What Does the Reformation Mean for Today?

I believe the need for the Reformation, which began on this day in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Church of All Saints, continues today.

It continues on at least two fronts. First, the need for the Reformation continues because the Roman Catholic church has never turned from its rejection of the Christian doctrine of justification by faith alone. (You can learn more on this doctrine here, which is one of the first articles I wrote when I started learning about theology.) I say this respectfully, because I know that there are many solid Christians within the Roman Catholic church. I don’t want to offend. At the same time, there are real differences between the Protestant and Catholic churches which must not be ignored or minimized.

Second, the need for the Reformation continues in that it reminds us that all Christians everywhere are to stand up against tyranny in all its forms. Martin Luther stood up against the spiritual tyranny of his day. Spiritual tyranny continues today as well (in Protestant churches as well as non-Protestant). It occurs any time a spiritual authority sets itself up as lord over another person and claims to be a ruler over their life — whether explicitly or, as is more common, implicitly by requiring obedience to rules and traditions that are not taught in the Bible. As Luther pointed out, such actions are contrary to the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, as well as sola Scriptura and the primacy of Scripture over human rules and tradition. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and Scripture always trumps tradition and human requirements.

There are many other forms of tyranny as well, such as the tyranny of corrupt political and law enforcement systems in the developing world which perpetuate injustice against the poor for the sake of their own material gain. These forms of tyranny are to be opposed by Christians as well, because Christians care about all suffering and all distortions of God’s work. In my view, there are many organizations doing an excellent job here (such as International Justice Mission), and we have much hope for continuing progress in the years ahead.

In sum, the Reformation is a call for all Christians to (respectfully and appropriately) stand up against tyranny in all forms, wherever they encounter it. It is also a call to use our critical judgment to become educated and think for ourselves, recognizing that we all have a responsibility to ensure that leaders both within the church and without are truly leading according to what is right and true.

October 31, 2014 | Filed Under Christian Living | Leave a Comment 

Luther’s 95 Theses

In honor of Reformation Day today, here are Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which sparked the Reformation.

Here are also twol posts by Justin Taylor and one from Ligonier Ministries:

I would also highly recommend Luther’s excellent short works The Freedom of a Christian and The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

 

October 31, 2014 | Filed Under Theology | Leave a Comment 

Advice on Prayer from Tim Keller

Tim Keller’s new book on prayer comes out next week, and it looks excellent.

When I was at Catalyst a few weeks ago, I saw him doing an interview on the book and he made a very insightful point.

In talking about how to become better at making time for prayer, he said this: “If you are going to take 20 minutes to pray on a certain day, it is better to pray for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night than all 20 minutes at once.”

That strikes me as very useful. First of all, you are more likely to do anything for the full amount of time if you break it up into smaller pieces.

Second of all, you will have different things to pray for at night than you did in the morning. So you are able to keep your prayer time more in sync with the nature of your day if you divide it up between morning and night.

October 29, 2014 | Filed Under Prayer | Leave a Comment 

What Does it Mean to Follow Christ in the Workplace?

That’s the subject of my post at The Gospel Project yesterday, Work and the Kingdom of God. I talk about avoiding the two errors of compartmentalization and spiritual weirdness, and how the biblical path is love at work (and what that means).

October 22, 2014 | Filed Under Work | 1 Comment 

Getting Accountability Right

Sometimes, I hear people reason like this. They say “the NT teaches that we are prone to self-deception. Therefore we need to be accountable to others and especially the leadership of the church.”

This sounds good at first. However, all 6,000 years of recorded history — as well as the Scriptures themselves — reveal something very incomplete about that thinking.

I’m not against accountability. But something is being left out, and it is this: the most important form of accountability is the accountability of leaders to those they are leading.

In other words, this new movement in the church seems to be placing the emphasis on followers “submitting.” But the lesson of human history and the Scriptures is that the first and greatest priority is for the leaders to submit to the followers by seeing themselves as servants who are accountable to them.

We see this in world history, where we learn that power has a tendency to corrupt people — and therefore must be limited and kept accountable. For example, the basic premises behind the structure of the United States, learning from what went before in the over-reaching governments of history, is that even more important than getting the right people into power (as important as that is) is having  mechanisms of accountability for those in power, regardless of who they are.

