"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Our Problem Is Authoritarianism and Not Legalism

I used to think the problem in modern Christianity was legalism. I was wrong. I now see that some Christians flaunt their freedom and taunt their foes while other Christians consult their legal formulas and insult their libertine friends. One man's freedom is another man's sin, but both groups suffer from a much larger problem.  The church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century is losing its power because of an infatuation with authority. It is authoritarianism, not legalism, that has become the biggest challenge Christians face. William Bausch, church historian par excellence, has correctly written, "No cultic priesthood is to be found in the New Testament. Yet we are importing Old Testament Levitical forms and imposing them on Christian ministry."

The world has established systems of governance with imperial forms of authority, governance similar to that of the Hebrews in the Old Covenant. The Hebrews looked--and the world looks--to positions of authority for their leadership. Webster's defines authority as "the power to influence thought, opinion, or behavior by convincing force or control." Governments have authority. Kings have authority. Presidents have authority. The Hebrew priests had authority. The control or force these systems of governance exert vary, but the authority is similar. Leadership comes from people in higher positions of authority.

The church of Jesus Christ was never designed to operate in this manner. Jesus explicitly taught in Matthew 23:8-11 (read it for yourself to see) that the only person who rules Christian communities is the Lord Himself. Under Him, we are all equals. He emphatically rejected the world's system of top-down governance by declaring, "It shall not be so among you" (Mark 10:43). "The greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11). There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any "office" or position. Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an 'office' of authority in the church, like that of the office of  'President of the United States,' simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of every believer.

The King James Version unfortunately translates the Greek word diakonia as  "office" in Romans 11:13, but diakonia is always elsewhere properly translated as "service" or "servant." Christians serve others and any leadership in the church flows from this selfless service and oversight of others; pagans seek offices that grant authority so that their leadership (lordship) over other people is inherent to their positions or titles. Christians morally persuade others by our love and grace; pagans morally coerce others by their positions of authority. When Christians act like pagans, they turn their homes, churches, and organizations into structures of authority where everybody is coerced to submit to the authority and control of another person in a higher 'position' of authority. The equality of New Covenant believers in Christ is lost because Old Covenant Levitical forms of authority are imposed on Christian ministry.

How does one know if the Christian community or church to which he or she belongs is following Christ's teachings on leadership or is a reflection of the pagan's understanding of authority? What are the signs imperial authoritarianism in the church? The following are ten indicators:

(1). There is never any freedom to question the leader.
(2). The leader often makes claims of having special insights from God, insights that the laity are unable to possess.
(3). Disagreement with the leader is deemed a sign of the devil's influence in one's life.
(4). Events are designed to bring attention and praise to the leader rather than equipping others to do the work of the ministry.
(5). Any concept of equality is immediately labeled rebellion or the end result of a "liberal" denial of the Bible.
(6) Authoritarian leaders are only comfortable around like-minded leaders; thus, there is an unoffical 'speaking tour' where only imperial, authoritarian leaders share the platform with each other.
(7). The measure of success becomes the number of people who follow the leader ("It must be of God! Look at how many come to hear me speak!")
(8). If a person leaves the community or church, the problem is always in the person who leaves, not the leadership.
(9). Leaders who wrongly perceive themselves as those "with authority" insulate their lives by demanding absolute loyalty through giving large financial benefits to their closest 'advisors.'
(10). The ultimate end of this kind of Christian leadership is always more; more money, more power, more followers, more publicity, more, more, more...

The people of Christ are beginning to awaken to the abuses in the modern church. Whereas I thought it important in years past to challenge the legalism prevalent in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have become utterly convinced that the major problem in modern Christendom is authoritianism, not legalism. Ask yourself if you are in a place of worship where there is always a fresh, radical presentation of the freedom and equality of individual followers of Christ. If not, consider leaving, because in the end you will find your Christian community was never really about Christ or His people at all.



77 comments:

Elisabeth D said...

Now, this is something I needed to hear. As one who was taught as a young Christian that that the Pastor is the authority, and having had said pastor lead me away from Christ, it has taken a long time for me to learn what the role of pastor really is. Everything was further complicated by family believing pastor is ultimate authority too.

Bill Kinnon said...

Wade,
A fantastic post. I'm so glad Dee & Deb @ The Wartburg Watch reminded me to begin reading you again. I've learned much from you — including in today's post. I'll be linking to it at my tiny node on the interwebs.

Many blessings!

Thy Peace said...

Speak on Wade. This aspect of Christianity is what is most radical of the followers of Christ. When this is co-opted by "leaders", then there is no difference between what is being practiced in the world and in church. This is the culprit that turns Christians in to cynics and turns them away from churches.

Mark said...

Well put Wade. Thank you for the insights. I have experienced this "authoritarianism" in the past growing up in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in the 70's-80's. I am glad there are more Christians standing up against this kind of abuse of power.

Anonymous said...

YES YES YES YES

This timely posting is the "sermon" I needed to hear this week.

I'm revealing my age, I guess, but I remember when revivalist Christians in general, and Baptists in particular, and Southern Baptists specifically, held to the priesthood of THE believer.

Our people fought for this. Some died for it.

Now we consider it a mess of pottage and go around seeking a guru to be our mediator.

There is only ONE mediator between God and humankind, and that is Jesus Christ.

And we all have not only the right as believers, but the responsibility also to function fully in the Body of Christ.

Linda

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...

Wade,

You are my hero!

Thank you for taking such a bold stand against a scourge on the church (Christ's bride).

If there has ever been a time when God's people needed to hear your message, it it now.

Preach on...

Off The Cuff said...

