Led by Men or Led by God ?
In his epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “...I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”(1Cor 7:25) The Greek word which is translated “judgment” is , pronounced gno-may, also defined as opinion. The New American Standard Version translates it as such; “...I have no command from the Lord, but I give an opinion...”. Notice that Paul makes a crystal clear distinction between a command from the Lord and an opinion of a man. This includes the opinion of a church leader or even an apostle, Paul being both. Paul continues in v. 26-27 stating his opinion (or advice) about remaining unmarried, and then tells them in v. 28 what will happen to those who do not accept his advice, or who refuse to submit to his opinion.
The word of God makes it clear that failure to submit to or obey church leaders in matters of opinion is not a sin. In v. 29-35, Paul gives reason for his opinion and then states,
Paul emphasized that this is a personal choice that is up to each individual to decide, a personal matter between them and God. He also reiterates that it is not a sin to go against his opinion (a church leader and apostle). Instead of demanding that they submit and obey his opinions (or advice), Paul teaches, to the contrary, that submission concerning areas of opinion is not obligatory. Paul goes on to say,
Notice the phrase, “...anyone she wishes...”. God does command that he “must belong to the Lord”, but as to which brother is her own personal decision, between her and God (and the brother, of course). The emphasis in these passages is the freedom of personal choice, and personal responsibility in matters of opinion.
In Romans 14, God gives an entire chapter of instruction on how to deal with fellow Christians regarding areas of opinion (things not addressed by the Scriptures). It begins: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” (Rom 14:1)The New American Standard Version reads, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” A basic theme of this chapter is to always walk in love and respect the other person, even if you disagree with their opinions, and not to try to force your opinions on them! In v. 14, Paul expresses his opinion about a particular issue then teaches that it would be wrong for him (a church leader and apostle) to force, bind, or impose his opinions on someone else. That could “destroy” a person, says the inspired apostle. In v. 5, Paul says,
Here the Bible teaches freedom in Christ for each person to make up their own mind, to come to their own conclusions about such issues (areas of opinion), free of peer pressure or manipulation by anyone else. The Bible emphasizes a personal relationship with God and, outside direct instruction from Scripture, to be true to your own convictions, doing what you believe God wants you to do. (Rom 14:5,12,16,22-23)
The New Testament leaders were servant leaders, not authoritarian.
The apostle Peter wrote,
They taught people the word of God and led people to have personal, one to one relationships with Him. They stressed the importance of making Jesus the ruler/leader/guide and LORD of their lives. Everything they did in teaching the Word of God or sharing godly counsel, wisdom and advice was as servants. And it was always directed to help the person to seek Jesus and do His will in each and every circumstance (for He is Lord). They taught people to depend on Jesus Christ, not to develop a dependency on human leaders! Scripture clearly teaches,
God uses men to help teach us His Word, to help us understand His will, to encourage and correct us, and to give godly wisdom and advice (as servants) to help lead us to Him. But if God tells us one thing and men advise us otherwise, i.e. “you must trust that we are right and you are wrong” or “you need to submit and obey”, then we must follow what God tells us. He is Lord! And He pronounces a curse on those who trust men instead of Him!
New Testament church leaders did not consider disagreement with their opinions, advice, expectations, or preferences as equivalent to disobeying commands from God, or a sign of being “prideful”, “rebellious”, or “divisive”.(1Cor 7:23,25,28,36-38; Rom 14) Paul writes,
Apollos was thoroughly unsubmissive to Paul’s advice, yet there is no indication here, or anywhere in Scripture, that this constituted “SIN”, or that Paul felt the necessity of “shunning” him or having an Apollos “breaking session”! Throughout the New Testament, Paul has nothing but praise and support for Apollos. The Spirit and teaching of the Bible is that church leaders are to teach disciples to submit to and obey commands from the Lord. But in areas of opinion, disciples are free in Christ to seek their own personal relationship with the Lord, to follow His voice, and to follow the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Disciples should then be free in Christ to make their own personal decisions.
Additional Scriptures: Jn 12:42-43; Acts 8:29, 10:19, 16:6-10, 24:16; Rom 8:4; 2Cor 3:6, 17; Gal 5 16, 25; Col 2:8; Phil 3:3; 1Tim 1:19; 2Tim 3:5; Heb 3:15; Zec 4:6; Isa 30:21, 58:11; Ps 23:1-3; 1Cor 2:2-5
Many people have sought to use Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority...”) to impose their own will and personal preferences on others, to control and dominate them. The idea is that this verse of Scripture gives a blanket of authority to church leaders over all areas in a person’s life, due to an authoritative position. But we have already presented many Scriptures that absolutely refute such thinking! God cannot contradict Himself. A closer examination of Hebrews 13:17 in the original Greek text from which it was translated reveals that there is no word for “authority” contained within the verse. The word “authority” is not found in this verse in the King James, New King James, Revised Standard, American Standard, and New American Standard versions or New English Bible, as it does not exist in the original Greek text. The word, “authority” was inserted by the translators of the NIV.
