The                                              
Christian Pilgrim

 

Leadership: A Lust, Not a Gift



If you have had even a small glimpse at the Christian press, you will see that Christian leadership conferences abound. Christian leadership seminars, forums, and all kinds of meetings are arranged especially for Christian “leaders,” or rather everyone who sees themselves as such.

It is also thought of amongst most Christians, that going into “the ministry” or at least into “full time Christian work” should be the goal of every Christian, and certainly a higher sphere of activity than the ordinary mortal in the church pews. I heard a sermon recently in which was mentioned a man who was a drunkard, a swearer and a blasphemer, who came to a knowledge of Christ and gave up all these things. Excellent! Let us hear more of such testimonies! But then the preacher relating this story went on to say that the man has now become a pastor to a large congregation – as though that was the ultimate position to be in – a higher, more noble calling than the riff-raff who just sit in the pews week by week and only have “secular” jobs. Why couldn’t the story have been about a man who was converted and then went on to be a great Christian toilet cleaner, cleaning toilets for Jesus? Because that does not fit into our mindset of what a great Christian is all about. We are brainwashed into thinking that the Christian minister or pastor has the highest calling of all, and then there are the rest of us. This is totally wrong. Incidentally, I have never known of any conferences for Christian toilet cleaners. I suggest that they are too busy getting on with their work, than to spend all their time talking about how to be more effective in their calling, and consequently spending as little time as possible actually doing their job.

The point of this short article is to show that “leadership” is a mark of worldliness, not a mark of grace, and that nearly all church splits have been caused by leadership battles between men, and that doctrine and righteousness are only used as excuses to leave the church.

Leaders should be aware that there is an army of real, truly born-again Christians out there who are fed up with the machinations of their church leaders, are “without the camp” (Hebrews 13:13), and are foraging for their spiritual food daily wherever they can find it, because the self-styled leaders in the churches have let them all down. Leaders in the church should not play their silly games, thinking themselves to be something, when they are nothing (Galatians 6:3). This is a serious business, and should be treated as such.


The spiritual gifts

Notice I have described leadership as a “lust.” Most people think of it as a gift (and they would say “from God”), but it is nowhere mentioned in the list of graces or spiritual gifts in the Bible. The main New Testament passages where the spiritual gifts are mentioned are as follows:

Romans 12:6-8: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, showing mercy.

1 Corinthians 12: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:28: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

Ephesians 4:11: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers

These gifts are spiritual, and together with the offices of elder and deacon mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, these are given by God, as He pleases, to His people. Note leadership is not amongst them.

Let us look at these gifts in turn.

Supposed supernatural gifts

Firstly, let us take out “giving, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, miracles, healings, diversities of tongues.” These are irrelevant to our subject. Having said that, so many people in the church today exalt themselves unduly because they think they have one or more extra-special, extraordinary, miraculous gift. And people in turn blindly follow someone who has what appears to be something exciting.

Apostles

This is an extraordinary office for the time before the New Testament canon was complete. Nobody is an apostle now. An apostle is defined as one who had “companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21,22). Paul was later counted an apostle, but he was unique, “as of one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8).

And that is it. No apostles for today, despite some men claiming to be such. The apostles had real authority in the church, and still do so today through the Scriptures. So when we see the apostles making authoritative decrees in Scripture, yes, they have authority, and we should follow them. But no man has this power today. So no man should emulate the apostles in trying to get followers to follow their every whim, pretending it is a message directly from the Lord. In fact, look at how Paul’s character changed. Before his conversion he was a frightening character, who “made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3). But after he had been converted, he was given the authority of an apostle (unlike men today), but “his bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible”, as the Corinthians were complaining about:

For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: that I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” (2 Corinthians 10:8-10).

His letters were weighty and powerful because of the true apostolic authority given by God which was behind them, but this great leader, this “Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5,6), had now become in himself, thanks to the grace of God, a man whose “bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible”.

Conversion changes the soul, and cleanses us from our old, self-assertive, aggressive nature. We should never use Paul or any of the apostles as examples as to how we should behave with regards their authority, because their authority was real, and we do not have this today – we have the Scriptures instead. But we can use Paul as an example of how the new nature should change our hearts.

