Call No One Master

Part 3 of the Series:

Questioning Church Authority

by Don Enevoldsen

My experience with church leaders and their desire for titles indicates that the spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well—and that we are all susceptible to its influence. Being a good Pharisee was largely defined by achievement, status and the recognition attached. Jesus indicted their attitude in strong language:

“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:5-7)

If Jesus spoke those words about church leaders today—and I have no doubt that is one of the things he would say—he would be labeled as judgmental and told that a good Christian honors and obeys his spiritual leaders. In other words, he would get the exact same criticism he got then. Yet his analysis would strike the heart of the matter. They love recognition. They love titles.

Jesus told his followers not to seek any of the labels the Pharisees reveled in. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers” (verse 8). The word “Rabbi” is often translated “Master.” It meant “great one” or “honorable sir.” It was a title used to give distinction and elevation.

A second title was “father.” Jesus said, “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven” (verse 9). While Protestants often use this verse to criticize Catholics for calling priests by the title of father, the point regarded the elevated status attributed to a leader. The Greek word is pater. It refers to a progenitor, the founder of a race. The source of our life and our understanding is in God, not another human being. Jesus warned his followers to never look upon any man as necessary or as the source for their spirituality.

A third title continues that idea. “Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ” (verse 10). Jesus declared himself to be the teacher we ultimately look to for knowledge. The apostle John must have understood this. He wrote, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you” (1 John 2:27).

In other words, no human being should be revered to such an extent that we depend on him. Our dependence should be on God.

None of this means we should not recognize and honor leaders. The emphasis in these verses is on the insistence, the requirement, by the Pharisees that they be honored. I have often recognized and commented on the achievements of others. I saw their efforts and was moved to admiration. It is a very different thing when they demand my recognition.

During my tenure on a large church staff, the senior pastor added the title Doctor to his resume. While the merit of a doctorate obtained by mail could be disputed, nevertheless, he did have to write a thesis and do some work. I was never bothered by the title itself. If the truth be told, I wish I had one.

However, the day the staff was ordered to use the title at all times in order to promote respect among the congregation, and specifically to use the pastor’s first name after the title, I felt a wave of revulsion. And I never called him Doctor again. It became clear his doctorate was not an academic achievement, but something done to be seen by men. He didn’t wear phylacteries or tassels on a prayer shawl that could be lengthened, but he certainly went to some trouble to lengthen his accolades.

There are two messages here. Leaders who demand that people follow them and respect them are not only very poor leaders, they are acting completely outside of their biblical authority. They want to take the place of God in the lives of others.

Secondly, for all of us, we have a biblical responsibility to use some discernment. We are never to put any human being in the place of God in our own lives and our attitudes. If you want to call someone by a title in order to honor him/her, that’s fine. If that leader requires it of you, there is something wrong.

Next, Part 4: The Fivefold Ministry

Go to the beginning of the series, Questioning Church Authority: Part 1, False Prophets

Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

Call No One Master
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36 thoughts on “Call No One Master

  • March 30, 2012 at 8:21 pm
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    Very well said.

    It seems an extension of the general teachings on submission. If you submit, fine. If another demands you submit, whether he be husband, pastor, or something else, then there is a problem.

    I am reminded of a message I heard from a pastor friend of mine. He meditated on Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good, but God” Here was an opportunity for Jesus to announce his divinity in no uncertain terms. Here he could have agreed with the man, “Yes, I certainly am good, and quite a good teacher, as you have so astutely observed.” Yet he did not. Instead, he asked why this man, who had no revelation of Jesus as God, called Him good, when only God should have been so called. If our Lord and Example took such a road, what ought we his followers be doing?

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    • March 31, 2012 at 12:05 am
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      Very true, Michael. Really a matter of fulfilling a calling. Jesus came to point people toward the Father, and he never got in the way of that. Seems like, when it comes to fulfilling our purpose, we get in our own way a lot.

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  • March 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm
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    There’s a chapter 23 in the Book of Matthew??

    Okay, I’ve read it quite a few times, just never actually heard it taught. Wow. Pretty brave for a pastor! 🙂

    Okay, have to run… I need to make sure my phylacteries aren’t too broad…

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    • March 31, 2012 at 12:07 am
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      Ryan, it’s actually hard to rail against the Pharisees when you live with them. Very dangerous because they do retaliate. But now that I’m 400 miles away, it’s a lot easier. And have you noticed how hard it is to keep your balance when your phylacteries are too broad?

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  • March 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm
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    Reverence. Webster’s defines it as to revere or to be in awe of. We know why the recepient wants
    to be revered. But why do the reverers, revere. Is it because they want or need something from the revered.

    In the case of the church, many times, it goes beyond respect. It gets to the point of being embarrased for the reverer. I have personally witnessed those embarssing moments. Just recently
    I saw a video clip of a pastor being lifted up on a chair and carried around, proclaiming him as a king. Who are these reverers and why do they do it, what are they lacking. Perhaps the question I should be asking is, what are they?

