Hebrews 17:13 in context

In order to fully understand what the author of Hebrews is trying to communicate in Hebrews 13:17 we must consider the fuller context of the entire letter and the strength of emphasis placed on certain points. Leadership and authority aren’t the main themes of the book. We see these themes through the lens of other bigger issues. Primarily the author addresses supremacy of Christ, the new covenant, faith in God and endurance through difficulty.

We do see the topic of rebellion discussed through the lens of the supremacy of Christ. In Chapter 3 the author quotes Psalm 95 referring to the rebellion against God and Moses.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness. “There your fathers tested me and tried me, and they saw my works for forty years. “Therefore, I became provoked at that generation and said, ‘Their hearts are always wandering and they have not known my ways.’ “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’ ”
(Heb 3:7-11 NET.)

In Psalm 95 we see the same sentiments described a little differently: “where your ancestors challenged my authority, and tried my patience, even though they had seen my work.” We know from the rest of the story that God selected Moses to lead his people. When the people rebelled they defied Moses’ direction and it became a rebellion against God. There is more than one way to look at this.

1. God appointed Moses as an authority and rebellion against Moses was rebellion against God

2. God appointed Moses. Moses aligned with God’s direction and the people were not. The issue was always that people were rebelling against God.

In perspective one we assume that those in authority represent God and submission to God’s appointed leader is submission to God. In perspective two the issue is always rebellion against God and one must follow the leader as long as you are confident that they are following God. I believe the 2nd perspective here is obvious because of the way the author describes the nature our partnership with Christ.

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception. For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.

(Heb 3:12-14 NET.)

We see an admonition to exhort one another. This instruction doesn’t distinguish between those who lead and those who don’t. All of us are called to exhort one another. It is implied that everyone is vulnerable to the deception of sin and cultivation of an unbelieving heart. This includes leadership. Leaders need just as much exhorting as everyone else, perhaps more because if they go sideways the consequences are far-reaching.

We also see that all Christians have become partners with Christ. The word translated partners here is metachoi and it has at its heart the idea of sharing or participation. We share in Christ’s ministry, we participate in it, but we don’t independently represent it. None of us act on behalf of God, we just share in His work if we hold our initial confidence firm. As long as we are correctly aligned in Christ we maintain our place as participants in Christ’s ministry.

The author of Hebrews describes the ministry of Christ as superior to the ministry of Moses. In 3:6 we find “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant…but Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. The exercise of God appointed leadership or authority in this instance couldn’t have been regarded as successful. The entire generation was so hardened in their heart that God denied them entry in to the promised land. The key issue here is summed in verse 19 “So we see that they could not enter because of unbelief.”

How then do we discern the nature of faith and condition of our heart?

For the one who enters God’s rest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works. Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.
(Heb 4:10-12 NET.)

How then would we discern whether we or someone else is acting in participation with Christ? In Chapter 4 the author points us towards the word of God as “it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.” I believe the “word of God” means more than just scripture, but scripture certainly qualifies as the word of God.  Our discernment must be anchored in scripture. While there is merit and place for revelation through God given spiritual gifts the influence of these ministries cannot be disconnected from scripture. Any words, directions or revelations sourced in revelatory gifts must be consistent with the heart and pattern of scripture, particularly the New Testament. The common method of using isolated bits of scripture as spring boards to amplify one’s creative imagination doesn’t count.

It is interesting how the author of Hebrews believed that entering the rest of God was the way to avoid “following the same pattern of disobedience.” In 4:2 the author states “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to you, just as they did, but the message was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those obeyed.” In Moses time the good news was the direction Moses gave them through the Exodus, but it didn’t do any good, because without faith they couldn’t enter the rest of God and their hearts were hardened with it. So knowing the direction of the Lord, even from an appointed and divinely authorized leader was not much use without faith in God.

We don’t have to look much further in to chapter 4 to see what the object of our faith is.

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

(Heb 4:14-16 NET.)

