Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Is There Any Spiritual Authority Outside of a Church and Other than the Lord Jesus Christ?

Once upon a time, some people outside of First Baptist of Hammond warned about Jack Hyles. Hyles had worked his situation to insulate against outside interference.  He had established a strong grip of pastoral authority, even when it was obvious to anyone that he was long disqualified from the office.

When some attempted intervention with Hyles, they were dismissed as undermining church authority. Since then, in my lifetime, I have seen this play out again and again in numbers of different places with the same claims of individual church authority being sacrosanct.  Is it true that another church does not have authority over another church?  Does the chain of authority end at a single church?

Here Presbyterians might pipe up.  They offer presbyteries, synods, general assembly, and confessions.  They would claim some biblical basis for this system and tout the quality control it offers.  The church council has authority over individual churches according to this arrangement. Truly, if that is a biblical structure, we should follow it.  I don't think so, but I digress.

A church with which I was very close, at which I was a one time member, began a rot at the head. Then I heard the idea that if someone warned the members, he was stepping someplace without authority.  He was doing the worse thing.  The rotting of the church was bad, but he made the warning worse.  The dilapidation of the church was better than messing with church authority.  You might call this laying down the church authority card.

About every week, I visit other church's members and try to pry them from their churches.  Is this wrong?  Is that messing with church authority?  Is it dividing a church?  At what point, is it permissible to do anything about what's going wrong with another church?  Our church says, my priest says, my pastor says, is a primary basis for not listening.  They don't need scripture; they've got their leader.

Some might say, you can do something.  You can pray.  You can talk to the pastor of that church, try to change his mind, make a difference that way.  I agree with pray.  I also think that faith without works is dead.  While I'm praying, the Bible tells me to do something about someone who disobeys. Prayer in that sense is faithless.  I agree with confront the pastor.  And he shuts it down.  You're done, and when you say one more thing, you're what?  You are messing with the authority of that church. You've got your own church, so, really, mind your own business.

So you've now talked to the pastor and he's doubled down.  He has battened down the hatches and circled the wagons and closed ranks in numbers of ways.  You either don't understand church authority, you disrespect it, or you're arrogant.  You can't tell him, them, what to do.  You are operating outside of your realm of authority.

Enter my local only church doctrine.  I'm local only.  Local only guys really respect the authority of each church.  When someone works around the pastor or operates on another church not his own, he's proven that he's not a local only guy.  That's sort of universal church happening in practice.  Is this right?

Jesus is over all the churches and Jesus wrote the Bible.  The use of the generic noun, "church," says there is only one church, His church.  There are not a variety of churches.  There is only His church, His.  Church.  When another church disobeys the Bible, at what point are you defying church authority?  Again, Jesus is the Head of the church.  He walks in the midst of His churches.  He's a body part -- the Head of the body, of each body.  He's also the body.  The body, over which He is the Head, is His body.

Jesus said, "I will build my church."  He has only one church.  And each of those churches are to have the same mind. What is that mind?  What is the source of that unity?  It is the truth.  The truth is authority outside of every church and other than the Lord Jesus Christ.  How does Jesus Head the church?  Through His Words.  He rules through His Words.  Each church is ultimately under the authority of scripture, so each church doesn't have the authority to disobey scripture.  Disobedience to scripture is the worst abuse of authority.

In a sense, Jesus is the Truth, so the truth is still Jesus.  But you know what I mean.  People outside of a church can judge another church according to the truth.  And they can intervene with the truth.  It's true that they can only say something.  They don't have a vote.

Once a whole church stops listening, you can't do anything anymore, just like you can't do anything with a person you evangelize who won't listen.  You dust your feet of that church, just like you would that individual.  At what point do you let it go?  Can only a church judge church authority?

We have an example of churches intervening in each other's matters in Acts 15.  There were two churches, one in Antioch and one in Jerusalem, on the outs with each other, and the leadership met to stay in fellowship.  The fellowship between two churches was important.  Would each church just say, "It's none of your business," or, "You're just getting your nose in another church's matter?"  Not if they cared about each other, and not if they loved the church and Jesus and the truth.

In the end, is church authority more important than the truth or is church authority a means to an end, which is the Truth?  We are sanctified by the Truth, not church authority.  Church authority is a truth, but not a truth to abuse truth.

The church authority card could be used in an abusive way.  I think it was in the Hyles situation, the one I had several years ago with a church with which we were a member.  That church rallied other churches to its side, saying that its authority was being undermined and attacked.

I can't do anything with authority in another church except tell its members the truth.  I'm not there to see events like its members can see, but I can judge doctrine, perhaps even better than the church people themselves.  There is some practice I can judge.  If I get on youtube and see false worship, I'm seeing it.  I can read a doctrinal statement.  I can interview, ask questions, and hear it or see it myself.  We can know things about a church from the outside.  The Acts 15 churches were judging those types of beliefs and practices themselves, when they judged each other.  And then they did something about it.

Many of the decisions about what do do with a particular person or pastor or church are each judgment calls.  You act in wisdom, relying on biblical principle.  Any men should be willing to have their teaching and practice exposed to reasonable, biblical criticism.  Every church should be willing to defend their practice.  I know I want to do that.  I want to explain why we believe and practice like we do.  If what I believe and practice is good and the truth, then I should want to and be able to defend it in front of more than just my own church people.

