Authoritarian Church Leadership and the Individual Freedom of Church Members







This discussion paper looks at the nature of authority within the local church.  It attempts to answer two key questions: What kind of authority is biblically acceptable and unacceptable in the church?  To what extent should the leadership of a church control or limit the freedom of its members? 

It is my prayer that this paper may encourage believers everywhere to hold to a God-given faith and not to a man-made religion.


Church capitalized refers to (1) all believers of all ages whether on earth or in heaven, and (2) the whole company of the redeemed on earth at the present time.  The word in lower case means a particular local church or any group of believers who meet in any place for worship and fellowship.


1         Preface

This discussion paper was prepared in response to a request from Cultwatch who expressed concern at the authoritarian and legalistic leadership of some evangelical/ charismatic/ Pentecostal churches. This paper assumes that each individual believer has the right of private judgement by the Word of God, as to what of church practice and belief and teaching is God’s truth, and what is not. It also questions the practice of denying the individual believer freedom of choice in the matters of conscience that Paul discusses in Romans chapter 14.

It is understood that the reader accepts the final and supreme authority of Scripture in spiritual matters, rather than that of church tradition, or a particular church leader’s interpretation of Scripture.  All Christians should measure what they are taught against the infallible Word of God which is  “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).  Only healthy doctrine can lead to healthy living.

Discernment may be simply defined as the ability to biblically decide between right and wrong, between truth and error, between good and evil.  The New Testament teaches in 1 Corinthians 14:29, Philippians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, and in 1 John 4:1, that it is the responsibility of every Christian to exercise discernment.  Failure to discern between error and truth leaves the Christian immature, and vulnerable to false teaching and deception. 

The author is a retired secondary school teacher who has no formal theological training.  I do not pretend to be infallible and I welcome criticisms, corrections and additions to this paper. i prefer the hard question to the easy answer.  The bibliography at the end of the paper reflects not only my research but also my indebtedness to others. The paper tries to combine an academic research of the Scriptures with some pastoral and practical insights.  Its author writes from the point of view of one who has spent too many years experiencing first hand many of the abusive spiritual practices which he discusses.  Many of my lifelong friends, during our journey of faith together, have requested this paper.   It is my hope and prayer that many Christians will find this paper useful, especially those believers who can identify with what is discussed.  May you have the courage and honesty to discuss your situation with a trustworthy counsellor and, if necessary, change your church-home.  However, not every reader is expected to agree with the conclusions reached and some church leaders may well feel threatened by them.  It was interesting and profitable for me to write this paper and I pray that others may also find it useful.  This document is available from the Cultwatch website

While the English-speaking world is blessed with many good translations of the New Testament, no single translation can bring out the different nuances of the Greek.  Therefore this paper uses word studies to adequately understand the Word of God, as well as using a variety of translations.  Scripture passages are taken from the NIV of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.

Jim Peacock MA (Hons), Diploma of Teaching.


2         Contents

1      Preface
2      Contents 
3      Overview
4      Introduction: Some Disturbing Trends In New Zealand Churches
5      God Has Absolute Authority: All Other Authority Is Delegated Authority
6      The Church Is A Charismatic Community Of God’s People 

6.1        What Is The Church? 
6.2        “Ekklesia” And “Koinonia”
6.3        The Called Out And Called Together People Of God.
6.4        The Church Is A Living Organism Rather Than An Organization
6.5        The Relationship Between The Churches
7       Spiritual Oversight In The Local Church 
7.1        The Lord Jesus Left No Detailed System Of Government 
7.2        The Office Of Deacon
7.3        The Office Of Elder
7.4        The Office Of Pastor Does Not Appear To Exist In The New Testament
7.5        Leaders Are Spiritual Shepherds
7.6        Qualifications For Leadership
7.7        A Plurality Of Elders Was The New Testament Norm
7.8        The New Testament Ideal Is Ministry By Community To Achieve A Corporate Maturity
7.9        Diotrephes The Dictator: An Example To Avoid 

8       Human Leadership In The Church Should Follow The Example Of Jesus Christ 
8.1        Leadership Is Serving Others Rather Than Ruling Them (Matthew 20:25-28) 
8.2        Jesus Taught That Greatness Is A Matter Of A Humble Heart Attitude (Luke: 22:24-27)
8.3        The Spiritual Pride Of The Pharisees Condemned (Matthew 23:8-12)
8.4        An Unforgettable Lesson In Humble Service John (13:12-17)
8.5        Conclusion: Leadership Begins With Humility And Serves Others.
9      Human Leadership Should Follow The Example Of The Apostles Peter And Paul 
9.1        Paul Did Not Tyrannize The Faith Of Those He Shepherded (2 Corinthians 1:24) 
9.2        Christians Should Not Accept Any Kind Of Spiritual Abuse (2 Corinthians 11:19-20)
9.3        Leaders Should Practice Tender Care And Irreproachable Behaviour (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12)
9.4        Leaders Are Not To Act As “Lords”, But As Shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4)
9.5        Conclusion: Christian Leaders Are To Live Out The Gospel 

10     Passages That Are Sometimes Used To Promote Authoritarian Leadership 
10.1        Leadership Must Be Devoted And Enthusiastic  (Romans 12:8) 
10.2        The Christian Duty Of Submission To Government (Romans 13:1-2)
10.3        Christians Should Appreciate Their Spiritual Leaders But Not Idolize Them (1 Thess 5:12-13)
10.4         A Christian’s Responsibilities Towards Spiritual Leaders (Hebrews 13:7-8, 17 And 24)
10.5        Conclusion: The Believer Has A Primary Loyalty To God And God’s Word. 

11      Balance Freedom With Responsibility (Romans 14) 
11.1        The Danger Of Legalism 
11.2        Matters Of Conscience
11.3        Principles To Help Balance Freedom And Responsibility To Others 

12       A Prayer For Spiritual Leaders 
13       Bibliography
14       Appendices. 

14.1         Appendix A: Fight Or Flight? When Should A Person Leave A Church? 
14.2         Appendix B: How May I Choose A Safe Church Home?


3         Overview

  • Absolute authority belongs to God alone and all other authority is derived and therefore subordinate. 
  • Although Christians have responsibilities to others, it is to God alone that they are primarily accountable and responsible,  not to their family, friends, community, church, or society.
  • The New Testament says little about church leaders insisting and demanding obedience from their fellow-believers.
  • Christ Himself has provided the example of a unique style of leadership, that of servant-leadership.  According to Luke 22:26 etc. the leader is to be “one who serves”which is a necessary check on all church leaders.  Jesus taught that true greatness is not ruling over others but in humbly serving them.  Jesus himself set the highest standard of service by his death for others.  Church leaders are not to be dictatorial rulers over a church.  They are to feed, lead (but not lord it over), and be an example to their people. They should not seek position as a means to personal gain.  Above all else, a leader should be “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3).
  • Church leaders need spiritual integrity if they are to enjoy spiritual credibility.  Only those persons with the highest standards should be chosen.  Their credentials must include total integrity of character and the proven ability to function capably.  Spiritually healthy leaders grow spiritually healthy churches and the reverse is also true.
  • There will always remain a tension between the encouragement to follow spiritual leaders and the individual liberty that Christians must retain in Christ.  A Christian should not allow liberty to become licence or irresponsibility, but do all out of love for others.
  • There are definite limits to the authority of church leaders.  For example, a leader does not have the right to tell people how to live their personal lives.  Christians should not accept domination, exploitation, manipulation or any kind of spiritual abuse.  In morally indifferent matters, where there is no clear statement in Scripture, each individual must be free to live according to his own conscience.  However, individual freedom should be regulated by love.
  • The Church exists in union with God through Jesus Christ.  It consists of believers-in- community as Christ’s living body whose primary loyalty is to God through Jesus Christ, not to the leaders themselves.  It is a living organism rather than an organization. 
  • The ideal is ministry by community to achieve corporate maturity.  Ministry belongs to the whole church.  Although there was an organized leadership of elders (bishops) and deacons in the NT churches, there does not seem to be any gap between the “clergy” and the “laity”.  Rather all those with spiritual gifts, including the gift of leadership, are called to equip all believers for mature discipleship and service.
  • The five key ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher, collectively provide a healthy spiritual diet for any church, provided that they are held in balance (Ephesians 4:11).
  • Any form of church government that gives pre-eminence to one person or persons, rather than to the Lord Jesus Christ is unscriptural.

4         Introduction: Some Disturbing Trends In New Zealand Churches

To members of some churches the focusing question, “To what extent should the leadership of a church control or limit the freedom of its members?” may seem unimportant, irrelevant, and even puzzling.  For these Christians, the question is simply a non-issue given their complete freedom in Christ to live the Christian life as they themselves see best, without any undue pressure to conform from their church leadership.  These believers are more blessed than they realize.

However, for many members of evangelical/Pentecostal/charismatic churches, especially those churches that steadfastly remain independent of any external system of accountability, the above question is pertinent to their daily experience of the Christian life.  These members of the body of Christ frequently suffer from authoritarian and dogmatic leaders who use various mind control techniques, and misinterpretations of the Bible, to gain a submissive and passive congregation.  False shepherds have made a mess of the lives of many believers and their relationships.  To these Christians, the above focusing question assumes vital significance and importance.

Regrettably, there has been the spectacular moral failure of prominent Christian leaders who have left behind bewildered and upset congregations.  The combined result of spiritually abusive authoritarian leadership and the moral lapse of a few high profile church leaders, is the phenomenon of hundreds, if not thousands, of hurt believers in New Zealand who do not attend church regularly, if at all.  These wounded believers have suffered much disappointment through misplaced trust in church leaders who have failed to meet Scriptural standards of behaviour.  These disillusioned saints claim to have given up on the institutional church, but not to have given up their personal faith in God through Christ.  Others have become impatient with the church as an institution and desire to experience the church as a true community of faith.

In addition, there is the phenomenon of many such hurting believers who transfer their allegiance from one church to another (like swinging voters in a general election) in a hopeful effort to find a safe church home free from spiritual abuse where the leadership has integrity and a Christ-like character.  It is likely that all these unfortunate trends have their parallels in other churches in other countries.


5         God Has Absolute Authority: All Other Authority Is Delegated Authority

The Bible teaches that the only source of authority in the universe belongs to the Creator.  He has ultimate freedom of action; his authority comes from himself alone.  Absolute authority belongs to God alone and all other authority is derived and therefore subordinate.  In Romans Paul explains that there is no authority except from God “there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God” (13:1). God established and upholds the principle of government even though some governments and churches do not fulfil his desires.  Jesus taught that only God need be feared since he alone has the authority to cast into hell (Luke 12:5).  God revealed his authority and power in the person of Jesus.

Human beings only have authority as God gives it to them and they must answer to him for the way in which they use it.   This is true of the Church as well as of civil government.  Examples of delegated authority include parents and their children, masters and their servants, priests serving in the temple, and Christian leaders, as Christ’s servants, with the members of a church.