There is an obvious implication here. If we have a “great high priest” whom we can “confidently approach” then there are no other priests acting as intermediaries. In Kittel’s dictionary definition of archierus (High Priest) the high priest is God’s plenipotentiary. That is a big fancy word that means “investedwithfullpowerorauthority” much like a diplomatic agent. We might call the high priest God’s delegated authority. In a simple sense the high priest represents God to the people and the people to God. There is only ever one high priest and one true delegated authority and that is Christ. Christ holds the priesthood forever because he lives forever (Heb 7:24) none of us can presume that role for ourselves. We don’t need to because we all have access to our high priest, we don’t need to appoint any others.

In 8:1 we see the author state his main point “We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up.” The phrase “at the right hand of the throne” implies that Jesus occupies the place of authority and power (Utley 80).

What is our role then? Our role is to encourage and exhort and as well as teach one another with an aim to growing in to maturity (Heb 5:14). We do this with the recognition that the ministry of Christ takes on very different dimensions than that of the old covenant. Instead of using the approach of the Mosaic covenant, God will cut out the need for human priests and laws and inscribe his laws on the hearts of people.

“For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.”
(Heb 8:10-12 NET.)

We must recognize that has participants in the ministry of Christ we never, ever presume the role reserved for Christ alone. We are not anyone’s high priest, and we don’t invent new laws, or try to coerce what we feel is appropriate behavior by applying laws. We encourage people to place confidence in Christ to enter his rest. We cannot gain assurance or maturity through self effort, even sincere effort driven by the direction of a Christian leader. It comes only from Christ alone.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.
(Heb 10:19-22 NET.)

We live by faith and without it God takes no pleasure in us (Heb 10:38). Through it we preserve our souls (Heb 10:39). Faith is being convinced of what do not see (Heb 11:1).

We also see where are focus should be, looking intently at Jesus casting aside everything that might distract us from him. The author of Hebrews calls us to literally “look way from all else at” Jesus (NASB Dictionary). Jesus is the founding leader of our faith who will carry it to completion.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Heb 12:1-2 NET.)

One of the few passages about leadership aside from Heb 13:17 is found a little bit before it in the chapter. Here we are encouraged to imitate the faith of past leaders and a warning to stay true to Jesus and not be carried away by “strange teachings.” He reminds us that grace strengthens our hearts.

So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and  I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings. For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not ritual meals, which have never benefited those who participated in them.
(Heb 13:6-9 NET.)

When we finally arrive at Heb 13:17 the author of Hebrews has already laid out several important points to remember when we consider the scope and nature of leadership in the church.

· Ministry in the new covenant is a partnership with Christ. A partnership we all share in.

· Our partnership with Christ is conditional. We must hold our confidence in Christ firm.

· The word of God is an effective tool for discerning our hearts

· Hearing a message of truth does no one any good without faith

· Jesus alone is our high priest and he alone occupies the place of authority and power

· In new covenant ministry God’s desire is to transcend all intermediaries and inscribe his laws on our hearts and minds

· We must fix our eyes of Jesus, intently looking away from other things that might weigh us down or distract us.

· We must remember and imitate the faith of those who have come before us staying true to the heart of the gospel and away from strange teachings.

Keeping all these things in mind we can look at Heb 13:17.

13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you.

What would leadership look like if we interpreted this passage in the light of the rest of the book of Hebrews? It would mean that these leaders work as participants, as those who share in Christ’s ministry, not as anyone’s high priest. Their role would be to encourage, exhort and teach people to “keep their eyes fixed on Jesus” not human leaders. These leaders would not micromanage the lives of others because they would recognize that direction, even good direction does not help anyone without faith, without a connection to Jesus. The goal is always to encourage people towards “entering the rest” of God so they are able to “not fall in to the same pattern of disobedience.” Obedience to Christ comes through a direct connection to Christ and his transforming work on their heart. Obedience cannot come about by obeying the moralistic directions of another person. The issue is never obedience to rules or law or authority but whether one is connected to Christ.

