Church Leaders and False Authority

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:17-18 NKJV

Monday’s section of this week’s lesson describes what is meant in Deuteronomy where it says God is no respecter of persons.

The phrase “shows no partiality” is translated from a Hebrew figure of speech; it means literally that He does not “lift up faces.” This is believed to have come from a legal setting in which the judge or king sees the face of the person on trial and, based on that person’s status (important person or someone insignificant), the judge or king renders a verdict. The implication here in Deuteronomy is that the Lord doesn’t treat people in such a manner, despite His great power and might. He’s fair with everyone, regardless of their status. This truth, of course, was revealed in the life of Jesus and how He treated even the most despised in society. –Sabbath School Quarterly Week 12 Monday’s lesson.

In an interview with David Frost, Richard Nixon, a former United States President, forced to resign due to a scandal, defended himself by saying, “If the President does it, then it is not illegal.” This bold statement shocked David Frost, and every other competent thinker! I believe, in the United States, people really started to question their leaders after Nixon’s downfall. I believe we keep a healthy balance of respect for leadership, without blind submission, when we ask for accountability and checks and balances. In the United States we have a constitution the President must hold to. The Constitution also declares who ultimately has the authority. It reads, “We the people.” Not “me the president” or “me Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison, or Ronald Regan or Barak Obama.” The power and authority of the constitution comes from ‘The People!” Therefore our president is not above the law. To expect people to automatically obey you no matter what just because of your title or position is a false sense of authority. 

In the church we have the Scriptures as our sole authority, and our leaders must be held accountable. Good honest pastors recognize this. Having served many years as a Bible worker and lay pastor I have worked with many pastors. They do not think they are above me because of their position or college degree. If we disagree they do not automatically assume they are right because of their position. If they feel I need corrected they do not reference their position or degree. They reference Scripture alone. If I disagree with them they listen with an open mind. If I correct them from Scripture they bow, not to me but to the Scriptures. 

Just like in the United States, the President is not above the people, likewise church leaders are not above the church.

“The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. …. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” The Lord “is the Rock, His work is perfect.” “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Jeremiah 17:5Deuteronomy 32:4Psalm 2:12.- Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 414.

Many years ago, I heard the testimony of a church leader, defending himself for some shady deals, saying his boss, the conference president, told him to do it, therefore he had no choice but to obey his boss who had “authority.” I am sure Joab was thinking the same thing when King David told him to put Uriah on the front lines of the war. Please read what God’s messenger has to say about Joab’s rationale.

“And Joab, whose allegiance had been given to the king rather than to God, transgressed God’s law because the king commanded it. David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. –Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 719.

We need to be respectful of authority, but remember where authority ultimately comes from. And while respecting those in leadership, and even being in leadership, we must remember we are accountable to the Scriptures and God’s church, of which Christ is the Head. 

I have seen so called “mediation” sessions between pastors and lay members which actually had nothing to do with mediation. the mediators were not seeking justice. They were ganging up on the abused lay member. They were solely there to protect the pastor regardless if he was right or wrong. He was the pastor and that was all that mattered. I even heard an associate pastor tell me once that the pastor is right simply because he is the pastor. To question him or to hold him accountable would be an act of deepest disrespect. Sorry, but claiming a pastor is always right simply because he is the pastor is a false sense of authority. God is no respecter of persons and would never fall for such a lie, and God does not expect you to fall for it either. 

Years ago, in another conference the church board overwhelmingly voted against the pastor using all of the church’s worthy student fund to pay for his own child’s church school tuition. The following Sabbath guess what the pastor’s sermon was about? “pastoral authority!” And how disrespectful it was, even sinful to the point of losing your soul’s salvation if you were to ever disobey the pastor or not give him what he demands. Sure, the pastor twisted Scripture to his own destruction to prove his point, just like Satan twisted Scripture when he told Jesus to jump off a cliff. I hope I don’t need to tell you this, but the pastor had a false sense of authority.  Sadly some fell for it. 

While the Bible teaches us to be respectful, nowhere does Scripture ever tell us a leader is above the law. Nowhere in Scripture does it tell us a leader has special privileges and should never be questioned or held accountable. Nowhere does the Bible teach us that a pastor is right just because he is the pastor. On the contrary the Bible teaches us in Deuteronomy  10:17-18 as well as all throughout Scripture, that God is no respecter of a person’s title or position.

As a matter of fact, instead of giving pastors and teachers a free pass in the judgment, based solely on their position, James says,

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1 NKJV 

To me, that sounds like anything but preferential treatment for pastors and teachers. James goes on to say,

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. James 3:17 NKJV 

Let’s stop supporting false authority in the church. 

but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. James 2:9 NKJV

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