I won’t ask for a show of hands, but how many of you have ever committed a moving violation while driving? Yes, me too. Let me quickly say that this post is not about any aspect of driving. The “speed limit” vs “me limit” is too perilous a debate for this blog! And no, I’m not wading into politics. The authority I do want us to consider today is that of the Church, and within that, our local church.
Let’s get this out of the way. Government institutions have no authority over the Church, but they do have authority concerning laws based upon Christ’s command, “love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31)” Jesus, the Word of God (John 1:14), used just five words to cover every permutation of right and wrong between or among people.
In our country and around the world there are millions of laws created by governments to try to enforce those five words that people are unwilling to do. Of course, if civic leaders attempt to exert their authority over our obedience to God, then we must do as the apostles did. “… Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)”
When we attend a church service we worship, celebrate our Savior, and experience spiritual growth, but we are visitors. When we join a church, we become part of that community of believers. We not only gain the benefits, but we take on responsibilities, including being obedient to the doctrines of that church and respect and obedience to those who are over us.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:4 we learn: “And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command.” The apostle Paul is very direct. Paul expects the Thessalonica church that he established to obey the doctrines and rules he laid down and which the congregation accepted. He is not saying anything surprising, for in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica he wrote, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you (1 Thessalonians 5:12).”
Yes, my fellow Americans, church leaders are commanded to look after our welfare and to chasten us (Romans 16:1-2, Hebrews 13:17) when we act in ways that are contrary to the will of God. Included in the will of God is to be obedient to the doctrines of our church. If the doctrines are contrary to the Word of God, then we shouldn’t join; if they change and become contrary to the Word of God then we should ask Jesus if we should stay and work for change or come out.
The depth of our freewill bondage
What is important is for us to be reminded of the depth of our freewill bondage to our church family, and to the leaders and presbytery. We were not required by civil or legal entities to become members of our local churches. However, when a Christian requests membership and is accepted into their new church home there was a lot happening, spiritually.
Because church membership carries with it solemn obligations, many churches provide a “letter of recommendation” and require a “letter of recommendation” for a person or family that leaves their congregation and joins another congregation.
If there is a civil or spiritual dispute among Christians, then that dispute should be settled within their church. Remember, the words of Jesus concerning civil matters. “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.” (Matthew 5:25)
How churches are governed
There are clearly defined leadership roles within the Church, as well as the spiritual gifts of individuals (Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28), and Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. If we ignore and violate our local church’s authority, we are violating the Bride’s relationship to Jesus Christ. It doesn’t get more serious than that.
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