Bro. Wade,
That is good stuff.
I think you hit the nail on the head.
You have a special gift in articulating what so many of us feel but are unable to express.
Thanks!

Debbie Kaufman said...

This is so good. I also notice when some ministers speak of "the person in the pew", they treat them as if the "person in the pew" doesn't have a clue, doesn't know scripture for themselves and doesn't care. Unfortunately sometimes that is true, which is why a good minister teaches people how to study the scripture, points them to Christ and the Bible, and does not promote themselves.

I have been grateful for 20 years that we have had such a preacher. It has literally changed lives. I know I am one. And yes I'm pointing that out. :)

Anonymous said...

This is it! And it crosses all lines...you find it in Reformed, Free will, etc, etc.

I think it is the doctrine of the Nicolatians.... in my opinion...who are mentioned as "conquerors of the people"....in Rev.

It is also one of the reasons for the lazer like focus on Comp/pat doctrine. Some are even making comp doctrine part of salvic doctrine. It is all about power and authority.

And it is hard for people to see it because scripture is proof texted to protect it and ignore other passages that show it to be sin.

But it is simply a way to take the place of the Holy Spirit in a believers life and keep them spiritually immature. It is horrible and I tremble for those caught up in this sin trap.

Lydia

Muff Potter said...

Pastor Burleson,

Even though we are probably miles apart on other issues concerning the Christian faith, I heartily applaud your stance on this one!

You, The Wartburg Watch, and other blogs are providing desperately needed push-back to those who peddle authoritarian snake oil.

Josh from FL said...

Amen and Amen!

Grace and Truth to you, my brother.

:D

Kristen said...

Bravo, Wade! I am doing a series on my blog right now showing how the topic of human authority is actually treated in the Bible. Your insights are much appreciated and I will probably link to this when I get done with part 3, which will trace the source of the hiearchical mentality to Aristotle and pagan Greek thought that got mixed in with Christianity in the first century.

Here's part 1 if you're interested; part 2 is also done.

http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/01/bible-and-human-authority-part-1-old.html

Pege' said...

Can you hear me shouting from Colorado?/ AMEN AMEN AMEN AMEN AMEN AMEN AMEN PREACH IT BROTHER WADE!!!

Aussie John said...

Wade,

Needs to be read widely!

During the whole of my many years in ministry I've encouraged my brethren to examine what I said and question. Far too many of God's children are being duped by authoritarian church leaders,both pastors, elder and deacons, who, although denying it, stand in Christ's place as Head of the Church.

Anonymous said...

Exhibit A: Bill Gothard.

Anonymous said...

Bill Gothard is a great example of this.
http://www.recoveringgrace.org/

Lamar Wadsworth said...

Wade, this may be the best thing you have written. I posted a link to it on my Facebook page.

DLF said...

I agree wholeheartedly with this post. Where in the New Testament is there an office of "Senior Pastor"? This approach is taught by all of the church growth/megachurch gurus. If you want your church to grow, you have to have a consistent message and "vision". The Senior Pastor is the "vision caster". Everything must serve the vision or it is not acceptable. Only thing is this is drawn from marketing and branding in the advertising business, not the Bible. I worked in the business world for many years. This is taught to managers in every major company all around the world. Unfortunately, it works because of human nature, but Jesus came to teach us a better way. The problem is that people are so immature as Christians that they don't even realize what is going on. I dare say that many pastors don't even understand what is going on. The quality of teaching in most churches is so poor that people are on their own if they want to learn about the Bible and the Christian faith. Most folks are not that interested, unfortunately.

Victorious said...

It seems more like the pattern of hierarchy within the roman catholic church:
Pope (as the ultimate authority)
Cardinals
Archbishops
Bishops
Priests
laity

Or that of an organization:
CEO
Board
Middle Managers
Supervisors
employees

How sad is the state of the body of Christ today....

Thanks for this post, Wade.

Jack said...

What worries most though, are the people who seem to crave, idolize, and enjoy living under these sorts of leaders! It gives them such a patronizing, condescending attitude which they inflict on so many.

Anonymous said...

"There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any "office" or position. Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian."

Oh Puhleeeeease.
1Co 14:29 "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.
1Co 14:30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.
1Co 14:31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;
1Co 14:32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;
1Co 14:33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints."

THAT is EXACTLY what that passage speaks of!

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

I believe ‘authority’ with ‘legalism’ is like ignorance in action.

How would you rate these items in a paper given to a church by a prospective pastor?

1. “I believe that a church grows with strong pastoral leadership.”

2. “A pastor is a shepherd leader that (at times) dictates direction, creates structure, and oversees organization.”

3. “The pastor must be able to appoint the chairman of deacons, finance, and personnel because they become his executive committee.”

4. “A wise pastor will seek input from his executive committee about any direction he believes God is leading the church. But, ultimately he must lead.”

5. “God gives pastoral leadership the vision which in turn must be communicated to the congregation.”

6. “It is not the deacon’s responsibility to lead the church. They are called to serve the church. They do not keep the pastor in line. He does not answer to them. That is not their role. An executive committee has that role.”

7. “If the pastor is to lead he must be able to have oversight of church personnel and resources. In other words, the pastor must have the ability to hire and fire staff. He should evaluate performance and be able to offer merit raises based on that performance.”

8. “The pastor needs to be able to provide leadership over the allocation of finances.”

9. “A pastor must know whether or not the leadership tithes.”

Kristen said...

Anonymous, 1 Cor 14:29-33 is not about people exercising hierarchical authority over one another. It's about other people with the gift of prophecy exercising discernment over the message a prophet is bringing. "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" means the prophet is able to control himself as to when to speak and when to be silent; (s)he is not under some mystic compulsion or in an ecstatic state.