In one sense Jesus is like a solitary doctor in a hospital we call the kingdom of God. Human leaders share in the work of this doctor with the goal helping people become well. We make places where people are comfortable, and we educate patients about the treatment they are recieving, we take care of their physical needs. We comfort and encourage people to receive the treatment of the doctor. We can do many things but we are not the doctor and we do not ever, ever pretend we are. In a hospital patients should listen to the advice and counsel of nurses and attendants. If a nurse says, “you should take the medicine the doctor prescribed you” then obey them. The nurses are there to care for you and watch over you and try not to complain because their job can be heartbreaking and difficult. They have a job to do and are evaluated based on their performance.

However if the nurse starts trying to treat you, starts pretending they are the doctor and tells you to submit to every treatment they prescribe without question then I’d refuse treatment. If you are in a hospital and you see patients around you suffering needlessly and dying because the nurse keeps making serious mistakes make a big deal of it. If a nurse is mistreating or exploiting people object to it. If the nurse tells you to follow a treatment you know contradicts the wishes of the doctor follow the doctor. Always keep in mind what the doctor said and if you are unsure of things check with other nurses. If your efforts fail to correct the situation get out of the ward.

We should also remember the context of the church at the time of writing. The church met almost exclusively in homes. They did not have many financial decisions to make with church money as they had no buildings and their leaders were not salaried employees of the church. There were no large public worship services to manage. Church gatherings were likely broadly participatory with lots of interaction around a shared meal. Leaders operated almost exclusively in the realm of pastoral care and teaching. Many of the reasons we feel we need strong leaders with lots of authority are driven by the size and nature of the church today. When a church becomes large, programmatic and more institutional there is an obvious need for people to be in charge of things. I understand the frustration leaders have when church members get obstinate and stubborn over the direction of certain programs or certain financial decisions. It is important to remember that many Christian leaders are honest and faithful and are just trying to live out the role they feel called to. We should let leaders lead without giving them unnecessary grief.

We must remember who Christ is as the object of our faith and our attention.  No church leader should ever to try to do what Christ alone can do.  If we keep that straight and understand our role then we can be fruitful ministers of the new covenant.  If not we then lead people away from Christ to ourselves and to the futility of trying to obey religious rules and convictions outside of faith.

Are the scriptures actually considered authoritative in your church?

One of the realities I’ve come accept is that not everyone who acts as if scripture is their authority really believes in scripture as an authority. That might seem obvious to some but it seems rather hard for people to identify in an abusive church situation.

In churches where dubious teachings are promoted like Coverings or the Prosperity gospel the scriptures are often quoted but not accurately represented or properly applied. Many people in these churches who have suffered from obvious unbiblical behavior try to challenge the leaders with scripture but are completely rejected.

There is one good explanation for this.

Many of these abusive church leaders don’t care about scripture in any material way. Some undoubtedly have deceived themselves in to believing some kind of false theology because it benefits them in some way. Others are nothing more than scam artists.

When confronted with the obvious errors of their teaching they will try all sorts of tactics to avoid dealing with the reality the critic they are facing.

They might deflect by denying what they truly believe. Others will try to say that they simply have a different and more valid interpretation of scripture. They might appeal to some toothless accountability mechanism. More often than not valid biblical critiques are met with harsh resistance, defamation and counter accusations. Surprisingly a lot of Christians will endure this because they were taught not to “touch the Lord’s anointed” and live in fear of being a “rebel.”

If the scriptures truly are an authority in someone’s life you will observe the following:

  • A real effort is made to interpret the scriptures accurately
  • Hearts, minds and actions are changed by interacting with scripture
  • People will endure pain, discomfort or loss in order to follow the teachings of scripture
  • Humility of heart and recognition that interpreting scripture accurately can hindered by one’s cultural context, personal agendas and bias
  • Recognition that there can be several valid interpretations

If the scriptures are not a true authority you will observe the following:

  • Scriptures are patched together in order to make a point without regard to context
  • The scriptures are used only to provide weight to the leader’s agenda
  • There is no willingness to change or sacrifice based on the instruction of scripture
  • Scriptures are interpreted with reckless confidence without recognition of bias
  • Recognition of other valid interpretations is rare
  • Biblical concepts are infused with meaning that doesn’t reflect their biblical usage often to serve the agenda of the leader. In scripture the phrase “touch not the Lord’s anointed” is far more about not physically harming the king of Israel than disagreeing with a spiritual leader.

