Submission to Authority

The drama continues to unfold at our former church. I wrote earlier about a family who was asked to leave last summer and another post about some of the dynamics that have led up to this point. Recently, another family was asked to leave the church. Actually, only the husband was asked to leave, the wife and kids were welcome to stay. Yeah right!

This man’s offense also was disagreeing with the teaching and the leadership. Because he has a reputation for being humble and spiritually solid, there have been many repercussions from his dismissal.

What I am seeing are people struggling with feelings of confusion because as they discern the false teaching and leadership, it is being labeled as rebellion. It is so sad because these are people who love the Lord and want to walk uprightly. They still believe they should submit to authority. Yet they are being caused to doubt their obedience, because they have questions.

Submission has become the litmus test for judging the condition of the members’ hearts. Those who leave are accused of not being willing to submit to authority. This is painful, because among their peers, they then carry the stigma of being in sin and error, even though they’ve done nothing wrong.

“Are you submitted to the leadership?” asked pointedly, in a superior tone, with a sober expression and head cocked to the side, waiting to determine the outcome of your spiritual destiny. Hmmm.

It seems to me that this is the wrong question. But why? And what should they be asking instead?

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20 thoughts on “Submission to Authority

  1. Maybe:

    “Are you submitted to Jesus?”

    Just a thought. ;)

    Here’s the rub for me. In our ex-church we weren’t asked if we were “submitted to leadership”. We were asked if we were “submitted to the Lord”, but then if we heard or learned or spoke or thought anything that was contrary to leadership’s “vision”, then it wasn’t “of the Lord”.

    Go figure.

    I’m sad to hear of the people around you who are being hurt by this subject, but hopefully enlightenment will come because of it.

  2. Alternative:

    “Are you obeying man rather than God?”

    “Are your leaders asking you to obey them rather than God?”

    And depending on the answer to these two questions, a third arises:

    “Then why the Hairy Reimer are you still at that church?”

    A little simplistic, I know, but I couldn’t resist. And sometimes simple is wisdom.

  3. I am guessing that this church considers itself “independent,” unlike a huge denominational church or a Catholic parish with a massive hierarchical beast above it.

    Churches such as this claim to be independent because supposedly they don’t answer to the mothership, but God.

    But only the people in leadership get to enjoy “independence,” while there is very little of it bestowed upon those “beneath” them.

    Truly sad.

  4. Grace,

    When I was in Bible school, I remember one instructor talking about how each local body only has one head. “Anything with two heads is a freak!” the line went. Of course, he was referring to the idea that a pastor is to be the “head” of a local church. My answer to this now would be, “You’re right, anything with two heads is a freak. Jesus is the Head, so why should we exalt a pastor to such? Doesn’t this make the Body of Christ freakish?” The whole idea of “covering” or “submission” to authority is not only unbiblical, it is wrong, and I believe, something that Jesus hates.

    It’s totally possible that “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” which Jesus referred to as something He “hated”, is nothing more than the existence of a caste system known as the “clergy” and the “laity”. The Greek word translated as “Nicolaitan” actually comes from two other Greek words; Nikos meaning “to conquer” and Laos meaning “the people”. Laos is where we get our English word “laity”. Hmmmmmmm.
    The New Covenant teaches us that we are all to be a “kingdom of priests”. Why do we ever exalt any believer over another?

  5. If I’m not mistaken, the concept of “submission” with regard to believers is never a one-way street. We are submit to one another. Mutually.

    And not only does Scripture not support the idea of a leader demanding submission, but Scripture (and Jesus Himself) actually speaks clearly against this concept! Amazing how we overlook that kind of stuff when convenient.

    Additionally, I’ve pointed this out on my own blog before, but my understanding of the Greek in Heb. 13:17 (I believe that’s the reference off the top of my head) about “Submit to those who rule over you” is that this is a very, very poor (and unfortunate) translation. The actual statement being translated there carries the idea of “Allow yourself to be persuaded by…” which is a completely different ballgame.

    I remember a very sad evening in a former church situation where someone wanted to ask me a bunch of questions as to why I wasn’t “submitted” to the “leadership” at that church. I spent three hours outlining my position for them and answering their questions. At the end of the three hours, this guy looked at me and said, “I’m just curious. Do you think there will ever be a pastor you can submit to?” (insert stunned look here) I said, “If that’s the question you have for me, you have not understood a single word I have said tonight”, and with that, I politely excused myself and went home.