You really can't read "I'm in an office above yours so you have to do what I say in the church" into that passage. It's just not there.

Tom Kelley said...

Wade,
Thanks for helping people understand that the concept of “authority” is foreign to biblical Christianity.

I admire that you do not fear disagreement, you do not squelch dissent, you do not act like you need to have people like you or agree with everything you say, you do not use your control over your platform to shut down people from saying unpleasant things about you and people who agree with you, and you do not attempt to emotionally manipulate people by trying to make them feel sorry for you, etc.

Those kinds of authoritarian and manipulative practices, plus personal favoritism, are all too common among Christian leaders in mega churches and large parachurch ministries, and increasingly among smaller church pastors who emulate their heroes in larger ministries.

Control, manipulation, and favoritism are often used by those in ministry with an authoritarian mindset to exercise tight reign over their own “kingdom.” Any expression of disagreement or viewpoints that are unpopular with the ones in charge or with their ardent supporters are disallowed or silenced. The leaders are also quick to seek sympathy for themselves by claiming they are being attacked. They can be critical and unsympathetic towards fellow believers, without attempting to reach out to people they know they have hurt. And they like to surround themselves with sycophantic personal favorites who will support and defend them no matter what they do.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen those very same tactics employed by some Christian blogs owners, too. I have experience with one in particular which bills itself as "dissecting Christian trends", the authors of which are frequently critical of pastors who follow such practices -- but the blog authors themselves have engaged in every one of these same behaviors. Sadly, by doing these things, they have become much like the worst offenders in paid professional ministry whom they frequently criticize.

But this is just human nature, I suppose. Even a little power can corrupt, and even a little popularity can breed arrogance and insensitivity. This is true in politics or churches or blogging, for we all share the same fallen nature that seeks to exalt self.

Anyway, I am glad that you, Wade, have not succumbed to the temptation to resort to heavy-handed authoritarianism with whom you disagree, whether in your church or on your blog. Keep up the good work.

-----
Tom

Marc B. said...

Wade,

Your post is especially timely for me, as my church is currently dealing with something along these lines. It's a tough situation, as many in our congregation want to help our pastor recognize these truths and align the direction and vision of our church to be in closer harmony with Scriptural teaching. But old habits and practices die hard....

I'd be interested in your thoughts on Hebrews 13:17 and how it speaks to this issue.

Rex Ray said...

Marc,
Excuse me for butting in, but I feel I’m in your shoes.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17 Holman)

For the life of me, I don’t understand how these words got switched from the next page which would fit perfect in the Book of James. :)

1 Peter 5:3 is a better ‘interpretation’: “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” (NLT)

The idea of submitting to leaders/husbands will ‘free’ a person of giving “an account” did not work out well for Sapphira—“The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.” (Acts 5:9)

“…they keep watch over your souls…” is false because this gives the pastor the work of the Holy Spirit.

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...

Tom Kelley said:


"Unfortunately, I’ve seen those very same tactics employed by some Christian blogs owners, too. I have experience with one in particular which bills itself as "dissecting Christian trends", the authors of which are frequently critical of pastors who follow such practices -- but the blog authors themselves have engaged in every one of these same behaviors. Sadly, by doing these things, they have become much like the worst offenders in paid professional ministry whom they frequently criticize."

Tom,

It's patently clear that you are criticizing Dee and me over at The Wartburg Watch.

Instead of making such a sweeping accusation against us, could you please provide a few specific examples of our blog behavior that annoys you. We are certainly open to constructive criticism.

Paul Burleson said...

Marc B,

I'm not Wade and won't attempt to speak for him in any fashion, but, my thoughts are that the Syntax, tense, voice, and mood of "peitho" in Hebrews 13:17 all shed light on the meaning of the author's command to obey the leadership and it gives a far different understanding than is commonly talked about today.

The language indicates the submission of a believer is a result of an inner persuasion and not dictation or fear. Their obedience was not to be blind obedience, but a submission that comes by a thoughtful observance of those who are in leadership.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,
Would you think these bylaws of a mega church have the Senior Pastor reaching for a Throne instead of Jesus reaching for a towel?


The highest ecclesiastical tribunal of the Church shall be the Leadership Board.

The Leadership Board shall be the final arbiter of ecclesiastical polity, Christian doctrine, membership discipline, questions of Church property, and shall make the final decision with respect to any other matter that shall arise concerning the Church, its internal workings, and its governance in every respect.

The Senior Pastor shall be leader of the Leadership Board, the Church congregation, the Church staff, all Church organizations, all Church ministries, and all Church Advisory Committees.

The Senior Pastor shall be President of the Corporation and shall be in charge of all ministries of the Church.

The Senior Pastor shall be responsible for hiring a staff and determine their salary and benefits.

The Senior Pastor shall be vested with authority…to terminate any staff member with or without cause.

Leadership Board shall have the power to buy, sell, and mortgage…any church property.

Upon liquidation…of the Church, the Leadership Board shall…distribute all Church assets to any organization designated by the Leadership Board which is of like faith.

Any person desiring to join the Church should notify the Senior Pastor.

Any person deemed by the Leadership Board to…be causing, about to cause, or capable of causing disruption, may be ejected summarily.

The Senior Pastor shall appoint Chair and vice-chair of each Committee and Advisory Team.

Regular Church membership meetings shall be held annually.

We confirm our belief in and adopt as our Statement of Faith, the BFM 2000…or any subsequent revision of the BFM 2000.

Anonymous said...