Ministry Mind Trick #2 : Flattery

In the realm of human relationships there are forms of communication that are less honest than others.  There are subtle ways to curry favour and influence people without raising alarm or suspicion.  One such method is flattery.  It often comes in the form of personal compliments but can also be public praise, the granting of special privileges, more intimate levels of connection with a privileged circle of people, or prestigious appointments.  All these things are tactics deployed in order to communicate to someone how special they are, how important they are how good they are.

Someone I once knew, lets call him Steve, was thinking of leaving a church where covering theology is taught.  Steve was an ardent critic of the theology and stood strongly against it.  The pastor called him in to his office and started praising him for his leadership abilities and offered him the leadership of a prominent ministry in the church.  Steve is gifted but at the time had some serious problems in his life that would have made most church leaders pause before putting him in any leadership position.  Unfortunately Steve took his words at face value.  One year later the man was stomped on by the church.

The trouble with accepting indulging ourselves in flattery we receive comes in the end when reality hits us right in the face.  Steve found out later exactly what the leadership thought of him and it wasn’t pretty.  Why the pastor didn’t just let him leave the church in the beginning is something of mystery.  Was he really trying to win him back to the fold?  Was the pastor so co-dependent that he couldn’t stand the thought of another person leaving his church?  I don’t really know.

The status that flattery provides is a very shaky platform because most flattery is inherently dishonest.  There is no telling when your true value and  status will be revealed.  Will you be cast away as the flatterer finds a new person to invest in?  Will you be cast down when your inflated position is now hindering the agenda of the flatterer?

Although the topic of flattery isn’t huge in the New Testament it is mentioned a couple of times.

Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive.
(Rom 16:17-18 NET.)

For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is our witness –nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others,
(1Th 2:5-6 NET.)

Notice how Paul mentions flattery along with greed and the desire for glory in 1Thessalonians.  The use of flattery is always with an aim to receive something in return.  The transaction works like this.  I flattery you and you in turn publicly and personally praise me or give me something I want.  Flattery is like a the free gift that comes with a hidden contract.  It is almost like a cell phone.  I’ll give you a free phone and some accessories you just need to pay me back over our 3 year contract.  If you try to get out too soon I’ll nail you with contract termination fees.

In church situations the transaction looks like this:  I give you a little bit of glory and you give me some glory.  I’ll praise you and lift you up and you do the same for me.  In many churches where some kind of false teaching is prevalent you’ll see the pastoring lavish praise on the elite in the church and the elite returning the favour.

Am I more like Paul or a super-apostle?

In evaluating any ministry we need look at several dimensions to see if what is going on fits together with the greater story of New Testament ministry. The goal is not to come up with a checkless of do’s and don’ts to live up to, but to give us an indication if we are metaphorically drinking from the right wells. If we are abiding in Christ, if we are connected to the source of life our patterns, values and motivations will naturally follow in one direction. We are drinking from the well of grace. If we are drinking from the wells of shame, guilt, fear, pride or selfishness than our approach to ministry will also follow a predictable pattern.

The fruit of one path leads to transformation the other to condemnation. For Paul the hope of transformation, joy, comfort and clean conscience was found in Christ. He knew that the human tools of behavior modification were a dead end. Trickery, manipulation, self-promotion, authoritarianism and even rhetorical power were all employed by the super-apostles. While use of such tools, along with legalistic condemnation, can drive people to try harder and dig even deeper wells of self-effort they just result in death. Paul touches on this more in his letter to the Colossians and the Galatians but his understanding seems no different here.

For Paul personal weakness was a wedge issue. It was in this area we see a huge contrast between him and the super-apostles. It is a reliable indicator of which “well” someone is drinking from. Those who drink from the well of grace are confident that Christ is the one that will transform them and the people they minister to. They see no need to manipulate or even massage the truth. They can be open and honest without fear that those they minister to will lose faith in them. In fact they are intentionally open about their weaknesses because they know they can receive comfort and they know that God will change them, people will see that change and come to faith in God.