Prophets

Well, it depends what we mean by “prophets.” If we mean people who can miraculously foretell the future, as indeed some of the Old Testament prophets could, then no-one should ever claim to have this gift in our days. We do not need it. We have the Scriptures, and they are sufficient for all our needs. Anyone who claims to be a prophet in that sense today, is too highly regarding himself. No-one has extraordinary revelation from God nowadays. People who think they have such a gift should stop trying to pretend that they are anything special, because they are not. Even Amos, who really did have a true gift of prophecy from God, did not claim to be anyone special. He was just an ordinary workman; not even a church leader:

Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14,15).

Having said that, some people would interpret the word “prophet” as simply meaning someone who had the gift that the children of Issachar had, who “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). In this case, yes, some people do have more sense and insight into applying Biblical truths for our situation today, so in this sense it is a valid gift for today. But note, these were the children of Issachar, not the priests, Levites or church leaders!

Minister

This is NOT a man in charge, with “leadership skills,” who speaks ex cathedra from the pulpit and whom you are not allowed to question. In most verses in the New Testament it is the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant,” and is exactly the same word from which we get the word “deacon.” It is generally distinguished in the Authorised Version from the word “servant” which is the Greek word doulos, meaning “slave.” So diakonos implies a voluntary servitude. This is a far cry from those men who fancy themselves in the pulpit and love to have a following.

Other words translated “minister” in the New Testament are uphreths, which means “subordinate.” i.e. not a leadership position at all, but the position of an assistant; and leitourgos, meaning “public servant,” again, not implying leadership of any kind.

Evangelist

This too is seen by some as an extraordinary office, no longer in use today. If so, then it means some special gift for the propagation of the gospel in New Testament times, before churches were properly established. Once churches had been established it was not needed any more, so it was only a temporary office. But this view tends to exalt the role of the visible church today (and consequently the leaders of it) too highly, as they now become the only ordinary means of hearing and propagating the gospel.

A second view is just as bad. Today, people think of an “evangelist” as someone with a special gift of public speaking and persuasion, who holds special “evangelistic” meetings and gets all the accolade when so many people come to the front to receive the free literature. These are called "converts," although how many of them are truly converted by the Spirit of God is another matter.

A third view is to see this as a gift for missionary work. People who have the gift of going into a region of the world where the gospel is hardly known and trying to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who have never heard of it before. But even this has been corrupted in our day. “Missionaries” in the past went to the mission field for life, making great sacrifice and often coming to an early death – all for the sake of the gospel. Today they are people who live quite comfortably, far above the level of those around them whom they are trying to “evangelise.” So long as they send a missionary newsletter back to their home church every couple of months, with lots of positive messages in it, and go back with a slide show once a year, with an upbeat message of how wonderfully the work is progressing, then people will carry on giving them money to continue their comfortable lifestyle. And most of them don’t preach Christ at all, but all they do is (inadvertently maybe) bring Western culture (guitars and foot-tapping tunes) to a region of the world that doesn’t need or want it.

It is best therefore to leave this office alone and reckon that no-one has the gift for today!

Teacher

This is not a position of leadership either. Teachers are those that can understand the truths of the Bible and have the ability to communicate them to others. This is not usually in the way of a man in the pulpit telling people what to believe. Although sometimes a lecture is a good thing, the best teachers are those who can sit alongside the pupil on a one to one basis, all the time asking if they have understood things, and if not, to help them until they do. This should not be in an “I’m the teacher, you are the pupil, so just listen to me” role at all. The best teachers really want the pupil to understand for himself, and this is the gift that some have, and it is good, and certainly not a leadership role.

What is the difference between this and exhorting in Romans 12:7,8? Maybe exhortation is just a word of practical advice, i.e. practical application of the teaching. This is a separate gift to that of teaching, although closely linked.

Preacher

This isn’t actually mentioned as a gift in the above verses, but something desperately needs to be said about it, because today people have such a wrong view of what a preacher is. It is not a separate office of any kind. The word “preacher” in the New Testament is the Greek word khruch, meaning “herald.” Someone with a message to give. That is all. All of this is a far cry from a leadership position. Today we think of “preachers” as leaders of churches who give an authoritative message when they are in the pulpit. Oh no they don’t. Every message from every pulpit is a mixture of truth and error. We are to discern the truth, not to blindly follow and accept everything spoken.

There is in existence a very high view of “preaching” which believes that it is “The only divinely authorised public means for the instruction and conversion of sinners is the verbal proclamation of God’s holy Word” (Affirmation 2010 document). I have a really, really big problem with this. It is as though preaching is some kind of magic.