    We are to think of others more highly than ourselves, but that goes for people in so-called positions of leadership, too! Unfortunately, too many, like those you are describing here, view themselves more highly than others in direct disobedience to the commands of Jesus.

    steve :)

  6. Grace-
    Reading your post made me think about my church experience and know I have more healing to do. I wanted to jump into the computer and just really take care of the leadership. I know this is wrong, but I am looking toward Christ and ask for forgiveness. I hope someone can help them with healing. I think more needs to be talked about submission and what is the true term of submission to both Christ and man. I know I was taught to totally submit to the pastor and never question as “You don’t want to touch God’s anointed” What you end up with is a bunch of people who are very confused and hurt. Thanks Grace for the post

  7. What a mess. It’s the wrong question because it’s a total reversal of everything that the New Testament speaks of when it talks of authority, power, and leadership. It’s the wrong question because it assumes that “power-over” is an appropriate way for a Christian to relate to others. It’s the wrong question because it’s a denial of the rather specific statements that Christ made about the nature of greatness in the Kingdom. It’s the wrong question because it doesn’t take seriously the New Testament ethic that finds its center in the self-giving love of Christ on the cross.

    Ok, I feel better now. ;)

    A better question? I don’t think there is one that doesn’t start by scrapping the premises for asking the question in the first place. I’d want to know in what ways the leadership is serving the community and the world, and how they are empowering the rest of the body to do the same.

  8. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” comes from 1 Chronicles and is reiterated in Psalms.

    The “Lord’s anointed” in these two Scirpture passages are NOT the leasders — this Scriptural warning was given to OT kings who wanted to do harm to God’s chosen people.

    If we were to extract any principle from this OT passage to apply to our current situation, it could only be as a warning to pastors/leaders to not abuse their congregations, for it would be the congregations who qualify as “the Lord’s anointed”.

    Sorry. Feel a little passionate about this one… (breathing into paper bag to calm down now)

  9. It is the wrong question unless you are in a catholic church and the one asking is the pope – the vicar of Christ. Hey, we are protestant because we didn´t believe in that!!! The right question for the leadership to ask would be “What can we learn? Is the Lord speaking to us in this? Can the love of Christ between us allow for difference in views? How do we make it obvious to our church that we discourage uniformity and celebrate unity in diversity as the best expression of our triune God?

  10. I like to relate submission with Love. Ephesians 5:21-30. And also make the relation wife/husband, Christ/Church, and why not pastors/others. I don’t know what should be the question, but,
    I like they say… _”if you are seeing /feeling/ or notice that the leaders are loving you in the way that Ephesians say… I like you believe me and submitte to me, BUT if you don’t feel or see it, don’t do it”.

  11. “Are you submitted to the leadership?”

    It seems to me that this is the wrong question. But why? And what should they be asking instead?

    It’s the wrong question because it infers disrespect and mutiny to the one being questioned.

    What they should be asking… maybe it’s WHO they should be doing the asking to… if I had people bringing serious grievances to my attention I’d be on my face asking God, What’s up with this? Am I out of line? When leaders become beyond the reach of correction trouble is on the way.

  12. Grace,
    I always think of Paul the Apostle writing to the Thessalonians. He wrote that as an apostle he could have pull the authority card out of the pack and demanded obedience. But itstead of trumping them, he nurtured them like a mother nursing a baby and like a father directing his children. So rather than using a position of “authority,” Paul used the relationships of intimate love within a family. I think the legitimate question is to the leadership: In what ways are you listening to, nurturing and understanding and serving these questioning people FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED?

  13. I went through a traumatic escaping-a-bad-church experience about twenty years ago similar to what’s been described on this blog. (I’ve read the series of posts.) I’ve been through two other similar experiences that were shorter and less difficult.

    With respect, however, I don’t see that asking if you’re in submission to the leadership should be such a menacing question. It seems that the context is the real problem. When a church is going through difficulties or transition, the worst insecurities of the leadership come to the surface. They are human, after all, just like you.

    If the question becomes just a veiled form of intimidation, however, I have a real problem with that, and it’s probably a sign of a foundational problem (legalism, pharisaism, etc.). In that case, it’s no wonder that people have questions about the teaching and the way the church operates, and they shouldn’t be prohibited from asking them. It’s healthy.

    I’ve read the testimonies of missionaries who’ve come back to America and noted how touchy American Christians are about submission to authority. They question nearly everything. One of the problems is that once we get burned, it colors our reading of the relevant biblical texts for a long time. It’s weighting the Scripture down with our own experience, and that usually causes the pendulum to swing too far to the other side.