Usually the word “authority” in the NIV and NASB is a translation of the Greek word“exousia”, Strong’s #1849, which means the “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases; leave or permission”.[1]  It comes from the verb “exesti”, meaning “it is permitted, it is lawful, it is allowed.”  Arndt and Gingrich define “exousia”, as “freedom of choice, right to act or decide”.[2]  It signifies liberty or freedom to act or the power to decide.  The main idea in the word is an unrestricted freedom of choice.  Later it came to be used for “right” or “authority”.  When used of secular authorities, “exousia” usually means the “power to give orders.”

Jesus delegated authority to his disciples (Mark 3:15; 6:7; Luke 9:1; 10:19) but this was authority over demons and disease.  Luke records, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.”(9:1).  No passage suggests freedom to exercise control over other human beings. Rather the freedom of choice of those the disciples were sent to was protected.  Jesus said, “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:11)  Again, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.” (Luke 10:8)

An important incident recorded in three gospels (Matthew 20, Mark 10 and Luke 22) gave Jesus an opportunity to instruct his disciples on servant leadership within the Church.  These passages and others suggest that the authority of Christian leaders does not include the right to control the actions and choices of their fellow believers.  Whatever authority a leader has, he or she has it by the call of God and by the grace of God.  That authority is not to be used to domineer but to serve and to build.  (See the section 8 Human Leadership In The Church Should Follow The Example Of Jesus Christ )

Although Jesus delegated “exousia” or authority to his disciples, their freedom of action did not mean the right to coerce or manipulate people.  Jesus was careful never to act this way himself.  He did not pressurize; rather he invited his hearers to believe and obey.  For example, in the parable of the lost sons in Luke 15, the loving father, who represents God, did not try to dissuade his prodigal son from leaving home.  Also Jesus simply said to the rich young ruler, “Come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21); he did not try to pressurize him into becoming a disciple.


6         The Church Is A Charismatic Community Of God’s People

6.1           What Is The Church?

The English word “church” comes from the Greek adjective “kyrikon” which means “belonging to the Lord.”  The noun form of this word means “the Lord’s house” and refers to a place of Christian worship.

Some denominations and some sects claim to trace their history back to the NT Church.  Other denominations have claimed that the original church disappeared through compromise or corruption and that their particular group is a restoration of the only true church.  Some make a distinction between the “visible Church” which includes all who profess faith in Christ, whether genuine or not, and the “invisible Church”, made up of true believers, who are justified by faith in Christ, regardless of denominational affiliation.

The Bible describes the Church in a variety of ways as: the body of Christ, the bride of Christ; the shepherd and the sheep; the cornerstone or Foundation and the stones of a holy temple; the High Priest and the kingdom of priests; the vine and the branches, and the living temple of the Holy Spirit.  These are metaphors and not definitions.  These images suggest a living relationship of love and unity between Jesus and his followers.

6.2           “Ekklesia” And “Koinonia”

These two important Greek words in the NT describe the essential nature of the Church.

In the NT, “church” translates the Greek word “ekklesia”, Strong’s #1577, “from ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling” (kaleo, “to call”)[3]; it was used by the Greeks of a “gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly.”[4]  In classical Greek the term was used mainly for political gatherings.  The NT records three occasions of this secular usage of this term in the book of Acts (19:32, 39, 41).  It literally means “called out”.  It occurs over 100 times in the NT.  The term appears in only two verses in the gospels (Matthew 16:8; 18:17).  However, Luke uses the term over 20 times in the book of Acts, so by then it must have been more common.  It is never used in the NT for a building but only for an assembly of people, usually a local group of believers.  The word is a statement of corporate identity

NT lexicons distinguish between:

(1) The whole body of believers, or universal Church, as in 1 Corinthians, “And in the church God has appointed.” (12:28)

(2) A specific local church as in 1 Corinthians, “To the church of God in Corinth” (1:2)

(3) A group of believers in a particular place for fellowship as in 1 Corinthians, “When you come together as a church” (11:18) often as a house-church as the NT Church had no buildings (Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15).

“In essence the Church, the “ekklesia”, is a body of people, not so much assembling because they have chosen to come together, but assembling because God has called them to Himself; not so much assembling to share their own thoughts and opinions, but assembling to listen to the voice of God.”[5]

The Greek word “koinonia”, Strong’s #2842, comes from the word “koinos”, or “common”.  It is not easily put into English.  It has been translated “fellowship,” “communion,” “participation,” “share a common life,” and “partnership”; its root meaning is “common” or “shared” as opposed to “one’s own.”  Greek literature uses it to describe partners in business, joint owners of a piece of property, or shareholders in a common enterprise.[6]  It is used 20 times in the NT to describe the Church.  It means “an association, communion, fellowship, close relationship (hence a favourite expression for the marital relationship as the most intimate between human beings.”[7]  Thayer explains it as “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, share which one has in anything, intimacy.”[8]

This word has the idea of a close community or partnership and interdependence where people share things in common.  It was a favourite word with the apostle Paul who used it 14 times out of the 20 times it occurs in the NT.  It occurs in I John for the living bond that unites believers in a family fellowship (1:3,6,7).  Thus the Lord Jesus, as the Head of the Church that is his body, relates not only to individual believers but also to believers in community.

6.3           The Called Out And Called Together People Of God.

Therefore “ekklesia” and “koinonia” describe the called out and called together assembly of the people of God as a local fellowship and as the Church universal to which all believers of all ages belong.  The local church is an expression and representation of the world-wide body of God’s people.  The NT teaches that the individual believer is expected to be a participating member of such a fellowship.  “The Church is the universal whole of which his [the believer’s] forms a part, and the important thing is, not that he is a member of such and such a congregation, or even of such and such a communion, but that he is a member of the Church of God.”[9]

These two key Greek words “ekklesia” and “koinonia”, are given a fresh meaning by their use in the NT.  They indicate that the Church functioned as a close-knit community where each believer actively ministered to the others.  It is a living organism rather than an organization.  The Church is essentially a fellowship of people, a charismatic community that exists by the grace of God and is built up by gifts of grace (“charismata”) given by the Holy Spirit.  The unity of the NT churches lay in the gospel message, acceptance of the OT and NT Scriptures, and acknowledgement of Jesus as ‘Lord and Christ’.

Any leadership of the church must take into account its essential nature.  The Church exists in union with God through Jesus Christ.  It consists of believers-in- community as Christ’s living body, a covenant community, whose primary loyalty is to God through Jesus Christ, not to the leaders themselves.  It is the privilege of God’s people to give a free, rather than a coerced response to leaders who teach and model the Christian way of life.  It is essential that leaders be worthy of respect (1 Timothy 3:8, 11; Titus 2:2) and that they embrace the servant-leadership that is distinctively Christian.

6.4           The Church Is A Living Organism Rather Than An Organization

A church in the NT existed as soon as a spiritual community of believers met for fellowship, teaching and the Lord’s Supper.  Luke describes the early church in Jerusalem during Peter’s ministry: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  (Acts 2:41-42). 

In the NT the Church is described as a living organism rather than an organization.  It is the presence of the living Lord who has graciously saved us that validates the local church which is itself an expression of the universal Church.  Every local church represents the whole church. There is only one essential ministry in the Church, that of the risen Lord himself through the Holy Spirit.  All other ministries derive from Him, and are dependent on Him who is the Head.

In comparison with the detailed instructions given for Israel’s tabernacle, little is stated about church government although the moral and spiritual qualifications and spiritual gifts, necessary for leadership are clearly given.  While every believer had an equal position under Christ the Head, the church was organized with leaders for its practical functioning.

6.5           The Relationship Between The Churches

The organization of the early churches was not governed by an inflexible plan that each church had to follow.  It was understood that the Church was the body of Christ with a mission to fulfil and each local church was free to respond to the Holy Spirit to carry out its responsibilities. The NT churches developed through different stages in the first century AD.  Similarly today there is room for differences in details of organization and emphasis, depending on the local situation.  At the end of the first century the organization of the Church remained relatively simple. 

There is no support in the NT for merging local churches into a centralized organization ruled by a hierarchy.  In the NT there is no centralized government of the whole Church. Instead each local church was self-governing and managed its own affairs independently of other churches.  The apostle Paul had a general oversight of the Gentile churches but this authority was spiritual and not organizational.  No directions are given in the NT commanding the churches to look to a central authority for guidance.  Instead churches were encouraged to rely upon the Word of God as their final authority (2 Timothy 3:14-17; 4:1-4; Titus 1:7-9).

While each local church was autonomous and not subject to the jurisdiction of another church, the NT churches enjoyed a co-operative relationship that included interchange of letters, visits of deputies and financial help (Romans 15:1, 26; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 2:10; 3 John 8). There was no elaborate inter-church organization.  No one church had superiority over any other church.  No one church in a particular city was regarded as the headquarters of the Church on earth.  No mention is made in the NT of communication between the local churches and a central or mother church.

The apostle Paul put limits upon his own authority.  The day-to-day organization of churches lay in the hands of the congregations themselves.  He much preferred to appeal rather than to command; he preferred not to impose his will upon churches, but rather to encourage them to make their own decisions.  For example, he said to the Corinthians that he did not seek to “lord it over your faith” (2 Corinthians 1:24); he reminded the Galatians, “You were called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13).  The churches he founded may have been his spiritual children, but they were to be mature in Christ.  Paul did not want them to be dependent upon him but on Christ.




7         Spiritual Oversight In The Local Church

7.1           The Lord Jesus Left No Detailed System Of Government

The NT does not give exact rules about the form of government of the Church.  Three different types of church government have developed since the early Church: episcopal (Anglican and Roman Catholic), Presbyterian, and congregational.  Each system claims a biblical basis for itself.  The Lord Jesus left no detailed system of government only two simple ordinances of water baptism and communion, and the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide his followers.

The living body of Christ was left free to decide its own type of organization provided it conformed to the teaching of Christ.  The main purpose of leadership is to allow “God’s household” to function effectively as, “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation[support NASB] of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  Thus the church’s role is to uphold the truth of the gospel.  Truth is the most reliable and enduring material to be found.

The responsibility of leadership should only be given to those who qualify spiritually.  Leaders in the local church have the responsibility not only for the spiritual welfare of the members but also for their material well being.  Genuine Christian ministry is concerned with the entire person, “spirit, soul and body.”  To this end, leaders must be Spirit-gifted.

