Friday, August 31, 2012

The Body With and Without Leaders

Do Not be Called Leaders
There are Christians who lead at times but Jesus forbade positional/hierarchical/office based leadership in His body. Matthew 23:1-12 makes that very clear. He says, "You have ONE Leader" & "You are all brothers." My stance is that having an officially elevated status will cause you to seek it further even if you didn't seek it to begin with.

Jesus didn't merely say, "Don't call yourselves leaders." His wording was "Do not be called leaders," meaning don't allow others to call you something like that. It wasn't simply, "Don't call yourself that" or "Don't insist others call you that." That word He used for "leaders" never appears again in the bible because they obeyed Him. Jesus listed 3 honorary titles in this context to emphasize the fact that he was talking about receiving or promoting honorary titles among the brothers as being a bad thing. It is not the specific titles that are damaging but the type of titles that make a brother seen as superior to others.

Christ is Your One & Only Leader and You are All Brothers
Christ Himself said, “ALL AUTHORITY has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). Paul would often plead the case of his apostleship (that he was really sent by Jesus) & he did so on the basis of his testimony and Christ in him & through him. All Christians have authority in Christ but no one Christian has authority over another Christian. As Jesus said, "We are all brothers."

"There are no legitimate Christian leaderS." It isn't only that Jesus said "Do not be called leaders" but that He said "You have ONE LEADER, CHRIST." That doesn't mean "none of you will ever lead." The Assembly is the Father, the First Born, then the many brethren. No brother or sister has legit authority over another. A brother may lead for a time. Brothers aren't to lead by having an authoritative office of honor. Leading is instead initiating something by requesting for cooperation. This leading also is done with mutual cooperation/submission to others. Leading in the body of Christ plays out as a relational walking out of ideas & plans. Subjection is not required or requested. Everything is voluntary rather than obligatory.

The Complexity of Christ's Body
Anyone can lead at any time. There are no leaders but a body of people who switch off taking the lead as Christ, the Head instructs. When the eyes can't see in the dark the hands take the lead reaching out to check for obstacles. A functioning body compensates for temporary or permanent weakness. And guess what? Someone does not always have to be leading! People can easily relate to one another without having to be directed & redirected. The spirit of God moves in love through His listening body.

I understand Paul says things like "the eye cannot say to the hand..." but I don't think that means someone who is "the eye" cannot also work as a hand does. It is clear that Paul shepherded & evangelized. Some are more gifted in one area & some are more gifted in another but God did not set His body up as "this body part always teaches" & especially not as "this is the only body part that teaches." All members of the body are connected to Christ thus they all have something to contribute. While it can be helpful to recognize how someone is gifted it is not necessary because the people will walk in the love of using that gift for others regardless of if they are officially recognized for it.

Older men & women (elders) were recognized (mistranslated "appointed") as beneficial examples for the body in certain assemblies that had been around for several years. To say they were "leaders" in the sense that we know the word today in churches is inaccurate & to say that they were "leaders" in the sense that Christ spoke of is also inaccurate because that word never appears again in scripture after Christ spoke it. These older people were trustworthy guides and guardians for the younger.

The body as a group can come together and exercise Christ's authority but no SINGLE brother has authority over another. Matthew 18 really drives home that point by saying things are done by "two or three" not by "one over all."

Who Gets the Honor?
[1 Corinthians 12:21-26]  "The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

In today's church system the ones who do not lack honor, the self-titled leaders, are nearly always the ones that receive greater honor. The weaker are utterly unrecognized especially since the church is a performance based system. That lets us know further that the system is not of God. In Christ's assembly the lesser is honored rather than the self professed leader. This honor doesn't picture someone being put on stage every couple of months for a round of applause then shoved back into servitude. Honor means "to give value to." This plays out in relationships within the body where the weaker are valued, accepted, & encouraged. Romans 15:7 says, "Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you." Think about how Christ has accepted you! Doing this means we "love one another just as Jesus has loved us" (John 13:34-35). Remember Jesus didn't love us out of fear or obligation but out of joyful free will. There was no law that said, "God must love man" or "God must sacrifice for man."

Would I call my hand an office?
The supposed "positions" & "offices" in scripture have been misinterpreted for centuries. The word "office" isn't actually used in the New Testament (Read this for more). Rather than as offices to occupy they are described as gifts in both the contexts of 1 Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 4. "Jesus gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). Would you call someone with the gift of tongues a leader simply because his gift is listed in scripture? I don't think so, but the gifts that are historically (not biblically) tied to positions of leadership people do consider to be leadership positions. Please don't let this bias blind you to the love and unity found in having Christ alone as your Leader.