Amen!!! (-:

T.

Larry said...

I believe that many of the authoritarian senior pastors have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They have to always be right. Anyone who does not agree fully with them is wrong. They take a “my way or the highway” approach. I agree the root cause is not legalism, but their authoritarian ways have the feel of legalism because of their personality.

Rex Ray said...

BTW,
I was ‘escorted’ from visiting this church and told never to return after I gave the pastor between services this note:

1. Leadership Board dissolved the Colleyville Senior Adult Bible Explorers Class on 11-6-05.
2. The teacher was fired because he would not promise to always support the Senior Pastor.
3. However, about 50 long time members have continued to meet with their fired teacher.
4. Consequently, they have been denied Sunday school literature and a Christmas party.
5. If the Board rules their disobedience is “disruption”, they may be ejected from the church.
6. Is it sad the new bylaws prevent anyone standing for them? Outsider, Rex Ray 11-27-05

End of story:

The teacher and three others were ‘kicked out of church’ by the Leadership Board. The church membership dwindled to half, and a year later the pastor was fired.

Paul,
Maybe this church got tired of the wrong interpretation of Hebrews 13:17.

wadeburleson.org said...

Marc,

Ditto Paul!

wadeburleson.org said...

Wanda,

I had no clue Tom was referring to Wartburg. I don't read everything, but like you, I would be hardpressed to identify anything untoward over at your site! You girls keep up the good work. You are making a difference!

Tom,

Thanks for the kind words. I would encourage you to be very specific with Wanda and Dee. I've met the ladies and I can assure you they are extremely fair and gracious in person, and like me, they have a tendency to rush to the defense of the person being abused. So... it is definitely possible for me (and the gals) to come across as a bully or a tyrant, but it is usually because there is a perception that someone is being bullied. Jesus knew when to take a whip and when to give a cup of water. We are not Jesus and sometimes we reach for the whip when we should grasp a cup. When folks challenge me in specific ways where I am treaing people unfairly, I usually soften quickly.

wadeburleson.org said...

Anonymous 9:46,

I always scratch my head when someone posts such a strong disagreement behind a veil of anonymity. You would accomplish much more for your position were you to place the integrity and strength of your name beside your words.

There is leadership within the church. But leadership always arises by giftedness, service and Spirit-empowerment. Any leader who demands influence and control because of his position has not arisen to leadership, but has grabbed tightly to a position and is holding on for dear life. Leaders who exert authority and control because of their position are the very ones who should be removed. And the only people to remove them are those they are controlling.

Hope that answers your question. Passages that speak of leadership in the New Testament are always in the context of giftedness and the presence of the Spirit (as seen in selfless service to the body).

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...

Wade,

Thanks for your kind and eloquent words. You expressed my sentiments so well! I hurt when others hurt, and there are so many brothers and sisters in Christ who are being spiritually damaged by authoritarian leaders. It has to STOP!

I hope Tom Kelley knows that I am open to his constructive criticism. I'm a big girl and it won't hurt my feelings. :-)

If changes need to be made, I am willing to make an adjustment within reason. Would Driscoll, Piper, et al be willing to do the same? I seriously doubt it.

Kate Johnson said...

I so agree with this assessment. The church I recently left became this more and more. It saddens me when we act like the world and not the church (of Christ) Here are some other observations:

I would add they have a reserved parking spot... a pet peave of mine. Seriously, when the pastors surround themselves with like minded people, or their friends get appointed to positions of authority (elder, deacon), or their friends relatives are appointed staff positions... that is someone who is acting like the world, not Christ.

#6 "Authoritarian leaders are only comfortable around like-minded leaders; thus, there is an unoffical ‘speaking tour’ where only imperial, authoritarian leaders share the platform with each other."

I see this more and more, and its scary. Why not inform your congregation from a wide spectrum of folks (as long as they are Biblical) rather than your select few? I just was in a church bookstore that used to sell all kinds of books to find they now only sell the pastors books and those he approves of - his "friends" of like mind.

My doctorate that I am pursuing is in Redemptive Leadership - what a difference... may that be me!

Lamar Wadsworth said...

The obsession with gender roles and maintaining the subordinate status of women that we see in so many churches now is a symptom of a deeper problem--the very one described in this blog post, the hunger for worldly power and authority and the "pastor as ruler of the church" model of leadership. Take away authoritarianism, affirm that no act of Christian ministry is scripturally restricted to the holder of a particular "office," and the whole gender gospel foolishness dies a natural death.

FormerFellow said...

For years I would listen to Ed Young say this phrase: "You have to get under what God has put over you, so you can get over what God has put under you." He had a cute little phrase, be an "umbrella fella" meaning to get under God's, and his, and his church's, authority, and be sure and tithe, so you can be blessed...with things 'under you'.

I would sit there and think, man, I just don't think that meshes with my priesthood, but didn't ever do anything or question.

Until I did, and am now no longer a member at FC. Seems you can't really question Ed or you are shunned.

Your list of 10, Ed is all of those. Run FC, run.

Anonymous said...

Authoritarianism is sinful and bad.
The apostles however did seem to have the ability to make decisions and, for lack of a better term, "be in control" about certain things.

Are you saying that leadership can't bind the conscience of people, etc.?

Your list of markers is good, but will it give people license to baptize their natural desires for power whether they are a pastor or not?

Bridget said...

Thank you Wade for a wonderful article. I have been challenging my pastors, in gentle ways, on this very issue. It seems difficult for them to grasp. I have encouraged them that we all have "responsibility" instead of authority when speaking of areas that anyone functions in. It may take awhile. They often view it as having a "servant" attitude while in your position of authority, which is altogether different to me.