The proof texts given (Luke 24:46-48; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Corinthians 4:5) show the importance of preaching but not the exclusivity of it in the conversion of sinners. I was converted by picking up a Bible and reading it (the Holy Ghost opening my heart to receive the truth of it of course). Other people I know also had the same experience. Others I know were converted through talking with Christian friends. Very few people I know actually were converted through preaching! We should get away from the Reformation call “The primacy of preaching” and change it to “The primacy of the Word of God.” The preaching may contain the Word of God (and where it does it can be used by God to be effectual), but the Bible actually IS the Word of God. Where the truths of the Word of God coincide with what is preached then God may use it, but the primacy must surely be given to the Word of God, not the other way around. In its day, the call of “The primacy of preaching” was good, as it opposed the Roman Catholic “primacy of the ritual,” but nowadays so many preachers exalt themselves far too highly and love to have a following, thinking that an ordained minister preaching is the ultimate tool used by God to save sinners. They claim they have the only ordinary means of conversion in their hands. This is no different from the Roman Catholic priest thinking that only he has the power to convert the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Of course both would agree the Holy Ghost actually converts souls, but they would believe that it was only ever (ordinarily) through the means of their actions or words.

To summarise: I fully appreciate that some men are set apart for the Word of God as teachers, who ordinarily leave their secular employment to teach the Word of God full time (1 Timothy 5:18). But THEY ARE ONE OF US. They too, just like the rest of us, are growing in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour (2 Peter 3:18). They have no special function, no special powers. To think that they do is to head firmly in the direction of Roman Catholicism, and is not Biblical Christianity.

Pastors

This word is only found here in Ephesians 4:11 and in Jeremiah. The Greek word here is poimin, and means a shepherd. The Hebrew word in Jeremiah is reh, meaning “to tend a flock,” which we might consider as a leadership position, but the Hebrew definition also has the connotation “to associate with as a friend or companion.” Yes, there is a gift of befriending, some people are genuinely good at it, and they should use it properly, guiding gently, not guiding as a leader in a pulpit, forever at a distance from the recipient.

Deacons

As mentioned earlier, this is the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant,” and is the main word translated in the New Testament as “minister.” The deacon does have a special position in the visible church, not as a ruler of any kind, but as one looking after the practical aspects of the particular congregation to which he is attached. This is in no way a leadership role, but is a Biblical office, for a specific purpose. A good candidate for this office is one who has the gifts of “showing mercy” and “helps” in order that things are done decently and in order in the church (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Elders

Surely this is a leadership position, isn’t it? along with the gifts of “ruling” and “governments”? Well, someone has got to do the work of making decisions in the visible church. God has ordained the office of elder in order to do this. However, the last people who should be elders are those who fancy themselves as such, and those with a lust for leadership that they cannot control.

Primarily, the elders should be the older men, i.e. the more experienced Christians amongst the congregation, i.e. “not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:6). The most experienced Christians are the ones who should be forming the presbyteries, where all the decisions are made about the visible church. Yet often we see people not much more than a year in the faith becoming an elder, because they have worldly “management” skills and, after all, are such “nice” people. Indeed in most churches, elders are elected by voting in the congregations. This is the last thing that should happen, as most ordinary members of the congregation cannot discern true spirituality from false management techniques used in order to deceive.

If the eldership was limited only to those who were thirty years professing the true faith or more (assuming they fit all the other criteria mentioned in the Bible for eldership, cf. 1 Timothy 3), then these people only should in theory to be the ones who have been humbled enough, sanctified enough, to be able to rule properly (although this could still not be the case because we cannot see the heart).

In fact the leadership positions in the church (no matter which denomination we are talking about) are always going to be filled with those who fancy themselves as leaders. Men are by nature self-assertive, and if they want a top position, and they are aggressive enough and have sufficient worldly management skills, they will get what they want. Those who, on the other hand, are nurturing their new nature in Christ, would not be self-assertive any more, they would begin to learn the Christian virtue of self-abasement, and they will not tend to get leadership positions as the worldly ones will walk all over them in their lust to get to the top.

Yes, some good men will be in high places, cf. Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, and they should use their position as best they can, but they will always be marginalised by the majority in the leadership.

The fact is that no matter how good or pure a church tries to be, worldly men will fight for the positions of leadership. Their worldly nature does not teach them any other way. The brambles will always end up in control, because the true believers will have something far better to do than to play management games.

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” (Judges 9:8-15).


What leadership is

Leadership is a thoroughly worldly phenomenon, found in all walks of life, not just in the church. Some people are “born leaders,” and this is seen in the world as being something good! But it is nothing else but wickedness and evil.

