I might seem like I have no respect for the pastoral office or other leadership roles within the church. I admit that I have a hard time with that, but I think my difficulty stems from the abuse of these positions. Something about the way our congregations are set up…it seems to me like having a kind of hierarchy is just asking for corruption by way of power-hungry men (or women).
Even so, there is a need. Faith comes by hearing, and how does one hear without a preacher, right?
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)
I don’t want to diminish men of God. As I’ve written before, if we reject a true teacher, preacher, prophet, or whatever, then we are rejecting God in the process. I have respect for those who take on such a high responsibility. Serving a congregation of your brothers and sisters who look to you for guidance in this wicked world…that has got to be challenging.
My problem is not with authority. Not when it is given by God. My problem is when authority is abused. My problem is when authority leads to oppression and needless division.
As you might see, I’m trying to sort all of this out for myself. We need leadership, but if our leaders are not led by Jesus, then our leaders will guide us right to our destruction. It does seem to me that United States (or Western) Christianity is at large plagued by terrible leadership. That does not mean there aren’t good pastors, good churches, and congregations that are being fed appropriately and bear the fruits of proper pasturing.
It seems to me that a good way to judge whether a pastor is led by the Lord or not is to look at his congregation. Are they modest, humble, compassionate, trying to live righteously and separate from the world? How do they treat visitors who might look differently than they do or appear of a different social class? Are they loving and welcoming, or cold and gossiping?
As for the pastors, how do they handle differences in belief over doctrines that are not necessary for salvation? Do they allow congregants to hold their own beliefs about non-salvation issues like the rapture, the nature of hell, free will or determinism? Do they allow you to question them openly and hold them accountable? Do they allow liberty in matters of praise and dress within biblical bounds of modesty, respect, and order for example? Do they teach salvation and the gospel in truth? Do they understand what grace really means and teach it? Do they encourage righteousness without condemning those who struggle in sin repentantly? Can they rule their own home well? Are they living modestly and giving to the needy if wealth accumulates? Do they have an heir of servant instead of lording themselves over you as some high and mighty man of God?
When I write about “getting out,” or looking to Jesus instead of “kings” I need to be clear about something. This does not mean we stop going to church. This means we stop listening to the wrong leaders — leaders that act as kings. Sure, they might put on heirs of humility, but if they are dogmatic about issues to the point of division, make a big deal over money or tithing, teach false grace, teach a false or half-truth gospel, or if their congregation is riddled with self-righteousness, gossip, vanity, and other forms of worldliness, then it’s probably a good idea to go elsewhere.
Even still, it is good to make sure that we keep Jesus first, no matter what church we go to or which leader we look to. Man is fallible. Every single denomination is fallible. Only Jesus is perfect, and only the Holy Spirit leads perfectly.
There is a difference between due respect and esteeming someone too highly. We should respect God-ordained leaders and have compassion for the burden they carry. Yet, they are only men. We should not act differently just because they are around, try to impress them, or try to get into their “inner circle” of elite Godly people. In-fact, if there is an “inner circle” then that’s a good “Get out of There” signal. Church is not a social club. It should be a family.
Now, because we are all fallible, I think we should be more loving towards the brethren. We should strive to be one and not divided. Yet, with wisdom. That’s why seeking Jesus first is paramount. There are many who deceive and many dangerous doctrines. This does not mean we accept anything, but that we are willing to hear what others have to say. We are willing to lay aside our pride and fears for the good of others. We are willing to consider that we do not know it all. We should seek to our own salvation, study the Word, and seek the Holy Spirit.
It’s a complex matter. Much is corrupt, yet much is good too. I think the first step is to become aware and to seek Jesus ourselves with all sincerity. Nurture our own salvation and doctrinal beliefs, then seek the Lord for how we might better serve the body of Christ. I often feel like I’m groping in the dark when it comes to all of this, but I know that if we seek we will find. So, what is there for me to do but to keep seeking in faith?