7.2           The Office Of Deacon

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the dailydistribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”  This proposal pleased the whole group.  They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.  They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.  So the word of God spread.  The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)

It is usually assumed that this passage describes the origin of the office of deacon.  “Deacon” is a transliteration of the Greek word “diakonos”, Strong’s #1249.  It is best translated as “servant”.  The word has the technical meaning of “deacon” only three times, in Philippians 1:1, and in 1 Timothy 3:8,12.  While the apostles presided over the appointment process, it was done with the co-operation of the members of the church who democratically selected the deacons.  The seven men helped mainly with everyday administration of the church.  The deacons were responsible for ministering to the physical and material needs of the congregation, whereas the bishops or elders provided spiritual leadership

The Greek “diakonia” translated “ministration” (KJV) or “serving of food” (NASB) or “distribution of food” (NIV), in verse one, Strong’s #1248, means “service, especially of those who execute the commands of others.”[10]  Arndt and Gingrich further define it as “practical service, aid, and support.”[11]  The related verb “diakoneo”, is translated “to wait on tables” (NIV) is translated “serve” (KJV) in verse two.  These assistant leaders who helped with a practical ministry to the poor and needy, later included deaconess’s but their role is left undefined (Romans 16:1; Philippians 4:3).

While tradition has called these men deacons, they are not called that in the book of Acts.  It may have been a temporary means to handle a particular situation.  However, there are later references to deacons in the NT.  There were deacons in the church at Philippi (Philippians 1:1).  In his letter to Timothy Paul describes the qualifications for the office (1 Timothy 3:8-13).  Their qualifications were practically the same as those for the elders.  The moral and spiritual qualifications required in the seven apply to all who would hold office in the church.

7.3           The Office Of Elder

It is generally agreed that in the NT the term “episkopos” (bishop or overseer) is equivalent to “presbyteros” (presbyter or elder).  Both terms were familiar and current in Greek and Jewish life.  The term “elder” indicates mature spiritual experience and understanding; the term “bishop,” or “overseer,” indicates the character of the work undertaken.  The two words appear to be interchangeable and refer to the same leader or official in the first century Church. 

For example, in Acts chapter 20, the two words are used indiscriminately.  Paul calls for the elders (verse 17) of the church at Ephesus, and then addresses them as bishops (“episcopoi”), in verse 28, or “overseers” (KJV).  In the other four places where this word occurs (Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 2:25) it is translated in the KJV as “bishops”.  It is clear that both in Acts and in the pastoral letters that at that time each church had several “episcopoi” whose task was to “shepherd the church of God.” (NASB Acts 20:28).  Peter gives a similar instruction (1 Peter 5:1-2).

The name “elders” or “presbyteros”, Strong’s #4245, occurs 67 times in the NT.  It was a term of office among the Jews as in the Supreme Court or Sanhedrin.  It emphasizes that the leaders of the church were to be older men, as was the case with the elders of Israel.  The OT word for elder is “zaqen”, Strong’s #2204/2205.  It referred to someone of advanced age who deserved respect and would be valued as a counsellor  Jewish elders were teachers of the Law whose decisions on difficult points were handed down as tradition that was observed by the scribes and Pharisees. 

“The “elder” was recognized by the people for his gifts of leadership, wisdom, and justice.  He was set apart to administer justice, settle disputes, and guide the people of his charge.”[12]  In Israel these men “exercised a fatherly oversight over spiritual and material affairs.”[13]  As the first Christians were almost entirely Jewish, they took the office and its function from the synagogue with which they were familiar.

In secular Greek the word “episkopos”, Strong’s #1985, occurs five times in the NT.  In Acts 20:28 it is translated “overseers” (KJV; NIV; NASB), and “shepherds” (NEB; TEV).  In 1 Peter 2:25 it refers to Christ.  The word comes from “epi”, “over,” and “skopeo”, “to look or watch”. Thayer notes that it means “an overseer, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian or superintendent; guardian of souls, one who watches over their welfare.”[14]  The Septuagint, the Greek version of the OT, uses the word to describe those who supervised public works.

Beyer says that it means, “watcher and was used for ‘protector’.  It suggests the pastoral work of watching over or guarding souls and implies general responsibility for the moral and spiritual welfare of a local church.  There were to be “bishops” in every local church (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5; James 5:14).  The point of the office was service rather than power.”[15]  Later the word became a formal title of an office that had administrative and ecclesiastical importance.

The position implied overall supervising, ordering, protecting and setting direction.  Their duties included preaching and teaching the Word of God (1 Timothy 5:17) and anointing the sick (James 5:14).  The word family to which this word belongs emphasizes “loving care and seeing with a heart that is moved to action; it [oversight] must never be used for personal aggrandizement.  Its meaning is to be seen in Christ’s selfless service which was moved by concern for the salvation of men.”[16]  The term indicates watchful care and loving concern, not dogmatism or dictatorship.  William Barclay notes that the word “always implies two things; first oversight over some area or sphere of work and second,responsibility to some higher power and authority.”[17]

7.4           The Office Of Pastor Does Not Appear To Exist In The New Testament

In the NT leadership was the joint responsibility of elders and deacons.  There were only these two offices; there is no office of pastor.  There is the work of pastoring and the gift of pastoring, but apparently there is no office as such in the NT.  No person in the NT is ever referred to as the pastor of a church.  The office of pastor today is not incorrect provided that the NT safeguards and precautions are observed.  These safeguards are discussed below.

“Pastor” is the Latin word for “shepherd”.  The Greek word “poimen”, Strong’s #4166 is from a root meaning “to protect”[18]  This word means “a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks (not merely one who feeds them).”[19]  Thayer defines “poimen” metaphorically as “the presiding officer, manager, and director, of any assembly.”[20]  It is used of Christ in John 10:11, 14, 16; Hebrews 13:20 and 1 Peter 2:25.  A comparison with Acts 20 verse 28 with verse 17, indicates that this was the service committed to elders (overseers or bishops).  The word is used by Peter to encourage elders to “shepherd the flock… exercising oversight.” (1 Peter 5:1,2 NASB)  This involves tender care and vigilant superintendence.

In Ephesians 4:11 the phrase “pastors and teachers” is governed by one definite article and implies that the same persons would exercise both tasks.  A pastor is to be the shepherd of God’s flock.  However, it is not certain that in the NT Church any one man had the sole responsibility over a given church.  It was customary to have a group of persons in each local church who were responsible for spiritual leadership (Acts 14:23).  The first century church was governed by a group of elders and deacons so that there was no one officer doing what a modern pastor does. 

In NT Church history the “episkopos” (overseer or superintendent) or “presbyteros” (elder) was a leader among equals.  E. Beyreuther says, “The leaders of local Christian communities are called “presbyteroi” and episkopoi”.  Pastor was not an official title.”[21]  In the NT no one was ever called by the title of “pastor”.  The office of elder or bishop, and the spiritual gift of pastoring, or shepherding, are not the same thing in the NT.  “Elder” refers to the office one holds by appointment or election whereas “pastor” is a spiritual gift that one is given by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).  One can have the gift of pastor without being an elder; and one can hold the office of elder without having the gift of pastor.

7.5           Leaders Are Spiritual Shepherds

According to the NT, the terms “bishop” and “elder” describe one and the same office, that of overseeing the work of the local church.  Paradoxically, the leaders or spiritual shepherds of the church including deacons, must be humble servants, not self-seeking masters, but leading the flock by examples of service to it.  The Greek words referring to this office of leadership imply humble service and loving care, not self-seeking or dictatorial power, or an overbearing arrogance.  Above all else, a leader should be “full of the holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3).

7.6           Qualifications For Leadership

God is especially concerned with the character of those who lead the Church.  While the NT does not have a blueprint for church government, it prescribes clear criteria for leaders of the church.  Paul in writing to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-13) is not concerned about their attractive image or sparkling personality or depth of knowledge.  There is no place in spiritual leadership for the pride of self-glory or the abuse of power.  Only those mature Christians with the highest standards should be chosen. 

Unquestioned moral integrity, personal self-discipline, an ability to relate to others, and a reputation that is “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2 NIV) are essential criteria.  The qualification “of blameless reputation”[22] comes first and emphasizes that the following moral and social qualifications focus on this issue.  “An overseer must be a man against whom no criticism can be made.”[23]  The abridged edition of Kittell translates the Greek word“anepilemptos”, Strong’s #423, as “unassailable” and “beyond reproach”.[24]  The complete edition of Kittell adds “one who cannot be attacked”.[25]  i.e. a person against whom no evil charge can be proved. 

H. Währisch says of a similar Greek word “anenkleetos”, Strong’s #410, used of elders in Titus 1:6 and 7, “the meaning is beyond reproach, in the ordinary sense of common respectability.  Thus in addition to qualifications of a spiritual nature, ordinary standards of decency are made into preconditions of office in the church, for the sake of the church’s good name in the world.”[26] 

In summary, the “overseer” or “bishop” must have high moral qualities (verses 2-3), be a capable teacher (verse 2), be in control of his own family (verses 4-5), be spiritually mature (verse 6), and be held in high regard by unbelievers (verse 7).  The necessary qualifications for “elders” in Titus 1:5-9 are similar and no less exacting.  God’s work demands godly and gifted leaders.  The Church of Jesus Christ deserves the best, not the inadequate.  In the NT both elders and deacons had to prove their spiritual credentials, especially their trustworthiness.  Spiritually healthy leaders grow spiritually healthy churches and the reverse is also true.  Satan targets leaders and those who are unready or unfit for office are tragically vulnerable.

7.7           A Plurality Of Elders Was The New Testament Norm

The consistent pattern in the NT is that every church had several elders overseeing the work of each church (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17, 28; 21:18; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-2).

These elders were appointed from their own local assemblies and not from other churches. Some elders “ruled” (i.e. government and organization), and others were involved with teaching (1 Timothy 5:17).  It is likely that any “presiding elder” would have been counted among the elders, but he was not over them.

There are several advantages of group leadership:

(1)  Each leader knows that he lacks spiritual balance and that he struggles with personal issues.  No one individual, no matter how gifted, can cope with all the demands of ministry.

(2)  There are personality factors to consider.   Some pastors are detail men; others are big picture men.  All believers-in-community together contribute to the way the body of Christ functions.  But a church that is dominated by the personality and character flaws of one man will always be unbalanced.

(3)  A church tends to take on the personality of its leader or leaders.  If there is only one leader, the church will usually take on that man’s personality, including his idiosyncrasies and habits, both good and bad.  If more than one person leads the church, there is a better chance that the church will be balanced.

(4)  A group of leaders provides mutual accountability for one another.  It appears that those churches that have a pastor or bishop or superintendent as an authority above others are more likely to have a disproportionately high number of moral failures at the top level of leadership.  In other words, it is less likely for a spiritual leader to fall into sin if he is genuinely “first among equals”, than if he is elevated to a special position above the rest of the church leadership.

(5)  Any form of church government that gives pre-eminence to one person rather than to the Lord Jesus Christ is unscriptural.  Basic to the idea of headship is supremacy.  “And he is the head of the body, the church…so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:18)


7.8           The New Testament Ideal Is Ministry By Community To Achieve A Corporate Maturity

Although there was an organized leadership of elders (bishops) and deacons in the NT churches, there does not seem to be any gap between the “clergy” and the “laity”.  Instead ministry belonged to the whole church.  Those with the gift of leadership are called to equip all believers for mature discipleship and service, and not impose an autocratic form of leadership.