  14. A mutual pal recommended that I contact you. I am presently researching the topic of those being bruised in churches and how they might be helped. I would appreciate having your email address so that we could talk further. What are the chances of making contact?? Thanks.
    theobarb

  15. Thanks everyone! Your comments are some of the best nuggets of wisdom about submission and authority that I have seen. I hope to do a future post about this topic quoting some of the things that you’ve shared here.

    Lily,
    It’s kind of scary when leaders confuse obedience to them with obedience to the Lord and are convinced believe that their will is always the same as His.

    robby,
    Very true, however I’ve observed that after a time under heavy teaching regarding submission, people become afraid to think for themselves.

    david c,
    Yes, that is true, they don’t allow the members the same freedom to hear from God directly.

    raborn,
    I remember the first time I read about the doctrine of the Nicolaitans how eye-opening it was. Understanding the problems with a clergy/laity mentality has been a huge change in my beliefs.

    steve,
    I agree that submission should always be mutual. It seems that so many of the authority scriptures have been twisted out of context in order to support hierarchial structures.

    pj,
    Sorry to trigger you. :)
    You know, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being angered by false teaching. For me part of the healing process was to be able to step back and see that the things they taught me were wrong.

    scottb,
    It is a mess, but not a surprise given their teaching concerning authority. This is one of the reasons I am so interested in understanding power and leadership in the context of the kingdom rather than church tradition.

    robby,
    Deep breath! :)

    A few years before we left that church we were given a book called “The Armor Bearer.” It was most damaging because it caused us to submit under the abuse and attempt to conform ourselves to it, trying to be good followers.

    “touch not God’s anointed” was a big part of the concept of the book about “submitting yourself under a Saul.”

    That and Watchman Nee’s book “Spiritual Authority” ended up in the round file.

    pastor astor,
    I always appreciate your comments. Your questions were exactly the words and ideas I was looking for. In an atmosphere of true community, those are the questions we would be asking.

    hugo,
    Excellent point! Submission should always be an outflow of love, in every relationship. It’s great seeing you, btw. I hope you’re doing well.

    Pam,
    Thank you for answering the why question. It does infer guilt, just in the asking of the question. Yes, the lack of soul-searching is scary.

    john,
    Sadly, this pastor has said that he believes that Paul, a true apostle, would never put up with people disagreeing with him. Not sure where he gets that idea!

    anonymous,
    I’m not sure if it is this particular post that you feel is bitter or others.

    The reality is that I feel no personal bitterness or satisfaction from this situation. A church family is being destroyed by false leadership and false teaching.

    I’ve had over 2 years to heal and recover from our incident of spiritual abuse. Now I am surrounded by friends who are just beginning the grieving process of losing their church home.

    I pray constantly that God would be merciful to those involved in leading this body falsely, but also that the lies and false teaching would be exposed.

    I have “let go” in that I trust God will deal with this whole situation in the best way possible. I have not walked away however from the people who now find themselves in the midst of this mess.

    dave,
    I do try to examine my heart for individualism and independence (as much as one is able to know their own heart). It is my nature to be an obedient follower, however in order for me to submit myself to someone, I must respect and trust them.

    Within the church, I’ve come to view submission as mutual, along the lines of what steve mentioned above. Therefore required submission to a centralized church government isn’t something I would likely agree with.

    I try to stay open to what the Lord is teaching me in this area.

    theobarb,
    My email is katiejen2@yahoo.com.

  16. I have now actually witnessed my first church transformation- I wrote about it recently in an ‘Update’ post. Amazing things are happening at the Carollton, GA church. Now I know it’s possible. People aren’t perfect and there are always going to be mistakes made, but when they are quick to apologize & quick to forgive and move on, a family atmosphere is created in which it is safe to be real.

    Love your blog. I don’t always post, but I do read. Enjoy hearing about your journey. :o)

  17. A few years before we left that church we were given a book called “The Armor Bearer.” It was most damaging because it caused us to submit under the abuse and attempt to conform ourselves to it, trying to be good followers.

    “touch not God’s anointed” was a big part of the concept of the book about “submitting yourself under a Saul.”

    That and Watchman Nee’s book “Spiritual Authority” ended up in the round file.

    not sure what’s meant about round file … but I would like to know if there is A HEALTHY book out there on submitting to authority.

    Please!!!!!!

  18. Jesus came as a servant. Jesus The Good Shepperd laid His life down for the Bretheren. A Pastor is a servant. It’s about love. If you love me I will submit to that love. I will follow you as you follow Christ. The Post-Pastoral Era is here.

  19. you should read “The Tsunami that Hit the Church” it deals with the above subject to set people free from that pastoral demanded absolute blind loyalty to an unfettered authority.

    write P.O. Box 901458
    Palmdale, ca. 93550 and ask for the book.

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