Bridget said...

Anonymous -

I hope you don't mind a few questions. Please ignore if you do.

Should leaders today view their functions equal to that of the men who lived and learned first-hand with Jesus?

Do we see leaders today binding their own consciences better than you or I?

Does being a pastor automatically STOP a man's natural desire for power? Does this desire stop with a title or is it the work of God in someones life?

Laura said...

This is one of the most spot-on things I have read. I could cite a perfect example of this type of church...but I think unfortunately, it wouldn't be unique. What a perversion of church when week after week, a man is elevated to a demi-god status.

Anyway, it cleared up some muddled thinking on my part. It should also stand as a warning to those who are fleeing a restrictive church and think that they have found freedom in a less legalistic congregation. Just because people dress normally, maybe listen to secular music, maybe even drink alcohol-watch out lest you be sucked into a distorted little society where there is an "inner circle" of those who find favor by kissing the feet of the pastor and his associates.

Jeff Rogers said...

Wade, I could not agree more. This is a great work and should be read by all believers and all leaders in churches everywhere.

I did note that you used the President of the U.S. as an example of gentile or unbelieving people lording it over others. But in our constitution the President "presides" he does not rule. We are free citizens are his/her boss, not the other way around.

Now in modern times the president has usurped authority that is not his, but this is in violation of his oath of office to uphold and defend the constitution. For it is in that document the U.S. constitution where his limited powers are outlined, and his role as the servant of the people is laid out.

We as free citizens do not have rulers, we have representatives who speak for us (sometimes better than others), but nowhere in the constitution are they given any authority to rule over the populace.

On the contrary, they are put under the same law as the rest of their fellow-citizens (ideally).

We are a nation of laws and freedom, not rulers and authority.

I believe that our founding fathers recognized the abuse of religious and civil authority that they had escaped from both in their heritage and in the King that they overthrew, and they did not want a free man to be beholden to any but him.

I also believe that this conviction of our founders stemmed historically from our Baptist and Calvinist roots in the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and the freedom of conscience.

A great article but I just had to say something about that president thing...I am ruled by Jesus Christ both in religious and civil matters, I willingly submit to laws that I and my fellow-citizens all have a say in crafting, but I am not ruled by any man, no President, Senator, Congressman, Governor or even a pastor.

God bless you and I hope this article gets a wide reading.

Jeff Rogers.

Anonymous said...

I think people like to be able to count on structure and order instead of chaos;
but they also like to have freedom.

There is in that observation a truth about human nature . . . security of order vs. freedom is seen as being in opposition.

I guess in modern times, these two strong drives within people have caused some real problems . . . and the Church has not been excluded from these conflicts.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

I have never mentioned the name of my church or referred I was talking about my pastor. Many moons ago, your topic was on “Spiritual Abuse”, and I wrote that “I knew a pastor” and told of his actions that fit your topic.

I never made another comment on the subject, but there were sever comments in rebuttal including that I was full of hatred and lies which started an argument with other people taking up for me. You deleted all the comments and I thanked you.

With that said, I asked you the question on this post about ‘Throne vs. towel’ Fri Jan 27 07:10 AM 2012.

I don’t know if you overlooked the question or does your church have some of these mega-church bylaws and you don’t want to get involved? (Our church has about 50 in SS.)

Timothy Snider said...

Wade-
A near infinity of agreements and Amens. This deserves to be read widely, not because you said it, but because it lines up with Scripture so closely. What you've done with this post is address the contemporary authoritarian problems in the Western evangelical church by pointing people back to Scripture.

For me, there would be one addition ---- the middle part of I Corinthians 12 speaks to this issue so POWERFULLY.

Tim Snider

Anonymous said...

I don't think Pastors are the same as the apostles, but the apostles did commission elders, and write a bunch of stuff in the bible about how local communities of faith have identifiable leaders. They didn't shy away from using words like "rule" when it came to their role. They also identified a range of leaders (not just pastors) who, it appears, work together to guide the life of a local church.

Authoritarianism aside and power plays aside, how do we make decisions for a faith community? Who structures the particular discussions? How does it practically work?

Rex Ray said...

Anonymous,
Good question!

As Gomer Pyle would say SURPRISE, SURPRISE! How does a church decide no one over 79 can be a deacon?

Scripture anyone?

As a charter member in 1944,I’m going to hang on like Garfield hanging from a tree limb.

tammy@eatling locusts said...

Yes and amen! Just now catching up to some much needed reading. And Paul Burelson, I wish we heard more of that description of Heb 3:17 growing p because that is more in line with Jesus' teaching than anything I was raised hearing about church authority. I even wrote a whole post on Heb 3:17 a couple of week ago because I love what it means in the true-est sense.

Marc B. said...

@Paul Burleson -- I'm with Tammy, thanks for shedding that much needed additional light on Heb 13:17.

Here's an article that also addresses it:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/22256141/Do-We-Have-to-Obey-Our-Leaders-Article

Tom Kelley said...

Wanda,
My intent was not to call all the good work you do at TWW into question; it was to point out that it is all too easy for people not to see that they are doing the very thing they criticize in others, including using authoritarian tactics.

I don't think it is necessary or helpful to go over specific things you and Dee are already aware of. And it would be hard to prove my case publicly when the actions included selective deleting of comments.

I wish you well at TWW, and my hope is that we will all seek to do things differently than those you often (rightly) criticize.

-----
Tom

Tom Kelley said...

Wade,
I know that Wanda and Dee are very nice people. I’ve had many pleasant interactions with them online, and only a few not so pleasant ones – and I desire to be one who overlooks transgressions and faults in others, knowing how many I have of my own to deal with.