The reason is that even good people are often corrupted when they get into power. The temptation to please others and fall into group-think are great. Hence, the integrity of formal authority needs to be based not only in the character of the individuals, but also a system of checks and balances that checks and limits the authority.

This is also true in the church, and is seen in the Scriptures. The chief opponents to the prophets (in the OT) and Jesus and the apostles in (in the NT) were not the people, but the leaders. Further, God holds people accountable for whether they go along with over-reaching leadership or stand up to it. For example, in Jeremiah 24:10-11 we read: “Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart.” Note that it is the shepherds — the leaders — in this passage who destroyed God’s flock, and God laments the fact that no one (that is, not even the non-leaders) lay it to heart and thus do something about it.

Likewise, in Isaiah 3:12, God says “O my people, your guides mislead you.” He then continues “the Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people” (Isaiah 3:14). In the NT, we see leadership often using their authority to oppose the doing of good. The Pharisees, for example, claimed it was contrary to proper rules for the disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) and for Jesus to heal a man on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14). And, of course, they ultimately used their authority to crucify Jesus.

The notion of “submit to those in authority” can easily be a recipe for overlooking these important realities of how authority is often abused, and how we therefore always have a responsibility to use our critical judgment to “examine all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), including the use of authority.

It is certainly important for individuals to keep themselves accountable as part of a good circle of Christian fellowship. But let’s not forget that leadership also needs to keep itself accountable. Let’s make sure we don’t fall into a one-way notion where we forget that accountability equally (in fact, more fully) applies to leadership. To view the accountability of individuals to leadership as the key solution to individual self-deception is simply to set ourselves up to repeat the mistakes of the middle ages and corrupt governments, by handing over more authority to leadership than it is designed by God to have.

Let me be clear that I am not against authority, and submission to authority. Rather, I am saying two things. First, true submission to authority recognizes that authority itself needs to acknowledge its accountability. It needs to acknowledge this not just in the sense that it will be accountable to Christ at the last judgment, which can be easily abused, but in the sense that they are also accountable here and now to the people they lead. This creates an accountability loop that affirms the dignity and equality of the followers and tends to check corruption.

Second, I am saying that authority is best exercised when it recognizes its limits. In the church, the limits pertain chiefly to primary doctrines — not secondary doctrines. That is, it is not over-reaching to seek to hold someone accountable for rejecting a primary doctrine of the faith, such as the Trinity or justification by faith alone. But when authority seeks to “keep people accountable” in relation to secondary issues, they very often by definition step outside of the realm of their legitimate authority and wreak havoc. This brings people into bondage and hinders the advance of the gospel and the joy people are to have in their salvation.

Further, the entire notion of “being submissive” can sometimes end up being understood in a way that diminishes the competence and freedom of the individual before God — which are important truths that we especially learned from the Reformation.

Leaders are not somehow better or more important to God than those they lead. The people they are leading are incredibly competent and amazing in their own right. Leadership that does not acknowledge this at its very heart and does not lead in such a way that centers on affirming and building up the dignity and competence of the individual is not true biblical leadership.

The proper use of authority is a beautiful thing. A truly wonderful, beautiful thing. Common grace and the Scriptures teach us that the chief and proper use of authority is to defend people’s freedom. That’s how Jesus used it (Matthew 12:1-21; Galatians 5:1) and how Paul used it (Galatians 2:4-5; 5:13). Let’s get back to emphasizing this important truth.

October 21, 2014 | Filed Under Leadership | 5 Comments 

The Pastor’s Kid

Last July, Barnabas Piper came out with his fantastic book The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and IdentityBarnabas writes, obviously, as a pastor’s kid. Unique to any other book on the subject is that the foreword is by his dad, pastor John Piper.

He is not writing this book as a memoir or some sort of tell-all which, he says, “would [not] be very interesting.” Instead, his aim in the book is to “raise awareness of the struggles of PKs and give voice to a group of people who are often well recognized but little known.” The book is drawn not simply from his own experience, but from emails and stories that other pastor’s kids have shared with him as well. As a result, the book is truly positioned to give a voice to PKs, undergirded by the fact that Barnabas is in a unique position to articulate that voice effectively, being a PK himself.