    I look around at Creation and I’m in awe of the CREATOR
    l

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    • March 31, 2012 at 3:07 pm
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      You bring up a point that needs to be discussed. The demand for respect from some leaders is only part of the problem. My experience at an abusive church tells me that a big part of the problem is a lack of healthy self-identity on the part of the followers. They have little real self-confidence, so in order to feel better about themselves, they take their identity from the group, and the reverence for the leader comes out of that. The most horrible thing they can imagine is to be told that they are no longer welcome, so they do anything to gain acceptance. Unscrupulous leaders take advantage of that and constantly keep them in a state of trying to earn acceptance. The belief that leaders should be obeyed and honored and respected, not matter what, is one of the rules that keeps such a system functioning.

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      • April 2, 2012 at 9:11 pm
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        The demand for church authority puts a fear in the people working for these leaders. Is it just a matter of their own lack of self confidence that really puts some of these pastors to belittle their staff and demand loyalty among their congregation? I have met people in my life that lack low self confidence in areas of their lives, as a result some people were down right mean to others to esteem themselves and some just stayed in low self worth not pushing past anything great in their lives. Do you believe the acountability plays a role in why some of these leaders are not seeing anything past their own faults?

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        • April 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm
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          That is a very complex question, heidilb. Certainly accountability is a factor. Abusive leaders are not held accountable, but congregations that are not emotionally healthy rarely reach a point where they can hold their leaders accountable. That’s part of how the system perpetuates. The leader (or leaders, in many cases) hold expulsion from the group over the heads of their followers and when someone comes into a church with a lot of emotional problems and a poor self identity, they associate themselves with the church just to give themselves a sense of value. The church where I was on the staff, people were terrified of being asked to leave. And they knew they would be if they ever made waves, because they had seen it happen to many others. I know some who don’t even really know what they did, but something they said was perceived as a threat. To deal with it, the pastor’s assistant tapped the person on the shoulder after a service had started and asked to talk to him in the foyer. Once there he was told that he was not welcome there anymore, to leave immediately and not come back. When the person asked why, the assistant shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know, that’s just what the pastor told him. And that was it. So healthy people who tried to hold the leaders accountable were quickly isolated from the rest of the congregation before anyone could hear the questions. In that kind of a setting, accountability is bypassed. That is just one example, but there are a million variations of that kind of manipulation. Unhealthy people are afraid to go through that process because they don’t want to be kicked out. Healthy people know it is a possibility, but they prefer that to living in an unhealthy relationship with their leaders.

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        • April 2, 2012 at 9:26 pm
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          That was a little bit rambling, so I hope I answered the question. Do you have experience in church that would shed light on how accountability does or doesn’t work?

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          • May 20, 2013 at 6:29 pm
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            “people were terrified of being asked to leave”

            I was in a congregationally governed church, so the pastor couldn’t just ask me to leave. They had to have a meeting and vote people out. Those who weren’t willing to vote against me were asked to not attend the Sunday evening meeting.

            The pastor told me after the service but before the meeting what was going to happen. He suggested that I would want to leave. I told him I was going to attend and watch the whole thing go down. He told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to say anything. I replied that I’d just sit there and watch the kangaroo court scene.

            They did vote to boot me out, which was quite a relief. I was getting really tired of trying to prevent the worst excesses.

            After the principal of the church-sponsored elementary school was arrested for child molestation, I got a call saying it was OK for me to come back. I went one time just to establish that I could do that, and have never gone back since.

            I’m currently working on a book on my experiences in that and another bad church, as well as other issues that are common nowadays in some parts of the body of Christ.

          • May 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm
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            Ralph, I wish your experience was less common. There are a lot of abusive and dysfunctional churches out there. Fortunately there are some good ones, too, but it’s not always easy to find them. I’m glad you’ve come out of it so well, and I’m glad you are willing to talk about your experience openly. That will help others as much as anything we can do. Please keep me informed when your book is out.

  • April 2, 2012 at 9:21 am
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    You’ve opened my eyes a bit with this one. I remember when my father was going through ALS all I could think about was why didn’t the pastor, the person that I respect so much, do anything. I didn’t realize that I shouldn’t be so caught up in the pastor and how great he was and should have relied on God. I’m starting to learn a lot of things now than what I thought I knew as a kid growing up in a big church. I’m not sure if its the same thing as what your talking about but I do understand what you’re saying.

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    • April 2, 2012 at 9:30 am
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      I think it is very much the same thing, Kenneth. You got to see a lot of this, and the way your father was treated is typical of the way things were handled there. I greatly admired him for the fact that he said what he thought and stood for what he believed, even when it made waves. But of course, that meant he was never really accepted in the inner circles of that church. They never liked people they couldn’t control. He was one of my favorite people.

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  • April 2, 2012 at 11:23 am
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    Don, if you get a chance you need to read St. Nilus (Neilos) in the Philokalia Vol. 1. It is probably the single greatest early Church Father rebuke against the type of leader you refer to here. You’ll be cheering through the whole read.