I know what you mean about defending others who have been abused. In this case, the problems arose when I and others felt we were the ones being abused by other commenters who disliked our opinions, and when we stood up for each other we “shut down”, new rules were implemented, and subsequent posts were removed. They know well the incidents I’m referring to, and I know they have their reasons. I’m also sure that authoritarian pastors feel quite justified in their actions as well.

I will deal with my concerns offline going forward. Sorry to have disrupted the comments here.

-----
Tom

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...

Tom,

Thank you for responding. Dee and I would like nothing more than for our online friendship to be restored.

I recall vividly what happened. Yes, two of your comments were deleted because of a comparison that we felt was totally inappropriate. Heated words were exchanged between you and your compadres and another regular commenter at TWW with whom I don't always agree, but that's beside the point.

Could we please move beyond that unfortunate circumstance and work together on like-minded issues as brothers and sisters in Christ? There is SO MUCH at stake!

Tom, you were one of our first commenters, and I have appreciated your input on the blog very much.

Blessings.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I feel the Lord ministering to me through this, Wade.

I noticed this beginning back around the year 2000...The idea was that a leader of a church was always right, the husband is always right, and even if they are wrong...they are still "right" because they have a blanket of authority as God's chosen leader and as long as you obey, you are under that "umbrella."

I was taught at a SBC church as a struggling newlywed and new mom that if my husband "led" me the wrong way, then I should still go along with it. The reason is that God would protect me and then correct my husband.

This seemed ridiculous to me, but I thought my scoffing was a sure sign of my inherent sinfulness and rebellion and feminism and liberalism so I just shut up about it (although I don't think I ever followed the advice LOL).

I was SO AFRAID of being called a "feminist" or a "liberal" or being told that I didn't really love God or want to obey Him that I tolerated this teaching for a long time. I also did have a fear that the idea was right and that if I spoke out, things could get worse for me because God would be mad at me.

Only now, when others are speaking out about it, do I have the courage to speak up about it, too. It is still hard to do this in most church circles because LifeWay will only publish the complementarian/patriarchal position...but now at least I am being honest about how I feel.

It's so nice to know that other Christians who want to honor Christ are noticing this trend and don't believe it is from God.

THANKS WADE!

Christiane said...

I've given some thought to this post, and it occurred to me that it has always been asked of the people of my faith to consider three things before making important decisions based on the realities and the issues we faced in our live.

Yes, so as to be informed,
the 'Church's teachings' were always to be carefully considered and pondered in our hearts.

And we were to pray most sincerely and earnestly for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

But there was another consideration t . . . our consciences needed to be consulted.

It is taught to us, this:

"Deep within his conscience,
man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.
Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . .
For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . .
His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary.
There he is alone
with God Whose Voice echoes in his depths."

'Authority' may teach, it may offer guidance, and give direction, but for a Christian person, no 'authority' can ever take the place of his or her own moral conscience.

I wondered what was troubling me about this discussion . . . and it looks like perhaps for many who are not of my faith, there is little or no recognition of the supreme importance of informed 'conscience' as moral guide, within the whole tradition of mainstream Christianity.

Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the name of 'Mark Twain' once cautioned people, this:
"re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul"

Perhaps he had a insight that might prove useful in our own time,
when we are pulled this-way and that by so many who would decide for us too many things,
and if we let them decide for us, our own hearts must 'look away'.

We were not made for that.
Our God has made us better than that.

Wade Burleson said...

Christiane,

A remarkable insight and helpful comment; particularly knowing your background. I wish all of us would examine everything we cherish in the same manner.

Sallie said...

Anonymous at 8:16 -

I really appreciated your story. I think you would be very surprised to know there are MANY MANY women out there in the same situation you are in. Scared to death of being known as a feminist or liberal. They know there is something wrong with what is going on, but the fear of the labels or being ostracized is so strong that they just keep silent.

I've had other bloggers and readers write to me and tell me that they are, in fact, egalitarian in their beliefs but they won't go public with it because they know it would cause so many problems for them.

The internet has been an incredible tool for freeing women.

Anonymous said...

Wade. I could not agree with you more. Many in my home town in East Texas have dealt with a horribly abusive pastor for a number of years. You printed his playbook. Their type is very dangerous. My advice is that people not wait around for change in such person's behavior. Find a loving congregation of believers. Once you leave the danger zone you can focus on your personal relationship with Jesus Christ without further distraction. In addition to being a stumbling block such individuals frankly are a waste of one's time that can best be spent praising and worshipping Jesus Christ directly and doing His work on this Earth.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm so glad that somebody is telling it for what it is.

Like one person already stated, the problem is that these people in authority are completely narcissistic. They have their own agenda but will claim that it is "God's agenda."

John Musgrave said...

Your statement that "Jesus explicitly taught in Matthew 23:8-11 (read it for yourself to see) that the only person who rules Christian communities is the Lord Himself. Under Him, we are all equals. He emphatically rejected the world's system of top-down governance by declaring, "It shall not be so among you" (Mark 10:43)" interprets these verses in a way that makes Jesus in opposition to the New Testament.
So, either the New Testament is not inspired, or Jesus rules His Church through men who are ordained as elders. See and incorporate the passages below in your interpretation of the passages you cite:
Titus 1:5: "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you."
1 Timothy 5:17: "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching."
Hebrews 13:17: "17 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."
1Peter 5:1: "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

Marc B. said...