He writes for three audiences. First, he writes for PKs. Being a pastor’s kid is uniquely challenging. “The reality of being a sinner on display in a ministry family creates quite the spiritual and emotional Molotov cocktail.” At the same time, “being a PK can also be a profound blessing and provide wonderful grounding for a godly life.” So he writes “to give a voice to the PK who doesn’t know what to do with his challenges.”

Second, he writes for pastors. He wants pastors to be aware of the real depths of the struggle their kids face as PKs. “This is not a book to point an accusatory finger at the failures of pastors, although some will be death with, but to assist you in avoiding and remedying those failures.”

Third, he writes for the church. Why? Because “the congregation has more responsibility than it knows to care for and ease the burden of the pastor and his family.” Unfortunately, “too often the church has fostered a culture that puts enormous pressure on the pastor and his family.” He hopes that this book therefore “opens some eyes to things that need to change.”

Barnabas accomplishes his goals with great effectiveness. While he acknowledges that he can be hard on pastors at times, his aim is to heal. He accomplishes this because the dominant theme of the book is grace. He talks about his own need for grace and how grace is ultimately the solution to meeting the unique needs of PK’s in their pressure-cooker lives that are lived before a watching congregation that sometimes places a higher priority on spiritual showmanship and meeting man-made expectations than genuine authenticity.

The emphasis on grace is what makes this book so helpful. By reading this book, you learn not only more about the unique pressures of PKs and how to serve them better; you also learn about the grace of God generally — especially as it is manifest in tough situations. That is what makes this book useful and important to everyone, whether you are a PK or not, whether you are a pastor or not, or whether your pastor has kids growing up in the church or not.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the appendix: “Seven Rules for When You Meet a PK.” At root, the seven rules boil down to one thing: get to know a PK for who they are, and care about them for who they are, not because they are the pastor’s son or daughter. As the church keeps that in mind (which is really just a form of the Golden Rule), they will serve PKs, as well as their families, well.

 

October 21, 2014 | Filed Under Christian Living | Leave a Comment 

Teach Us to Want

Jen Pollock Michel’s book Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith is one of the most well-written books I’ve read in the last year.

Jen writes for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog. You may remember her from last spring when she wrote a review of my book that pointed out that I didn’t do a good enough job of giving a sufficient theology of productivity for women. I thought she made a great point and blogged about that here.

As I was learning more about her work, I discovered that she was also coming out with a book soon. So I picked it up once it came out and have found it very enjoyable and super helpful.

Jen takes up a theme that is especially important to me, as someone who holds to what John Piper calls “Christian hedonism.” That is, I believe that the pursuit of joy is good, not bad, and that our quest for joy finds its ultimate fulfillment in God. A key corollary to this belief is that desire, longing, and ambition are (when directed toward God) good things. 

Yet, we are often afraid of actually wanting things, thinking it may be unspiritual. And, of course, sometimes it can be. But it doesn’t have to necessarily be so.

This is where Jen’s book comes into the picture for me. Jen does a fantastic job for us in her book of redeeming desire and showing its rightful place in the life of faith. She shows that desire is good when it is redeemed, and reflects on it in relation to fear, courage, grace, the gospel, Scripture, prayer, community, and commitment.

She shows that we are not to cast discipleship as “a dreary matter of [merely] thinking right thoughts and acting accordingly.” We are guided in life by what we love, not just what we believe, and so it is actually essential to have a proper understanding of desire and its place in the Christian life. We need to reorient our loves and desires toward Christ and his kingdom and be captivated by him.

This is great news. And the best thing about the book is that it is something you want to read. Jen has made the book emotionally engaging, as well as truthful, thereby enabling the book itself to live up to its own message. It is filled with helpful personal stories and a writing style that makes the book a joyful discovery. Bethany Jenkins rightly said in her endorsement that this is “one of the most beautiful nonfiction books I have ever read,” and I would have to agree. I wouldn’t even know how to write as Jen does.

Sometimes, however, a great writing style is not matched with an equal reality of truthfulness in the content. Jen does not fall into that error. The book is wonderfully written while also being reliable, insightful, and deeply biblical.

