All my Christian walk I have run into church leaders and high profile people with various titles in the body of Christ who wanted me to submit to them and their teachings and give them carte blanche authority over my life. “Submit! Submit!” they said. “You need to be under the covering of a pastor and listen to him.” At first this sounded like a reasonable request and I submitted to many different pastors who had many different views and agendas. One by one they either, were squeezed out by a political coup, were found to be in an adulterous relationship, exposed as an alcoholic, or were so incessant about fleecing the flock under them that they ignored the gospel of Christ and the welfare of their people in favor of the love of Mammon in their teachings. After a while I started understanding why Jesus said we would know what manner of tree we are under by its fruit, not by its title, position or lofty words. I have found that godly leadership who are actually led by the Spirit of God and obedient to the voice of Christ exist, but in America at least, they are hard to come by.
In the book of Judges there is a very revealing story that we can learn from today.
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. (Judges 17:6-10, ESV2011)
Does this sound familiar? It should! Every year we have thousands of young men graduating from seminary and going out to find a church that they can be pastor over, that will provide them with a living (“ten shekels and a shirt”). So, the above passage probably goes by unnoticed as many Christians read it, because this is the norm in the church today. But notice that the passage starts out with, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Answer me this: Is Jesus our King, or do we hire a man to be Lord over us who agrees with what we expect from him? If he continues to do what is right in our own eyes, we pay him to keep the status quo. If he preaches a message that steps on too many toes, down the road he goes! Do we hire a man to “do the God stuff” so we can do the world’s stuff in our daily lives and live vicariously through his spirituality on Sundays? When we shop around for a church, what do we look for? Do we look for leadership that can hear the voice of our Lord and guide us until we can hear Him and submit to Him as our King or do we look for those who tickle the ears of our flesh?
Remember Paul’s words,
Become imitators of me, according as I also am of Christ. (1Cor 11:1, CLV – emphasis added)
Paul did not say, “Submit to me and do as I say.” Or, “I am in authority here, I am the Pastor (or apostle or whatever)!” Or like one pastor said from the pulpit one Sunday, “If you can’t get behind me and my vision (agenda) for this church, then go find a pastor who’s vision you CAN get behind.” We are so used to this kind of leadership in our churches that we see it as totally acceptable, but what about Jesus? You know, that Man that died on the cross and affirmed to us that HE is building HIS Church (see Matthew 16:18)? Is He really our Lord and King? To “build the Church” it is not about buying some land and putting up a building. It is not even about gathering great numbers of people in to fill a building one day a week. No, it is about bringing people who have come out of the world by the call of the gospel and maturing them and raising them up into the fullness of Christ!
Today, church planters and church builders are a dime a dozen. But where is the pastor who will do as John did and encourage the people to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit and grow in Christ to where they no longer need human teachers (see 1 John 2:26-27)? My experience in the churches is that the leadership is more interested in their own job security than they are in seeing the saints of God to grow up so that THEY can do the works of service (ministry) in the body of Christ. Instead, men like this try and keep people in their churches as long as possible so that a “Failure to Launch” becomes the norm. True Spirit inspired leaders rejoice instead of feeling threatened when the saints grow up INTO the fullness of Christ and move on to follow their upward call wherever that might take them. Paul wrote about this kind of maturing process,
He [Jesus Christ] who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry [service], for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the [intimate] knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:10-16, ESV2011)
We hear a lot of teaching about the importance of the so-called “five-fold ministries” in verse eleven (yanked out of its context), but do we hear the rest of this passage preached? Do we see the maturing of Christians who are no longer influenced by every wind of doctrine and cunning teachers with their humanly devised church programs and schemes? To avoid these kinds of pitfalls the saints need to be able to hear the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit for themselves.
Jesus ascended into heaven that He might fill ALL things! Christ is the head of the body, the ekklesia – the Church. He did not give these five gifts of service (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) to men so that they could be the heads of His body. A body with more that one head is in constant chaos and division and this is why there are over 41,000 different denominations and Christian sects today! So, why did Jesus give these five gifts? To bring us all into maturity, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge [an intimate knowing] of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Look around your congregations. Do you see anyone who has come into an intimate knowing relationship with Jesus Christ, so much so that they measure up to the stature of His fullness? If not, why not? I can tell you why, the system today in which we “go to church” is broken! We have leaders who have not come into the fullness of Christ themselves and you cannot teach and demonstrate spiritual maturity to a congregation when you do not have it yourself. As a result we have…
The Perpetual Babyhood of the Believer
We read about this spiritual babyhood in Hebrews. The apostle was quite upset with the status quo and came to a full stop in what he was wanting to teach them saying,
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14, ESV2011)
Just like today, the Hebrews to whom this letter was written, were dull of spiritual hearing and constantly needed men to teach them the most rudimentary things over and over. They were still on the breasts (sorry, there were no bottle fed babies in those days) of men! They had not been weaned and taught to feed themselves from the bounty of the Spirit. The maturing process spoken of in Ephesians chapter four had not happened and he was exhorting these believers to grow up and “go on to maturity” (see Heb. 6:1). These believers where constantly going to their teachers and saying, “Pastor, is it right or wrong if a person does …” or “What do you think I should do, Pastor?” They were not mature enough to “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” To have this kind of discernment, your teacher must encourage you to have a hearing ear to the voice of the Holy Spirit instead of the voices of men! Of course you have to have the Holy Spirit abiding IN you, first and this is not true of many who call themselves, “Christian.”
In Christ Is ALL Wisdom and Knowledge
Finally, I would like to add this quote from our brother, T. Austin-Sparks,
You see, it is this other thing all the time that is robbing so many of the light that the Lord would give them. The Lord would lead them into the greater fullness of the knowledge of His Son, of the enlargement of their spiritual understanding, but they are neglecting the gift that is in them. They are neglecting the Holy Spirit as their illuminator and teacher and instructor and guide and arbiter, and they are going to this one and that one, to this authority and that, and saying, What do you think about it? If you think it is wrong, then I will not touch it! It is fatal to spiritual knowledge to do that. That is going on to natural ground.
Now the Lord wants us off that ground. This matter of occupying resurrection ground, of living a life in the Spirit, is all-important in coming to the full knowledge of God’s Son. How much more we could say about that! Let us be careful as to who our authorities are. So many dear children of God, individually and collectively, have come into dire and grievous bondage, limitation, and confusion by all the time going back to human authorities, to this great leader and that, to this man who was greatly used of God, this man who had a great deal of spiritual light.
”The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word” than even this or that servant of His possessed. Do you see what I mean? We get all the benefit of the light given to godly people and seek to profit by true light, but we will never come into bondage and say, “That is the end of that matter!” That must never be. We must maintain our resurrection ground. And who can exhaust that? In other words, who can exhaust the meaning of Christ risen? He is a boundless store, the land of far distances. No man yet has ever done more than begun to know the meaning of Christ risen. If there has been one man who has that meaning more than another, I suppose it was Paul. But to the last from his prison he still cries, ”That I may know Him!” “I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things and do count them but refuse” (Phil. 3:8). Right at the end of a life like his, he is still saying, “That I may know Him!” (1)
Father, please let this message go into the hearts of those who belong to Jesus that they might hear HIS voice and keep pressing into your kingdom as they follow Him. Amen.
…These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. (Rev 14:4, KJ2000- emphasis added)
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what, the Spirit, IS SAYING unto the assemblies.”~ Jesus Christ