[This is the fifth in a series on improper submission: The first article (
) covered the similarities between Roman Catholicism and Islam, and mandatory submission. The second article (
) introduced improper submission that often occurs in evangelical churches. The third article (
) discussed the role of integrity (or lack thereof) in submitting to fallible creeds. The fourth article (
) warned about making rash oaths in submitting to church membership. This article introduces the seedbed of spiritual abuse in evangelical churches: elders as overlords.]
Ungodly Submission Leads to Loveless Churches
A Tale of Two Churches
After I received Jesus as my Savior, I continued to attend the Mass on Sunday mornings. But I also began attending a small Baptist fellowship at the invitation of a contractor who was putting vinyl siding on my home. Each Sunday I would go to Mass with my family, then go alone to the service at the Baptist church. The differences I noticed were quite striking.
The Baptist fellowship was marked by love and joy. I could tell that they were passionate for Jesus. They sang heartily. They greatly enjoyed one another's company. They loved God's Word. They prayed together. The ate together. Boy, did they eat together! They called one another "brother" and "sister." This was in stark contrast to what I had experienced only hours earlier at the Mass. The Mass had no atmosphere of love and joy. There was a sense of "putting in time." We were attending out of a sense of obligation. Hearty singing? Hardly. There was no joy on the faces. People received communion and walked out early. There was little fellowship. We were a group led by a priest whom we respected and called "Father," and to whom we confessed our sins. We were called to submit to an infallible leader, the Pope, and to submit to the teaching authority of the bishops and priests. We looked up to the saints and Mary as our examples.
There are two different models for churches. One authoritarian, and one egalitarian. The first I call the "Father-Lord" congregation model. The second I call the "Brother-Love" congregation model. I urge you not to think that "Father-Lord" is only an attribute of Catholicism. No, "Father-Lord" is alive and well in many evangelical churches. I think that many discerning Christians have fled churches that have become doctrinally unsound only to find themselves in a congregation that is behaviorally unsound.
In the book of Revelation, we find a description of seven churches. I find two to be of particular interest related to the interaction of truth and love: the church at Ephesus and the church at Philadelphia.
Where is the Love?
Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.
Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. Matthew 24:11-12.
Jesus tells us that one of the signs of the last days is an abundance of false teachers. Satan is the Father of Lies, and his modus operandi is to promote false teaching. For five years much of the focus of the Ex-Catholic Journal has been to point out errors of Catholicism and the ecumenical movement. But Jesus also tells us that there is a second front from which Satan attacks. He is a thief who seeks to steal our love. To see the critical interaction between truth and love, let us look at the history of the church at Ephesus. Paul in Acts 20 warned the Ephesian elders to be alert to false teachers.
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Apparently the elders took Paul to heart. In the second chapter of the book of Revelation the Ephesian church is commended for their orthodoxy:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
But in their zeal for truth, the church at Ephesus fell into Satan's other trap. You will notice that Ephesus is the only church among the seven churches that is threatened by Jesus with the removal of their lampstand! Their very existence was in question. They were in danger of being shut down or shut out. Why would Jesus do this? Weren't they extremely passionate for right doctrine? Didn't they take heed and remove false teachers? Hadn't they worked tirelessly and with great zeal? "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."
John, the apostle of love?
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his eleven apostles, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." I imagine that Jesus was looking directly at the apostle John when he said this. Apparently one of John's character traits was an unloving spirit. When John and his brother received the call to apostleship, Jesus gave them the moniker "Boanerges," or, "Sons of Thunder." Even after spending three years with Jesus, John struggled with loveless behavior. As the day of Jesus' death approached, He and his disciples were traveling through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem. When the Samaritans refused hospitality to them, John asked Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" Jesus rebuked John for his lack of love for the Samaritans.
John's also was an egotistical megalomaniac. He longed to be first among his brothers.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."
Later, the boys even got their mother to ask Jesus for special favors. You know how influential Jewish mothers can be! This spirit continued in John even to the night of the Last Supper, where he argued with the other disciples over who was the greatest.