“Born leaders” are those who have a dominating personality and an uncontrollable desire for control. You know the sort of person – someone who, when he walks into the room, has to be the centre of attention. The conversation that had been going on suddenly stops on their entrance, and they lead the conversation until such time as they leave the room again. It is an uncanny real power that they have, and many people are completely taken in by it, and blindly follow. Surely this is the ultimate in wickedness. People blindly follow, and are afraid not to. Where is any Christian virtue in this?

Such people have a great sense of their own importance, they are totally self-centred, self-assertive and self-confident. The world revolves around them! This is totally opposite from the self-abasement that the Christian ought to have. We should see ourselves as nothing, not as some great somebody who the world must listen to.

They know they have the power to attract a following, and will certainly use this phenomenon to their own advantage. They also have an uncontrollable desire for control. They cannot bear it when they are not in control any more, and many commit suicide when this happens, cf. Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23). They have a lust for a following and make sure that they get one.

Before you think I am only describing Adolf Hitler and a few other despotic leaders that have appeared in history, then think again. This sort of personality usually ends up as a businessman or a sales representative. They are all around us. You must have come across many of them in your life. And they are dangerous, easily persuading people to do or buy what they do not really want.

Further, this worldly phenomenon is everywhere in the church as well, if only we have our eyes open to see it. It is not a gift of leadership, but a lust, a craving from the evil one for control. Yet so many people in the churches think of it as a spiritual gift and that it is actually a good thing to have dominating personalities in the church! Of course, people think this so they can justify their blindly following such men anywhere they lead.

The apostle Paul was a “born leader.” He had just this kind of personality before conversion, so he knew what it was to have the power to persuade people to blindly follow him, and could exercise this power whenever he wanted. But after his conversion, look what he says:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

He, amazingly, did NOT use the power of persuasion that he had known from before his conversion in order to win converts to Christ. This was a deliberate decision on his part. His preaching was “NOT with enticing words of man’s wisdom,” because that would have ended up with some people following him, not Christ. He “determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” He subdued his carnal nature, and ability to persuade men with worldly wisdom, and determined only to present the truth in a straightforward, genuine manner, so that their “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God,” i.e. so that their faith would be genuine. This is against all our natural instincts. Paul deliberately did NOT use a carnal ability of persuasion, when he knew he had one and could so easily have done. How many preachers are like this today?

So, how do we propagate the Christian faith? Whatever we do, we should not use a worldly, persuasive power in order to promote the truth. This being against all our natural instincts, we must trust in the Holy Spirit alone to give us the words to say, without being tempted by the devil into using human forms of persuasion.

The disciples had a lust to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is recorded twice in Luke’s gospel alone, so they must have thought about it more than once:

Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” (Luke 9:46).

And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” (Luke 22:24-26).

Note, Christ did not say “God has given you the gift of leadership – a dominating personality that you should use for the building up of my kingdom.” No. He told them to get rid of all such thoughts from their minds. Leadership is not a gift from God to be used for the kingdom’s sake. We are to put such worldly traits away from us. We all have lusts and desires in our carnal natures that, upon becoming a Christian, we need to subdue and mortify. Of course the new nature, the new heart, the Holy Spirit is now within us, to help us to do this. A lust for leadership is one of these things we must mortify if we are to be sanctified thoroughly by the Holy Spirit.

The Christian life is one of constantly being humbled for our sins. God has shut us all up to decay and death in order that we subdue our lusts for power completely and utterly.

Nebuchadnezzar, otherwise a great despotic leader, was humbled by God and saw this:

Those that walk in pride He is able to abase” (Daniel 4:37).

The psalmist saw this:

Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.” (Psalm 138:6).

The whole Christian message is for us to abase self and exalt God in our lives – to be like little children, servants. The poor in spirit are the only ones who will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3), not those who know they have a power of persuasion and use it.

So, should we have Christian businessmen and sales representatives? Well, these callings are not unlawful as such, but try selling your products without the wicked, humanistic, worldly powers of persuasion that your rivals will use. It will be difficult, and you might eventually have to change your job, and become, God forbid, a toilet cleaner. But your conscience would be clear.

Similarly, a call to all those in leadership in the church. Seriously reconsider what you think is a “calling from God.” The calling to work in a church as such is not unlawful, but be careful you are not using worldly means to get what you want, namely a name in the church for yourself.

Jeremiah said to Baruch:

And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 45:5).

This is a call to us all.


