality was a cultural hangover from the good old days when Christians never had to be involved in such things. But when immorality, humanistic heresies and even the trampling of their own traditions were not spoken against when they happened in the congregation, we knew something was wrong.

One day I was handed a copy of a letter by the elders, written to someone else which said they did not believe in either the PRINCIPLE or the PRACTICE of home schooling and would never want to see their pulpit used to promote such a thing. We had been home schooling for five years. WHY HADN’T THESE ELDERS TOLD ME!! WHY HAD THEY LET ME GO  DOWN A PATH AND TAKE MY FAMILY  DOWN A PATH THEY CONSIDERED HARMFUL? WHAT KIND OF SHEPHERDING, PASTORING, ELDERSHIP IS THAT??!!

We knew we had to go. Why? Because these shepherds not only refused to shepherd, but also let each person go his own way. We either had to find a church that WOULD shepherd us properly or do the job ourselves.

Working through the issues involved in that little choice took us SEVEN years. We found the issue of authority to be a crucial one, right next to fidelity to Christ and His Word. We found some surprising things.

First, there are some things which are inescapable. Therefore these things affect everybody and cannot be ignored. One is the deceitfulness of sin. We found most Christians underestimate the degree to which they are susceptible to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. That last one especially, the pride of life, is what causes us to deny that Jeremiah 10:23 applies to us: “I know, 0 Lord, that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12). The deceitfulness of sin is inescapable. Therefore we must be constantly on guard AND open to the admonition of others.

Then there is doctrine. The fellowship we left would say that love unites, but doctrine divides. But that in itself is a statement of doctrine. That is what they believe, it is what they teach. One elder told us, “Well this is what we believe, and if you don’t like it, you can leave.” That was a statement of doctrine. When I told them, which was difficult through my uncontrollable sobbing and tears, that we felt we had to leave, only one of the eight elders tried to talk to us about it. That showed the commitment of their love to unity. Everybody has doctrine: the one they profess may be different than the one they live by, but doctrine is inescapable. So the question is, which doctrine is closest to Biblical doctrine.

A third inescapable item is the way in which God has ordained under His own authority other spheres of authority. The family, the church, and the state are three main ones ordained by God, each with its own sphere of influence and each accountable and subservient to God’s authority. You know this is inescapable by the amount of trouble inevitably caused when one authority tries to extend its sphere of influence into that of another or is actually invited by the other to do so, as when the state relieves the family of its social welfare, health care and educational responsibilities.

We must not complain about man-made structures because they too are inescapable. We WILL have one structure or another, always man-made, no matter what we do. Even if we stay home and not even meet with any other believers, that too is a man-made structure, made by ourselves.  (Personally because it is made by myself to suit myself rather than to help and encourage others I would therefore tend to trust it all the less as this kind of system is humanistic to the core, being self-centred rather than Christ-centred. Of course if there is no Christ-centred church within a reasonable distance, then you probably do need to stay at home, rather than come back from a service in such a place complaining about it in front of the family and feeling unclean.) And so, the question is which man-made structure is closest to the Biblical pattern.

So, when the authority of the church begins to eclipse that of the family, you come up with strongly authoritarian church structures, from huge international organisations to local personality cults, where the doctrine is determined by an elite person or group, and more and more of the family’s activities are determined for it by the church. On the other hand, when families believe they can fulfil for themselves the responsibilities of the church, you can get antinomian* structures where doctrine tends to be rather fuzzy at the edges to the point where each family determines its activities for itself with no reference to the church, the Body of Christ of which this family is meant to be a part.

Just because the church structures we have experienced seem restrictive to us does not mean church structures are wrong. That is like saying because my marriage seems restrictive, marriage is wrong. Why do we tend so quickly to blame the institution and not the sinners (ourselves) who are in tbe institution? Could it have something to do with this “do your own thing” generation in which we live, which rebels against whatever doesn’t suit ME? Have we possibly been influenced more by the world and our own deceitful sinfulness than by the Lord’s Word in these situations? Why do we focus more on, “What (probably new thing) does the Lord want ME to do?” rather than “How can I more effectively do what the Lord HAS ALREADY TOLD ME to do in the Scriptures?” I am not saying that we should stay put in a “church” which has compromised, apostacised or grossly overstepped its boundaries, but neither should we despise the churches as a whole simply because what we have experienced has been unsatisfactory.

The perfect church does not exist on earth, but then neither does the perfect Christian exist on earth. That means that being an imperfect member of an imperfect church will give us plenty of opportunities to obey some of the clear commandments the Lord has already given us: to bear with the failings of the weak (Romans 15:1), not neglect to meet together to stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25), to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to do good to the brethren (Galatians 6:10), and to love one another so that the outsiders may see (John 13:34-35).

It seems to me that the Scriptures do clearly state that elders are to be appointed in every place (Titus 1:5), that they are to rule over us (I Tim 3:4-5, 5:17, Hebrews 13:7, 17) , that we should submit to them (I Peter 5:5, Hebrews 13:17), that we should call them when ill (James5:14), and that we pay them well (I Tim 5:17-18). Yes, the elders certainly have directives as to how they are to look after us (I Peter 5:l-3, Hebrews 13:17) and must be held accountable to that by way of exhortation (I Tim 5:1).

The Church on earth, the Body of Christ, is made up of ALL SORTS: the weak, the immature, the lazy, the strong, the keen. I am commanded to bear with them all and not to please myself, but to serve and to love all my brethren. Apart from the Bible verses above that indicate that I should be a member of a local congregation under elders, from a practical, logistical point of view, I can best fulfill the commandments to serve the brethren by being committed to a local congregation. Because I do not have a corner on tbe truth, I must concede that I can learn something, probably quite a bit, from every brother and sister in the congregation, if I would only take the time to listen and learn …. to love and serve them as I have already been commanded by the Lord to do.

The organisational church is not meant to usurp the authority of us fathers within our families, but to strengthen and equip and support us in that role. The authority of the church is over corporate areas of worship, discipline, the sacraments, etc. If the pagan Roman Empire could be commended by the Lord in Romans 13 as a minister of God to whom we should submit, how much more can we joyfully submit, in those appropriate areas, to the appropriately constituted church of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever, Amen !


*Antinomianism (against the law) stresses freedom from the condemnation of the law to such an extent that it can come to mean freedom from the law itself. It also tends to reflect a modern existentialism or “here and now” attitude as if it had nothing to learn from the church’s 2000 years of history, struggle, practise and scholarship.

From Keystone Magazine
May 1996 , Vol. II No. 3
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