@ John Musgrave:

"For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

John, you are creating a straw man out of the argument. Just because elders are appointed does not make them above reproach. I'll quote the same verse as you did:

2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

Yes, Jesus rules His church through men....but those men must always act like they remember it is JESUS who rules, not themselves. The Berean Jews checked out Paul's message against the Scriptures. We ought to do the same to keep our elders accountable.

Mark S said...

I am in a church with elders and deacons. They're called offices, but they are held lightly but seriously (in terms of requirements) by those vested with them, and with a sense of greater responsibility rather than of greater authority. Those in office serve, teach, lead and are looked up to -- they don't beat their chests and demand to be obeyed and heard. So thankful for men who lead a church Biblically, and afraid I'll find myself "spoiled" if I move to another place and have to find another church. Mine is not perfect, but really good.

Anonymous said...

I was looking at the schedule of the Shepherds Conference and a few sessions stood out to me.

"Being others can follow," I thought we were following Christ.

"Counseling those with life dominating sins,"
As I've said before, we all have "life" dominating sins. Not to mention, the person who is doing the counseling about someones "life dominating sins," it acts as though this person is on a higher plane spritualy and has arrived.Therefore it leads to pride and authoritarianism(or that person is already there).

"Counseling abuse victims with love and wisdom," This should already be obvious. If someone has to be told this then they have no business counseling anybody. Furthur more, I don't want anyone counseling me who has no clue or who hasn't walked in my shoes. Been there done that and usually they don't know what they are talking about. Nothing good comes out of it.

From what I've experienced in church is that all of this(if not already prevelant their lives)leads to people becoming self-righteous and arrogant. With no humility or love. Consequently, doing more damage to others lives.

bahrelius said...

We might well be served to take the corporate lingo out of our church constitutions regarding elders and deacons (and pastors if you see a distinction between elder and pastor). In stead of referring to them as "offices" we would do well to refer to them as "functions" or "giftings."

That said, 20th century American Christianity, driven by a pragmatic fundamentalism and a system of theology which devalues the local church in favor of parachurches and the "invisible" church (I have yet to see an invisible church), overemphasized eschatological details and soteriology, has left a void in our ecclesiology of the local church. That void has been filled by every sort of authoritarian and pragmatic influence. Ecclesiology is not a matter of secondary importance.

Susan said...

Hi Wade,
Your remarks really resonated with me. I just came out of a situation that seems to be a classic illustration of authoritarianism. But that perspective is also defended by scripture that says the elders are to "rule." So I'm curious as to your insight.
I served under a pastor for 10 years who said some unprovoked and hateful things to me privately during his first few years in our church. In our first encounter, I simply asked a ministry question that he received as a personal attack. Instead of addressing the issue I raised, he responded by telling me that I'd never be on his staff. Since that had never been a subject of discussion, I was shocked by the remark's ugliness and confused at its meaning. I continued to try to work with him after privately confronting him twice about his behavior; he remained unwilling to take responsibility for his remarks. Believing the Lord called me to stay, I continued to serve as prayer ministry leader for 10 years under him; while he allowed me to function, he refused to talk with me about the ministry or work with me in the ministry, though I made numerous attempts to connect with him. Finally, when for the third time he called for an all-church prayer event and ignored all those who served faithfully on the prayer team(a team of 15 of us) in planning and hosting the event, I was angry at the obvious disunity of this. I went to the Board of Elders, and requested to either encourage the pastor to work with the existing prayer ministry or dissolve it. After 6 months of trying to work this out and enduring rebuke for having raised a problem with the pastor (I felt like I was sitting before the Sanhedrin), my husband (head elder) was told he had disqualified himself as an elder and was asked to resign. We then left the church.
My question to you is this: the scripture we have always understood to mean that one never questions the pastor is 1Timothy 5:17-21---

English Standard Version (ESV)

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

It does say "rule" in verse 17. And even though my husband and I qualified as the two witnesses, our testimony was disregarded because we were considered to be speaking against one who they believed "rule[d] well." And they believe they did the right thing according to verses 20-21 in removing us because we were seen as divisive.
This has left me wondering if there is any recourse for a leader who behaves unrighteously and whose word is believed over the testimony of one who has been repeatedly hurt by him.
How do you understand this passage in 1Timothey and its typical interpretation in light of what you have written about authoritarianism? How would you interpret this passage in a situation where the pastor behaves privately divisively and then convincingly justifies it to the other leaders. I was told to entrust it to the Lord to take care of. And am seen now as not trusting the Lord and behaving divisively.
NEVER would I want to rebel against authority, recognizing the scripture that says rebellion is like the sin divination (1Sam.15:23). I stayed in this toxic environment for 10 years because the behavior had just been between him and me (though my husband witnessed it). But when it seemed to spill over into the church, I spoke up. It really seemed so obviously disunifying. The elders and the pastor, however, said they had the right to call any meetings they wanted. A demonstration of their God-given authority.
I am still processing and trying to understand it. I'd appreciate your insight.
Susan D.

M. A. Melby said...

You have a great number of points and I am extremely happy that (at least some) Christian groups have identified this problem - cause it's a big one.

I'm a little put-off by the use of the word "pagan" - well a lot put-off. I assume you are using the term in your own way, and not actually referring to pagan groups (who are usually, but not always, non-authoritarian).

Tom Kelley said...

Susan D.,
I strongly encourage you to contact Cindy, who writes the Under Much Grace blog.

I believe she can help you process your experiences and provide insight into Scripture passages relating to the authority of elders/pastors.

-----
Tom

religious child maltreatment said...

