RETARDING THE CHURCH
The weak and uninspired state of the modern church is directly related to those who would call themselves “Leaders” within the Body of Christ. “Leadership” is necessary in the world, because the lost do not have the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit to guide and motivate their actions. Without the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, their motivations are continually selfish. To get anything done, and avoid anarchy, wise, just and even-handed “Leaders” are required to control what would be an unruly mob. However, “Leadership” in the world is far too often used to dominate, subjugate, manipulate, control and abuse those who “follow”. Whenever you have humans in charge, fallen human nature manifests itself.
It is only natural to attempt to apply the worldly model of “Leadership” to the oversight of the Body of Christ. This is where problems have always begun in the church. This is why we are told in the Scriptures to avoid doing things the world’s way.
Romans 12:1-3 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. NASB
We see we are to yield ourselves as a sacrifice to God. This is only reasonable given we are redeemed by the grace of our loving Father and the sacrifice of His Son, and not by any attribute we possess. Having yielded ourselves a sacrifice, we must discontinue doing things the way of the world, and begin conforming ourselves to God’s will, as expressed in the Holy Scriptures and revealed by the Spirit of Truth. Only by breaking the world’s mold, and allowing God’s word to transform our ways of thinking about spiritual things and doing spiritual things, can we judge what is God’s will, those things that are good, acceptable and perfect in the sight of God. Then, we are told not to think more highly of ourselves than we aught to. We are told if we do think more highly of ourselves than we aught to, we will not have the sound judgment God has allotted to each of us in our faith.
There is no better way to view the exercise of “Leadership”, than through the words of Jesus. There is no better way to break from our conformation with the world and renew our minds than with Jesus’ teachings on “Leadership”. What does Jesus have to say about the world’s exercise of “Leadership” and “Leadership” in the Body of Christ?
Jesus’ Teachings on “Leadership”
Luke 22:24-27 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called Benefactors. But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” NASB
There has always been a desire in the carnal heart of humanity to be regarded as the greatest. This does not end with our association with Christ. Instead, fallen human nature at work within individuals, wants to be regarded as the greatest within the Body of Christ. Jesus faced this problem with His disciples. It is still a problem for our Father with His children today. Unless we are crucified to our carnal desires, Believers still exercise their fallen human nature. We must renew our minds to the word of God and no longer follow our evil desires to be regarded above our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Mark 10:42-45 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” NASB
We see Jesus’ servant’s heart, willingly laying down His life; not the heart of a “Leader” giving orders. While Jesus was willing to sacrifice His life as a ransom for the world, He remains unwilling to force anyone to receive salvation. This was the life Jesus patterned, and the life Jesus tells His followers they must embrace if they desire to follow Him.
Jesus never forced or coerced His disciples. Rather, He spoke the truth in love, and allowed them to believe what He said, or depart. Jesus repeatedly drove individuals and throngs away with His words. He angered and incited to riot crowds who had come to listen. (Mark 10:21-22, Mark 12:12, John 2:15, John 6:60 & 66, John 7:30) He called the religious “Leaders” serpents and generation of vipers. (Matthew 23:33) When Peter objected to Jesus being crucified, Jesus rebuked Peter to his face, ascribing to Peter the motivations of Satan himself.
(Mark 8:33) Remember, Jesus said and did these things in love, because Jesus is “Love” incarnate. I am quite sure it hurt Peter’s feelings when Jesus rebuked him as Satan. I’m also sure, those who were called “serpents and generation of vipers” did not receive Jesus’ words as words of love. But it was necessary they understood their actions. They considered themselves to be servants and administers of God. They ascribed to themselves the work and the will of God. All the while they persecuted God’s prophets, even John the Baptist, and eventually crucified the Lord of Glory, Jesus Himself. Yet, if Jesus didn’t tell them the truth, they would have no opportunity to understand their error and repent. Without repentance, forgiveness is not sought and error continues un-recognized, un-challenged and un-changed.
Jesus’ Teachings on Labeling
Eventually, Jesus got very specific with His disciples. He addressed the dangers of accepting for ourselves labels that exalt us above our brothers and sisters and bestowing labels on others, exalting them as well. It is this unholy practice of labeling that begins the process of eroding the servant’s heart Jesus wants us to exhibit. Once a servant of God accepts a label for themselves, they begin to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. They exalt themselves above everyone else who does not share their label. This corrosive self image created by labeling, eats away at the servants heart, inspiring greater and greater thoughts of self-importance. Within a very short time, the servant forgets Jesus’ teaching of servanthood, and ascribes to themselves godly wisdom and “Leadership”. Having exalted themselves in their own eyes, they devalue everyone else’s ability compared to their own. Because of their bloated self-image, it is impossible for them to prove what the will of God is. They have already exalted themselves and attributed to themselves the qualities of the Trinity. Again, we will look at the words of Jesus to see how this happens.