The super-apostles did not reveal their weaknesses. Because they haven’t discovered the grace of Christ and live under the compulsion of condemnation they live mostly in shame. While attempting to live up the ideals of the “letter” they used any tool at their disposal. They had to project an image of strength if they wanted to influence people. Many likely did not realize that were in fact proclaiming themselves as Christ and exploiting people. It becomes easily to rationalize methods that hurt people through careful misapplication of biblical text. Because Christ and his grace were not evident in their own lives they had to find meaning in financial gain and religious status. These motives irrevocably lead to the methods of the super-apostles.

In order to discern whether a ministry is on the right path we have to consider the big question of “why.” If we are ministering for our personal gain our methods and our teaching will eventually reflect this. We might be in it for fame, status, reputation, money, religious success. We might be living out our own legalistic self-condemnation on others or reliving our own victimization through others.

Paul loved people and was so filled with the love of God it compelled him despite all the suffering and the risks. He lived with an open heart and a Godly jealous for Christ’s people. He tried very hard not to be a burden and attempted to work with the Corinthians for their joy. He saw the Corinthians as partners to work in co-operation with, not just people to minister too.

I may be reading in to the text here (and perhaps part of my own life in to the text) but I believe Paul was hurt by the lack of reciprocation on the part of the Corinthians. He worked hard to support himself and was faithful to God and treated the Corinthians with respect, yet he was rejected in favour of people who treated them with arrogance and exploited them. Paul suffered not just from external persecution but by the insensitive treatment by those he sought to minister to. It seems to bleed out especially later on in the letter where we makes some honest but biting remarks about the Corinthian’s willingness to let themselves become exploited.

Coming through this I see a few questions that good to ask of myself and my ministry partners or potential ministry partners:

Which “well” am I drinking from?
Is it the grace of Christ leading to life, freedom and transformation or condemnation leading to shame, bondage and death?

Why do I do what I do? What are the motivations?
A careful examination of my heart and my actions will reveal clues to where my heart is? I will find my heart with my treasure so I should examine how I spend my resources (mental, emotional, material) and follow the “money trail” to the orientation of my heart.

Am I comfortable with my own weakness or do I need to project an image of strength to others?
Am I confident that Christ has transformed me and I have no need to fake it for others? Am I overly concerned with how people think of me?

Am I honest, open and willing to submit myself to conscious examination of others?
Do I use flattery, trickery or other methods to guide people? Do I do employ techniques that I feel need to keep secret from other people because somewhere deep inside I’m ashamed of them? Do I try to control what people think so I can guide the situation to further my goals whether they are altruistic or not?

The weak and transparent leader

Is it ok for Christian leaders to be open, honest and transparent about their failings?  Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians illuminates his perspective in his conflict with the influence of the super-apostles.

Paul appealed to Christians that willingly submitted themselves to authoritarian false apostles that proclaimed themselves as Lord, peddled the word of God for profit, and engaged in underhanded methods as part of their “ministry.”

Paul paints the super apostles as spiritual abusers in his appeal to the Corinthians. 

For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face. (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!) But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing.
(2Co 11:20-21 NET.)

How Paul responds to influence of the super-apostles is nothing less than remarkable.  He doesn’t proclaim to the Corinthians he is more super than the super-apostles.  He doesn’t appeal to a higher human authority, credentials or recommendations.  He doesn’t commend himself as superior…he reveals his weakness.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many.
(2Co 1:8-11 NET.)

Some guys roll in to a church Paul planted with letters of recommendation in hand, start pointing out Paul’s weaknesses and commend themselves as superior.  Less than 10 sentences in to Paul’s response he admits he was burdened beyond his strength in a certain situation.  He went through something he admits he couldn’t handle.

But there was a method to his madness.

In Chapter 3 Paul describes a new covenant ministry in which people are transformed as they behold and reflect the glory of the Lord.  Because it is the Lord that transforms people Paul rejects all sorts of trickery and underhanded methods.  There is no need to use the methods of human influence to try to change people’s behavior. People are not changed through the application of force or manipulation.  It is the Lord that transforms.  Our part in this process is to simply reflect the glory of the Lord unveiled.  The Lord’s glory is best reflected in weakness.

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’sake. For God, who said "Let light shine out of darkness," is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
(2Co 4:1-7 NET.)