Wade,
This is so important. I recently wrote a book on religious child maltreatment in the U.S. (called "Breaking Their WIll"). The most extensive chapter looks at why children are at greatest risk for religiously motivated child abuse and neglect when they are raised in religious authoritarian cultures.
At the end of the book, there is a checklist (directed to parents) that asks a series of questions to help them determine whether they are raising their children in a religious authoritarian place of worship or community.
Please feel free to check out my site/email.
www.religiouschildmaltreatment.com
Cheers,
Janet Heimlich

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you on the topic of authority and the New Testament:
See here? http://www.openbible.info/topics/submission_to_human_authority

There are many passages addressing the authority issue.

And this is a good article too: http://www.gospelassemblyfree.com/facts/authority.htm

Ultimately, authority should be as servants. But there has to be SOME authority in the world or all would be corrupt. As it is, the government as TOO MUCH authority and that has led to corruptness too. It's all about balance.

So my point is this: Don't go throwing off all authority and running away from it entirely. Yes, God has placed some authority over you. It might be your boss, your parents, and of course, there is law enforcement etc...
Obey them if they agree with God's Word. And if they don't, obey God over man. Period.

religious child maltreatment said...

I think that "Anonymous" fails to see the difference between authoritarianism and authoritativeness. Those who wish to control others as authoritarian leaders and those who agree to be controlled by those leaders, together, help to crush what we have in the way of human rights and democracy.

Dennis said...

You made some excellent points.I agree with what you are saying, but in your presentation you also proved that legalism is also the big problem.

Instead of a true grace message for the believer it always mixes laws, which is legalism.People teach things like tithing, when neither Jesus did it, taught it nor did his disciples.

Pastors before the time of Constantine were just overseers and servants to the fellowships and everyone shared. Today it is a business that emasculates the men.

But you are 100% right. Jesus is our authority. People need to realize, what we have today is man made and not God made. 1 John 2:27 should be the real goal of a fellowship, but it is not. I personally do not believe gifting is supposed to be positional at all. If one has a pastors heart, function in it.

In the Old Testament, God wanted to dwell among them. They asked for a King instead. History has repeated itself as pastors have become Kings as they Orate and are placed above everyone. God didnt do that and it causes a total lack of being a Priest and Prophet for all believers. Instead people defer.

Anonymous said...

I have come across preachers who boast of 'my church', 'my deacons', 'my people', 'my pulpit'. They are unaware they are displacing the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ,from His rightful position. Such autocrats must be sent packing by the congregation and a new order introduced. Seeing the Spirit of Christ rules in each heart,it is necessary to establish structures that will enable each member to freely participate in the life of the congregation and to share his/her talents, time and experience with others. Jesus and the Apostles frequently used the question and answer method in their preaching. This participation and interaction was far more effective than having to digest a long lecture/sermon, all in one go. In worship, an open liturgy can be useful at times to guide members to feel they are in the presence of God and his gathered people. By participating in personal meditation and prayer, the individual heart is raised in praise, thanksgiving, confession and intercession. To me, this is much more needed and edifying than listening to long musical presentations, good as that may be.The gifts of the Spirit emerge when opportunity,spontaneity, variety and participation are structured into the program when gathered together.Christ will be uplifted and authoritarianism will be foreign to the situation.

religious child maltreatment said...

I think most people here seem to agree that we should use critical thinking when it comes to judging whether a leader (spiritual or secular) is worth following. But I take issue with those who hold up Jesus as someone we should follow unquestioningly. I think what they mean is that we should follow his ideals and philosophies, such as caring for the vulnerable. To uphold an individual as perfect is dangerous, even if he is diseased (and many believe Jesus is not dead). Similarly, I reject those who glorify every passage in the Bible. Back to Jesus, according to Matthew 10, Jesus said, "I I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." These are not the words of a wise and compassionate leader but an authoritarian. Did he really say those words? We'll never know, but at least we can use critical thinking to determine what aspects of Jesus' outlook we condone and wish to follow and what biblical passages are meaningful and improve society.

Michael said...

Oh man how surreal to the area I live in on the 10 points...Even at a Christian university this have proved so true. I have seen so many students chewed up and spit out because of having different viewpoints or questioning a certain action. Truly heartbreaking.

Byronius said...

This post rings with truth and clarity. I bookmarked it and will refer back; Tweeted it, too.

Could it be, though, that it's another case of a clean dichotomy making a bit better post than it is realistic? Here's the rub: I agree with you (and gain new insight about it) that authoritarianism is at least one of the chief problems in the [Evangelical] Church today. However, to set aside legalism as simply "not the problem" is simplistic. My experience with churches and institutions nationwide is that both authoritarianism and legalism are a big issue.
What do you think of this treatment of legalism: Probe.org/lawandgrace?
Thanks again for your thoughts. I'm richer for them.

Anonymous said...

You may want to google an article called 99.9 percent of pastors don't get this. If the new testament demonstrates what God meant and this man has grouped several hundred scriptures to reflect how God actually wanted things done.... then we see that submit to those who rule over you could be applied to layman simply for an orderly service...leaders as God set the order which is an issue simply between the ministry gifts... and not end up as I did..with a supposed prophetic Word you're called go submit to the pastor. so I go say God has given me the ability to work. I am thinking about stepping down and dealing with my health problems. response by pastor no don't do that believe God. I overrode my conscience did as told was crippled in two weeks and lost almost everything I had could not finish school defaulted on credit card bills lost insurance and 10 's of thousands of dollars in school loans. hard to finish school now huh. don't do what I did and if you find a book called undercover burn it ! the Word governments is in the new testament right after the order of offices God set. it has almost nothing to do with layman except only several different incidents or instructions in the entire new testament !