MANY CHRISTIANS, MANY PATHS, MANY DIFFERENT OUTCOMES
There are many millions of Christians on earth today who are trying to follow Jesus, and stick to the very same Bible, but their lives look drastically different. Many (maybe even most) have not grown in the Lord to be much better than an average unbeliever – still fighting with their spouse at home, still yelling at children, still chasing after money, still full of envy for their friends, still going months on end, discouraged day after day with no joy in the Lord. They know some of their faults and genuinely want to be better, but are finding themselves year after year with zero improvement even though they go to church, pray, and read their Bibles. How is that?
Jesus’ heart was moved with great compassion for such people (Matt 9:36),
Matthew 9:36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus pointed to an interesting reason for distress and dispirited lives of the multitude: They were like sheep with no shepherds. In other words, they needed someone else to help guide them.
In the same way, after living a very mediocre and frustrating Christian life myself, I’ve seen that the answer is that God’s will is for me is to be built up by others and along with others, not alone:
Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
This is one of the clearest chapters in the whole Bible on how we can grow spiritually. This passage is very clearly saying: if we want to know the Son of God and have a deep relationship with Him, and to be mature, and to grow up spiritually to be like Jesus, then I see here that I cannot do it without the church to help build me up with their gifts - including the leadership within the church, to help oversee my life, and help guide me to the Lord. I cannot sit at home and listen to sermons and read my Bible by myself and expect to grow in the Lord much. Perhaps in some cases, the Lord will call someone to be alone for some time (such as Paul when he was in prison, or people who are waiting for some time while sincerely seeking the Lord for fellowship), but in general, I see that this being built up by others and along with
others is God’s will for each of us.
ONE EXTREME – UNQUESTIONED LEADERSHIP/AUTHORITY
For centuries, some denominations have setup a strong hierarchical pattern with a strong top-down leadership structure. Often times, the end result is that people in that denomination go to an extreme so as to say (if not always with words, at least in attitude): “You don’t need your Bible. Truth is only determined by educated and high ranking officials within the church. You must blindly submit to what they say and write, that’s the most important thing.”
But the Bible clearly opposes this view with many verses such as 1 John 2:27, and 2 Timothy 3:16. Yes, we have godly leaders, but God has given us the Scriptures, as well as the Holy Spirit Himself to interact directly with us individually and personally.
THE OTHER EXTREME – NO LEADERSHIP OR AUTHORITY
Many Christians have correctly pulled away from that extreme of blindly listening to church leadership. But human nature has a terrible tendency when running from one extreme to go to the other. I’ve heard someone say, “When we fall off of one side of the horse, we pull ourselves back up so hard that we fall back off on the other side!” I believe that’s what’s happened today for many, many people – because I’ve experienced it myself. Instead of unquestioned authority, the temptation is to run way over to the other extreme of almost no authority at all. It’s like sending a child on a month-long journey with $10,000 and telling them to do whatever they’d like. There’s no telling where they’ll end up, or if they’ll even be still alive at the end
of the month. Spiritually, we can come and go to any church as we’d like, run in any direction we want. We don’t have to listen to anybody that tries to stop us, and we can say, “I don’t need anybody to help find the truth and guide me, I can find it on my own – just me and my Bible.”
AUTHORITY OVER US IS CRITICAL FOR OUR SPIRITUAL SAFETY
There may be something that seems exciting or ‘romantic’ about running around with a Bible, thinking we are walking ‘alone’ with God, like we are a holy man like John the Baptist or something. But it’s just a fancy idea that doesn’t work, because it goes against what the Bible says. I personally believe it’s a temptation for pride too – it’s a temptation to see ourselves as a “lone holy saint who will get his glory on the last day.” God is not interested in lone holy saints; He wants a holy bride – He can never use such a person like that to build His church. The Bible says we need leaders and authority in our lives, and we need to practice submission to that authority, or we will never grow up, and we’ll be in much danger:
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”
Millions of Christians may be content to walk with God apart from godly leaders who can keep watch over them. This is one reason why so many fall away, live spiritually stagnant lives, or fall into terrible sins (the same sins the world commits). I personally don’t ever want to be without that protection again.
So although we do not need another man between us and the Lord (1 Timothy 2:5) such as many in certain denominations have placed between them and the Lord, I’ve seen in the Bible and in experience that God has indeed put others in my life to help bring me closer to the Lord. I see it like this: we both have the goal of holding the Lord’s hand, and they are taking my hand along with them, and leading me along to help place it into Jesus’ hand.
God’s will is not the extreme of unquestioned authority and submission in the church, and it’s also not in the other extreme of where there is no authority or submission in a church to godly leaders. God’s will is balance. He wants us to be in a church family, where there is god-fearing and loving authority and protection over us – but we have to then be under submission. Not just to anybody – to godly men who have shown fruit of a godly life. That’s what the next article is about.