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The Pursuit of Pre-eminence
Tendency Towards Dictatorial Authority

Over the years I have thought much about the subject matter that I will present in this article. Now, after listening to Jimmy Carterís latest book on CD entitled "Our Endangered Values", Iíve thought about it again. One point that Jimmy Carter spoke about was the change that took place in 2000 in the Southern Baptist Convention, his own denomination. At that time the Southern Baptists adopted a new "Faith and Message Statement". It replaced the previous statement that acknowledged the sole authority for faith and practice was found in Jesus and the Scriptures. According to Carter, this change made it possible to elevate the new statement and the authority it gave to local pastors over the Scriptures and Jesus Himself.

I believe Jimmy Carter has a point to be considered. I have noted such changes taking place in certain areas of the church to one degree or other. This is a general trend and does not apply to every or any particular church.

With this in mind, I ask the following question. When Jesus said "that the leaders of this world lord it over them", what did He mean? (see Luke 22:24-27 Ė "lord it over" is a NIV term)

In the first century the Roman system of government was very much a dictatorship, backed by military force. You had to submit to the ruling authority or else. Rulers lorded it over their people, just as Jesus said.

Yet when Jesus spoke about these things, He did not stop with merely pointing out this dictatorial system of leadership. Jesus specifically said that "you should not be like that". Dictatorial rule should not be found in Godís people. What did Jesus mean by this?

The answer is simple. Christian leaders are not to be dictators. They are not to be self serving. They are not to promote their own personal preferences over the preferences of others. They are not to arrange "yes men" under their rule. They are not to demand strict allegiance and obedience to themselves and their style of rule. Christian leaders should not lead as many secular leaders lead, over-emphasizing the authority of their position.

The potential problem with leadership, both within the church and in the world is the tendency towards dictatorship, to over-emphasize oneís authority. This has always been the tendency and most likely will be to the end. Donít get me wrong. I am not against Biblical based leadership in the church.

Jesus tells us that the way we run the affairs of the church should be different than the way the world runs the affairs of government and business. Its sad to say, but we in the North American church are no different than the secular world around us in many respects.

Examples of such leadership are as follows. We jostle for pre-eminence within the local church. We elect church leaders as if it was a political contest. We understand leadership to be a career and not a calling from Jesus. We manipulate things towards our own preferences, neglecting the idea that we are all members of one body, joined together to serve the Head, which is Jesus. We fail to understand that all earthly leaders are subject to Jesus and Biblical truth. The list can go on.

So how does Jesus want us to lead? Jesus told us the answer to this question in Luke 22:24-26. He expects church leaders under Him to lead by serving, just as He did. Instead of being over top and lording it over people, leaders are to be under Godís people, helping, supporting and lifting them up. Leaders care for people, and give themselves to them with a heart of compassion.

Most of us like the recognition and authority that comes with being in visible leadership, especially if we can get behind the pulpit every Sunday. This tendency is much like the Pharisees of the New Testament, and we know what Jesus thought of them. In reality most of the duties of a good leader are done far from the spot light of the pulpit. On a daily basis Godly leaders serve and care for Godís people, whether others notice it or not, and if others donít notice, better for the leader. His reward is waiting for him in Heaven.

The tendency to lord it over others is not new. In the second century, the church evolved towards a dictatorial style of leadership to solve its problem of disunity. This did not happen over night. Roughly, from about 100 AD to about 200 AD teaching on submission to leadership went through an evolutionary process.

In Paulís day, church leadership (especially among Gentile churches) consisted of a plurality of elders, not just one pre-eminent pastor in charge, as we have today. A group of elders worked together in unison to care for Godís people.

Around 100 AD plurality of leadership gave way to one man rule. Whereas, once a group of men served the church, now one man out of that group rose to be head or senior leader, and the rest of the group looked towards that one man for leadership. The idea was this. Unity would come to the church through strict loyalty and submission to the head leader, or senior pastor as we would call it today. By the way, I donít call unity based on forced loyalty real unity.

With this change in leadership style came the idea of unity at the expense of truth, although it was not so clearly stated. You submitted to the man in the office whether he was leading according to Scripture or not, hopefully creating unity. The office of the leader became more important than the duties of the leader. Even if the leader was not leading according to Scripture, you still submit because of the importance of the office. Unity became more important than the truth found in Scripture. Yet if a leader is acting inappropriately, he should be judged by the truth of Scripture, just as you or I are to be judged. No one is above Scriptural truth. Our allegiance is first to the truth of Scripture, then towards unity and leadership.

So the next step in the progression of pre-eminent rule came when this one man became Godís representative to the church. This meant that God spoke through the one leader to the people. They had no other way to hear from God. They could not hear from God on their own. You can see how the authority of this one man was strengthened.

Finally, around the end of the second century this one local leader became the representative of the individual in the church to God. No longer could the individual come before God on his own. He went to his leader which in turn went to God on his behalf. At this point the individual lost what we call the "priesthood of the believer". An individual could only approach their Lord through one man who led them. Once again, the authority of this one man grew immensely.

So by roughly 200 AD or so, individuals could no longer hear from their Lord on their own, nor approach Him on their own. One man became a mediator between God and man. I guess they forgot that this was Jesusí job. This negated all that happened on the day of Pentecost when believers were united with their Lord when they received the Holy Spirit.

You might suggest that the apostle Paul spoke and ruled with much apostolic authority. This is not so. If you study carefully Paulís second letter to the Corinthians you will understand that Paul demanded nothing from Godís people. He "appealed" to them with great love, as if he were their servant. He was not demanding, nor did he want the Corinthians to follow him based on force and manipulation. As an aside, if you want to see Paulís feelings, Paulís emotional state, study 2 Corinthians. Paul was not only a man of great joy, but was a man burdened down with sadness, even depression at times, all because he cared so much for Godís people.

So the tendency towards heavy handed authority in leadership in the church is nothing new . This all comes about because of a failure to follow Jesus in what He says about how we should lead His people. Note, leaders lead Godís people, not own people.

In one way or another we all are leaders, so we should all remember that Jesus told us to be servant leaders. We consider those we care for over our ourselves. Church leaders are care givers, not lords. Church leaders should have the same heart of compassion for Godís people as Jesus Himself has. Leaders position themselves under those they lead, love, and care for.

As the apostle Paul once said, "consider what I say and the Lord give you the understanding in all things". (2 Tim. 2:7)


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