If you are looking for a refreshing and truthful read on a much-overlooked subject that is nonetheless central to the life of faith, it’s worth getting a copy of Teach Us to Want.

(You might also be interested in the very helpful reviews at The Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today.)

October 20, 2014 | Filed Under Christian Living | 3 Comments 

Real Christian

I am very excited about Todd Wilson’s excellent new book, Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith

Todd and I go way back, having studied together under John Piper at The Bethlehem Institute back in our early days of seminary. Todd has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is now senior pastor at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL.

Real Christian is written in response to a major problem in the church today: there are many who claim to follow Christ but show little evidence of a transformed life. Drawing on Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, Todd shows us the meaning of authentic faith in Christ. He shows us that real Christianity is something you can see. That is, if we are truly following Christ there will be actual evidence in our lives and behavior. Further, this evidence consists not of the avoidance ethic or adherence to external regulations that put on a “show” of super-spirituality, but rather in Christ-like character.

Specifically, the evidence of real, authentic faith lies in five key qualities: “broken-hearted joy, a humble disposition, a readiness to acknowledge sin, an ability to live balanced and avoid legalism, and a deep spiritual hunger that drives growth.” Further, “all of these qualities culminate in the single defining mark of a real Christian — love.”

This is a very important message for the church today. Here’s what I say in my endorsement:

Todd Wilson’s Real Christian is exactly the book we need at this moment. It shows us that real faith in Christ truly changes us. It isn’t enough to say you’re real. Real Christianity has effects in your life that are visible, and Todd shows what those are. What we see is radically biblical, and yet not what we often think–which is exactly why this book is so important. Todd writes with a humility and clarity that is convicting and yet hopeful. Instead of throwing us back on ourselves, he points us to Christ in a way that few books today do. This book can help the church recapture its mission by helping it recover its authentic witness. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I mean it when I say Real Christian can help the church recapture its mission and have the impact God wants it to have. I see Real Christian, in part, as a continuation of a book like Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life or even David Platt’s Radical. Both of those books call us to live out our faith on mission with God by radically pursuing the good of others, especially in global missions. But there is something that needs to be even prior to that in our Christian lives — namely, the cultivation of godly, Christ-like character. Todd’s book shows us what that character looks like. This is a message that is urgently needed, and is the foundation for everything else we do.

Todd’s book is also super well written and a joy to read. I highly recommend picking it up.

October 17, 2014 | Filed Under Christian Living | 1 Comment 

The True Nature of Elder Authority in the Church

Note: I originally wrote this post a few weeks ago, in partial response to everything that was going on at Mars Hill. I didn’t post it, however, because I was hesitant to speak up about issues at a church where I don’t attend.

However, the issues at Mars Hill pertain to many crucial biblical principles that are relevant and important for us all. In light of Mark Driscoll’s recent resignation, therefore, I think it is important for the church  (in the universal sense) to take this as an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the nature of true biblical leadership. While the initial impetus for the article was what was happening at Mars Hill, this article chiefly seeks to outline those broader, universal principles of leadership in the church that are applicable to us all and crucial for all of us to come to understand better.

At the end I will also tip my hand and say what I think the root issue at Mars Hill was. I think the root issue is different from what almost anybody has said so far. It goes to the issue of how a wrong view of leadership can lead even people with good intent to do great harm.

Here’s the article:

 

Recent controversies in the evangelical world have shown that Protestants are not immune to falling into an unbiblical understanding of the nature of pastoral and elder authority.

It’s probably obvious which controversy I’m referring to; there are others as well.

This is why it is especially important to understand what the Bible actually teaches regarding the role of elders and the nature of their authority. Almost everyone affirms that elders should not “domineer” over the church (1 Peter 5:3). But few people, in my observation, understand what that actually means. Often, people think that not domineering simply means leading for the good of others, rather than your own gain. That is certainly part of it, but there is more. For if you lead for the good of others and yet fail to see yourself as an equal with those you are leading, you are still domineering because you are putting yourself in a special, elite class above others. Such leaders, while turning aside from the harsh dictator model of leadership, have simply fallen into the benevolent dictator model of leadership — which is just as harmful as straight-up authoritarianism (sometimes more so, because it is so subtle).

