THE Greatest Problem In Evangelical Christianity Is Our View of "Authority"
"He that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11).
In the mid-1990's our mission team from our church went to Belarus to partner with Christians there to plant churches in the inner cities of the former Soviet republic. We made friendships with many Belarus Christians and the partnership continued for over a decade.
In the late 1990's I received a call one evening from a Belarus pastor who was concerned for a 20 year old Belarus Christian woman named Natalie. We had met her in Belarus a couple of years earlier, and she had been taken by the Christians in Oklahoma, and through other contacts in the United States, she had come to to Oklahoma to work as an "intern" at an independent, fundamental Baptist church in Oklahoma City. We had no connections with the church, but the pastor said he needed my help. Natalie wished to return to Belarus but was being held captive by the pastor and staff in the basement of the church where she had been given "free" lodging. She had managed to make a short, frantic phone call, where she had pleaded for help from her overseas pastor.
It took me and our missions pastor, John Stam, an hour and ten minutes to get to this particular independent Baptist church in Oklahoma City. I called a couple of police officer friends in the metro and had them meet us at the church. Our missions pastor and myself knocked on the door that had the sign "Church Office" on the front. The fairly large church was locked down because it was after hours, but we saw lights on inside the building. Soon the associate pastor opened the door and I introduced myself and told him that I was there to speak with Natalie from Belarus. He hesitated for a moment and then said that was not possible. I told him that I had received information that Natalie was being held against her will by the pastors of the church, and if they did not produce her within sixty seconds, I would bring every available police officer in Oklahoma City and both print and television news media to their doorstep within the hour. He scowled but went to get her.
When Natalie came to the door her face was tear stained. She sobbed in relief when she saw me. I asked her if it was her desire to leave the United States and return to Belarus. She said yes. I asked her if she was being held against her will. She said yes. I told her that she was to go to the room, collect her belongings, and we would be leaving immediately. We would take her to the airport and buy her plane ticket back to Belarus on the first available flight. I also told her, in the presence of the Baptist pastor, that we would be discussing with the local District Attorney about pressing charges against those who had held her against her will.
The associate pastor was irate. Livid and red-faced from his rage, the pastor verbally harangued me while Natalie collected her things. He told me that the Natalie had willingly come to the church to work for a year. She was only six weeks into her tenure, and her desire to go home was not of God. The pastors of that church were her spiritual "authority," and her desire to go back to Belarus was spiritual rebellion. I let him talk until Natalie returned with her belongings. He concluded his diatribe against me by pointing his finger in my face and said, "You will answer to God at the judgment seat of Christ for going against the God-ordained authority of this church!" I grabbed his finger, twisted his arm behind his back, and put him face first against the wall and whispered in his ear, "Christ atoned for everyone of my sins at the cross so I will not be answering for them, but I can darn sure guarantee you if you laid one finger on this girl you will answer to the prosecutor and courts of Oklahoma County and no amount of spiritual authority will keep you safe in prison."
Long story short, we were able to get Natalie back to Belarus and the news media released a story about a year later regarding multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the pastor of that church, resulting in multiple lawsuits. We would later see Natalie in Belarus and her family expressed their gratefulness for our intervention in the United States.
I tell you that story for one purpose. In my opinion, the greatest danger in the churches of America is that pastors and "leaders" have a warped view of authority. Rather than seeing "servant-leadership" and mutual submission as the norm for Christian living, pastors have this bizarre view that they are "God's anointed" and if anyone does anything to cross them, then God will avenge them.
I do believe that God is up to something great in the ekklesia. Part of the revival is the tearing down of this notion that pastors have some kind of inherent "authority." We pastors are called by our Lord to be servants of all and our personal desires are to be subordinate to the people we serve. By the way, the "anointed" in Psalm 105 are all of God's people, not just preachers. That's something every pastor should remember.