Matthew 23:8-12 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. NASB
Here, Jesus tells us not to label ourselves with the term “Rabbi”, (Master), or “Teacher”, because we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus is our example, our Master, our Teacher. Yet, Jesus is humble and meek in spirit. He will not ascribe to himself these titles, even though in John 13:5-17, He admits to His disciples they are right in calling him so. We are told here not to use Jesus’ titles for ourselves and exalt ourselves from among our rightful place among our brethren.
Jesus warns us not to label anyone on earth with the name of “Father”. This title is reserved for our Heavenly Father alone. We degrade and offend our Heavenly Father by bestowing His title within the Church on unworthy men. We exalt unworthy men to the elevation of our Heavenly Father when we label anyone with the authority of our true Father. We leave ourselves exposed and vulnerable to unworthy individuals who do not have the wisdom nor the love, to care for us as our Father in Heaven does. Any human who desires to be called “Father” by the body of Christ exalts themselves above the throne of God.
Jesus tells us not to label anyone with the term “Leader” or “Guide”, for one alone is our Leader, that is the Spirit of the Christ, the Holy Spirit. The Greek word “Christ” and the Hebrew word “Messiah” mean the same thing, “the anointed”. Jesus was the Son of God. When He was baptized by John the Baptist and the Spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove, He became Jesus, the “Messiah”, the “Christ”, the one anointed by the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus then entered into His Messianic ministry.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Jesus told His followers that He would send the “Comforter” who would guide them in all things. In several passages in the Gospel of John, Jesus explains this to those who would follow after Him and be called by His name.
John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” NASB
John 15:26-27 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” NASB
John 16:7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” NASB
Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit of Truth which anointed Jesus the “Christ”. This anointing Jesus spoke of was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Believers and appeared as tongues of flame above their heads. Now, Believers are called “The Body of Christ”, because the Spirit of the Christ dwells in us. Now, we are the embodiment of Christ. This Spirit of Christ, is the same “Christ” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 23, when He told us not to call anyone “Leader” or “Guide” because the Spirit of Christ, given by Jesus, is to dwell in us and be leader and guide to each of us.
Ephesians 4:15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, NASB
Colossians 2:8-10 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; NASB
These two Scriptures, and many others, speak of the role of the Spirit of Christ to each individual Believer. We are to be guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit within us. Each of us, individually, and all of us collectively, are to be lead by that still small voice that dwells within each Believer. When any person exalts themselves to the position of “Leadership” within the Body of Christ, the result is to encourage Believers to follow their leading rather than the Spirit of Christ that indwells within each of us.
Retarding The Church
Usurping the Spirit of Christ’s role as leader to The Church is debilitating to the Body of Christ on several levels. Most importantly, it retards the Body of Christ’s individual relational development with God through the Holy Spirit. Our Father intended to lead and guide each individual by His voice through the indwelling Holy Spirit. When individuals within the Body of Christ exercise “Leadership” over the Body, they short circuit and divert the flow of guidance between the Father and each Believer. Rather than a direct channel of communication from God to the Believer, through the Spirit of Christ, the human surrogate for the Spirit of Christ usurps the role of Christ and attempts to “Lead” the Body themselves.
As a result, the pews are filled with spiritually stunted Believers who feel they must rely on a man for their guidance and inspiration. Many live their entire Christian lives as baby Believers because they have never learned to follow the leadership and guidance of the Spirit of Christ in their lives. Instead, their spiritual growth is retarded by relying on fallible humans who have subverted the role of the Holy Spirit as legitimate leader and guide in Believer’s lives.
We are all painfully aware how vulnerable we each are to sin and failure. If we don’t understand our own fallibility, chances are, we conceder ourselves “Spiritual Leaders”. However, the brutal truth is, we are all vulnerable to the corrosive and debilitating effects of pride, ambition, lust, gain, pride, desire for power, self preservation and pride. Did I mention pride? These human attributes are only natural. If we are not transformed by renewing our minds to spiritual principles outlined in the Scriptures, we continue to be conformed to the world. Anyone who considers themselves a “Leader” in the Body of Christ, has already, of necessity, ignored the Word of God. Jesus called us to be servants and slaves and told us NOT to be called “Master”, “Teacher”, “Father”, “Guide” or “Leader”. Most who would take for themselves Christ’s mantle of leadership, are ignorant of the Word, but they have to repress the Spirit of Christ within themselves to do it.
This worldly application of “Leadership” in the Body of Christ, retards the spiritual growth of individual Believers who should be developing their connection with the Spirit of Christ. It opens up the Body of Christ to abuses by those who would usurp Christ’s leadership to the Body. And, it compromises servants of God who rob for themselves Christ’s mantle of leadership to the True Church.
