by David C. Grabbe
CGG Weekly, January 17, 2014
"A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God."
Robert Murray M'Cheyne
Ephesians 4:11-14 gives instruction on how God gifts some more than others in the church:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 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; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. . . .
The "He" in verse 11 refers to God in verse 6. Our Father has given these additional spiritual gifts to some for the purpose of perfecting and fully equipping the saints toward building up Christ's Body. Verse 13 shows that these roles or positions will help the Body function until all of us attain "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." This is the order God has established until the Body is glorified in the resurrection.
Verse 14 adds another reason why these roles are given. Recall that anarchists like John Darby believe that structure and authority hinder us from attaining our potential. In contrast, Paul says that God places people into these roles as a means of attaining spiritual maturity: He gives these spiritual gifts to a few so that the rest do not continue to be spiritual children.
A hallmark of immaturity is not knowing what we do not know, but at the same time, believing that we are right and feeling as if we are invincible. The immature are especially susceptible to novel ideas and charismatic personalities that may tickle their particular fancy. Spiritually, the stakes are high; some winds of doctrine blow the immature so far off course that they never return. To protect against this, God has provided a bulwark against such storms, giving additional spiritual gifts to some to keep the rest headed in the right direction by declaring and expounding the whole counsel of God.
If we reject the spiritual gifts that God has given to others, we put ourselves at risk of being deceived, and we may find ourselves radically altering our belief system in response to every shiny new thing that comes our way. But the human leadership that God provides is intended to be a steadying force, which is not to suggest that it is perfect or infallible. Nevertheless, it is part of the order that God has established. Conversely, anarchy has come to be synonymous with chaos and confusion because those are the results of rejecting leadership. Even worse than confusion, to paraphrase Jesus, if we reject somebody that God has sent, it is the same as rejecting God Himself (Luke 10:16).
Hebrews 13 is an uncomfortable chapter for anarchists because it refers in three different verses (verses 7, 17, 24) to "those who rule [hêgeomai; lead or command] over you." It is not talking about civil authorities but church leaders. The strongest admonition appears in verse 17: "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."
Dispensationalists argue that the book of Hebrews is written for Jewish believers, so it does not apply to us—but are they correct? That some have "rule" over us is not the same as the "exercising [of] lordship" that Jesus Christ warns against (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42; Luke 22:25). Yet, the fact remains that God has given authority and rule to some of His servants for the benefit of all involved. Where carnality is in the mix, things are going to break down, but the problem is the carnality and not the structure.
A few more examples of the different levels of church authority should suffice for those who believe the Word of God. In Paul's epistles, he frequently speaks of the authority that was given to him (I Corinthians 9:18; II Corinthians 10:8, 14; 13:10; II Thessalonians 3:9; Titus 2:15). He calls the elders "overseers" (Acts 20:17, 28), indicating that they are to be watching over the spiritual state of the flock. The pastoral epistles are written by a servant of God to another one of lesser authority, instructing the young pastors in how they should oversee their congregations, including other elders who were "under" them (I Timothy 3:5; 5:17). He points out that an overseer's function is akin to a man ruling over his house (I Timothy 3:1-5).
Peter likewise instructs the elders to "shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (I Peter 5:2-3). On the other hand, the apostates in II Peter 2:10 and Jude 8 are those who "reject" or "despise" authority—the overriding principle of anarchism!
It is worth remembering the story of John Darby because the spirit of our times is not so very different from his. Like Darby, the church of God has gone through its own crisis of faith, causing some to want to throw everything out and start over. Coupled with that, there is growing dissatisfaction with the civic government and a rise in libertarian movements, which is just a step up from anarchy. Calls for revolution are increasing. We find ourselves, then, in an environment that encourages us to think that those in authority are the cause of all our problems. A person's approach to authority tends to be consistent: If he despises it in the civil realm, he is also likely to do so in the religious realm, and vice versa.
For the sake of our spiritual lives, it is advisable to look inside to see if we are encouraging seeds of anarchy to grow. The real issue in all this is whether we have faith in the sovereign God to work out His will, regardless of whom He has granted authority in the nation or in the church. Obviously, this does not mean following leaders into sin, but where our faith is weak, we often start looking for our own solutions. Yet everywhere that anarchy appears in the Bible, whether in a nation or in a family, it is a pitiable condition and often a curse. While God may cause it on occasion, it is not the solution we should willingly seek—if we put stock in the whole counsel of God.