Church splits

Christ had nothing but contempt for the church leaders of His day (Matthew 23). “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (v.33). The Pharisees were the evangelicals of the time who believed the Scriptures, and the Sadducees were the liberals who said that there was “no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit” (Acts 23:8). Both together formed the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the church in Christ’s day. One or two were good men, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus for example, but most were apostates. The church leadership was utterly corrupt – a fact which would be proved later as they gave Christ over to be crucified. Yet Christ never at any time said “OK lads, were coming out and forming the Free Sanhedrin (Continuing)”! This is an amazing thing. Christ does not ordinarily call us out of churches as a body to form new churches, which are supposedly “purer.” We are called to stay in one visible church regardless of the leaders casting truth and righteousness to the ground.

That is a very difficult thing to do, as, again, it is against all our natural instincts. We should never at any time agree with the church leaders when they decree or do something wicked, but we are also never called to come out and start something new either.

Christ said: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Matt. 23:2,3). He then went on in the rest of the whole chapter to harangue the church leaders thoroughly. Note there is no call here to come out and form a separate church, but there is no call either to compromise with the truth.

Christ commended the widow (Luke 21:1-4) for putting her two mites into the treasury, indeed, “all she had,” yet the money (probably unknown to the widow) would be going to those who “devour widow’s houses” (Matthew 23:14). How can this be just? Of course it isn’t, and we should have a heart for righteousness if we are born again. But there is and always will be corruption in high places in the church. The point is to put up with it, and continue in the body of the one church, but not to compromise with it ourselves. We do everything the church leaders want us to do, unless it violates our conscience because it is sin. Then we have to refuse, and take the consequences. The answer is not to get out and form a new church which, conveniently, agrees with us.

So, therefore, we are never to compromise on these two things:

(1.) A desire to know, love and propagate the truth

God treats us all as individuals. All of us, who are true believers, are growing "in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18), so we are all coming to the truth from different positions. So there will always be differences amongst us. So “church” is NOT all about one man in the pulpit waxing eloquent and telling us what truth is, expecting us to blindly follow. A true believer loves coming to a knowledge of the truth for himself, and it is his constant desire to further his knowledge from the Bible. We do not need leaders, above questioning, but need people to help us come to a knowledge of the truth for ourselves. Once we have understood the truth in our hearts, we should keep it there, and not compromise at all. As we come to a knowledge of the truth on spiritual things, we have a desire to share it with others. But again, we should not try to bulldoze others into believing what we have come to believe. God works in all of us individually. We are not to separate from one church to create a church centred around ourselves and what we have come to believe, even if some of it is the truth. Most church splits have occurred because men have tried to do this, “to keep the testimony” they would say. Yet every one of them still had error in it somewhere, no matter how “pure” they thought they could be. Christ said “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). God does not need us for anything. He can keep His own testimony.

(2.) A desire for righteousness

Many churches have split on the grounds that someone was not disciplined as he should have been, and justice has not been carried out properly. We should have a love of righteousness, and it should concern us whenever this happens. We should do everything we can to uphold righteousness in the church. But sadly, a lot of the time, men decide eventually to come out and start a new church rather than stay in the one church and put up with unjust rulings. This is not the first time the church has made an unjust ruling! In fact it is wrong to just wash your hands of the whole affair. In the few years before the split in the Free Church of Scotland in 2000, allegations of adultery were made against one of its professors. Without going into the details, those making the accusations all eventually decided to form the Free Church (Continuing) and leave. Now, within the depleted Free Church, no-one is making any allegations any more, those making them have all left. And the church is continuing on its own sweet way assuming the completely false logic that now those making the allegations have gone, the allegations are therefore false. No. It is very convenient for the professor that there are no more people in his cosy little church making allegations any more, but unless the allegations themselves are fairly, thoroughly and completely investigated, we will never know whether he is innocent or guilty. The allegations still stand until this happens. Similarly a few years later in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a minister made allegations against a fellow minister accusing him of lying. Again, look what happened. Rather that actually investigating the allegations directly, they sacked the minister making them on a completely different charge. Now, conveniently, no-one is making allegations any more, so it is assumed that they were false. But the truth is they still have not been investigated. If anyone made allegations against me and I was innocent of them, I couldn’t live with myself until the actual allegations had been investigated and I had been thoroughly vindicated. If the church threw out the person making the allegations, it would be nicely convenient for me, but I would still insist on the allegations being investigated, otherwise I could never actually ever be vindicated. Church courts behave in this manner all the time. It is utter wickedness. How can it be anything else?

