I have been seeing several talk (at least more than I am comfortable with) about submitting to the leaders in a church. What follows is not directed at ALL pastors and ALL church members. I readily acknowledge that there are many, many pastors who take their vocation with the utmost sobriety and desire to genuinely shepherd people toward Christ-likeness. This is not for them.
YET, I am afraid this is to a great many churches and pastors who go through the procedures and the expected and are okay with mediocrity in their own personal holiness, much less the corporate holiness of their churches. Have we opted for numbers and retention rates to edge out faithfulness and blood-earnest, radical living? Have we exchanged the manna of heaven for the mammon of getting a paycheck?
Too many leaders turn too quickly to the too misunderstood Hebrew 13.17 passage as a write over all other injunctions for their failing shepherdship of the souls entrusted to them. That is, when someone raises a hand or points a finger, they are reminded all too quickly that they are called by God to “obey your leaders”–petheisthe tois hegoumenois humon” (you’ll forgive the lack of good transliterating for the sake of getting the thoughts on screen, please). As Calvin said, however, “It ought at the same time to be noticed that the Apostle speaks only of those who faithfully performed their office” (Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 22, p.352).
I find this similar to the marriage relationship of leadership. If the husband has to pull out the authority card (Eph. 5.22 and Col3.18 use hupotasso–meaning “submit”), then he deserves to have no authority. Let me say this again. If someone has to use a verse to demand another person obey or submit to him, he does not deserve such obedience or submission. This, after all, is not the way of Christ. He commanded people to follow him. He demanded obedience. But this is following his demonstration of such endowment of love and care and authority over elements and demons and death. What is more, the Christ had all authority and he shared this authority with his disciples. notice the juxtaposition of Daniel 7.14 and 7.18!)
I have been privy to conversations during elder meetings where the subject would make your skin crawl when you place in light of the holiness of God. When I mentioned this to the group, it was tabled to be talked about at another time. We cannot assume that because someone has the title “pastor” that he is, indeed, a pastor. Rather the contrary. This was the impetus for the Protestant Reformation (as you continue to read Calvin’s commentary on this passage you will feel these undercurrents). After all, so much corruption has taken place in the church because of this assumption. I thank God for the obedience to their conscience’s that various people exercised. I thank God for civil disobedience that turned Jim Crow over in his grave as his stranglehold loosened in the US. You see, the images Scripture uses is that of a shepherd and an elder. Yes, hegoumenois are “leaders.” But I am afraid our tight-collared CEO mentality and cultural bias has dictated the actual word used in the Bible. At the risk of committing a root word fallacy, but this is the word that points to one who is estimable or deemed as worthy or one who leads the way. It is not primarily about one who rules over someone as it is someone who is marching out in front of others. I am reminded of Paul’s injunction to follow him insofar that he follows Christ (1Cor 11.1).
In other words, do not follow those who govern you. Follow those who govern themselves well and lead you in the path toward Christ-likeness. Anything less would be uncivilized.