So we need to understand what type of authority elders really have in the church, and what it truly means to not be domineering.

There are many sources we could go to to summarize the biblical view on this (which has always been the historic Protestant view). One of the best is John Stott, who covers this issue very well in a few simple but profound paragraphs from his book Christ in ConflictSo in this article, what I’m going to do is quote a few sentences from Stott, make some comments, quote the next few sentences from Stott, make some comments on those, and so forth. By the end we will have a clear outline of the real nature (and limitations) of the authority of elders in the church, to the end that we will know what the Scriptures mean when they say that elders are not to “domineer” over those they are leading.

Principle 1: Elder Authority is Limited, Not Absolute

Stott begins:

[Citing Mark 10:42-45] Thus Christian ministers are to take as their model the Christ who came to serve, not the Gentiles (or the Pharisees) who preferred to be lords.

This is not to deny that some authority attaches to the ministry, but rather to define and limit it (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 3:5; Hebrews 13:7).

Here Stott gives us the first principle of the nature of elder authority: it is limited. That is, elders don’t have full and absolute authority over anyone in the church, no matter what, and no matter what their intentions are.

There is a useful analogy here from civil government that helps make this especially clear. In grade school, most of us (hopefully) learned one of the most basic principles of government — that government authority is limited. The government does not have the right to tell you to do literally anything or lord it over your life. Because people are in the image of God and have the God-given (not government-granted, but God-given) right to freedom, government does not have unlimited rights over a person.

Sometimes people say “that’s just a distorted view of those biased Americans who love democracy are really just interested in avoiding authority.” But that is completely false. For the fact that people are in the image of God and thus have a right to be free is a deeply significant, universal truth of common grace, which is ingrained in conscience and taught clearly in the Scriptures themselves. It stems from the fact that we are all in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 9:6; James 3:9), and all equally in the image of God (Job 31:13-15; 34:19; Proverbs 22:2; Ephesians 6:9; James 2:1-13).

So, in reality, it is not the case that this is just a silly American idea. In fact, I would say that the reality is that, due to our history of being a nation birthed in overcoming tyranny, Americans have the greatest responsibility of all to recognize, grasp and defend this truth. 

Now, when it comes to church authority, here is the important thing to recognize: This truth regarding the limited scope of authority for human government does not go away in the church. Otherwise, while we may live in a nation where we are now free from the tyranny of the state, we are ripe to have that tyranny replaced by the tyranny of a church. For if we think that the authority of government is limited, but the authority of elders in the church is not (based on a misunderstanding of passages like Hebrews 13:7), we have simply replaced one form of tyranny for another.

In fact, if church elders do not recognize that their authority over an individual also has God-given limitations, we are in a much worse position than if we were the victims of political tyranny. For then, instead of only one entity lording it over people, there can effectively become millions of miniature kings claiming authority over people’s lives.

In other words, what we have (hopefully) learned through human history and the Scriptures about the need for government authority to be limited reflects universal principles which are also true in the church. Because the right to freedom and self-direction arise from the fact that we are all equally created in the image of God, then it is not only wrong for the government to assume ultimate authority over an individual; it is also wrong for anyone in the church, such as elders, to assume that they have this role and type of authority.

You might think at first “well, of course no one in the church actually thinks they have that type of authority.” But that’s not true. One example is the institution of the Papacy. Though I have Roman Catholic friends and affirm the good that so many institutions founded by Roman Catholics are doing in the cause of social good, one of the chief reasons I am not a Roman Catholic is because the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church is that the Pope has universal authority over all Christians. I reject the supremacy of the Pope, as God has given no person (or even institution) such authority. It exceeds the limits on authority that God has granted to the government of his church, and for that reason (along with objections to the official Roman Catholic doctrines on foundational issues such as justification by faith alone, the Mass, and others) I am not a Catholic.

However, as Protestants, we are not immune from accepting over-reaching authority in our churches, either. We can sometimes fall into what can be called (alluding back to the analogy of the Papacy) a functional Roman Catholic view of authority when it comes to church elders. Here is one example of this (exceeding, ironically, even the authority the Pope seeks to exercise). I recently heard of an individual who was dating a certain person. An elder at their church did not want them dating that person. When the person said “I have the right to date the person I choose,” the elder said “I’m your elder and have authority over you; you have to do what I say.”