How does leadership language come across in our language today?
If you say the word "office" in any Christian setting people aren't going to think "any member of the body who is gifted in specific functions" they are going to think of leaders, pastors, elders, people who hold leadership positions. If you say "leader" in that setting or any other setting people will again think of those man made offices that do not even function the same way as the people in scripture did. They won't think of "someone who leads on the occasions that God guides him to" they will think of the person who is in charge or in command of others. Thus "leader" and even "office" have meanings like those things which Jesus spoke against, they are honorary words that set one brother over another brother in the ears & eyes of those who hear them. In my opinion those words should be utterly avoided because they breed harmful perceptions.

What about Ephesians 4:11?
"God's loving-grace has been given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. He gave gifts to men. He certainly gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds & teachers for the equipping of God's holy people for the work of building up the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the trust and knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

As a result of being equipped, we will no longer be immature like children who are tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part works in its own unique way it causes the body to grow. When the whole body is functioning the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love." (Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16)

This happened & can still happen. This is not talking about something "in the sweet bye & bye." Paul tells you what equipped people look like. He said these people's work results in "us no longer being children who are easily deceived." How many times does someone need to be "equipped" before they can go on their way? John says when people are equipped they "no longer need any men to teach them" (1 John 2:27). If you look at the history of the first century assembly you will see that pattern. Paul, an apostle, makes disciples in a town. He stays with them a short while revealing to them the wonder of Christ. He then leaves them without an apostle, elder, shepherd, etc. He equipped them thus "each person is able to work in his or her own unique way" & the body grows! It grows closer to Christ, closer to one another, & may even bring more people to Christ through proclaiming the good news to their community. Only after they had been established for several years did Paul decide to recognize some older people in some assemblies who shepherded the younger as especially trustworthy people to relate to.

The people who genuinely equip the body, don't ever lord over it. Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:24 said apostles, "Do not lord over people but work with them for their joy to help them to firmly continue to trust Jesus." What a beautiful depiction of an apostle! "Coworkers who help you firmly continue to trust Jesus for your joy." All the gifted people spoken of in Ephesians 4:11 are fellow workers, not Christ-usurping leaders. Some of these people are catalysts who spur us closer to Christ & closer to one another. Others are older brothers & sisters who watch out for us. They aren't lingering leaders who we need to support nor are they commanders. An organization or building run as a business is not in view, instead it is a community of people leaning on Christ and loving one another however Christ has gifted them to do so.

How Church Leaders Are Not What Ephesians 4 Describes
They cause the body, in practice, to be non-existent.
The leaders & singers (mouths) are the only members who function in a church service. Some may do technical or physical work to help the "show go on" but that work is neither relational nor Christ centered. The service is run by the pastor, who is the false head, the "highly exalted" man who officially "speaks for God." Think of how cult like and stupid that sounds Christians. Now remember Christ lives in all of us, can speak through all of us, and wants all of us to be free to work how He sees fit. The primary Christian gathering is dominated by self professed leaders & does not allow people to relate to one another while the "man of God" is on stage. If you say, "the body is supposed to function during the week," What sense does it make for the one time a week the body is gathered to not allow functioning?

Leaders are the perfect people to deceive others
Jesus forbade positions of leadership because they promote false authority and "authority" makes it easier to convince people of falsehoods. Sometimes this false authority gets so large that people are required to believe whatever the self professed leader tells them. "How dare you question me?" is a mood you can get from many leaders if you question them. "How dare you question our leader?" is a feeling you can get from others. Most often & most dangerous though is the question you ask yourself, "How dare I question the schooled expert who is a better Christian than me?" Instead of delivering us from being deceived the leaders themselves are the ones who deceive us. They are even taught in their schooling how to manipulate people into coming to or back to their church, carrying people around by the winds of their teachings.

Leaders make people dependent on them.
People are strung along week to week to be permanently dependent upon the preacher. In most cases they are told that they are in sin if they do not show up to listen to the weekly sermon. They are also shamed as being inferior Christians if they do not show up for the Sunday night or Wednesday night sermons. The pastor's professional training makes people feel like they cannot study scripture for themselves accurately. People are also made to feel as though they cannot trust their hearts which results in people not believing they can hear from God so they must come listen to the spiritual guru. Equipping is not the goal of church leaders, dependence & attendance is.