“It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13”

The gifts that Christ confers upon the Church are individuals who are devoted to ministry.  “Pastors” and “teachers” are combined in the Greek text and should probably read “pastor-teachers.” I.e. It is likely that they were the same people.  “The two roles are regarded as complementary and often co-ordinated in the same person.”[27]  The five key ministries mentioned, collectively provide a balanced spiritual diet for any church.  It is essential to avoid the unhealthy dominance of one or two ministries over the others, or worse the dictatorial dominance of a one-man-ministry that suppresses other ministries.  Instead a variety of spiritual gifts, exercised in love (1 Corinthians 13), is necessary to achieve the corporate maturity that God intends.

These gifts are sovereignly bestowed by the grace of God “for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7).  Every Christian has at least one gift: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10).  When spiritual gifts are exercised, it should be in good order and for the building up of the assembly, not for personal glory or self-advancement. Paul commands, “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Every Christian has a spiritual task and a function in the local church.  The purpose of Christ’s gifts is that all believers may be equipped to fulfil some aspect of service. Paul does not imagine that any member of the church will be a mere spectator in worship or in service.  When Paul writes of “unity in the faith”, that “faith” is deep and personal.  It is meant to be a living and vibrant faith in Christ whose life provides the dynamic for unity and mutual growth into maturity.

Moreover there is an emphasis in scripture on doing the work of the ministry in company with other believers.  Paul constantly surrounded himself with colleagues who shared his shepherding responsibilities.  Paul never went on a missionary journey by himself. Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Luke were his traveling companions.  Paul often included his companions’ names in the greetings to various churches.  Thus NT leadership involved the collective leadership of equal partners.  Paul calls Titus a “partner and fellow worker” (2 Corinthians 8:23) and demonstrates his humility even while being the classic leader within the early Church.  Paul was not a solo shepherd.

Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two.  This is not to say that individuals cannot do anything by themselves.  Philip, for example, ministered to the Ethiopian eunuch, and Paul in prison ministered to Caesar’s household.  However, the ideal is ministry by community.

“There were no institutionalized or precisely differentiated offices in the church known to Paul.  He was influenced by the pattern of the charismatic community.”[28]

7.9           Diotrephes The Dictator: An Example To Avoid

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.  Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good.”(3 John: 9-11a)

The words “I wrote” refers to a previous letter which has been lost.  This lost letter probably contained instructions from John that Diotrephes ignored.  Diotrephes was a man of influence and authority in the church who opposed the apostle John.  His position is not clear but it was an important one.  He was a domineering man who objected to the hospitality that Gaius had given to traveling evangelists who had John’s approval.  He was more interested in advancing his own position than in furthering the work of God.

Diotrephes was motivated by pride and selfish ambition.  “Loves to be first” (NIV) or “wants to be head of everything” (Philipps) or “enjoys being their leader” (NEB) is all one word in Greek, “philoproteuo”, Strong’s #5383.  It occurs only here in the NT.  Thayer describe it as “fond of being first, striving after the first place, to aspire after pre-eminence.”[29]  Arndt and Gingrich define it as “wish to be first, like to be leader.”[30]  The statement “loves to be first” probably indicates personal rivalry and a puffed up and domineering ego.  Instead of giving the pre-eminence to the Lord Jesus Christ, he claimed it for himself.  He also spread malicious gossip against John and he intolerantly rejected those who disagreed with him.

Every church needs to be wary of the religious dictator especially if that leader claims special authority or rights of seniority over the congregation, by virtue of his being one of the founders of the church.  Often independent Pentecostal churches suffer from this abuse of spiritual authority.  Every church needs a system of “checks and balances” to avoid this situation.  All church leaders should be careful not to follow this bad example but model themselves on Christ.  The genuine spiritual leader is not a dictator but a humble servant or slave like Jesus Himself (Philippians 2:7).

It is the responsibility of all church members to pray faithfully for their leaders and their families.


8         Human Leadership In The Church Should Follow The Example Of Jesus Christ

8.1           Leadership Is Serving Others Rather Than Ruling Them (Matthew 20:25-28)

Jesus called them together and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it overthem, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The ambitious request of the mother of James and John for her sons’ preferment (21) contrasted sharply with the self-sacrifice that Jesus had just described in verses 17-18 of this chapter.  This self-seeking request and the anger of the other ten disciples (24), showed that the disciples were thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom.  Their ideas of greatness were based on the ordinary standards of the world that are directly opposed to those of the kingdom of heaven.  Rome, for example, tyrannized and exercised arbitrary power over the Jewish people.  The popular Jewish expectation, shared by the disciples, was godless in character; it replaced right with might, and selfish ambition for the true greatness of humble service.

Jesus’ answer showed that though human governments enforced authority upon their subjects, his kingdom would be completely different. The Greek word “katakurieuo”, Strong’s #2634, translated “lord it over” (NIV) means “to bring under one’s power, to subject to oneself, to subdue, to hold in subjection, to be master of, to exercise lordship over” to one’s own advantage.[31]  This verb occurs also in Acts 19:16 and 1 Peter 5:3.  The Greek word“katexousiazo”, Strong’s #2715, translated “exercise authority over” means “to wield power over ”[32] and “to tyrannize over someone”[33].  The word implies a tendency toward whatever compulsion is required to gain compliance.  Jesus emphatically rejected this type of leadership.

In contrast to secular rulers, Jesus indicated the true spirit of Christian leadership.  The Greek word translated “servant”(NIV) or “minister” (KJV) is “diakonos”, Strong’s #1249, from which we get “deacon” basically one who waits on tables or does other menial duties.  It has two basic meanings (1) “The waiter at a meal” (John 2:5, 9) and (2)  “The servant of a master” (Matthew 22:13).  The related verb “diakoneo”, Strong’s #1247, in verse 28, means “to serve, to wait upon, with emphasis on the work to be done and not upon the relationship between lord and servant.  In its narrowest sense it means to wait at a table and serve at dinner.  Generally it means to do anyone a service and care for someone’s needs and to help.”[34]

K. Hess states, “The NT meaning of “diakoneo” is derived from the person of Jesus and his gospel.  It becomes a term denoting loving action for brother and neighbour, which in turn is derived from divine love, and also describes the outworking of fellowship or ‘koinonia’.  Even more, the whole church becomes a body for service in the world; it is composed of members, the “servants”, and functions in preparation for the Lord’s return.”[35]

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”  The Greek word “doulos”,Strong’s #1401, translated “slave” (NIV), or “bond -man, servant” (KJV) comes from “deo”, “to bind or to tie”.  Most lexicons agree in giving “slave” rather than “servant”, as the first meaning of “doulos”.  Thayer, for example, defines this word as “a man of servile condition, a slave, a female slave, one who gives himself wholly up to another’s will, a bondman.”[36]  The common custom of slavery in the Roman Empire is an essential background to understanding this word.  A slave was not a hired servant who was free to come and go as he pleased but one who was totally subject to the will of his master at all times.

Willingness to serve others in humility is the mark of spiritual greatness.  The best example of this principle is the Son of Man as Christ’s death was a “ransom for many” (28). The word “for” means “in the place of.”  Christ clearly interprets the meaning of his sacrifice as a substitution for sinners.  Thus the supreme display of humble service occurred at the cross, where Jesus gave his life as a ransom to God.  The Greek word “lutron”, “ransom” was the price paid for freeing a slave.

So the government of the church is meant to be very different from that of secular governments.  Jesus taught that true greatness is not ruling over others but serving themJesus himself set the highest standard of service by his death for others.  Genuine leadership is based on humble self-sacrifice.  True leadership is founded in humility and a loving concern for others; it is derived from Christ, the Head of the church, and is always based on his values.  A minister of Christ is not to consider himself a lord over Christ’s flock but rather its servant.  Church leaders are not to be dictatorial rulers over a church.  Jesus said, “Yet it shall not be so among you.” (NKJV verse 26).  The one who wants to be first in a church must be willing to be a slave of all i.e. give their lives in helping others.  What a challenge to all those who would hold any office in a church!


8.2           Jesus Taught That Greatness Is A Matter Of A Humble Heart Attitude (Luke: 22:24-27)

“Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.”

The verb “diakoneo”, Strong’s #1247, that occurs as “serves” in verses 26 and 27 (2x), has the meaning of personal service in a lowly manner.  See also the previous explanation related to Matthew 20:25-28.  Jesus “institutes a new pattern of human relationships which extends even to waiting at table or washing feet.”[37]  He said, “I am among you as one who serves.” Genuine greatness means to be like Jesus, and that requires us to be a servant of others.  Greatness is not office or position or influence or success or reputation or leadership or achievements or accomplishments.  It is not a matter of what we do for God as what we arein spirit and Christ-like character before him.

Benefactors” (25) was a favorite title used by the Greek kings of Egypt and Syria.  For the Greeks, service was considered undignified.  By exalting lowly service and relating it to the love of God, Jesus taught a completely different view from that of the Greeks.  Worldly rulers lord it over their subjects, but the only way to greatness for Christians is sacrificial service on behalf of others, as Jesus did.  He said, “The greatest among you should be like the youngest,[i.e. take the lowliest place] and the one who rules [i.e. the leader] like the one who serves.” We normally consider the diner to be of higher status than the waiter, but in washing the disciples feet, Jesus illustrated his willingness to be “as one who serves.”

In conclusion, Jesus emphasized that the desire to be first, to be superior and honoured above one’s fellow believers, is contrary to his attitude.  Church leaders should never misuse or abuse their position by seeking power, promotion, special privileges, recognition, status, or wealth for themselves.  Rather they should be willing to be the least important in the kingdom of God.  They ought not to aim at office and power, but to be humble, and to serve and help others.  As all Christians are to be servants, they should not compete with one another for position and promotion and prestige.  Faithful service in a modest position is true greatness.

8.3           The Spiritual Pride Of The Pharisees Condemned (Matthew 23:8-12)

“But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi‘; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are allbrethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (NKJV)

Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees for their love of titles.  It is a caution for Christian leaders who should have a spirit of humility, not the self-seeking ambition of the Pharisees, who usurped for themselves the authority that belongs to God.  This is not to condemn every title by which church leaders distinguish themselves from their flocks.  It is the spirit rather than the letter of this caution that should be stressed.  It is a warning against spiritual superiority.  In every task within the church, Christians should examine their motives rather than focus on the status and the respect they may think they deserve.

“The disciples must not assume the authority and dominion implied in those names; they must not domineer over their brethren, or over God’s heritage, as if they had dominion over the faith of Christians.”[38]

The word “rabbi” comes directly from the Hebrew into Greek and English.  It means “my great one” and was used for someone with a high and respected position usually with authority and ability to teach.  The KJV translates “rabbi” as “Master” 9 out of the 17 times it occurs in the NT but it is probably better to transliterate it as “rabbi”.  The Pharisees enjoyed this title as it implied their superiority over others.