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  • April 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm
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    this article is spot on and I have seen this personally. The crazy part about this whole concept is that being a pastor is now a career choice. What happened to being called into an office? What happened to a specific anointing to fulfill an exact will of HIM? Obviously pastors need to be paid, it just bothers me that people are entering the field simply looking to get paid like a job instead of trying to make disciples and change lives.

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    • April 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm
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      Agreed, Chance. I remember many times that I sat in church meetings, which included regular services, staff meetings and board meetings where the pastor told us that the church is a business, first and foremost. In fact, there was hardly ever a staff meeting that it didn’t come up. It seems that the ministry part of it got lost. The leadership convinced themselves that if they weren’t making money, it wasn’t God’s will. At the same large church, I did the Wednesday night service for several years. One day the pastor’s son called me into his office and told me that my service wasn’t bringing in enough money and I needed to lean on them more when I took the offering. That is hardly conducive to ministry goals.

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      • April 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm
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        Add to this the runaway prosperity message – which states that the truest measure of a Christian and his/her faith is how financially well-off he/she is (as in, rich in the worldliest sense of the word) – and, wow, talk about an absolute mess!! An absolute racket…

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        • April 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm
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          Those who belief religion is a means to financial gain. That doesn’t lead to good leadership.

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  • April 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm
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    Btw, this particular someone who wanted you to call him “Dr.” where exactly did he gain this degree. I’ve tried to find out online and can’t. It appears he has both a doctorate and a PhD. Any idea?

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    • April 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm
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      I used to know, but it’s been a while ago. I will try to find it and let you know. If I look around, something might jog my memory with the actual name. I know it was a correspondence program with remarkably little academic value.

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      • April 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm
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        Please don’t say it was ORU. I’ll have to spend the next 3 days trying to convince you that its a worthy school.

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          • April 3, 2012 at 7:33 am
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            Checked out the “university’s” home page. Wow.

          • April 3, 2012 at 10:09 am
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            Okay, maybe I was a little hasty in my assessment that he had to do some work to get this. Apparently not much was actually required.

          • April 3, 2012 at 9:18 am
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            As someone who worked extremely hard for six years straight to earn a REAL Bachelor’s Degree and a REAL Master’s Degree (and I’ve got the giant student loan payment – 15 years later, and counting – to prove it!), it’s always irked me beyond words when stuffed-shirt, big name preachers tack a fake “Dr.” to the front of their names. Nothing but pride, a way to sell books, and yet another way to place themselves above everyone else. The Pharisee spirit is indeed alive and well!! Not to mention, this also goes hand-in-hand with our modern, warped (wicked), shallow form of “Christianity”: Fame, fortune, and recognition without ever really earning or deserving it….

            Did you check out Friends International’s distinguished lists of “alumni”? http://www.ficuflorida.com/alumni.htm

            Oh, and the page that admits (because it’s required by law) that it’s a completely fake “university”: http://www.ficuflorida.com/accreditation.htm

            The most pathetic part of all of this: I doubt that very many of the masses of adoring fans would care about any of this. Mainstream Christianity is Disneyland: Yes, it’s completely fake (and pricey), but it’s fun! So who cares…

          • April 3, 2012 at 10:11 am
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            It is a church built on marketing, as the pastors have said consistently for decades. And the doctorate can be justified as part of marketing and image building, etc. What that has to do with ministry and how it can be thought to be genuine as opposed to phony is another matter.

          • April 3, 2012 at 10:15 am
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            How else can you attract the people other than marketing? As long as they hear the word, right?

          • April 3, 2012 at 10:20 am
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            Good point, Kenneth. Does reliance on marketing indicate lack of trust in the Holy Spirit to do his job?

          • April 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm
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            Ah, but “which” word is one hearing? Which Jesus is one hearing about? These are the real questions. There are many “Jesus'” for sale today.

          • April 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm
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            “For sale” being the operative phrase. I think Kenneth has observed to problem. Any kind of marketing is justified as long as people hear the “word” once they walk in the door. The message, however, is designed not to fit the gospel, but to adapt to the marketing. But as long as someone read from the Bible, everybody feels justified.

  • May 21, 2013 at 1:11 am
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    Thank you for the feedback, Don.

    One thing I should mention is that I established a connection with a different church before getting the boot from the first one. I was going to the new church with my wife on Sunday mornings, and then to the former one by myself on Sunday nights. Since the congregational meetings were on Sunday nights, that made it possible for me to provide inputs when there was an attempt to push through something harmful. Also it meant that I wasn’t dependent on the social support of the bad church. So I didn’t have to be concerned about suddenly having to look for a good place to take up spiritual residence if and when I couldn’t function there any longer.

    I would strongly recommend that anyone in a bad church situation start easing toward the exit like that rather than making an abrupt departure. Among other things, a gradual transition could help avoid jumping from one bad situation into another that could be even worse.

    Reply

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