One of the key differences between Paul and the super-apostles was that he believed that as a leader the best thing he could do was a mirror image of the glory of God as revealed in the miraculous progression and transformation of his own life.  He aimed to reflect the Lord’s glory, not to proclaim himself.  He did not say that people must follow him because he represents Christ to them.  His goal was to be open, honest, and transparent even in weakness and he trusted that people would see the work of the Lord in his life and then be attracted to the same transforming glory or presence.

People are not transformed by human strength, power, or authority.  They are transformed by God.  Our role in this is to simply reflect the glory of the Lord without distortion, amplification, projection, or manipulation.

Paul seems to quote Jeremiah on the subject of authority

In his letter to Corinth Paul writes:

Because of this I am writing these things while absent, so that when I arrive I may not have to deal harshly with you by using my authority — the Lord gave it to me for building up, not for tearing down!
(2Co 13:10 NET.)

I noticed it is very similar to something in Jeremiah.  Here God is speaking about the exiles in Babylon.

I will look after their welfare and will restore them to this land. There I will build them up and will not tear them down. I will plant them firmly in the land and will not uproot them.
(Jer 24:6 NET.)

Should I stay in a church where I am mistreated?

One of the most common assertions by those that teach covering theology is that people need to suck it up and endure when they have been dealt with harshly.  If people were to leave the “covering” of their church then they would open themselves up to all manner of spiritual attack and misfortune.   Those who leave the church are rebellious and lost.

I don’t believe any of these things.  A friend pointed me to Jeremiah 23 the other day.  This passage then opened me up to other passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel that all speak to the issue of mistreatment by spiritual authority. 

"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: "You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.
(Jer 23:1-3 ESV)

I found this passage very enlightening.  God accuses the leaders of Israel of both exploiting the people and neglecting their needs.  Because of this the “sheep” have scattered.  Notice how God blames the shepherds for causing the sheep to be scattered but also mentions later on that he had driven them out.  In this situation God lead the battered sheep away from their abusers.

Should you stay in a church where you are mistreated and every reasonable attempt to rectify the situation has failed?  No.  If the leaders are exploiting the people and care nothing for their needs God is likely leading you out to a place where you can be safe and heal.  For many this means people spend a long time in the “wilderness” letting God rebuild their faith before they come back to corporate church gatherings.  This is ok, because in this era Jesus has always been our shepherd and He can tend to our needs.  I’ve observed a number of people that have gone through this and most of them return to some kind of committed Christian fellowship eventually. 

If you are in the “wilderness” don’t fret about your anxiety about return to “church.”  Trust that the Lord will lead you to where need to go in due time.  While you are in the wilderness rest in God’s grace.  Meet with true friends you can trust as they journey with you as God repairs your heart. 

For the glory of this house

I’ve been reflecting on Saskatoon Christian Center and the carnage surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministries.  It leads me to wonder what sets a church down the wrong track?  It seems as though the route towards false teaching and corruption is the result of subtle shifts away from the centrality of Christ.  I was a charter member of a church plant many years ago that had a lot of really good things going for it.  The values we started with are very similar to the ones I hold so dearly to now.  In fact we could have been a network of house churches if we were brave enough to be truly different.

Very near the beginning we were given a prophetic word that we embraced so much we made a banner out of it and hung it on the sanctuary wall.

Hag 2:9a NIV "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Our new church was planted in the same building as a previous one that had just closed down.  We proclaimed to ourselves and the world that the glory of our church would be greater than the glory of the church that had just closed down.

I believe this mistake to be a tragic one.  It is one many good churches and church leaders have made.  It is to seek the glory that has always belonged to Christ.  Instead of yielding ourselves  in faithfulness we try to build Christ’s church for Him in hopes that we can become proud and recognized for what we have built.  When we are oriented to receiving the approval of people we open ourselves up to all manner of deceptions and abuses.  We become more and more tempted to engage in coercive, deceitful or manipulative tactics.  Once we start traveling down that road corruption is inevitable. 

The following passage gives us a window to a conversation Jesus had with some Pharisees.  I’ve been pondering it for a few weeks.