Note that Jesus commanded his followers not to receive the title: “But you, do not be called Rabbi”.  He did not forbid them to give any appropriate title to others when it was customary or not regarded as improper (compare Acts 26:25).

In verse 10 the rare word “kathegetes”, Strong’s #2519, occurs twice in the NT.  The KJV translates it as “master and Master” and the NASB as “leaders and Leader”.  It properly means “to go before, a guide” but it was used figuratively in the sense of “teacher”.[39]  In verse 8 the word is “didaskalos”, Strong’s #1320, the common Greek word for “teacher”.  In the NT this term is applied to the pre-eminence of Christ as one who teaches the things of God “for One is your Teacher” (NASB).  Thus Jesus was telling his disciples that he was only their Master and Teacher and Leader with divine authority; disciples should not try to take his place.

Jesus said, “you are all brethren” or “brothers” (NASB; NIV) the Greek word “adelphos”,Strong’s #80, meaning “from the same womb”.[40]  It means a brother literally or figuratively.  It refers to a fellowship of life based on identity of origin as with members of the same country.  Later it came to designate a Christian community.  In the NT it means a “fellow-believer, united to another by the bond of affection, constituting a single family.”[41]

As “brethren” Christians are, in this respect, perfectly equal in authority.  In this sense, no one believer is higher in position or importance than another believer, and any sense of superiority or sense of inferiority among believers is to be avoided.  None are to be masters in the Church of Christ.  We are all disciples of the same Master.

Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.”  Jesus refers to the use of the word “father” in a spiritual sense.  This command does not forbid us to apply the term “pater”, Strong’s #3962, to our earthly father (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3).  The word “father” also denotes “nourisher, protector, upholder”[42]. It also has the ideas of authority, superiority, a right to command, and a claim to special respect.

In this sense the title “father” belongs only to God, and it is not right to give this spiritual title to fallible human beings.  Only God has supreme authority.  Therefore the meaning seems to be that the disciples should not, with regard to spiritual things, have that implicit faith in any mere man, or church leader, which young children are inclined to have in their parents.  God alone is our Father and our Lord from whom alone our spiritual life originates, and on whom it completely depends.

Paul calls himself the “father” of the Corinthian believers and he referred to Timothy as his“child in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:15,17).  Paul uses a different word “gennao”, Strong’s #1080, meaning “to beget”, in the sense of a spiritual father i.e. as one who converts another to the Christian faith and is instrumental in his spiritual birth.  Only as Paul’s ways were “in Christ”  (15) was he to be followed.  Paul wanted these believers to imitate him only as he was imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Neither of these commands forbids Christians to give proper titles of public office to persons, or to give them the honour appropriate to their position.  See Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17.  However, these commands prohibit the disciples of Jesus, especially church leaders, from seeking or receiving mere empty titles, and producing artificial distinctions among themselves, implying authority to control the opinions and behaviour of others, and claiming that others should acknowledge them to be their superior.

That Jesus was more concerned about attitudes than technical titles is shown in verses 11-12 which are typical of his teaching on humility (cf Luke 14:11; 18:14).  There are echoes of this spiritual law in James 4:10 and 1 Peter 5:6.  As a general spiritual principle God honours humility and hates pride, especially in spiritual leaders.  It is well said that: “Humility is the passport to promotion in the kingdom of God.”

8.4           An Unforgettable Lesson In Humble Service John (13:12-17)

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

The sovereign lord of the universe took the place of a servant to give his followers a remarkable object lesson in loving humble service.  As the twelve were to be the founders of the church, and greatly honored (with the exception of Judas), he took this occasion of warning them against the dangers of ambition, and of teaching them, by an example that they could not forget, the duty of humility.

His action was a vivid demonstration of his death, resurrection, and exaltation.  The full extent of his love was soon to be shown in the cross.  Peter remembered the event when he later wrote, “be clothed with humility” (1 Peter 5:5).  It was also an enacted parable based on a social custom that illustrates the cleansing power of his death.  Peter was slow to understand that the washing by Jesus of his feet was a symbol of complete spiritual cleansing from sin.

Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”  The servant who has received such an act of service by One whom he calls “Teacher’ and ‘Lord,” cannot escape the duty of loving his fellow servants.  The disciples correctly gave him a place of authority and yet he had done a lowly service for them.  The word translated “servant” (16) is “doulos” and means a “slave” (NASB).  See the earlier discussion of this word at Matthew 20:25-28. How much more should they be willing to serve one another.  Yet within a few minutes the Twelve were arguing among themselves over who was the greatest!  (Luke 22:24-27)

There is little in any of the gospels that is referred to as an “example”.  It is the Greek“hypodeigma”, Strong’s #5262, meaning “an example for imitation”[43] and “an exhibit for imitation or warning”.[44]  It is translated in the KJV by “example” and “pattern.”  Therefore the entire event is of considerable importance.  Christ’s action as the model servant was in sharp contrast to the self-seeking of the disciples who struggled with the desire to be number one (Matthew 18:1-4; 20:20-24; Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24-27).  Too often there is competition and criticism among church leaders.  The example Jesus gives is the pattern of sacrificial and costly service.  The lesson ended with an appeal to practical obedience: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Some groups in church history have practiced literal feet washing, but most have thought the principle of service to be more important than the act itself, which also reflected social custom.  It seems the early Church saw it as an example of humble service rather than a ritual.  Scripture is silent about the practice except as a matter of hospitality (1 Timothy 5:10).  It takes humility to serve others and it takes humility to allow others to serve us. 

8.5         Conclusion: Leadership Begins With Humility And Serves Others.

The followers of Christ, especially church leaders, ought to meet the needs of others’ in a lifestyle of self-sacrificial service.  Humility is losing oneself in service to others.  Jesus specifically ruled out the type of power-based authority that is typically exercised by human governments for personal glory and self-seeking.  He gave Christian leaders authority to build up believers, not to enslave or suffocate them.  Once built up in the faith, Christians may then freely choose to obediently follow Jesus as Lord.  Giving genuine freedom of choice and action to every believer was of great importance to Jesus.  He said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:32, 36).

Service was the essential feature of Jesus’ ministry and the nature of discipleship.  His ultimate service is seen in his obedience to God and death for others.  His disciples are also to serve God with total loyalty and humbly serve others, especially the weak and helpless, rather than themselves.  Jesus intended his Church to be radically different from the world in this regard.


9         Human Leadership Should Follow The Example Of The Apostles Peter And Paul

9.1           Paul Did Not Tyrannize The Faith Of Those He Shepherded (2 Corinthians 1:24)

“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.”

Apostolic authority did not give Paul any right to “lord it over”(NIV) or “dictate the terms of”(NEB) or “dominate” (Phillips) the faith of the Corinthian believers.  The Greek “kurieuo”,Strong’s #2961, means “to be lord or master, rule, lord it over, control”.[45]  The Corinthian Christians were to stand by their own faith, not by Paul’s control.  The apostle did not claim any ultimate authority over the Corinthians as regards their faith, but rather put himself alongside them as a fellow-believer.  The Greek word “sunergos”, Strong’s #4904, translated “work with you” (NIV; NASB) or “fellow workers” (NKJV; Jerusalem Bible) or “helpers” (KJV) means “working together with, helping, fellow worker, co-worker”[46].  The Greek word for “faith” (“pistis”) includes the ideas of personal trust and obedience.  Paul knows that the Corinthians stand in Christ independently of him and he seeks to confirm that faith.  Faith must be free from human control or it cannot exist at all.

Paul was careful not seek a spiritual tyranny over the faith of others (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5; 11:20).  If the apostle Paul did not attempt to control the faith of Christians, how absurd and unscriptural is it for others to do so.  Christ only is the Lord of our faith; he is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  Paul, Apollos, and the rest of the apostles, were but “ministers by whom they believed” (1 Corinthians 3:5 KJV).  All Christian ministers are but instruments in God’s hands.  They are of no account in themselves because they are only what God has made them.  Any self-exaltation on their part detracts from the honour due to God alone.

9.2           Christians Should Not Accept Any Kind Of Spiritual Abuse (2 Corinthians 11:19-20)

“You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!  In fact, you even put up with anyone whoenslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward orslaps you in the face.”

Paul is forced to establish his credentials as an apostle.  The irony of his self-defence borders on a sarcasm that the sophisticated Corinthians would readily understand.  Paul rebukes them for preferring the tyranny of false apostles to his gentleness.  Five verbs, increasing in intensity, express the humiliation that the compliant Corinthians experienced from false teachers.  These deceivers: 

(1)  “enslaved” them or “bring into bondage”( KJV); the Greek “katadouloo”,Strong’s #2615, means “to reduce to slavery”[47], “to enslave to oneself”[48]. It is used either to mean absolute subjection or the loss of independence;

(2)   “exploited” (NIV) or “devoured” (KJV) them; the Greek “katesthio”, Strong’s #2719, means “figuratively to destroy or consume by fire”[49];

(3)  “took advantage of” (NIV; NASB) or “ensnares” (Barclay) or “preys upon[50]; the Greek “lambano”, Strong’s #2983, meaning “to take by craft, used of hunters and fishermen, to circumvent [get around] one by fraud”[51] or “takes you in”[52];

(4)   “exalted themselves” (KJV); the Greek “epairo”, Strong’s #1869, means “to be presumptuous, to put on airs”[53].  It is human pride arrogantly asserting itself against someone; and

(5)  “slapped you in the face”, Greek “dero”, Strong’s #1194, meaning “to flay or skin, to beat, thrash or smite”[54].  This expression, “strikes you on the face” (Barclay), is probably symbolic or proverbial for any kind of insulting or humiliating treatment.  A blow on the face, like spittle, was a grievous insult to a person’s honour.

The Amplified Bible translates verse 20 as: “For you endure it if a man assumes control of your souls and makes slaves of you, or devours (your substance, spends your money) and preys upon you, or deceives and takes advantage of you, or is arrogant and puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.”

The Corinthian believers showed a tragic lack of discernment, even naivety and gullibility, in tolerating the false teachers with their claims and pretensions.  The false teachers, who were probably Jewish legalists, dominated the consciences of the Corinthian Christians, destroyed their freedom of opinion and made them subservient to their will. Financial gain and the desire for dominance was their motivation.  They took away their Christian freedom as much as if they had been slaves.  They had tolerated these false shepherds, allowed themselves to be ordered about, robbed of their money, and deceived to the point of being insulted, by a blow on the face, which any Jew would regard as a humiliating experience. 

Christians should not accept any church leader who dominates, exploits, intimidates, enslaves, makes unjust demands for money or unreasonable control of one’s time, manipulates, oppresses, insults or practices spiritual abuse of any kind.  The Corinthian Christians rebuked by Paul had unwisely tolerated all these unscriptural practices inflicted on them by a corrupt leadership.  The unfortunate experience of these believers is a cautionary tale that warns against an unwary innocence, an accepting trustfulness, and a lack of caution and discernment with authoritarian church leaders.