That is a completely wrong and unbiblical view of elder authority. That elder did not have the authority over this individual to tell them who they can and cannot date. The elder was failing to recognize that when the Scriptures say things like “submit to your elders” (Hebrews 13:7) it does not mean this in an unlimited sense any more than “submit to the government” (Romans 13:1) is meant in an unlimited sense (see above). The authority of elders, like the government, is a limited authority, not an absolute authority. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and the Scriptures alone are the only authority to which we are to give unquestioned allegiance. When an elder in the church (or anyone at all) seeks to require a person to do or believe something in their personal lives that the Scriptures do not require, they have overstepped their authority and set themselves up as a lord over that person. (And note — this is true even if the elder has good intentions. Good intentions do not justify over-stepping God-ordained limits on authority.)

Sometimes people have the view that this individual, or those in other situations like his, are selfish for wanting to direct their own decisions. But that is a completely unbiblical view. God wants individuals to make their own decisions in areas where his Word has not said that there is only one particular choice that can be made.

This is how people mature — by using their own judgment and making their own decisions. God wants wise, mature Christians — not merely compliant rule-followers who outsource the direction of their lives to others. (Some might, finally, object that perhaps this person was seeking to date a non-Christian; from everything I’ve read on this case, that doesn’t seem to be the case; but even if it were, the elder should have appealed to Scripture — not his own [non-existent!] authority as an elder per se.)

Principle 2: Elders Have Authority insofar as They Are Affirming What the Scriptures Affirm

If the authority of elders is a limited authority, what, then, is the scope and nature of their authority? Stott answers that well as he continues:

It is the authority which stems from sound teaching and consistent example. It is never authoritarian to the extent that someone attempts to dominate another’s mind, conscience, or will. “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Yet lording it is exactly what the Pharisees were doing, keeping the people in subjection under them.

The authority of elders is this: First, it is authority to direct the affairs of the church. If the elders determine that the services will be at 9:00 am on Sunday mornings rather than 10:00 am, they have the authority to do that. Second, it is the authority of truth. When an elder speaks truth, there is real authority in that. Not because the elder said it, but because it is true. (If you say “but non-elders have that authority as well,” you would be right!) There is a real authority in speaking the truth.

Third, it is the authority of enforcing the truth within the church. “Enforce” can be a strong word. My main meaning is that elders have an authority of defining the statement of faith for the church, for example, defining membership requirements in accord with that standard, and holding church members accountable when there are egregious violations to Scriptural doctrine or ethics (example: 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). But note especially (which is my main point) that this is an accountability to truths that already exist, being taught in Scripture, not an inventing of truths or rules beyond the Scriptures that people then have to follow.

Someone might say here, “I don’t think the authority of truth is enough to define the scope of an elder’s authority, because it seems like elders have an authority within the church that goes beyond what any member does.” In response, the first thing I’d say that, as a congregationalist, I actually believe that the ultimate authority in the church, underneath Christ and the Scriptures, is the congregation, not the elders. The elders are ultimately accountable to the congregation, and thus ought to see themselves and operate as servants in the fullest sense of the word. One reason we know this is because, for example, the apostle Paul addressed his letters to the congregation, not the elders. And in the book of Galatians, he reproves the congregation for allowing false teachers to gain and have authority over them. As Mark Dever has said, in the NT “the congregation is seen as having ultimate responsibility for what the church becomes.”

Then, the second thing I would say is that the authority to direct the affairs of the church (not the lives of the individuals in the church) is a real and significant authority, and it does go beyond the authority individual members have. For it includes things like defining the confession of faith for the church, accepting and denying membership, and other such things. These things are not simply matters of order and organization; they communicate something about what the Bible teaches and have real influence in people’s lives.

For example, when a church refuses to accept into membership someone who rejects the Trinity, they are communicating that what we believe about the Trinity is a very important thing that is a matter of heresy and orthodoxy. While the church does not have the right to infringe on this person’s conscience and force them to believe in the Trinity (which would be impossible anyway), the act of affirming that membership is reserved only for those who uphold the orthodox teaching of Christianity keeps the church pure and, along with that, can in itself be a persuasive act that may lead to the person reconsidering their view and freely changing it to accord with what the Scriptures teach and the historic church has affirmed through the ages.

