Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The church in Corinth is a fascinating example of a church with numerous moral and ethical failures, yet when Paul writes to correct them he doesn't address their Pastor and command him to fix things. In fact, he doesn't even address their Elders or Overseers to respond to this by exercising their authority over the people. Why were the pastors, or for that matter the Elders of the Church, not commanded to exercise their authority and deal with the very serious moral failures within the Church in Corinth? Perhaps because Paul understood that the Body itself was capable of coming together to correct the problem themselves. Something he hints at when he says, "Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?" – 1 Corinthians 6:3

I would like to humbly suggest that "Authority", and "Submission" do not necessarily imply organizational structures are at work in the New Testament Church. Submission is something that all believers are urged to do, and authority is only to be submitted to if it is in line with God’s Word and not on the basis of an office or appointment.

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." – Ephesians 5:21
Everyone is urged to submit to everyone else. It's a shared submission among brothers and sisters in Christ who are equals and who humbly care for one another. Only Christ is the head, or the leader, of the Church.

Many are of the opinion that Jesus actually taught and promoted hierarchy in the Church, something I find alarming and dangerous. But, just for a moment, let me ask, "What would we expect to see in the New Testament if Jesus DIDN'T want His Church to be run like a hierarchy? Wouldn't we expect to see Jesus condemning this practice? Perhaps he would have pointed to a hierarchical system and commanded His disciples not to follow that example?

"Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." – Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 42-45.

Does Jesus command his disciples not to exercise authority over people? Yes, he clearly and plainly does. What, then, are today's pastors doing if they are not exercising their authority over their church members? Isn't this a fair question to ask? Am I allowed to point out the disconnect between what Jesus says and what His Church actually does, or does not, do?

Here, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus points to the Roman Government (a secular hierarchy) and commands his disciples not to imitate this system of lording it over people or exercising authority over those who follow.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus points to a religious system of hierarchy and instructs them (again) not to imitate this system of hierarchy where the "Teacher" is exalted over the student. Instead, he says, remember that you are all brothers:

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." – Matthew 23:8-12

Next, let's look at the Apostles themselves. If they heard Jesus commanding them to avoid the hierarchical system of leadership, wouldn't we see evidence that they obeyed this command? Did they take his words to heart? Let's see:

"Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm." - 2 Cor.1:24

Paul the Apostle obeys Jesus and refuses to "lord it over" those who follow Christ alongside him. Instead he works with them, as a brother, not as an authority figure.

"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: 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; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." – 1 Peter 5:1-4

Here, Peter identifies himself, not as an Apostle, but as a fellow elder among the brethren. He then urges these elders (plural) to serve as overseers because they are willing, not because they have been handed a title or an appointment, and especially urges them to be careful not to "lord it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" – as Jesus commanded him several years earlier.

Having said all of this, doesn't the New Testament ask that we submit to our leaders and their authority? Yes, it does. For example:

Hebrews 13: 17- "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Let me be clear, I am not arguing against leadership here. Not at all. Every church needs leadership, and this is also clearly taught in the New Testament, however I would like to ask us to consider the possibility that leadership doesn't automatically mean top-down, authoritarianism. Jesus modeled something different than this, and then he commanded his disciples to emulate his example.

So, going back to our verse above, you might read this and ask, "What is the basis for our submission to our leaders?" Does their authority rest in the office they hold, or is it found in something else? Are we to submit to these leaders only because they hold an office? Or are we to submit to them as they point us to follow Christ? Hopefully we do not blindly follow people because they are "the Pastor" or because they have a title of authority. Hopefully.

No, the only authority we are to submit to is Christ Himself. To me, this truth is self-evident when we look at the NT as a whole.

Earlier in this same chapter, the writer of Hebrews, in chapter 13 and verse 7 says, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."

Here we are told to submit to our leaders as they speak the Word of God to us. Not to them as authorities in and of themselves, but as humble servants who lovingly teach us to follow Christ, and who then demonstrate this by their actual lives of faith.

Submission then is to Christ and to the Word of God. If our leaders handle and teach the Word of God wisely, and if they faithfully live lives that reflect Christ, THEN we are to submit to their authority. But only if. Their authority is not automatic and it is not based on the office they hold. Otherwise, we would be accountable to obey leaders simply because they held that office, regardless of whether or not their lives reflected Christ or their teaching of God's Word was true.

If we follow the policy of hierarchy for the sake of itself we can end up with someone holding an office within the Church and exercising authority even if they are not followers of Christ. Such a person should have no actual authority in any spiritual sense over the life of believers. What counts is character, not the office or the position. However, someone with no organizational office may, because of gifting by the Holy Spirit and sincere love for others, have actual authority to speak and teach and lead his brothers and sisters in Christ (who are his equals).