9.3           Leaders Should Practice Tender Care And Irreproachable Behaviour (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12)

“We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.  As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.  We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

Paul and his helpers were like a loving mother and a responsible father in their ministry to the church at Thessalonica.  Paul makes clear his right as an apostle to financial support but says he behaved as selflessly as a nursing mother.  He did manual labour, probably making tents, in order to give the gospel without charge.  He did not want to be unnecessarily dependent on other Christians for finance.  He was more aware of his responsibilities as an apostle, than his privileges.

The Greek word “trophos”, Strong’s #5162, only found here in the NT (meaning “nursing mother”) is used of a mother nursing a baby at her breast.  It comes from a word that means “to take the most anxious and tender care of”[55].  Thus it is a tender and vivid picture of Paul’s pastoral heart for the church.

The word “thalpo” Strong’s #2282, translated “cherishes“(NKJV) or “tenderly cares for” (NASB) means “to warm, to keep warm, to cherish with tender love, to foster with tender care”[56] further emphasizes the nursing mother’s care as well as her attitude of love.  The word “agapeetos”, Strong’s #27, translated “dear” in verse 8, means “esteemed, beloved, favourite”[57] indicates the divine self-giving love of “agape”.

Paul is an excellent example of the spiritual values that should characterize all church leaders. He did not act like an important or superior person; he used his authority with love.  Paul didn’t feed on his flock; he fed them.  At great personal cost as a spiritual parent, he nurtured, encouraged and supported new Christians, and taught them by being a good example.  The word “blameless” (in verse 10) or “without fault” (TEV) or “above criticism” (Phillips), Strong’s #274, “amemptos”, means “so that there is no cause for censure [disapproval]”[58].  It means able to stand a critic’s scrutiny because it is right.  Thus Paul was a man of authority, deep affection and integrity whose behaviour with those he led was“irreproachable”[59].

9.4           Leaders Are Not To Act As “Lords”, But As Shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4)

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

The apostle Peter speaks specifically to those who have the special responsibility of pastoral care in the Church. He warns leaders against two dangers: the desire for money and the desire for power.  Three Greek words are used in the NT to describe pastoral leadership and all three words are used in this passage:

(1) “Elders” “presbuteros”  (2) “Shepherd” the flock of God has the verb “poimaino”. (3) “Serving as overseers” is a translation of “episkopountes”.  The noun form “episkopos” is sometimes translated in the KJV as “bishop.”  These words describe the spiritual ministries of the leaders of the church.  The term “elder” or “presbyter” was interchangeable with “bishop” or “overseer”.  The terms are all synonymous in that they refer to the same office.  They differ only in emphasis.  The elders or overseers are spiritual trustees, responsible to both the local church and to its Lord.

These spiritual trustees cannot properly discharge their trust and their work of oversight without a genuine concern for the welfare of God’s people.  The work of an elder is to “feed”(KJV) or better “shepherd” (NIV; NASB) believers.  The Greek is the verb “poimaino”,Strong’s #4165, which means “to feed, to tend a flock, to keep sheep”[60]; it comes from “poimen”, Strong’s #4166, a shepherd or herdsman.  The elders are to be the shepherds of God’s people i.e. do all the work of a shepherd in caring for the flock of God (see John 21:15-17).  The Greek word translated “flock” “poimnion”, Strong’s #4168, is used in the NT only in a figurative sense for Christians (Acts 20:28-29). 

Peter encourages the elders to “serve as overseers”, or “take the oversight” (KJV).  This is one word in Greek, “episkopeo”, Strong’s #1983, only here and in Hebrews 12:15.  It literally means “look upon”, and then “inspect, oversee, look after, care for”[61].  These duties should be done “willingly” (KJV) or “voluntarily” (NASB), even eagerly, but not for ego satisfaction or financial gain.  Peter does not object to a paid ministry that provides adequate support (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Timothy 5:17) but he warns against covetousness (“not greedy for money”).  No church leader should make himself wealthy from God’s work.  Love of the work itself should be the motive in seeking and functioning in this office, or any other position of leadership in the local church.

Note that Peter, as an apostle, does not adopt an attitude of spiritual superiority but humbly puts himself on the same level as those he encourages.  He regards his fellow elders as equals (“I appeal as a fellow elder”); he does not pull rank as a senior apostle, nor does he have any papal pretensions.  Note that it is God’s flock, not the elders’.  God is concerned about the manner in which his sheep are treated.  He stresses that the elders must “not lord it over” members of the church i.e. not have an overbearing attitude of self-assertiveness.  “Lord it over” is the Greek “katakyrieuo”, Strong’s #2634, and means “to bring under one’s power, to subject to oneself, to subdue, to hold in subjection, to be master of, to exercise lordship over.”  See the earlier discussion for Matthew 20:25.

Instead, their wholesome and balanced lives are to be “examples” to those “allotted to your charge” (NASB) or “entrusted to you” (NIV).  Their service is to be motivated by the prospect of the Lord’s coming and his reward to those who faithfully and humbly fulfil the office of an under-shepherd (verse 4).  The under-shepherds are immediately accountable to their congregations and ultimately accountable to the Chief Shepherd for their stewardship.

Peter urged the elders to assume their responsibilities for the right reasons.  Therefore human shepherds should not egotistically build their own religious empires or conceitedly exalt themselves by image building, or by lording it over and dominating other Christians, especially those in their care.  Rather they should set a genuine shepherd’s “example” by character and sound doctrine modelled on that of Christ himself.  The Greek word is “tupos”, Strong’s #5179, from which we get “types”.  It originally meant “the mark of a blow, the stamp made by a die, a figure or image.”  In a spiritual and moral sense it is “an example to be imitated or those worthy of imitation.”[62]

9.5           Conclusion: Christian Leaders Are To Live Out The Gospel

It is significant that in the pastoral letters of Timothy and Titus, the apostle Paul has more to say about what leaders are to be, rather than what they are to do.  The kind of authority that leaders exercise is directly related to the kind of people they are.

In conclusion, this passage provides a formidable test of spiritual leadership and a test of the relationship between those who lead and those who are led.  The true shepherd leads rather than drives his flock.  Peter himself was told by the risen Christ to “Feed my sheep” out of love for him.  The Chief Shepherd requires all his under-shepherds to keep in mind his searching question, “How much do you love me?” (John 21:15-17).  Moreover, James warns, “We who teach will be judged more strictly.” (3:1) Thus leaders and teachers carry a heavy responsibility and will be judged with special strictness because of their influence over others. All Christians ought to wear the “apron of humility” (5), a reminder of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the last supper, as they serve one another.

The apostles Paul and Peter had no need to resort to coercion or manipulation because the Lord Jesus was the Head of his Church.  These passages suggest that God limits the authority of Christian leaders.  Their authority is not an authority to control, but an authority to encourage the believer to use her or his freedom to respond gladly to the lordship of Christ and be led by his Spirit.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”(Galatians 5:1, 13).  Paul encouraged Spirit-directed living and freedom from exterior rule.


10         Passages That Are Sometimes Used To Promote Authoritarian Leadership

10.1           Leadership Must Be Devoted And Enthusiastic  (Romans 12:8)

“If it is leadership, let him govern diligently.” (NIV)

“Whoever has authority should work hard.” (TEV)

Paul writes about the use of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ.  He encourages each believer to use his or her gifts properly and co-operatively in the local church.  The leader, “he who gives aid” (RSV) should not be indifferent but filled with enthusiasm for God and the things of God.

The particular Greek word in question is consistent with the idea of a loving shepherd and a responsible parent, not a dictatorial ruler.  He who “rules” (KJV) or “leads” (NKJV) is the Greek word “proistamenos”, Strong’s #4291, that means “be at the head of, rule, direct; manage or conduct (of officials in the church), to be concerned about, care for, give aid”[63]. i.e. a leader.  Weymouth has “One who presides should be zealous.”  This word is also used with the exercise of leadership in 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12; 5:17.  The word was used in secular Greek for leadership in an army, a state or a party.  The basic meaning is “to lead and to care for.  The combination of leading and caring agrees well with the principle of Luke 22:26 that the leader is to be as one who serves.”[64]  It implied guarding, protecting and taking responsibility; it combined presiding over with personal care.

10.2           The Christian Duty Of Submission To Government (Romans 13:1-2)

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.”

Paul commands Christians to obey their government for as an institution and a principle it is established by God.  Those to whom submission must be rendered are called “governing authorities”  (NIV; NKJV) or “civil authorities” (Phillips) or “state authorities” (TEV).  This passage reflects the words of Jesus in Matthew (22:21): “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s“.

The word “exousia”, Strong’s #1849, used here four times, does not refer to church authority; it refers to human authority or “magistrate”[65] or “officials of government”[66].  In verse 3 the word “archon”, Strong’s #758, translated “rulers” (KJV; NASB) or “government” (NEB) refers in the NT to Roman rulers, specifically those who ruled in the name of Rome over the Jews in Palestine.

The context has no reference to church leadership.  For an elder or pastor or apostle to claim total submission over a congregation on the basis of this passage would be an example of Scripture-twisting at its worst.

10.3           Christians Should Appreciate Their Spiritual Leaders But Not Idolize Them (1 Thess 5:12-13)

“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”

Paul tells the church at Thessalonica to respect and have regard for its leaders because of their work, not for their personal prestige.  Spiritual leadership is a difficult and responsible job. The Greek word “oida”, Strong’s #1492, translated “appreciate” (NASB) or “pay proper respect to “ (TEV) or “give due recognition to “ (Barclay) usually means “know” (KJV).  Thayer says it has the sense of “to have regard for one, cherish, pay attention to.”[67]  It means to appreciate, to recognize the worth of and, to value the work of church leaders.

The function of leadership is implied in the word “prostemi”, Strong’s #4291, translated “are over” (NIV) or “have charge over” (NASB) or “preside over” (Barclay).  This word has been previously discussed in detail in the section concerning Romans 12:8.  This word is also used with the exercise of leadership in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and12; 5:17; Titus 3:8 and14.

Those who have spiritual authority in the church are not dictators, but examples and shepherds.  Only as they follow the Lord, should they be followed.  Note that the phrase “in the Lord” indicates the sphere of their authority; it is in spiritual matters only.  Moreover, it is only as leaders function “in the Lord” can they exercise effective spiritual leadership.

