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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

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Pastors

Marks of Maturity: Submission to Authority

As a pastor there are certain criteria which I look for in those whom I am considering giving responsibility to in the church – especially when that responsibility entails a visible role in the public ministry of the church. In particular when considering people who will lead ministries, bibles studies, and teach, it is important that a measure of spiritual maturity is visible to all.

The reason maturity for those serving visibly is so important is because of the nature of our calling as a church. Here is just a short list for why we should seek to be discerning and sometimes slow about giving responsibility.

The church exist to display the wisdom and glory of God – (Eph. 3:10, 21) The church does not exist to bolster self-esteem or to give people something to do, it exists for the glory of God. This reality requires pastors and church members to approach public ministry patiently and carefully and with much preparation and eagerness for correction.

The church is an embassy of Christ’s kingdom – (2 Cor. 5:20) We represent Christ in the world, therefore, we take care about who we give responsibility to. An embassy is rogue which has spokesmen who misrepresent the policy of their nation (doctrine).

When James 3:1 tells us that “not many of you should become teachers” it should give us all pause. And pastors need to realize that they bear the responsibility not only for what they teach, but who they put in a position to teach. Because through teaching the “policy” of the kingdom is made known, through teaching we know who Christ is and what he is like. Through teaching our actions are informed. Our calling as a church means that any kind of teaching should be done carefully, soberly, and with a healthy portion of trepidation.

Those who would teach in any capacity should seek maturity and pastors should look for those that are mature.

When we consider how to discern the spiritual maturity of someone it is helpful at times to first consider what maturity in Christ is not:

It is not necessarily:

Tenure – how long someone has been a Christian or how much experience in ministry they have

Knowledge – Theological aptitude  or how much Bible one knows

Skill – The ability to speak, sing, string together coherent thoughts, etc.

Now, these are things that will be present in someone who is mature, and we must look for these things in order to be faithful (1 Tim. 5:22, 2 Tim. 2:2, Titus 1:9). But we should look beyond these for clearer signs of actual maturity.

Maturity in Christ is parallel to a deep humility and sense of need for the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:15, 1 Cor. 15:9). Such a humility is one that is marked by teachability, a sense of the need for others, and an ability to cheerfully submit to authority. An appropriately humble person does not grasp for opportunity or complain when it is taken away, but humbly serves and takes responsibility as it is handed out with great trembling. They have a humility that recognizes the seriousness and privilege of our calling as a church and therefore sees responsibility in the church as a privilege and not a right.

I hope to talk in later posts about the necessary “maturity marks” of Gospel neediness and teachability, but today I want to address the mark of maturity which is the ability to submit to authority.

As a general rule I will not give more responsibility to someone who has shown they have problems cheerfully submitting to spiritual authority (parents, church elders, congregation). Constant push back to directions and parrying and excuse-making are signs of profound spiritual immaturity which should be a warning to pastors evaluating people for service.

Faithful Christian service is that which is modeled by Christ himself. And Jesus, the perfect God-man, throughout his life modeled submission to authority:

  • As a boy and up to manhood he was sinless and yet he submitted to his sinful parents (Luke 2:51).
  • He did nothing on his own authority but only what his Father instructed him to do (Jn. 8:28)
  • When in his humanity he wanted escape from the terrors of experiencing God’s wrath, he submitted his will to his Father (Mk. 14:36)

A man or woman may be able to defend reformed soteriology like Sproul himself, may have a long list of ministry accomplishments, and display great skill, but if they bristle when corrected or get upset when they are told to do or not to do something by those in authority, then that is not a spiritually mature person.

Until a person becomes a good example of walking according to Hebrews 13:7,17 they should not be given a position of authority – whether that be leading kids’ ministry, small group, equipping class, or music ministry.

We don’t want to test people, but sometimes I think it is wise to ask someone you are evaluating for a leadership or a visible ministry role to do something that they may not like. Keep them accountable and see how they respond when challenged. We all have area we need to be challenged in, so there will always be opportunities to see how someone responds to the exercise of authority.

Sadly, in the church people stay immature in this way too often, and many it is those in authority, namely pastors, who are to blame. So as pastors here are some things to pursue in order to cultivate people who are comprehensively mature, namely in the area of submitting to authority:

Pray – I can’t change anyone’s heart. Only God can do that. Pray for them and pray for yourself. The members of the church are called to submit to those in authority, but we who are in authority must make sure we are not being “authoritarian” in our leadership. Which leads to the second thing.

Model – set an example of submitting to authorities. This could mean deferring to other elders, deferring to the congregation’s decision, or in cases where there are not multiple elders, leaders must show themselves to be submitted to authority by bowing to Scripture rather than their own preference.

Instruct – we all have blind spots and often people have problems with authority and may not even know it. Be a faithful disciple-maker by setting forth submission as a mark of spiritual maturity rooted in Scripture. Teach what biblical submission looks like.

Be Patient – Make sure that you recognize that some things you will ask people to do will be hard. Be compassionate. Try to walk in their shoes. Don’t be aloof. Be a servant leader. Approach people and challenge them with humility. God knows I have failed at this often. If met with a poor response to instruction don’t react with either extreme of brute force or cowardice, stick with your convictions with humble confidence. Listen to their objections and pray about them. Don’t expect people to change overnight, because you don’t change overnight either. Realize that even objections from a rebellious person often hold a dose of truth that we in authority need to take.

As a quick word to those under authority, you need to realize that Christ, not your pastor, is your ultimate authority. As Christ rules his church through his Word, that is your highest standard. You should not submit to leaders who ask you to disobey Scripture. Scripture is final! But if you are being asked to do something that is “not how you think it should be done” but you cannot show your leaders their error from God’s word, then you need to submit to the wisdom of your leaders.