People are never actually equipped.
They are either cooled off or heated up, depending on the preacher's style. They go to church to be recharged for the next week or to be rebuked for the previous week. They are stuck in starvation mode never getting the Christ-centered relationships they long for.

Having leaders is a rejection of unity
If each church building has its own leader or set of leaders unity is impossible because people are set up to follow someone other than Christ. Every single church building is a sect, a divisive institution with its own name, facilities, leaders, & members. If you are a member of a church you are looked at crooked for even visiting a church you are not a member of. The biblical meaning of heresy is not "unorthodox beliefs" but "division." Galatians 5:19-21 calls division "a work of the flesh." Further proof that the church system is not based on the spirit but on the flesh.

I haven't even addressed how the messages of these false leaders tear people down instead of build them up & make people run from God by painting Him as a monster. The body can never grow when each member is not allowed to work in its own way. Church leaders aren't the equippers of the body of Christ but the executioners, they shoot people down into shame and passive attendance. While most of these people are not doing this maliciously their very position (office) does untold harm to people because they see one brother elevated over the others. He stands on the stage, his name is on the church sign (usually Jesus' name isn't even on there!), he gets the esteemed religious title of pastor, reverend, elder, bishop, etc. The mere existence of official leaders is damaging to any Christian group whether in a traditional church, home group, or otherwise.

Who Are the People Spoken of in Ephesians 4:11?
An apostle is someone sent by an assembly to make disciples, establish assemblies, & help other assemblies relate to one another & meet with Christ as head. The initial 12 apostles were sent by Christ in the flesh. Paul was sent by Christ in the flesh & by the assembly at Antioch. The word apostle is a transliteration, not a translation. Apostle is best translated as "delegate."
Prophets are simply people who hear God well & tell others what they hear. They can tell you of your present condition and give you (sometimes foggy) pictures of something to come in the future. Other potential translations for prophet are spokesman or mouthpiece.
Evangelists will proclaim the true gospel of God's grace which is summarized in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, "God the Father was in Christ on the cross making relationship with Himself available to the world by no longer counting people's sins against them. God has given us this message of relationship to tell others. We beg you on behalf of Christ, "Come to God." Evangelist is also an transliteration, best translated as good messenger or gospel messenger.
Shepherds (mistranslated pastors) guard and guide. They are the same people described in the bible as overseers & elders (older men & women). Shepherds are trustworthy brothers & sisters who you have a relationship with who will advise & teach you.
Teachers draw you closer to God in love rather than in fear & obligation. In the bible preaching is not the same thing as teaching. Teaching is relational and interactive. In the bible preach merely means to "proclaim" or "announce." A mere relay of information is not biblical teaching. Preaching sermons does not make you a teacher. Today's preachers are orators who do their own research. Teachers don't talk to people, they talk with people.

Paul, who identified his gifting as an apostle, did evangelistic work (Colossians 1:23), he heard directly from God (seen in the letters he wrote), he taught (Acts 18:9-12), he shepherded (Acts 20:17-35), he manifested miracles (Acts 19:11-12), he healed people (Acts 28:8), he helped people (Acts 16:9-10), he administrated the collection of money for the poor (1 Corinthians 16:1), he spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18), he even wrote of future events (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Paul at one point or another exercised most of the gifts listed as examples in scripture. So we see that gifting is not a boxing into one area or a lifetime job assignment. Gifts are good things you want to share with those you love. Never merely accept a title someone wears as a description of who they really are. Most pastors aren't shepherds. Anyone who wants you to follow them based on the title they wear is corrupt or has been deceived. They will probably present to you "falsehoods so clever they sound like the truth" because they themselves believe those falsehoods & their position prevents them from being questioned. The gifted people spoken of in Ephesians 4:11 are all fellow workers who are not above or greater than any other Christian. At most they will request cooperation. They aren't leaders but loving brothers & sisters.

"The children of God do not exercise authority over one another. Instead we work with each other to help one another firmly continue to trust Jesus. We do this all for the joy of one another" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Related Posts
The Word Leaders in the New Testament
Older People as Guides not Officials as Governors
What Jesus Hates & Despises
How Sermonizing is Not Shepherding & More..
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