10.4           A Christian’s Responsibilities Towards Spiritual Leaders (Hebrews 13:7-8, 17 And 24)

 a)   “ Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. (Verses 7-8 NASB)
In verse seven, the writer of Hebrews advises his readers to recall the life of faith of past leaders as an example and inspiration.  However, all earthly leaders come and pass away, therefore the best pattern to imitate is the unchanging Jesus Christ (8). Jesus, not earthly leaders, is the heart and centre of Christian faith.  We must not build our lives on God’s servants but only on Jesus and the truth of the Bible.  

b) “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Verse 17 NASB) 
Vine’s Expository Dictionary notes the word “peitho”, Strong’s #3982, translated “obey” in Verse 17 means  “to persuade, to win over”; in the passive and middle voices it means “to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey.”; It is used with this meaning, in the middle voice in Hebrews 13:17.  Thus the “obedience” suggested is not by submission to authority, but results from persuasion.  Thayer agrees that the primary meaning of “peitho” is “to persuade, to induce one by words to believe.”[68]. G. Kittell states that the usual Greek senses of “peitho” are “to convince, to persuade.”[69].

Three times, in Verses 7, 17 and 24, the writer refers to, “those who rule over you” (NKJV) or “leaders” (NIV; RSV; NEB). He uses the Greek word “hegeomai”, Strong’s #2233. The term is a general one and is used of leaders of religious groups as well as of princes and military commanders. “It primarily signifies to lead on or forward, to preside, govern, rule; to esteem or reckon (as in 1 Thessalonians 5:13)”[70]. Thayer defines the word as “to lead, to guide, of men in any leading position.”[71]. Green also notes that this word’s basic meaning is “to be a guide, to lead the way”[72]. Liddell and Scott explain the noun related to this verb as “a guide to show one the way;generally one who does a thing first”[73]. Therefore it means leader in the sense of a guide.

Therefore Verse 17 does not endorse a dictatorial leadership in the church that requires an unquestioning obedience or blind submission.  The language of the KJV has sometimes been used to promote an autocratic and oppressive spiritual leadership that the Greek text does not support.  The Greek word “hegeomai” primarily means “to guide or lead”. Believers should recognize their responsibility before God and co-operate with their shepherding ministry.  Leaders cannot do their job otherwise.  Leaders are always in need of the prayerful support of God’s people (Verse 18).  Typically, spiritual leaders have a genuine concern for the welfare of their flock and members of a church are to see that the leaders’ duty to care for souls can be done with “ joy” rather than as a “burden“.  As leaders have a responsibility to fulfil their duties faithfully and an account to render of their stewardship before God, the author urges his readers to keep this in mind and not make things hard for their leaders.

There will always remain a tension between the encouragement to obey spiritual leaders and the individual liberty that Christians must retain in Christ. Some leaders are prone to legalism and self-assertion, and some individual believers are prone to lawlessness and self-willed independence.  Both leaders and led are inclined to self-exaltation.  Perhaps the best answer lies in Paul’s advice to the Galatians (5:13): “You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” This is an important principle for Christian behaviour: do not allow liberty to become licence or irresponsibility, but do all out of love for others.  Freedom assumes responsibilities for the one who has liberty.  As the Holy Spirit reigns in his heart, his responsibilities are greater.

10.5           Conclusion: The Believer Has A Primary Loyalty To God And God’s Word.

William Barclay has a worthwhile comment:

  “To the present leaders the duty of the congregation is obedience.  A Church is a democracy but not a democracy run mad; it must give obedience to those it has chosen as its guides.  That obedience is not given in order to gratify the leaders’ sense of power or to increase their prestige.  It is given so that at the end of the day the leaders may be seen to have lost none of the souls committed to their care.”[74]

Obedience to Christian leaders must always be based on a higher loyalty to God and his Word.  The believer’s first and foremost loyalty is to a person-to-person relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  “One of the teachers of the law …asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’  ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ “(Mark 12:28-30)

This primary loyalty to God must be based on the truth of the Bible as understood by the individual’s conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  To this end it is essential that each Christian study the Scriptures so as to “correctly handle the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) and not uncritically accept what leaders have to say.

Therefore the command to obey and to submit does not mean that every spiritual leader is always right in everything.  Leaders are not above criticism; they are imperfect and as likely as anyone else to make mistakes.  Only when a true servant of God, led by God’s Spirit, correctly interprets the Bible, are Christians to obey.  We do not obey leaders who are out of God’s will or who are not true to God’s purposes for the Church or whose lifestyle is not Christ-like.  Leaders are never absolute rulers with absolute rights over the rank and file members of the church.

11         Balance Freedom With Responsibility (Romans 14)

1)    Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters.

2)    One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.

3)    The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

4)     Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.  And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5)    One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

6)    He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.  He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

7)    For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.

8)    If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

9)    For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10)You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat.

11)It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'”

12)So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13)Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

14)As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.  But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

15)If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

16)Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.

17)For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

18)because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

19)Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

20)Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.

21)It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

22)So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.  Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

23)But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

11.1           The Danger Of Legalism

Within the Pentecostal/charismatic churches an emphasis on “holiness” has encouraged a personal devotion to God that helps to counter the materialistic values of society.  However, unbalanced doctrine has produced such aberrations as legalism (man-made rules), elitism (we are a superior church), fanaticism (eccentric teaching about end-time events), anti-intellectualism (secular education and biblical scholarship are dangerous), an over-zealous separation from the world (living in a Christian ghetto), obscurantism (any translation other than the KJV is suspect), and a selfish individualism that is preoccupied with one’s spiritual life to the neglect of the welfare of society at large.  Tragically these churches are unaware that they are practicing deviations and anomalies.

While the Bible is clear that church leaders have authority, there are definite limits to that authority.  A leader does not have the right to tell people how to live their personal lives. For example, the apostle Peter said that Ananias and Sapphira could have kept all their property and money; their sin was not in what they kept, but in their lying (Acts chapter 5).  In general, no one believer has the right to claim to know God’s particular will for another believer.  All believers are priests through Christ and have equal access to God (1 Peter 2:9; Hebrews 4:15-16).  God gives the Holy Spirit and wisdom to all who ask him (Luke 11:13; James 1:5).

A church may be controlled by a its founder or by a strong-minded leader who interprets (or rather misinterprets) the Bible with detailed legalistic rules in the name of “holiness” or “godliness” that override the personal convictions of individuals.  Such a leader has a weak conscience and fears personal freedom in others because of his own insecurities or past sins; he enforces an outward conformity with petty rules for behaviour and vigorously condemns those who disagree with his fussy scruples; usually he handles criticism with difficulty.

These detailed rules sometimes include: place of residence (close to church), seating arrangements in church, a rigorous dress code (an appropriate haircut, no beards, men wearing a tie or suit in church and women wearing hats in church, restrictions on women’s clothes); forbidding attendance at movies or the theatre, forbidding the ownership of a television set, and the use of alcohol, and discouraging overseas travel.  More sinister are those rules that forbid fellowship with other churches, insist on marriage within this particular church, and insist that all giving of money be to this church alone.  Enforced giving, usually in the form of compulsory tithing, is often practiced.  Typically, speakers from outside this type of fellowship are few and financial disclosure is non-existent.

The tragic result of excessive authority and legalistic self-righteousness is a joyless, spiritually immature congregation of carbon-copy believers who think that they are a spiritually elite remnant favoured by God.  Spiritual disaster results from a self-styled apostle or prophet forming a “Christian cult” based on himself. 

11.2           Matters Of Conscience

Paul in chapters 14 and 15 (and in 1 Corinthians 8-10) discusses the attitude Christians should have toward each other in debatable areas of conduct, disputable matters” (NIV) or “personal opinions” (TEV) or “what is right or wrong” (NLT) i.e. things that are not clearly stated to be wrong in the Bible.  Sometimes Christians are puzzled by practical questions relating to daily life.  May I do this?  May I go there?  May I read this?  Is this activity okay? Here Paul discusses the relationship between those who are “weak in the faith” and those who are “strong in the faith.”  Paul’s aim was mutual acceptance and respect for one another.

Under the lordship of Christ, individual Christians are to balance freedom and responsibility according to conscience and with due regard to the law of love.  Where the Bible is silent, we are free to follow our own conscience keeping in mind that both legalism and licence are enemies of freedom in Christ.  In this chapter Paul explains the following principles to help reach that balance:

11.3           Principles To Help Balance Freedom And Responsibility To Others

1.      The Bible allows for different ideas among Christians about “what is right and wrong” (NLT) in nonessential matters or “grey areas” of life i.e. matters that are not specifically affirmed in Scripture.  Legalism, on the other hand, tries to please God by setting rules where the Bible does not give them.  The legalist makes a major issue out of a minor matter that is a question of conscience and observes man-made rules.  Goodspeed translates “weak” as “over scrupulous”. 

2.      In “disputable matters” we are to respect personal freedom and not be judgmentalbecause God has accepted both the weaker in conscience and the stronger in conscience (Verses 1-3).  A leader cannot insist that his personal convictions are the standard for the church.

3.      Each individual should be “fully convinced” (Verse 5) in his own mind as to the rightness or wrongness of an action.  The importance of personal conviction is emphasized (Verses 5, 14, 22).  In Verse 14 Paul establishes the important principle that in and of themselves things are morally neutral.  “Nothing is impure in itself.” (NEB)  “Nothing is intrinsically unholy.” (Phillips) “Everything as it is in itself is holy.”  (The Message).  It is a question of one’s attitude toward them that makes them either right or wrong.  Paul has the authority of Christ for this statement.  Sin is in a person’s mind, not in a material object.  In 1 Timothy 4:4, he affirms in a similar context that everything God created is good.

4.      Ultimately each Christian as a servant of Christ stands or falls only before God (Verse 10) not church leaders.  God is the judge of all and only he knows the human heart.  We are not answerable to a “weak” believer and his conscience, or answerable to a “strong” believer and his conscience.

5.      The Christian with the stronger conscience who gives himself certain freedoms must be careful that his lifestyle does not place an “obstacle” (something that leads to sin) or a “stumbling block” (something to trip over in the Christian walk) in the way of another believer (Verse 13; 15:2).  The law of love voluntarily places limits on a Christian’s liberty of conscience (Verse 15).  A selfish insistence on liberty may destroy but love will always build up.

6.      It is the responsibility of all to further the spiritual welfare of the church by always acting in love (Verse 15), by promoting “peace and mutual upbuilding” (RSV Verse 19).  Loyalty to Christ should allow us to be generous-hearted Christians who emphasize “unity in things essential and liberty in things nonessential.”


12         A Prayer For Spiritual Leaders

“Father, I pray for the Christian leaders that I know in church and in civil government.  I name them before you ……May they be aware of the privileges and responsibilities of their calling and be wholly committed to your will.  As I consider their vulnerability to Satan’s strategies, I support them in prayer and pray for your protection over their lives and over the lives of their families.  Give them grace to cope with the hard work and the pressures of office.  May they be willing to sacrifice their own convenience to meet the needs of those they serve.