Third, included in this authority to direct the affairs of the church is the authority of church discipline. For example, if a member starts sleeping with his mother-in-law (as happened in 1 Corinthians 5), the church has the right to exercise church discipline if that person does not repent. This also preserves the purity of the church and upholds the clarity of truth. Note, however, that church discipline has to always be based on the Scriptures and pertain to foundational truths, never secondary doctrines. If a church were to seek to excommunicate someone for what they believe about the age of the earth, for example, that would be to exceed their authority and go beyond what the Scriptures allow.

What are the Scriptural foundations for this limited nature of elder authority? This is another area where some come in and say “this whole notion of limited church authority and such is just an American idea. Americans fell in love with democracy, and then just applied it to everything.”

But this is not true at all, as we already covered above. The limited nature of elder authority is rooted in the reality that all people have equally been created in the image of God and that there is therefore no elite class that has been specially designated with making people’s decisions for them and infringing on their conscience. Further, things like recognizing that elders are actually accountable to the congregation are also very solid common sense principles, as this principle is the best reflection of the truth that elders are not “philosopher-kings” set over the people. Further, it is the best check against abuse of power; accountability to some higher group, for example, would create a disconnect with the needs and concerns of the congregation. Accountability to those they are leading creates real accountability, because those in leadership cannot so easily fall into corruption or dismiss legitimate concerns of those they are leading.

Beyond this, there are specific Scriptural teachings on the nature and limitations of authority in the church. Stott continues:

 Jesus exposed the tyranny of the Pharisees by drawing attention to the revealing titles which they loved. He insisted that in the church he was founding such titles were not to be used: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah” (Matthew 23:8-10).

In other words, no one is to be involved in a child-father relationship of dependence or a servant-aster relationship of unquestioning obedience or a pupil-teacher relationship of uncritical acceptance. Each of these attitudes is doubly wrong.

For one thing it disrupts Christian fellowship: “You are all brothers.” For another it assumes rights which belong to God alone: “You have one Father [on whom you are to depend], and he is in heaven,” “you have one Instructor [whom you are to obey], the Messiah, and [Jesus might have added] you have one Guide [whose instruction you are to follow], the Holy Spirit.”

Domination by clergy or ministers is an offense both to God and humanity, to the three persons of the Trinity and to the fellowship of believers.

Principle 3: The Chief Purpose of Elder Authority in the Church is to Protect Church Members from the Abuse of Authority and Limitation of Their Freedom in Christ

What then, is the role of elders? It is to use their authority to protect church members’ freedom of conscience and self-direction in opposition to any who would seek to come in and violate this and l0rd it over their people. Further, it is to use their authority to serve and build up the congregation by being a source of help to them in their Christian lives, while always upholding the reality that true maturity in Christ comes as people are encouraged and empowered to make their own decisions (rather than being told what to do).

And it is to point people to righteousness chiefly through influence (not authority) by means of teaching the word of God clearly, accurately, and with passion. That’s why Peter contrasts domineering eldership with leadership by example: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Elders are to lead chiefly by influence, not authority. And when they do exercise authority, it is to be within the God-ordained limits that we’ve seen above.

 

As a postscript, here is what I think is the root issue at Mars Hill. I am deeply concerned about the way so many people were mistreated by the leadership at Mars Hill. There is no place for that in the body of Christ; and, though unpleasant, I think it is necessary to speak up about. In relation to Driscoll, I do always attempt to give the benefit of the doubt, and it at least appears, in his sermons and reading of his letter to the church 2 months ago, that he did love his congregation and genuinely wanted their welfare. I think the root issue is a wrong view of the nature of biblical authority. It was not recognized that wanting the good of the church is not by itself enough to clear someone of the charge of authoritarian leadership.