Churches that employ such a man-made organizational method can only hope to mimic the kind of leadership such as the "rulers of the gentiles" possess, something that Jesus expressly commanded us not to do - "It shall not be so among you!" - Matthew 20:25-26.

The Holy Spirit is the only source of spiritual authority and accountability in the Church through real-life relationships, not titles handed down by men.

Did the Apostles depend upon the authority of men or did they give any weight to the opinions of men? Apparently they did not. For example, Paul says, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody." - 2 Corinthians.3:1-2

If hierarchy was so important in the early church, why don't we see them exercising it? Why do we see them operating as a Body and not as a business? Perhaps the answers are right in front of us? Are we courageous enough to answer truthfully?

As Biblical Scholar Richard Halverson has said, "When the Greeks got the Gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business."

I pray we can help God's people to see that they were never intended to be run like a business, and instead to help them see that, according to the Word of God, they are simply a Family, a Body, an Organism, and a Bride.


Friday, April 02, 2010


Tonight will be our third annual Good Friday meditation and reflection service.

Participants will move from station to station and meditate on the passion and sacrifice of our Lord.

Here are the stations we will observe:

Casting Lots for Christ's clothing

Tasting the vinegar and bitterness He tasted for us on the cross.

Touching the crown of thorns He wore in our place.

Driving nails into the wood to remember the price He paid to set us free.

Dipping our hands into red paint to make a collage of thanksgiving to Jesus for His amazing love.

We will also tear cloth to symbolize the veil of the temple being torn in two for us.

Afterwards we will sit and share the Lord's Supper together. Each person may sing a song spontaneously, and we will all worship together accapella.

Finally, we will all light a candle and, one by one, share what Jesus' sacrifice means to us individually, blowing out our candles as we go. We will dismiss in darkness and exit in silence.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


In the Gospel of John, we get to eavesdrop on the intimate conversation between Jesus and the Father. In this prayer Jesus prays for us and his prayer for us is that we would be one:

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message that all of them may be one, Father, just as you and I are one....May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." - John 17:20-21

Unity in the Body is essential. According to the prayer of Jesus, our unity is a proof of the messianic identity of Jesus and of the love of God for us:

"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (v. 23)

Hopefully in your experience as a follower of Jesus you have had the opportunity to meet another believer in Christ and fall in love with them immediately. I don't mean that in the romantic sense, but in the sense that you feel as if you have known them all your life even though you've only just met them.

If so, what you're experiencing is a kinship of faith with another member of your family - the Family of God.

Regardless of whether or not that person is a member of your denomination, or whether or not this person agrees with you about specific points of doctrine, you have an undeniable feeling of brotherly (or sisterly) love for this individual. You are recognizing the Christ in them and you are responding to the love of Jesus shared between you both.

Whenever we experience this we are bearing witness to the unity of the Body of Christ. There is only one Body and if we have loved Jesus and put our faith in Him, we are members of His Body.

Whenever we make a decision to love the Jesus in another person - and to overlook the doctrinal points of disagreement - we are keeping the unity of the Body of Christ.

A good friend, and brother in Christ, recently pointed out to me that throughout Christian history, when christian leaders gathered to nail down points of doctrine the result was never unity - it was always more division.

Our little house church, the Mission, is comprised of a variety of different people who are all from extremely divergent streams of faith. In our house church there are former Calvary Chapel pastors and youth leaders, former Vineyard members, former Southern Baptists, former Bretheren, former Church of Christ, former Lutherans, and former independent, non-denominational, "whatchamacallits".

On paper our house church has no business surviving for over 4 years as a family of God. Yet, somehow we manage to love one another, to serve one another and to consider one another as dear brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our obvious doctrinal differences.

How do we do it? Well, mostly we've done it by choosing to see and love the Jesus in one another. We've made a choice to overlook those doctrinal differences in favor of learning from the experiences - and varying perspectives - of others in our Body.

Now, to be honest, our house church if far from perfect. We are people, just like everyone else. We're human. We're sinners. We're just as foolish and fickle as you are. And most of all, we all recognize our intense daily need for more of Jesus.

What blesses me, however, is how God called each of us to be part of this Body. I did not recruit anyone. Most people who currently attend our house church each week found us and sought us out. I did not find them. God touched their hearts and called them out and lead them by His Spirit to join this church family.

I love that God would call former Lutherans and Baptists and Church of Christ and Vineyard and Calvary Chapel, etc. members to join hearts and hands and lives and become one fellowship of saints together. I love that He would allow us to learn to forgive one another, and to honor one another, and to lay down our denominational and doctrinal identities to embrace membership in the Body of Christ.

We are part of your church. You are part of our church. All of us are members of one another. Because there is only one Body, and one Church, and One Lord.

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." - 1 Cor 12:12-13