Help them to avoid the temptations of pride, immorality, and the abuse of power.  Strengthen their personal discipline and Christian character and help them to maintain integrity in every aspect of their lives.  May they know the joy of faithful service now and hear your future commendation, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’  This I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”


13         Bibliography

Articles: Authority, Church, Elder, Leadership in the following Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias:
Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Copyright 1996 by Baker Books.
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Copyright 1984 by Baker Books.
The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, L. O. Richards editor, Zondervan, 1985.
Holman Bible Dictionary. Copyright 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers.
New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, editor Colin Brown, Zondervan, CDRom.
New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Zondervan., CDRom
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright 1996 by Biblesoft.
The Essential IVP Reference Collection, CDRom, 2001.
The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, editors C. F. Pfeiffer, H. F. Vos, J. Rea, Moody, 1975.
Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, M. C. Tenney editor, 1976.

Bible Commentaries: 
Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright 1996 by Biblesoft
Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright 1997 by Biblesoft.
A Bible Commentary For Today, editors Howley, Bruce, and Ellison, Pickering and Inglis, 1979.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Victor, 1986.
The Bible Exposition Commentary, Warren Wiersbe, Victor, 1989.
Expositor’s Bible Commentary, F. E. Gaebelein editor, CDRom, Zondervan
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database, Copyright 1997 by Biblesoft
New Bible Commentary, IVP, Third and Fourth Editions, 1970 and 1994.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Electronic Database, Hendrickson Publishers.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database, Copyright 1962 by Moody Press.
William Barclay, “The Daily Study Bible”, Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1984.

“The Distinctness of Christian Leadership”, William D. Lawrence, Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1987, Dallas Theological Seminar.
“Are you under spiritual control?” D. Johnson and J. Vanvonderen, Charisma magazine, July 1992.

W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament”, University of Chicago, 1957.
Thomas S. Green, “A Greek-English Lexicon to the NT”, Bagster and Sons, London, 1972.
G. Kittell, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”, abridged, Eerdmans, 1985.
“The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”, Kittel and Friedrich, Eerdmans, 1985, CDRom.
Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, abridged, Oxford, 1944.
New Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, Biblesoft.
Robertson’s “Word Pictures in the New Testament”, Electronic Database. Copyright 1997 by Biblesoft.
Thayer’s “Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament”, Baker, 1977.
Vine’s “Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words”, Copyright 1985, Nelson.
“Word Meanings in the New Testament”, Ralph Earle, Baker, 1989.
“The Word Study Concordance” (The Englishman’s Greek Concordance), Tyndale, 1978.
S. Zodhiates,  “The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible”, AMG Publishers, 1990.

“A New Testament Word Book”, William Barclay, SCM Press, London, 1955.
“Knots Untied”, Bishop J. C. Ryle, James Clarke, Cambridge, 1977.
“Decision Making and the Will of God”, Friesen and Maxson, chapters 23 and 24, Multnomah, 1980.


14         Appendices.

14.1           Appendix A: Fight Or Flight? When Should A Person Leave A Church?

Leaving a church is not something that should be done carelessly or lightly.  Disagreements over petty matters of preference are not a sound reason for leaving a sound Bible-based church.  Unfortunately, spiritual abuse can occur in the context of a doctrinally sound, conservative, Bible-preaching church.  Sometimes it is sometimes necessary to leave a church for conscience sake or from a duty to obey God rather than men.

When a person finds herself/himself in a spiritually abusive situation, two alternatives present themselves.  Do I leave to find another home church?  Or should I remain to press for reforms and wait for a change of policy?

These questions should help you to decide whether you are the victim spiritual abuse and whether to flee or fight:

  1. Does the leadership permit individual differences of opinion based on the principle of “in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things love”?  Is there room for individuality or is conformity a priority?  Is the pastor defensive, above criticism, dictatorial, and authoritarian?  Does he demand unquestioned obedience?
  1. Does the ministry stress performance (attendance at meetings, enforced giving such as compulsory tithes, doing jobs at church, obeying church rules) rather than a personal relationship with God through Christ?  Is what you do valued more than who you are in Christ?
  1. Are you living by grace and by faith in the finished work of Christ or are you trying too hard to live up to the unrealistic expectations of others, especially the leaders?  Is your salvation based on Christ’s grace alone or on your own efforts to please others?
  1. Do you feel manipulated or intimidated or dominated by an intolerant legalistic ministry? Are you made to feel inadequate and guilty if you do not conform to peer pressure?
  1. Are members classified as first-class or second-class depending on their outward behaviour and external performance?  Is your level of service overwhelming?  Does your busy schedule leave little room for non-church activities?
  1. Does the preaching genuinely exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ or is there a cult of personality based on the leader who exalts himself above the congregation?  Does the leader have an attitude of spiritual superiority and make special claims about himself? Does the leader define the “truth”?
  1. How financially self-supporting is the leadership?  Is the leader becoming wealthy at the expense of the congregation?  Are there regular financial disclosures?
  1. How accountable is the leadership to the congregation and to an outside or objective point of reference?  A leader who claims to be accountable only to God is a person out of control who does as he pleases.
  1. Does the church have written or unwritten man-made rules that unscripturally govern your life?  For example, are you free to fellowship with Christians from other churches? Are you expected to marry within this particular church?  How are you expected to spend Sundays?
  1. Does the church often co-operate with other churches in a united witness and frequently invite outside speakers?  Or does it claim to be a special church superior to other fellowships?  Is there an “Us” versus “Them” mentality?
  1. What is the attitude of the church toward its ex-members?  Does it love them, or does it verbally execute them and discourage fellowship with them?
  1. Is the discipline of members exercised in a loving Christ-like manner with a view to restoration and reconciliation?  Or is the discipline negative and punitive?
  1. Suppose you had recently begun attending this church.  Knowing what you now know about it, would you stay?  Would you bring another person to this church to make it their church home?
  1. Can you (and your family) remain in this church and stay spiritually healthy?
  1. Is the church seriously out of step with the NT pattern for servant leadership and community of fellowship

If your answer to many of these questions is disappointing and unsatisfactory, then you must ask yourself, “Why am I staying here?”

Be honest with yourself and avoid denial.  God values your honesty.  You will certainly experience spiritual and emotional pain as you seek to break free from unbiblical psychological control.  The author suggests from his own painful experience of escape from this type of legalistic situation that you seek trustworthy counsel from outside your church to clarify your position before God.

14.2           Appendix B: How May I Choose A Safe Church Home?

There is no biblical excuse for not belonging to a local church.  Media ministries cannot adequately replace a personal involvement and commitment to a fellowship, given that the Lord Jesus, as the Head of the Church that is his body, relates not only to individual believers but also to believers-in-community. 

Provided a church is faithful to the Bible, through corporate worship, music, celebration, fellowship, prayer and instruction, we experience church as the living body of Christ.  Believers are members of God’s family and members of one another, with a responsibility for the welfare of one another.  Growth in Christ is not only individual, but involves the health and maturity of the whole body of believers.

Here are some guidelines to help choose a safe church home:

1.      Does it hold to the inspiration of the Bible, and accept that it is the only rule for faith and practice of the Christian life?

2.      Has the church sound healthy doctrine?  For example, is salvation based solely on Christ’s work on the cross or are legalistic church rules involved?

3.      Does the church practice the teachings that it claims to believe and teach?

4.      How does the leadership function?  Is it authoritarian, dogmatic and dictatorial?  Is the conscience of the individual respected? 

5.      How accountable is the leadership to the congregation?  Is there financial disclosure? Check the leaders’ character and spiritual qualifications against the recommendations of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy chapter 3 and Titus chapter one.

6.      Consider the size of the church that you would prefer.

7.      Does the leadership stress the importance of honouring God in all things?  How involved are the individual members of the congregation?  Is the pastor expected to do everything or is there an exercise of a variety of spiritual gifts by others?

8.      Does the church have a healthy balance between children’s ministry, evangelism, discipleship, cell groups, overseas missions, and support for the family?  Will this church meet the needs of all the members of my family?

9.      Assess the overall atmosphere of the church.  Is there a reverential fear of God?  Ask yourself: “Am I willing to give my time, talents, money and energy to the life of this church?”

Finally, finding the right church home for you requires the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life. Remember there is no perfect church. Consider whether you can contribute to a particular church to improve it with your own spiritual gifts.

References click on reference to go back to that paragraph or click here to go to contents

[1] Thayer page 225.
[2] page 277.
[3] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers
[4] Thayer page 195.

[5] William Barclay, “A New Testament Wordbook”, page 34.
[6] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, CDRom.
[7] Arndt and Gingrich page 439.
[8] Thayer page 352.
[9] William Barclay, “A New Testament Wordbook”, page 36.
[11] Arndt and Gingrich page 183
[12] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[13] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, volume 12, page 70.
[14] Thayer page 243.
[15] Beyer, Theological Dictionary of the NT, page 244-248.
[16] L. Coenen, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.
[17] William Barclay, A Daily Study Bible, volume 12, page 71.
[18] Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Electronic Database. 1997 by Biblesoft.
[19] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson.
[20] Thayer page 527.
[21] E. Beyreuther, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.
[22] Phillips Modern English translation of 1 Timothy 3:2.
[23] William Barclay Translation of 1 Timothy 3:2.
[24] G. Kittell page 496.
[25] TDNT, Kittell, electronic edition, 20000.
[26] New International Dictionary of NT Theology, electronic edition.
[27] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, CDRom.
[28] L. Coenen, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.
[29] Thayer page 654.
[30] Arndt and Gingrich page 868.
[31] Thayer, page 332.
[32] Thayer, page 339.
[33] Arndt and Gingrich, page 422.
[34] The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, page 1821.
[35] K. Hess, New International Dictionary of NT Theology.
[36] Thayer, page 158.
[37] TDNT, abridged Kittel, page 153.
[38] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, electronic edition.
[39] Thayer page 313.
[40] Thayer, page 10.
[41] Thayer page 11.
[42] Thayer page 494.
[43] Thayer page 642.
[44] Strong’s Concordance.
[45] Arndt and Gingrich page 459.
[46] Arndt and Gingrich page 795.
[47] Arndt and Gingrich page 411.
[48] Thayer page 331.
[49] Arndt and Gingrich page 423.
[50] The Translator’s NT
[51] Thayer page 370
[52] Arndt and Gingrich page 465
[53] Arndt and Gingrich page 281
[54] Thayer page 129
[55] Thayer page 631.
[56] Thayer page 282.
[57] Thayer page 4.
[58] Thayer page 32.
[59] Arndt and Gingrich page 64.
[60] Thayer page 527.
[61] Thayer page 242.
[62] Thayer page 632.
[63] Arndt and Gingrich page 713.
[64] G. Kittell, Theological Dictionary of the NT, abridged, page 939.
[65] Thayer page 225.
[66] Arndt and Gingrich page 278.
[67] Thayer page 174.
[68] Thayer page 497.
[69] Kittell page 818.
[70] The Hebrew-Greek Study Bible, page 1839.
[71] Thayer page 344.
[72] Green page 82.
[73] Liddell and Scott page 301
[74] The Daily Study Bible, volume 13, page 200.