Part 1 of the series:
Questioning Church Authority
by Don Enevoldsen
Recent revelations of misconduct and hypocritical preaching of church leadership has suggested to me the need for understanding the role of leaders in our spiritual lives. From my earliest days in church, at the age of five, the message was pounded into us that we must obey our leaders, without regard to their teaching or discernment of their motives.
Yet experience has demonstrated repeatedly that the greatest damage to the faith of believers frequently comes through self-centered, narcissistic leaders who are blindly followed without question or challenge. It is easy to think of this in terms of cult figures like Jim Jones or David Koresh, but I am here concerned with the far more common manipulation, coercion and abuse entrenched in basic, traditional churches in our own neighborhoods.
The reason for this willingness to relinquish responsibility to a pastor or priest is the belief that God expects us to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17-18)
When considered beyond the most superficial level, however, this belief creates a conundrum. Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) Fortunately he gave the means to identify them: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (verse 16)
The problem is simple. Prophets are part of the five fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11), a part of the leadership of the church that includes pastors, teachers, evangelists and apostles. If I am required to obey and submit, believing that they must give an account to God, not to me, then how can I examine the fruit to determine whether or not they are false? Discernment necessitates questioning.
When allegations and inculpation are leveled at leaders, how should we respond? Accusations should not be automatically embraced, but when they come at the mouths of more than one witness, we cannot afford to ignore them. Yet a staggering number of believers do.
In the next few weeks, I propose to examine some of the common teachings regarding the respect due to leaders, in part to know when accusations should be ignored, but also with the intention of bringing a higher level of accountability to the various offices of leadership among us.
Next, Part 2: What Is a Leader?
Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.