Authoritarian leadership exists whenever the leader sees himself or herself as having more authority over the people they lead than they really do. It happens when the leader sees himself as knowing better than the congregation simply by virtue of his position. It happens when leadership is seen as chiefly about exercising authority and control over people — even if done with good intent! — which ends up putting the leader in a special elite class, and thereby diminishing the followers. Whenever leadership is seen as creating two tiers of Christians, you have authoritarian leadership. It appears to me, from all that I have read about what happened to people (and I’ve read A LOT), this is how eldership was conceived of at Mars Hill. It just wasn’t recognized as authoritarian leadership, because it was seemingly done for the good of the congregation.

True servant leadership, on the other hand, is not simply a matter of seeking the good of those that you lead. It also means recognizing that the leader is equal to (not above) those that they lead. In true biblical, servant leadership, the leader leads from a posture of equality. They do not see themselves as necessarily smarter than the people they are leading, or lead from a posture of command and control. True leadership recognizes that people are capable of self-direction, and seeks to build up and fuel that self-direction, rather than fuel conformity to the leader’s authority. Whenever someone leads in a way that doesn’t harness and call upon the person’s own self-direction and right to govern themselves under God, they are leading in an authoritarian way. Even if they think “this person needs me to direct them in this way, and it is for their good,” it is not really for their good, because it diminishes them as a person and treats them as a less worthy person than the leader. It is the “leader knows best” paradigm rather than “the leader exists so unlock potential” paradigm.

In other words, true leadership is about seeing yourself as equal with the people you lead, and building up their self-direction from a posture that sees them as better than you. True biblical leaders have to lead from the bottom, not the top. In my view, that’s what went wrong at Mars Hill. I know there are a thousand other things that could be said. But I think unless Driscoll recognizes this about the real nature of biblical leadership, he will never be able to come to terms with what happened. He will continually get caught up on the fact that he had “good intent,” not realizing that good intent that doesn’t also see oneself as underneath, rather than over, those that they lead is not enough. 

The issue, then, is that repentance in this situation is not simply a matter of acknowledging the specific mis-deeds that happened. It requires going beneath that to the wrong view of people behind those sins, and turning from that wrong perspective of leadership altogether. 

 

 

October 16, 2014 | Filed Under Leadership | 7 Comments 

Radical? Yes!

I’m looking forward to reading Michael Horton’s book OrdinaryThere is no missing the allusion in the title to a book like David Platt’s Radical, though — which is another book I’ve found to be very helpful. 

I like Horton a lot, and I assume that rather than disagreeing with what Jonathan Edwards called “the necessity of engaging in the difficult duties of religion,” which is what Platt calls for, he will in part be correcting a misunderstanding of what it means to be “radical.” For, compared to the ways of the world, the Christian life truly is strikingly different in many ways (hence, radical — per Platt) while also being strikingly similar in other ways (which I assume Horton’s book helps affirm; for example, the call of Christ is typically not a call to disengage from our vocations, which often seem very common and ordinary). So there is a radical component to the Christian life as well as an ordinary component.

In the spirit of affirming the truly radical nature of the Christian life in the right way, here is a very clear passage. Hebrews 13:12-14 says “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

The ESV study Bible notes have this to say on that passage, and it is right on: “Go to him outside the camp speaks metaphorically of leaving behind the love of this world and desire for its approval, and embracing the reproach of Christ, emulating Jesus’ response to his shameful sufferings (see 12:2-3). Moreover, such Christian endurance is founded on a realization that this world is a mere temporary dwelling (no lasting city) en route to an eternal abode (cf. 11:14-16; 12:22-24).”

See also John piper’s excellent sermon on this passage, Let Us Go With Jesus Bearing Reproach, as well as his sermon from T4G 2008, How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice.

In relation to Horton’s book, the paradox of “ordinary” and “radical” in the Christian life is too interesting (and important) to overlook, and I expect his book to be a helpful contribution to the discussion. So I’m thinking about doing something unconventional (non-ordinary!) and perhaps interesting with his book. I’m thinking about blogging about my thoughts on what Horton may be saying in the book before I even read it, and then blogging on it after reading it to compare what I expected to what actually was the case, and discuss whether his book updated my thinking in any areas.

If I have the time, that’s what I’ll seek to do.

 

October 14, 2014 | Filed Under Christian Living | Leave a Comment 

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