Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On human authority

NE Michigan Reformation Society: In Defense of Pastoral Leadership

I came across a posting recently from the Northeast Michigan Reformation Society, our sister Reformation Society to the north. Since it specifically referenced me, and in a way that I think misunderstands what I have said, I felt it warranted a response.

Recently, a friend, Arthur Sido at "A Voice Crying in the Wilderness", has posted on his blog his own views and the links to others supporting the view that there is to be no human authority within the local church. The NEMRS affirms the view of church leadership expressed in the Westminster and London Baptist Confessions concerning the leadership of the local church. While these confessions differ in the details concerning church leadership, they both agree that the elders of a church are its leaders appointed by Christ to govern the local church.


Certainly I believe in having human leaders in the church. That is perfectly Biblical and if I may go so far as to say that a local gathering that persists without elders is absolutely unbiblical. We are accountable to one another, need leadership in love from one another and benefit greatly from others with greater maturity in Christ in the Body. If I rejected all human authority and leadership, I wouldn't gather with the church where elders lead the local assembly and I wouldn't go to conferences like Together for the Gospel to sit at the feet of men I look to as leaders and mature brothers in Christ. I would also say confidently that the men that I often link to, men like Alan Knox and Dave Black, likewise affirm the value and Biblical necessity of human leaders in the church. So I am not sure where the notion that I or those I link to reject human authority comes from. Actually, maybe I am sure.

Having said that....I also reject the absolute linkage that says that human leadership inexorably leads us to the traditional model of pastors as if there are only two options: the traditional pastoral model we adopted and adapted from Rome or utter chaos in the church. I reject the deferring of spiritual and ecclesiastical leadership in total to one or a few men which leads to the subcontracting of ministry. As I have said repeatedly, my biggest beef is with the "laity", not the pastors. Pastors are trying to do what the rest of the body is too lazy or too religious to do for themselves, whether in the family or in the gathering of the church. The life of the Christian is one of ministry, for all Christians and not for a select few by virtue of "ordination" by human organizations or by the assuming titles. I recognize that this flies in the face of some traditional Reformed thinking (or at least practice) and I make no apology for that. I specifically do not link back to my blog from the Mid-Michigan Reformation Society blog so as not to cause a stumbling block to anyone for that very reason.

I return again and again to this. Why did God give the church pastors, evangelists, apostles, etc.? To rule perpetually over the church or to use their gifts to bring all members to a maturity in Christ so that we may all minister and be ministered to by one another? The Bible tells us quite clearly:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:11-16, emphasis added)

Note what Paul says the purpose of pastors/shepherds is. Not to DO the work of ministry to the exclusion of others, but instead to EQUIP the saints. That is an enormous distinction and one that is missed so often in these discussions, which is puzzling especially since this is the one place in most English translations where we see the word "pastor" or "shepherd" describing humans. I challenge anyone to search the Scripures and show me the clergy-laity distinction, the hierarchical church, the authoritarian pastor or the passive "member". These divisions do just that, divide the church. Titles, offices, denominations, education, all are often used not to edify and equip the church but to divide. The true Biblical leader is not the one who claims titles and honors and authority, it is the one who serves the Body lovingly and joyfully and sacrificially, who labors among the Body as a fellow laborer (1 Cor 16: 15-16), not as a ruler. The true Christian leader is not the one who has the ordination certificate, or the most education, or the smoothest speech or who wears the title "pastor" like a badge of honor. It is the one who serves others the most and that is hard to do in your study or behind your pulpit.

But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mat 20:25-28)

Our Lord said to His disciples: It shall not be so among you. Unfortunately it all too often is.

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A. Amos Love said...

Amen, yes, all right, very well, of course, by all means, sure, certainly, absolutely, indeed, right, affirmative, agreed, roger, aye aye, yeah, yep, uh-huh, okay, okey-dokey, okey-doke.

Preach it....

Alan Knox said...


Yes, I think you're making a very important and scriptural distinction between "leading" and "exercising authority". We are specifically instructed to follow those leaders who are serving others. We are also specifically told not to exercise authority over one another. If we fail to follow servants, then we are missing something. If we try to exercise authority, then we are also missing something.


Jeremy Lee said...


It is very possible that I have misunderstood and misstated your position. After all, I told someone who commented on my blog I did not use the word pastor, and "In Defense of Pastoral Leadership" was the title.

First, let me state the points of agreement. I agree 100% that the Christian life is ministry and that all Christians should be ministers. I also am in full agreement that an elder's purpose is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. Finally, there are pastors who have abused their power and lay-persons who have abdicated their biblical responsibility, and they need to be biblically corrected.

However, You state in your response that you do affirm the necessity of human leadership in the church. Yet, you also challenge others "to search the Scripures and show me the clergy-laity distinction, the hierarchical church." You seem to be arguing for no distinction of any kind among believers. Yet, my blog demonstrates that there are leaders (elders) and non-leaders (laity), which is a distinction. In addition, this distinction implies a simple hierarchy.

While you suggest my blog is a caricature or straw man and not your actual belief, you have possibly created a straw man out of the traditional Reformed view of church leadership when you say, "The life of the Christian is one of ministry, for all Christians and not for a select few by virtue of 'ordination' by human organizations or by the assuming titles. I recognize that this flies in the face of some traditional Reformed thinking." Who believes this? I am sure you could find churches where this is the attitude (If you can't, I could point some out to you.). However, who espouses this as a biblical view?

Pastor Jeremy Lee

steve s said...

You've been commendably clear on this for some time, Arthur. One has to wonder how our friends in Michigan managed to so badly pick the stick up from the wrong end.

Steve Martin said...

I think we ought remember that we are dealing with sinners here (church leaders).

There will always be leaders.

So how do we keep them in check.

By knowing our Bibles. By having a proper theology (Christ, and not man centered).

And, another way that we do it, is by having a liturgy that forces us to stay centered on Christ (and His work for us).

Otherwise, the sinner (the leader) will go his own way and end up in all sorts of places he/she ought not go.

Joe said...

MANY good and godly pastors desire to train such faithful men who will be able to teach others also. One main problem is that churches entertain goats rather than feed sheep. I see the greater problem in unspiritual men attempting to lead unspiritual men. They excuse their sin because the men in leadership have glaring issues with homes not in order so they think nothing is required of them either and then wonder in the back of their mind, "Why are we paying him so much?"

Arthur Sido said...

Joe, I think that is mostly correct. We have created a form where church is all about getting as many people as possible into the pews and as long as we have that as our motivation, we will have a hard time carrying out the mandate of the church. You can't disciple into Christian maturity someone who isn't a Christian in the first place.