The Bible itself is authority outside of a church.  No church has authority outside of scripture.  When you lay down what God says, that still rules over a church, whether it comes from the outside or from within.

5 comments:

Farmer Brown said...

This is troubling. The Jack Hyles situation was in a certain class because of the loyalty he fostered (and demanded) in those that were associated with him. This is the reason people thousands of miles away who had not been to Hammond in a decade were wearing "I'm with Jack" buttons to church in the 1980s. His was a public "ministry", like Jim Baker or Bob Jones University.

When do you make the decision that you have the authority to step into another church? Whom are you trying to pry away? Are these real candlesticks?

In Corinth there was all manner of rot, but Paul did not tell people to leave or to pry members from that assembly. What of the churches in Revelations two and three? Would you feel justified in visiting a Corinthian church member and telling them to leave? What about Thyatira and Loadicea? Would it be acceptable to tell those people to leave?

If Jesus who was walking among them wanted people to leave, couldn't he have said that? These churches were is dire straits, but the Lord wanted to see them strengthened. Would you be accomplishing God's purpose if you stripped away their members?

Not that there is never a time to leave if you are a member. We still have to withdraw ourselves from those walking disorderly, as we are commanded, even if it is a leader. However, what is you example for stepping into another churches matters? When do you have the authority to "tell him, them, what to do."?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Farmer Brown,

The people I'm trying to pry away are those in churches where you can't worship God. Many of them only claim to be converted, but are not, so in a sense, although they are members of those churches, or just attend, they aren't even part of the church spiritually. I ask, "Can you worship God in your church?" If not, they should move somewhere else. I think that Corinth and Ephesus, etc. are good examples of someone on the outside intervening, by the way. I never included that. The push back would be, they were apostles, usually. But the apostles set an example. The truth is authority over a church, so when a church isn't obeying the truth, intervention is necessary.

I believe that any unrepentant disobedience that you know, and I say know, that isn't being confronted, is grounds for confrontation.

The better thing is for churches to change, which is why you talk to the pastors first, which we do, have done.

I'm primarily here though, talking about intervening, period---intervening with a pastor, with pastoral leadership, and then the men, to deal with their pastor, and most of the time it stops there. You have no other grounds. I would suggest we do this with the churches we know.

A lot more can be said here, but I'll leave it at this.

George Calvas said...

If the church was organized biblically in a "Presbyterian form (1 Timothy 4)" of elders (Titus 1) and then one of those elders is the "presiding bishop" of that church, you would have a biblical avenue of biblical rule where each "member in particular" are all "subject to one another" (1 Peter 5:1-5) and the church is served by the bishop who upholds the biblical principles, truths established by all members and overseen by the presbytery and carried out by the bishop.

The pastor has taken rule and that has no biblical basis except to usurp the authority of the elders and bishop.

Farmer Brown said...

George, you cannot cite 1 Peter 5:1-2 to show separate church offices since it definitively proves pastor, bishop, and elder are a single office. I believe it is the only passage where all three titles are used.

Peter says "the elders which are among you I exort...feed (pastor[ing], ποιμαίνω) the flock...taking the oversight (bishop[ing], ἐπισκοπέω).

He is repeating the instruction, almost word for word, that Jesus gave him in the beach. John 21:16 ...He saith unto him, "Feed (pastor, ποιμαίνω) my sheep. Peter in turn tells those elders to bishop and pastor the flock of God.

You can call him a bishop, pastor or elder, or just call him by name since the apostles seemed to eschew titles, but he is all the same man.

George Calvas said...

Farmer,

When it says elder or bishop, it does not mean pastor. A pastor can be a single man (Jeremiah 17:16 cf. 16:2) and since Jeremiah was told not to marry and also called himself a pastor, your conclusions do not stand the test of scriptural truth based on terms defined clearly by the scriptures.

Also, if you look at the lists of gifts found in Ephesians 4 and compare them to 1 Corinthians 12, you will find pastor and evangelist in only one list. The list of Ephesians 4 identifies the "work of the ministry" while the list in 1 Corinthians 12 identifies those gifts "set in the church".

Though the word in Greek for shepherd is the same for pastor, every time the word shepherd is used in the NT it is always in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, except in one place. That is why the Holy King James Bible is so precise, that it used pastor in Ephesians 4 so that there would be no confusion as to who the "shepherd of the sheep" is and it is NOT the "pastor". The Holy King James Bible did the same thing in the OT with the Hebrew. (See the same precision with Greek word pascha in Acts 12 that is translated as Easter).

The church should be scripturally organized as a presbytery of elders with a single "presiding elder" being the bishop of the assembly. As the officer of that office (his bishopric- Acts 1) he both oversees the administration and ministration of that assembly.

The pastor is supposed to "pasture" by feeding the flock of God “with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15) of the word of God. It is possible that a one who is a bishop could also pastor, since he is certainly told to "do the work of an evangelist" and be "apt to teach". But, it is not true that a pastor is always a bishop.