So, what is to be done when the light of truth is focused on the un-Scriptural, anti-Christ, worldly application of “Leadership” to the Body of Christ? The sad fact is; once a servant of God has tasted the power and authority robbed from the Spirit of Christ, and exercised for themselves dominion over the Church, it is very difficult for them to repent and forsake their worldly ways. This is made even more difficult, because many baby Believers, like the Israelites in 1 Samuel 8, want someone to rule over them. This spiritually lazy response to spiritual responsibility is worldly, and “enables” those who would operate as “Christ” to a lazy church.
To overcome centuries of administering the Body of Christ with a worldly, anti-Christ model, we first must renew our minds to Jesus’ teaching in the Word of God. We must throw off the shackles of worldly convention; seeking control over brothers and sisters and conversely, clamoring for a king. Servants of God who are able to repent of their offenses should. Who better to explain the error of man’s traditions than one who was caught up in them? Those who cling to their illegitimate authority, must be left behind.
The only recourse is to break free from those who have grown comfortable wrapped in the mantle of Christ; to start over again with servants of God who understand humility and equality within the Body of Christ. Reformation within church history always leaves behind the corrupted structure and begins anew. History illustrates how the corrupt and established religion nearly universally persecutes the restorative work of God. However, if the Spirit of God is going to restore the Body of Christ, the corrupt must be cast off.
Jesus denounced using “labels” to set members of the Body of Christ in positions of authority above the rest of the Body. This practice must stop, totally. No exceptions can be made. The Spirit of Truth moving within Martin Luther began a revolution that threw off the authority of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, only to try to control Believers within the regulation of the new Lutheran movement. While much good was accomplished, one form of controlling authority was traded for another. However, all authority in the lives of Believers is reserved for the Trinity alone.
In exposing the unscriptural and worldly way authority and “Leadership” are exercised in the modern church, one might assume leadership has no place in the Body. This is not so. It is the “labeling” of individuals that is corrosive and destructive, retarding the spiritual growth of Believers and the Body as a whole, (As a consequence, it also degrades the former servant’s usefulness to their Father.)
There is a place and a need for spiritual teachers, fathers and leaders, but not as religious authorities within the Body of Christ. There is a legitimate exercise of leadership within the Body of Christ, but it carries no authority to mandate or dictate to other Believers. We are told to imitate the spiritual maturity of those who have led us by their example. There is a legitimate place in the Body of Christ for those who can inspire fellow Believers to godliness, growth and spiritual action through their example.
Hebrews 13:7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and consider the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. NASB
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. NASB
God has placed gifts within individuals, enabling them to motivate, build-up, illuminate, stimulate and inspire the Body of Christ in growth and lives of service to The King. Ephesians 4 speaks of the ministry gifts who have been given as gifts to the Body of Christ. These individuals were not set over the Body of Christ to “Lead” it, but were given to the Body of Christ as servants and slaves to pour out their lives for their brothers and sisters in Christ. In this manner, the ministry gifts figuratively “lead” Believers into truth and understanding. However, in reality, they have no authority to dictate obedience or growth. A good example of this is found in Hebrews 13, though the translation leaves much to be desired.
Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. NASB
In following the Greek, a more accurate translation of this passage is: Have confidence in them who watch over you and yield, (to the Truth). For indeed, they are sleepless regarding your souls, for they must deliver an account, (for their oversight of you). The result, (of your submission to the Truth): that they perform with exceeding joyfulness and not with groaning, for this would be unprofitable for you, (rebellion against the Truth).
So, we see in this passage, submission to the Word of Truth is profitable. Believers do not submit to individuals, but to the Truth spoken by God’s servants. Legitimate exercise of Jesus’ gifts within individual’s lives - to inspire, illuminate, equip and commission Believers - is the proper expression of “leading by example”, modeled and taught by Jesus. The worldly exercise of labeling “Leaders” in Christ’s stead, retards the growth and activity of the Body of Christ, and degrades the usefulness of those who were called to be servants and slaves.
To overcome the worldliness of the modern Church, the worldly “Leadership” model of controlling the Body of Christ must be left behind. In it’s place, servants of God who’s humble hearts are poured out in service to their Brothers and Sisters, can begin to restore, inspire, and equip the Body of Christ to do the work of the ministry.
None of this is new. However, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Here are some examples along this topic from Scripture. (Thanks for the Scriptures from Jeremiah Walter!)
Jeremiah 10:21 For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the Lord; Therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered. NASB
Jeremiah 5:23-23 & 30-31 But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; They have turned aside and departed. They do not say in their heart, “Let us now fear the Lord our God, Who gives rain in its season, both the autumn rain and the spring rain, Who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.” An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it? NASB
Jeremiah 14:22 Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O Lord our God? Therefore we hope in You, for You are the one who has done all these things. NASB
Matthew 24:42-51 “Therefore, be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure if this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.
For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is the slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. NASB