Friday, August 2, 2013
A Review of Triablogue and Steve Hays on Ecclesial Authority (Continued 2 of 2)
How do we deal with Churches or elders that are in clear violation of sound teaching? It takes a lot of patience and wisdom. Since elders and churches are not the final authority, we do have recourse when they begin to forfeit authority by rejecting God’s authority. Believers are not obligated to submit to apostate elders and churches. On the one hand, we are not free to do as we please. We are not autonomous. On the other hand, we are not blind either. Genuine believers are filled with the Holy Spirit. He is their ultimate teacher. By His help believers can recognize apostasy when they see it. The elect are beyond being deceived. Hays points to the fact of different denominations as if the existence of such proves his point. Far from it, because competing views were present when the command to submit was issued from the very beginnings of the Church, Hays must do more to show us how this fact detracts from the command for humble submission to godly leaders.
We can see the basic tenets of the Christian faith if we are looking for them. The Holy Spirit makes certain of this. Moreover, Spirit-filled Christians are looking for the basic tenets of the Christian faith. Hence, we can see if a session is devoid of the gospel. We may not see it immediately, but in time, as we are spurred along to grow and examine Scripture, we will see it. When we do, we will realize that submission to false teachers is unbiblical. We will then look for those evidences given to us in Scripture that demarcate a true church with godly elders. Does this make us an island unto ourselves? Hardly! Hays is right to a degree when he says that we submit to the authority of Scripture. He is wrong to argue for a disjunctive here. Rather than serving as a means by which we do not have to submit to godly leaders, the opposite is in fact true. The authority of Scripture demands that we recognize and submit to the authority of the local Church. For Hays it seems to be a disjunctive: either the authority of revelation or the authority of the Church. Logically, this is a false disjunctive. For Scripture, it is both the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Church.
What does all this mean? It means that our view of the Christian community and of our elders should be higher than it probably is, especially in American culture. We should not fail to consider that our relationship to the body is one of subordination to a group of people who are responsible for holding us accountable in our Christian walk. We must recognize that elders are not simply there to explain Scripture to us. There is a sin problem that we all must acknowledge. We are prone to wonder away from God ethically as well as intellectually. The deceptive nature of sin is this powerful. One of the mechanism for keeping us honest and pure as God’s elect is the presence of elders. Sin is an ever-present threat and therefore the need for oversight, accountability, and submission continues. Hays has dismissed the role of the Holy Spirit or at a minimum, marginalized it. I get the sense that Hays is quite possibly a Christian rationalist. He considers the introduction of the Holy Spirit into the discussion as too subjective or mystical. This indicates there could be a problem with how Steve understands the real presence and work of the Spirit in the life of the Christian. I would fully expect unconverted men who are without faith and who are rationalists to object to the use of the Spirit in defense of the Church’s authority. I would not expect the same objection from a believer since we are talking about genuine Churches, elders, and true biblical submission as it relates to the genuine Christian’s responsibility in this area.
So what of differences with elders, pastors, and churches? What do we do? The first step is to sit down with your elder(s) and place the issue on the table. Let’s assume that I want to carry signs in front of an abortion clinic and preach the gospel to people going into the clinic. Rather than just running off on my own to engage in publicly controversial behavior, I need to seek the advice and counsel of my elders. Am I ready to handle the text? Is this an approach my elders consider wise? Would our Christian community endorse and condone such behavior? Is it an overall wise approach? Let’s assume my elders inform me that I am not ready to handle the Scripture in such a way. Let’s also assume that the elders consider this practice unwise and prefer a much different approach to the abortion issue. What am I to do? I have my heart set on this ministry. I believe God is calling me to this ministry. How should I respond to my leaders?
Frist, such a person should carefully consider the counsel of his elders. He has an obligation to listen to them and in this circumstance, he should submit to their guidance. If he has a heart for this ministry, he should get involved in the approach approved and endorsed by his leaders.
Are the elders lording it over this man? Of course not. The leadership has a specific way they handle public abortion ministry. There is no rational or biblical justification for this person to reject his elders counsel.
Now, let’s assume the man is not going to submit to his elders’ leadership. Let’s say that he insists on doing abortion ministry his way contrary to the elders counsel. Since we are dealing with public ministry, this is not a very complex issue. The man is entirely in the wrong. It isn’t as if he holds an ancillary belief that conflicts with his elders views. We are talking about public ministry. He will become the public, quasi-official face of the Church in general and the local body in particular. This is a real problem. He must resist his autonomous desires and trust the collective wisdom of his leaders. But what if he thinks he just cannot do this? Should he just leave? Absolutely not. Not yet, anyhow. He must first explore every option possible with his leadership. In the end, if he decides to leave, he must leave in a very specific way. He should let his elders know that his convictions are very strong and that he would like their blessing so that he can associate with a community that shares his view on how to approach the abortion ministry. Mind you, I am not suggesting this is what he should do. I am merely suggesting that it is the lessor of greater evils. Should the elders consent, he can obtain a letter as a member in good standing, who believes that God is moving his life and ministry in a different direction.
What he cannot do, and what he must avoid at all costs is the decision to reject his elders, refuse to submit to them, and strike out on his own without their blessing. He should not just run off to another church without first making sure that he is reconciled and in good standing with his elders. Finally, the worst possible thing he could do is to run out and start his own church or work with others to start their own church. Such a project would not have the blessing of God on it because it is clearly outside the Christian community as an autonomous and rebellious project. How could such a community ever function in the future once others realize that the seed of such a work is actually human autonomy? How could this man ever expect anyone to submit to him when he rejected the principle of submission when he was in the batter’s box so to speak? What is worse is if this man then turns around and begins to rebuke and correct not only his former church, but the church at large because she isn’t responding to abortion in precisely the way he demands.
At the end of the day, such a scenario is the epitome of American individualism, radical autonomy, and outrageous arrogance. If the Church of Jesus Christ is to flourish and grow spiritually in this era and those to come, she must recognize her nature and mission and she must carry out her duties with the God-given authority assigned to her without apology or hesitation. In short, she needs to work diligently to remove the leaven from her communities. It is a dirty job, but it is a divine mandate that must not be ignored. And this requires an authoritative structure recognized, embraced, and executed by her faithful members. Truth matters!