John was ill fit for leadership in the church of Jesus Christ. In Christ's church, for one to be great, one must be least. Humble service is to mark those called to teach and lead.
Jesus transformed Saul on the road to Damascus. At some point, He also transformed His arrogant apostle. John would come to be known as the "apostle of love." And John would be sent to minister to the church at Ephesus. He would exhort them to pursue both truth and love.
Diotrephes: There but for the grace of God goes John
John wrote three epistles. In 1 John, the apostle warns of the Satanic attacks on truth and love. He warns of the false teaching of the antichrists. He stresses the preeminence of love in the life of the church. In 2 John, the apostle rejoices that the local church is standing firm in the truth. The purpose of the letter is to exhort the congregation to grow in love for one another and to beware of false teachers. Once again, truth and love are called to "embrace." In 3 John, the apostle testifies to the love of one of the leaders of the church, a man named Gaius. John cautions Gaius to beware of a church leader named Diotrephes. Gaius and the church must not follow the evil example of Diotrephes. They must NOT TO SUBMIT TO HIS AUTHORITY. This false shepherd was abusing the sheep - he was "sheepbusting." Diotrephes had the "spirit of old John" about him. He wanted preeminence in the church, and he was a strict disciplinarian. I find it very interesting that God would use John to rebuke this authoritarian leader. John had "been there, done that." He had once been just like Diotrephes. If anyone could understand the mindset of this abusive leader, it was John, the "Son of Thunder."
I contend that there is a spirit of Diotrephes, the "spirit of Old John," in many evangelical churches today. Seminaries are churning out men who seek power and fame. They are worldly and double-minded. They are hypocritical and lack integrity. They exhort the sheep to submit to their ruling authority apart from any evidence that their own lives are marked with the attributes of a godly elder. These "leaders" discourage independent thought. They write their own statements of faith and church covenants, and require submission to these documents. They drive the sheep from behind, instead of leading them from the front. By the exercise of their office of elder, they rule instead of lead. They act as "Father-Lord" instead of "Brother-Love."
9 Marks of a healthy church?
There is a book by Mark Dever that claims to have identified nine marks that are present in a healthy church. The nine marks are preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, membership, discipline, discipleship, and leadership. There are hundreds of articles concerning the importance of church membership and church discipline at their website. Does adherence to these "9 Marks" guarantee the health of a church? Or do many of these churches struggle with authoritarianism? I can state categorically that a church may have all nine of these marks and STILL BE A VERY UNHEALTHY CHURCH! [In the next newsletter I will present my first case study detailing abuse at one such "9Marks church."]
Isn't it curious that Mark Dever would come up with exactly nine marks? The Bible also lists nine marks of a healthy church. Are you ready for the list? Here they are: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such, there is no law."
I fear that all this attention to submission to elder authority, formal church membership, church bylaws and constitutions, church covenants, and mandatory creeds and oaths borders on legalism. Follow our nine rules. Against such, there is no freedom.
The Church with little power: Philadelphia
I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
Two churches of the seven in Revelation did not receive any rebuke from our Lord. One was the church at Smyrna. This church suffered persecution from false religion. They were imprisoned and killed for their faith. The other blameless church? It was the aptly named "Brother-Love" church of Philadelphia. This church was very weak; it did not have great power or influence. But they maintained both the light of truth and the heat of love. The brothers and sisters kept the great commandment of Jesus. They loved one another.
One of my favorite singer/songwriters from the 70's is a Jewish man named Neil Diamond. One of his first hits was the song "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show." I always thought that it was a satire on fundamentalist Christianity. I was wrong. As a young college student, Neil Diamond thought he had all the answers. He was visiting Jackson, Mississippi and happened upon a tent revival meeting. "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" is the story of what he encountered at the revival. I encourage you to watch the video. He gives testimony in the middle of the song.
You are all brothers
Jesus warns us about the danger of abusive leadership: "But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven...whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Matt. 23:8,9,12.
May we be marked with a love for truth and true love, my brothers and sisters! By God's grace, may it be so in your ekklesia.