This is very significant for those in church leadership who try to pressure and intimidate disciples into submitting to their opinions and preferences, claiming “you must obey and submit to my authority”. As has already been seen, however, from the many Scriptures presented, it is the commands of the Lord, the Word of God, that is binding on disciples and must be submitted to. That is where the true “authority” lies. One of the most basic principles of Biblical exegesis is that of always reading the context. Just a few verses earlier we find the parallel Scripture: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you...” (Heb 13:7) When we put these two Scriptures together we can see that God is telling us to ‘obey your leaders, submitting to the Word of God they spoke to you.’ This is especially clear when viewed in context of the entire New Testament which continually forbids authoritarian leadership (1Pt 5:3, Mt 20:25-28), and teaches that opinions of leaders are not the same as commands from God. A godly leader will not seek to dominate, manipulate or control disciples by binding them with man made rules or to impose his will in matters of opinion, but will rather lead the disciples to Jesus.
The practices of many leaders in the International Churches of Christ (Boston Movement) * are just the opposite. They have sought to impose their own will, opinions, and preferences upon disciples, demanding submission in such areas as where to live, where to work, what zone to attend, what contacts one may have in or out of the church, dating, marital relations, fasting (when and for how long), contributions in excess of financial ability and beyond tithing, quotas on witnessing, etc., etc., lest they be in danger of being cast out of the “Kingdom of God” by leadership. As long as a person is not violating Scripture, these are all areas that are totally out of the jurisdiction of church leaders to demand submission or obedience.
Of the multitudes of people who have left the Boston Movement in recent years, a large percentage was due to the abuse of spiritual authority to which they were either subjected to or (in the case of former leaders) unable to maintain. Disciples have been pressured, coerced and manipulated to go against their consciences, and bound by man-made rules. (Mk 7:7-13) Many were denied the opportunity to question leadership on numerous matters, and to discuss teachings with them. Others have been intimidated into submission in areas of personal opinion and personal choice by accusations of pride, rebellion, and failure to seek “the Kingdom”, inferring that they were in sin and in danger of being cut off from God and “going to hell” if they failed to comply with expectations and desires of leadership. These are not just rare and isolated occurrences, but a poison that has permeated the entire movement. (Gal 5:9) Such practices of the Boston Movement are unjust, unfair and abusive of true Biblical authority. (Ezek 34) It is totally contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and the examples set by New Testament leaders.
In fact, in an article entitled: Revolution through Restoration, (Upside Down Magazine, March 1992), Kip McKean admitted that his teachings on Biblical authority had been incorrect, stating,
Question: Why were people following the thoughts of Kip Mckean instead of what the Bible clearly teaches? In the same issue of Upside Down, Al Baird also addressed this problem of authority, stating,
These statements were made in March 1992. Now, over four years later, why have such practices not ceased? The teaching and example of New Testament leaders was,
But the Boston Movement has exploited many people in many ways, financially being one of them. Disciples who were already tithing and living sacrificially have been pressured and manipulated to give beyond the tithe, and many beyond their means. Some have been coaxed into selling personal belongings, taking out loans on credit cards, or being financially irresponsible by dodging legitimate debts and bills so that they could meet the demands of the so-called “special contribution”. Concerning contributions Paul taught,
To impose or assign a specific amount for all to give and then to pressure or manipulate disciples to give said amount is unscriptural.
Any reproach by leaders against disciples who do not give, or are unable to give, the amount of 16 times their normal tithe for this “special contribution”, and any manipulation, be it pressure or guilt, put on disciples to do so is unscriptural, unjust and abusive. If someone has the means and wants to give said amount, fine. But disciples should not be pressured to do so, particularly if they don’t have the means.
Dear brothers and sisters of the Boston Movement, we are not slandering, persecuting or trying to destroy your Church. There are many good things about the Boston Movement. But the abuse of authority is a bitter root that has caused much bad fruit to spring forth. If you are unaware that such abuses of authority have gone on in your Church, we can give you many specific examples. Brothers and sisters, if you truly desire to restore New Testament Christianity, have the courage to bring these issues to the leadership and, in love, urge them to repent of these injustices. Seek not the praises or approval of men. As Jesus said, “...if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” (Jn 8:31)
The International Churches of Christ (Boston Movement), is a splinter group which came out of the mainline Churches of Christ in 1979 under the leadership of Kip Mckean. It is no longer associated in any way with the mainline Churches.
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