by David C. Grabbe
CGG Weekly, February 2, 2007
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Within Protestantism, a major cornerstone of belief is the doctrine of "Eternal Security"—commonly called "once saved, always saved." It is the airy assumption that once a man accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior, and accepts His perfect sacrifice for the remission of his sins, his salvation is assured for all time. Under this line of reasoning, from this point on he is eternally saved, and nothing he does can ever take away his salvation.
The problem with this vain assertion—in addition to it being entirely unscriptural; see John 15:4-6; I Corinthians 9:27; Colossians 1:22-23; Hebrews 4:1-2; 6:4-6; 10:26-31; Titus 1:16; II Peter 1:10-11—is the effect that it has on the Christian. True, it gives a sense of relief, and imbues its adherents with a tremendous amount of confidence, both of which may be seen as good. But it is a false confidence, and a destructive one because it steals the urgency and zeal to overcome, to become holy, and to take on God's spiritual image. It gives the euphoric sensation of invincibility—that God's judgment cannot touch such a man, and God's law no longer needs to be considered. In short, it stalls the whole sanctification process by giving the impression that one is already at the end of his race.
Even though the church of God in general rejects this doctrine, an unofficial corollary has sprung up which is wreaking a similar havoc: the tenuous assertion that casting one's lot in with the right man, or being a part of a certain group or church will instantly cause God to look more highly upon a person. We may be sure, though, that God does not work through such a system of "salvation by association"—except in the sense of association with Him. But the unstated doctrine of "Leader Security" (or "Church Security"), based on the premise that one's standing with God is assured once one accepts a human leader or organization, is as destructive as the false doctrine of "Eternal Security," and for the very same reasons: it instills false confidence, it steals the urgency and zeal to overcome and learn how to walk with God, it tempts one to fall into the trap of thinking "that can't happen to me", and it can seriously impede—if not outright end—the sanctification process of growing in holiness.
This is not to suggest that church leadership is unimportant, or that the doctrines of an organization should remain unproved by its members. On the contrary, our teachers and learning environment are both vital factors in our spiritual development. Nor are all churches the same in God's eyes—the letters in Revelation 2 and 3 are addressed to assemblies of varying degrees of faithfulness. But the danger lies in trusting in a man—any man—or organization to see us across the finish line—or, worse yet, believing that we are essentially already there because of our affiliation with a certain man or church. The simple truth is that human leadership cannot take the place of God in the lives of the individual without devastating consequences, nor can it stand in the place of the individual in the eyes of God.
By way of example, let us suppose that we find a "perfect" human leader (note the contradiction) whose teaching does not have a trace of doctrinal impurity, and we pledge allegiance to him. How should we now spend our lives? Should we rest easy in the confidence that we will not go through any tribulation? Should we become a cheerleader for a servant of God? Should we spend our days trying to convince others to hop on the bandwagon on which we are currently riding? Should we pray for God's wrath to fall on those who do not see things as we do?
Clearly, such ideas are absurd. They would serve no purpose in developing our own relationship with God. They would add nothing to our walk with Him so that we, like Jesus Christ, can be a "faithful witness" of the Father (Revelation 1:5; 3:14). The development of character—the putting on of the "new man," the growing in holiness, the working out of our own salvation with fear and trembling—are all things that must take place as a result of a joint effort between God and the child of God.
The apostle Paul states the position of church leaders in II Corinthians 1:24: "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand." Similarly, in Ephesians 4:12-13, Paul states that the various types of servant leaders are given
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Paul tells us that God has provided the ministry for our instruction and edification, and as such we are to respect them. But the responsibility falls on each one of us to make sure our relationship with God is spiritually sound and continually growing, for that is where our security lies.