"Your approval means nothing to Me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in My Father’s name, and you have rejected Me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the One who alone is God.
(Joh 5:41-44 NLT)

It appears that many of those who opposed Jesus did so because they were jealous of Him or were afraid of those who were jealous of Him.  It would appear that some things haven`t changed very much.

What is gossip?

One of the tools authoritarian churches use to control people is the mislabelling of gossip.  They instruct people not to speak critical things about the church or its leadership to each other.  This is considered gossip.

If someone were to observe the pastor lying and were to tell someone other than the pastor it would be considered “gossip.”  Does this really meet the criteria of “gossip” as mentioned in Proverbs and 1Corinthians.

Here are the passages.

Pro 20:19  He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.

2Cor 12:20  For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;

The Greek word used in the 2Co 12:20 is psithurismos which literally means “whisperer” but it implies slander.  The hebrew word used in Proverbs is rakil and it also carries the meaning of slander.

Slander is oral communication that is malicious and untrue.  (If it is written it is considered libel.)

A gossiper is someone who defames or slanders someone in secret.  For something to be considered gossip it needs to be all of the following:

  • Malicious: something communicated with the intention to harm another
  • Secret: the communication must be intended to go to certain people and not others.  Public communication like blog posts are not secret.
  • Untrue: what is communicated is false or perhaps reckless speculation

If a church member observed a pastor lying and told someone else, it can’t be considered gossip.

Good Shepherds in the model of Christ

I’ve been reading through John lately.  I love John’s perspective on Jesus.  All the authors of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry.  In John we find themes like the word, light, and love.  For John Jesus was light and love and contrasted this with the religious leaders of his day.

He addresses these leaders directly on more than one occasion.  Here is one

"I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice." Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus said to them again, "I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away. "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me –just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me — because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father."
(Joh 10:1-18 NET.)

At first this parable can be kind of confusing because Jesus is two different things in the parable.  He is the good shepherd and He is the door (or the gate).  There is a lot here to consider.  Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and some metaphors work at more than one level.  At one level he is addressing the Pharisees directly.  At another he is giving us principles we can apply throughout the ages.

Jesus contrasts good shepherds, thieves and hirelings.  All those leaders that came before Him were robbers and thieves.  In one sense this is because Jesus is the door.  Before Jesus there was no door.  Now for us Jesus is the door.  A good shepherd will enter through the door.  They will point people to Christ.  They lead the people through the door, through Christ to find pasture.  The thief has no intention of leading people to Christ, just to steal, kill and destroy.  The hireling may indeed offer some comfort and guidance to the sheep until a greater threat emerges.  When the hireling faces a choice between protecting him or herself and those of the sheep they abandon the sheep.  A good shepherd will lay down their lives for sheep.

Is your pastor a good shepherd in the model of Christ, a thief or a hireling?

Good shepherd in the model of Christ False shepherd
Leads you to Christ Leads you circles and takes advantage of you
Listens to the voice of Christ with you Forces you to listen to them
Calls you  gently.  You respond because you feel safe, and loved and you trust the pastor. Drives the you around through fear, manipulation and force.  Expressions of love are proven empty
Is concerned about all the “sheep.”  Shows care and concern for each person based on their inherent worth in Christ Abandons the people that aren’t with the program, stubborn or wounded
Leads you to life in Christ Sucks the life out of you
Knows and cares for each of the people.  In turn the people know the character and integrity of the pastor. Doesn’t care to know anyone that doesn’t further their agenda.  People have no clue what the pastor is really like.
Will risk conflict and will sacrifice themselves for you Will abandon you at the first sign of trouble. 

Things to consider:

  • Are you being lead to Christ?
  • Are lead to hear the voice of Christ directly?
  • Are you being lead gently or harshly?  Are you treated unsparingly?
  • Are church members abandoned or ostracized when they have problems that prevent them from participating fully?
  • Do you have more life in Christ or less?
  • Does your leader know you?  Do you know the leader or is just a game of appearances?
  • Are you being taken advantage of to further a religious  or personal agenda?
  • Will you leader stick up for you and abandon you when they conflict arises?