Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fellowship vs. Followship - Part 2

Following Man

"Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." I Corinthians 11:1

Paul instructs the people to follow him as he follows Christ. The goal, the target, the standard is still Christ...not man.

The instruction is simple. As we see others exemplifying Godly lifestyles, take note of their fruit and seek also to do likewise; not because the person is some great one, but because Christ is being glorified and magnified.

Unfortunately, some seem to mistakenly think that the verse ends after "Be ye followers of me."

No man is your Holy Spirit!

Regardless of how how well-meaning a pastor, teacher, minister, brother, or sister in the Lord is, we are never instructed by God to blindly follow man.

So many people define their beliefs by what "My pastor said..." or "My pastor believes..." Before receiving the witness of others, we are to search His words to see if what is being taught is true.

"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Acts 17:11

This is not only as it pertains to doctrine, but as to day-to-day living. For example, a brother in the Lord once had strong convictions about how I should address a situation with this ministry. His approach did not seem consistent with what I felt God was leading me to do. Yet, in an attempt to "submit to authority", I followed his advise. Once I did, I knew I had made a huge mistake. This individual, while sincere, had been wrong. What he felt I should do is not what God wanted me to do. As a result, I found myself out of the will of God trying to hold to some false sense of obligation and submission.

You cannot live according to someone else's convictions. In fact, no one who has truly experienced new life in Christ will expect you to; and those who do only seek to put you into bondage. God is conforming you - not into the image of man - but into the image of His Son.

Proper Submission to Godly Authority

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Hebrews 13:17

Sounds pretty simple, right? Let's look more closely.

The word "obey" here is peithō meaning: to be persuaded by into a state of believing, to trust in, to listen to.

This is not the same as the obedience we are compelled to have towards God (peitharcheō, hypakouō, tēreō) meaning: to hearken unto and obey as a magistrate, to harken to a command, to observe and keep.

This text does not call for believers to be in blind obedience to those appointed as ministers. The text is not elevating the ministers at all, but it is an appeal for us to receive the testimony of truth and submit to it.

Look at how God defines those who "have rule" earlier in the Chapter:

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation." Hebrews 13:7

There are two ways God gives us for identifying those He has appointed as leaders in the church: 1) Their teaching lines up with the word of God; and 2) Their lifestyles exemplify what they teach. We are to examine both a minister's words and his life before determining to submit to his teachings.

God is consistent, and He offers us here the same instruction we saw in I Corinthians 11:1; we are to follow others only so far as they follow Christ. "Whose faith follow..." It is the proclaimed and demonstrated faith we are to obey and submit to; not the personality of the man.

This is why God says that the ministers "must give account" in verse 17. Of what are they giving an account? Of the way in which they build upon the foundation of Christ.

"According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." I Corinthians 3:10-15.

The text in Hebrews is not a command for believers to be in subjection to ministers. It is an exhortation for us to recognize and remain true to sound doctrine, for we ought to be mindful of the consequences of not doing so (II John 1:9).

The Thing I Hate

There are ministry gifts given by God for the perfecting of the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12). Such individuals deserve respect, support, and foremost love for laying down their lives in service to the Body (Romans 13:1-7). Yet, what this does not constitute is system of lords over God's people. This is exactly the type of thing God hates.

"So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." Revelation 2:15

The word Nicolaitans literally means, "destruction of people". It is a way of conquering the laity (people) by making them subordinates to those labeled as authoritarians in the church. Instead of pointing people directly to Christ to be set free, they set-up "leadership" that in effect chokes off the guidance of the Holy Spirit by yoking people to themselves.

A great example of this error can be seen in the Catholic Church, but also in such approaches as the Shepherding Movement. It is the continuation of this type of "destructive" practice which is reiterated when people ask, "Who is your "spiritual covering"?

God hates this type of system. In Christ, He has called all men unto Himself. Jesus Christ is the High Priest and the Mediator for those in the faith; the Holy Spirit is Lord over the church. The Body of Christ - as defined in Scripture - portrays a group of "called out ones" who are led by His Spirit and in service to one another doing the will of God.

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." I Peter 5:1-3

The ministers "have rule" (or are called as leaders) because of their example of Godly living. It is the same instruction found in I Corinthians 11:1. We follow the teachings of others as we see them following Christ. In doing so, we are not exalting the man, we are honoring the God who gave the word.

When we mistakenly elevate others in the church and give them blind obedience, we have made for ourselves an idol; and God says we are cursed in doing so.

"Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD." Jeremiah 17:5

Fellowship vs. Followship

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