Pastors, when looking for leaders don’t grab the first person who agrees with you theologically or can strum a guitar. Be patient. Look for the deeper, more profound signs of maturity. In so doing you will save yourself, the church, and the Holy Spirit, much grief. God is not in a hurry and neither should we be. Be faithful. Be careful. And keep our high calling as a church in plain view.

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“Here is the su…

“Here is the supreme power with which pastors of the church should be invested – namely, to dare all boldly for the word of God, compelling all the virtue, glory, wisdom, and rank of the world to yield and obey its majesty; to command all from the highest to the lowest, trusting to its power to build up the house of Christ and overthrow the house of Satan; to feed the sheep and chase away the wolves; to instruct and exhort the docile, to accuse, rebuke, and subdue the rebellious and petulant, to bind and loose; in fine, if need be, to fire and fuliminate, but all in the word of God.” – John Calvin “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”

Pastors, read this every morning. 

Defending the Flock in the Age of Information

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…. (Acts 20:28-31)

flock

Nearly every New Testament letter can be found with portions directed at refuting contemporary false teaching. It is likely that when Paul and John wrote their epistles that they had specific false teachers and false apostles in mind. For instance, many believe that John wrote his first epistle with the proto-gnostic Cerinthus in mind. Whatever the individual cases may have been in Corinth, Crete, or Ephesus, Paul was clear on one thing when he spoke to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20 – this problem of false teachers was not going away and before the end it would only get worse.

Moving to the present day we can see that there are plenty of wolves and the damage they do is devastating. Prosperity Gospel, cheap grace, attacks on the authority of Scripture, distortions of doctrine of all kind abound. Now as much as ever church leaders need to be called to “follow the pattern of sound words” delivered by the apostles and to “guard the deposit” that has been entrusted to the church (2 Tim. 1:13-14). But this task is becoming more and more difficult, perhaps more so than Paul or John could have imagined in their time. And the task is becoming more difficult not because the heresies we face are really that new, but because we live in the age of information.

On a good note ease of access to information is not entirely detrimental. The Reformation spread across Europe like it did because the invention of the printing press and the increase in literacy stemming from the rise of humanism allowed the pamphlets of Luther and other reformers to flood the market. But as a result of this technological development, the print medium also became a channel for the counter-reformation and later works of the Enlightenment which would begin to erode the authority of Scripture.

In the last half century with various television preachers and now with the widespread access to the internet, new challenges have arisen for defending the flock from wolves. Challenges that I believe are unprecedented. Between God TV, YouTube, and numberless other access points people can have their “itching ears” scratched without their pastor knowing exactly what they are getting exposed to. Under-shepherds of Christ’s church might be able to call out the teachings of well-known teachers, but now there are blogs, memes, Facebook, and Twitter where many people –well-meaning but deceived – post things that sound so good but are laden with poison. Young believers surf the web where they are exposed to all sorts of teaching that they lack the discernment and the knowledge to refute.

Pastors can no longer be content to be reactionary when it comes to sound doctrine. Shepherds cannot afford to wait until a person becomes indoctrinated by online false-teachers, at which point they are no longer protecting but rescuing.

As I have contemplated the defense of sound doctrine and the protection of the flock in the age of information I have become convinced that I cannot afford to be reactive and I cannot be so naïve as to think that my flock is only listening to my sermons and reading the books I promote. In fact, I am reminded constantly that they are often exposed to stuff that sounds so right and is just so wrong! What then is the answer? I don’t think turning every sermon into a rant is the answer. Rather, now more than ever, we need to defend the sheep by arming the sheep. I know that invokes funny images of sheep wearing bandoliers with their hooves sharpened to shanks, but I think that arming the sheep is the best way you can protect the sheep.

How do we arm the sheep?

  1. We can do this by first of all making the sheep aware of the danger. Make sure that the flock knows that spiritual warfare is primarily an issue of truth and lies. They need to know that the favorite weapon of the enemy is delicious cake laced with a slow-acting poison. The people should be nearly paranoid of false teaching (hyperbole for emphasis).
  2. Then we must equip them with a robust understanding of biblical theology. The great themes that tie Scripture together should run through our sermons. This will help the sheep identify teaching that does not fit into that narrative.
  3. Encourage dialogue between people and elders about what they are hearing, and when something alarming comes up don’t just brush it off, but elevate the authority of Scripture and take them to it, showing them where the problem really lies with the teaching in question. Make it clear that the problem is not that it disagrees with you, but with God. We owe the flock careful, biblical answers to their questions.
  4. Pastors should model humble confidence in God’s word. We need to show people that we don’t feel threatened personally by the teaching of others, but that we ourselves are teachable, but still unwavering in our confidence of the truth that we proclaim. This means that when we find our doctrine in need of being corrected we don’t hang onto a viewpoint that we can’t biblically defend.
  5. Finally, by repetition drive home the foundational doctrines of the Gospel. Help people see that ideas, true and untrue, have consequences and that they need to filter what they hear and read through these founding doctrines of Scripture. Help them see that everyone is a theologian – good or bad. Guide the flock in thinking carefully about the domino effect of certain ideas. Remind them again of why this is so important – because wolves wear sheep’s clothing and devils dress as angels.

The answer to defending the flock in the age of information is to equip the flock to identify and refute harmful teaching. Heighten their senses to warning signs – the taste, smell, and feel of heresy. In doing this you will be able to know that when you are gone the sheep will be safe. And at the end of the day, defend knowing that the battle is the Lord’s and that he preserves his own from being overcome by lies. But know he has ordained that shepherds be a means for protecting the flock. My prayer is that we would be alert and confident, that we would not fear “for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.”

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