In keeping these two good things in our hearts, namely, truth and righteousness, we will soon find out that we are in confrontation with the church leaders. Of course, if we can do anything for the cause of truth and righteousness, we should do so, but in the end, we will probably only be able to lawfully go so far before we are stopped by the wicked men in charge from going any further. In the end they will not listen. In the past, those who did not agree with the church of the day were denounced as heretics and put to death. We should be ready for this to happen to us if necessary, if such times of persecution should ever come again. But usually, these days, the worst church courts can do is simply put us out of the church.

This happened in 1662 in the Church of England, when all ministers were forced to sign the Act of Uniformity. Many couldn’t sign it in conscience. We should never do something against our conscience. Those who refused to sign were put out of the ministry. Many took that as an excuse to start newer, “purer” churches, but that would not be right. Philip Henry did the right thing. He couldn’t in all conscience sign the Act of Uniformity in 1662, so he acquiesced to the decision to put him out of the ministry, even though he knew it was totally unjust. He accepted the (unjust) ruling. I am sure if he could have done anything about it he would have done, but he couldn’t. Many of his fellows, who had also been put out of their churches, used this as an excuse to form new churches, so they could now be in charge of things. But Philip Henry, instead, rejected this idea. He lived on a farm just outside the bounds of his old parish. He dutifully went to the local Anglican church when there was a minister (it had no regular supply), but secretly, on the farm he taught his family and friends the truth at home. His son Matthew was born in 1662, and spent the first 28 years of his life in this manner, and he wrote one of the best Bible commentaries ever produced, so it didn’t do him any harm!

But what about verses like:

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Or “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8).

Both these verses have been used by separatists to justify their separate position, but they are both taken completely out of context. The first verse is a call for individual purity, not church splitting, and the second is a call against the church not doing things decently and in order.

The formation of new churches is not the answer. The idea of a church of true believers operating secretly within an outer single visible church, whose leadership is mostly corrupt, seems to be the Biblical pattern.


What then shall we do?

Well, I could tell you to all go back into the Church of England. Or even the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church. But the latter two have become “synagogues of Satan” (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). Very occasionally it is right to separate, when the church has become completely corrupt, as in these cases, but it is only right to come out en masse as a church-wide movement, as in the Reformation. The Reformation was unique in history in that respect. So why don’t we all go back to the Church of England? Well, that would be a good idea. The reason that the Church of England is so bad these days is simply because all the evangelicals have left.

But, practically, this is, humanly speaking, impossible. The can of worms has spilled open, and it would be impossible to get all of them back into the can again. If one or two of us went back into the Church of England as a matter of principle, the best Christian fellowship would still actually be found outside in the separatist churches.

In the 1980’s, Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, an elder in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, went to a Roman Catholic mass. He was disciplined by the church and it was all over the national newspapers. A staunch Roman Catholic I know, at the time read about this, looked into it, and discovered that the Free Presbyterian church was actually right! So he left the Roman Catholic church and joined them. In 2009 he left the Free Presbyterians and rejoined Rome. Why? People in the Free Presbyterians could not understand it. They really thought that he was losing his mental capacity to understand all the truths involved. But maybe, just maybe, he was thinking along these lines I am describing here.

I’m not going to tell anyone as an individual what to do with regards church affiliation. We are called to be pure within ourselves, forage for our spiritual food and spiritual companionship wherever we can find it, and stick close to the Word of God, not following dominating men.


Conclusion

If anyone thinks he has the “gift” of leadership – get rid of it. It is a mark of the self-assertive world, not a mark of grace. Self-abasement is the Christian way. I know of a minister of a church who was suspended from the ministry after he was found to have committed adultery. After a few months he was banging on the door of his presbytery asking to be reinstated as minister because he had now repented. They did not let him back in, so he left and went to another denomination. He stayed there a few months, and he was not allowed into the pulpit there either, so, the last I heard, he had finally resumed preaching again in yet another denomination. Why didn’t he just give up wanting to be in charge all the time? Why couldn’t he just resign himself to sitting in the pews with everybody else? Because of a lust for leadership which drove him on.

The ultimate question we have to think upon is this: Let us suppose these leaders all get into heaven (let us be charitable for a moment!). What would they do there? No Synods to attend, no committees to be on, no followers to control. They would just be bowing down and worshipping God for eternity, as servants to a holy master. They would hate it! Let that be a warning to us all to shun the lust for leadership and become as little children. That is the calling of every Christian in this world.