Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. - Irenaeus

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leadership & Authority

 by Dale Brown

Church people are often upset when they see the sins of fellow believers plastered across the headlines of the daily news. In light of the pain caused by unrighteous church leaders, spelled out so vividly, we might be reminded of the cautious lessons spelled out in scripture.

When David, King of Israel, committed his great sexual sin with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah whom he had killed, God speaking through Nathan the prophet proclaimed a great judgment against David that would be spelled out for all the world to see. "Indeed you did it in secret, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun." And though David was quick to repent, it did not completely stop the wheels of justice, "because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme..." God said the sword would never depart from his house and evil would rise up within his own household.

As New Testament believers, Christians sometimes get the idea that we serve a different God. Yet, the Bible clearly tells us that God does not change. It is one thing for people who are ignorant of God’s ways to sin but when those in authority sin, things must be viewed from a totally different perspective. "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). So, how sorry should we be for those who pervert God’s holiness and abuse their authority? Is there no forgiveness? After all the scripture tells us that "judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."

It is a shame when people who are immature and unschooled in the scriptures are placed in authority because it is inevitable that they will soon be faced with many stressful tests of their character. They are tested with every lust of the flesh. They will be tempted with greed, power and fame. If they fail any one of these tests they may get the wrong impression of God’s holiness if God does not bring the hammer down quickly. "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." God may very well be allowing the person’s character to be more fully revealed. "While some are storing up wrath for themselves for the day of judgment," Paul wrote to Timothy, "The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after." The point being, that all sin will be judged, some sooner than later. Some on this earthly plain, others at the white throne judgment in heaven, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." It was for this reason that Paul warned Timothy regarding the ordaining of elders, "Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others; keep your self free from sin." Very demanding guidelines are laid out in the pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus as to the qualification of elders, who must be "above reproach," yet many churches elect or hire their leaders as though it were a popularity contest or secular job, with little consideration of their moral or financial history. Not that being a good businessman is a prerequisite for ministry but if one cannot handle his own financial affairs we surely do not want him in control of the assets of the church. Their own families must hold to a high standard, able to teach and guard the congregation from sin and deception. Oftentimes the most entertaining or charismatic personality is the one chosen. Pain is often soon to follow.

It is true that God can use anyone. He spoke through a donkey in the Old Testament, but we don’t don’t ordain donkeys into the ministry.

Paul even warned of the dangers of placing women in places of leadership. Often when women end up in places of authority it is more an indictment against the men than it is of the women. If the men would take responsibility, then women would not feel the need to fill the void.

When sin is exposed here on earth there are always those who are quick to make rash statements and revile the things they do not understand. The priestly family of Korah was such a group. Not understanding authority, they stood up against Moses who had just carried out a judicial decision. Thinking Moses was too harsh, they started a rebellion that cost many of them their lives. Moses warned the crowd to separate themselves from Korah’s bunch or they would be swept away by the spill-over effect of their sin. When judgment came, God opened the earth and swallowed some of them, while others were fried by fire from heaven. Yet, many of the people continued to grumble as though it was Moses rather than God who made such a judgment.


Leaders should definitely be shown the utmost of respect but if they fail to lead a righteous and holy life we have an obligation to take a stand. "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God."Taking a stand, however, must be with cautious reverence. Using Old Testament guidelines Paul wrote, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality."
Addressing sin is not merely an issue for the clergy. Jesus gave some guidelines for confronting sin and preserving relationships. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." "And when your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."Every time we partake of the Lord’s supper we are told to examine ourselves. "For if we judged ourselves rightly we should not be judged." The principle being, "For if we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins." When it becomes apparent that some do not take this seriously, other measures must follow. When those at Corinth turned a blind eye to a sexual sin in their midst, Paul was furious. He wrote, "I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one." "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."Even with this sticky situation, Paul’s ultimate goal was to bring the person to repentance. It is not always easy to know whether someone has repented, for some people under pressure will make quick lip service yet their hearts remain the same. They may be sorry that they got caught but not sorry that they sinned. Some time is often necessary to see what kind of fruit is going to grow on the tree. All too often, naive and confused women who have been abused by their husbands, ignore the facts, forgive too quickly and find themselves in a never-ending cycle of torment. Some people stay within cult-like religious systems, which abuses its authority, thinking God is going to clean up the system without any human interaction. Though all things are possible, it is highly unlikely, given there is so much to lose by bringing the sin to the light. Usually the sin must be forced to the light through some form of confrontation. When the church does not judge itself, it most often will be judged by the world. Knowing the nature of God, king David was quick to throw himself on the mercy of God rather than that of man, yet David still suffered the consequence of his sin.
"Then David said to God, "I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man" (2 Sam. 24:14).

Approaching someone trapped in sin is like approaching a large whirlpool in a small boat. There is a great danger of getting sucked in by the strong current. Only an experienced skipper is able to overcome the confusion of the spiritual vertigo. We are warned that these men are hidden reefs in our love feasts which are there to tear large holes in our lifeboats. Christians pray desperately that God will remove them from their midst when in reality Jesus said there will be tares that will grow up among the wheat that must remain until harvest. They will look like the real thing, and say all the right words, yet are headed for the furnace. He has given us His Spirit and His Word, the tools of navigation, to make our way through the obstacles.
"Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Gal. 6:1)

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