Obey Your Leaders

(Rachel opens the front door) Pastor! My goodness, I wasn’t expecting you! The house is a mess!

Pastor Cal: Oh, now, Rachel, you know I didn’t come to see the house. How are you?

Rachel: Come in, Pastor. I’m just fine…. (closes the door) Well, actually, I’m not just fine. God must have sent you here, because I’ve really been struggling lately. Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?

Pastor Cal: No, thank you. Mindy is holding supper for me. I wanted to drop by and see how you and Rob are doing. Is everything all right?

Rachel: Well, I don’t know how you knew, Pastor, but no, everything’s not all right. I… Rob….” (Rachel throws her hands up).

Pastor Cal: Actually, Rachel, Rob asked me to talk to you.

Rachel: He did?

Pastor Cal (Clears his throat): Rob told me yesterday that you were having some problems with submission to his authority.

Rachel (temper flaring): Oh, he told you that, did he? Well, let me tell you what he’s ….

Pastor Cal (holding up his hands): That’s exactly what I don’t want to hear, Rachel. I don’t want to hear any excuses. I’ve been your pastor since your folks got saved in the 80’s. How many sermons have you heard me preach on the subject of wives submitting to their husbands?

Rachel (trying not to grimace): More than I can count.

Pastor Cal (nodding): And that’s because it’s such an important issue! It’s the issue of authority. Now, I don’t have to go over the Scripture references with you. “Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” “Be self-controlled and pure, be busy at home, be kind, and be subject to your husband, so that no one will malign the word of God,” “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.” The Bible is very clear on this issue, Rachel, and that’s why I don’t think we need to discuss this. As your pastor, I’m telling you that God says you must submit to Rob’s spiritual authority!”

Rachel (wringing her hands): But, even if he’s wrong? Even if he’s heading off in the wrong direction, and taking his family with him?

Pastor Cal: That’s why, Rachel, I made such a big issue of getting Rob saved before you married him, remember? You kept inviting him to church, and he finally got saved at the Morning Glory revival of 1995. I baptized him the following Sunday. You and I have watched him grow in love for the Lord. That’s the assurance, Rachel, that I wanted you to have before you said “I do” – the assurance that you could submit to Rob’s authority in good conscience, the assurance that he loves the Lord and will follow Him. Now that doesn’t mean that Rob can’t make mistakes…

Rachel: Boy, howdy!

Pastor Cal (sternly): But the Bible never says that you have to submit to your husband if and when you agree with him. It just doesn’t give you that option. Your husband is your spiritual head. To defy his leadership of your marriage is to defy the authority of Scripture, which tells you to submit to him as your legitimate spiritual authority! The husband is the head of the wife! Now, Rachel, are you telling me that Rob is trying to make you do something sinful?

Rachel (squirming): It’s not sinful, Pastor, but it’s certainly something you would really, really disapprove of! He wants us to….

Pastor Cal (holding up his hand to stop her): Again, Rachel, I just don’t want to hear it. I’ll tell you a story ….

(Rachel settles in for the long haul)

Pastor Cal: Back when Mindy and I were first married, I felt the Lord calling me to leave the church where I was a youth pastor and move across the country to Pike’s Peak. I had had some doctrinal differences with the pastor, and I was convinced that this was the Lord’s leading, so I discussed it with Mindy. She didn’t just think it was a bad idea – she thought it was NUTS! To leave our thriving little church in Maryland, where we both were in full-time ministry, and to move to this town where we knew no one, had no one waiting for us, had no job waiting for us, and to just trust that the Lord was going to take care of us! She was 100% against the idea, and she made that plain to me. Fortunately, though, Mindy understood that God has made the husband the head of the family, and He has told us very clearly in His Word that wives must submit to their husband’s leadership, not just when they happen to agree with it, but always. And do you know why that is, Rachel?

Rachel (dejectedly shakes her head).

Pastor Cal: That is because if you only submit when you think your husband’s right, you’re not really submitting at all – you’re just agreeing. God doesn’t expect husbands and wives to always agree, but He does expect wives to always obey their husbands. That’s why I told you to make very sure Rob was the man God wanted you to marry. That’s why I told you I wouldn’t marry you two till he got saved. That’s your assurance that from now on, you can submit in good conscience to Rob’s leadership, whether you think he’s right or not. Now….

(The front door opens, and Rob enters)

Rob (calling): Rachel, you shouldn’t leave the door unlocked like… oh, hello, Pastor Cal. How are you?

(The pastor rises to shake hands with Rob) Good to see you, Rob. I was just on my way out – I know you folks are getting ready to sit down to supper.

Rob: Why don’t you have supper with us, Pastor? We can set an extra place.

Pastor Cal: No, thank you, Mindy’s waiting for me. I wish you two a good evening….

Rob (hesitatantly): Umm, Pastor, I guess this is as good a time as any to let you know that you won’t be seeing as much of us as you have in the past.

Pastor Cal (looking from Rob to Rachel and then back): Are you moving away?

Rob: Well, no, we’re not leaving town, but we’ve decided… to begin attending another church.

Rachel (cutting in): HE’S decided that we’re going to attend another church.

Pastor Cal: Which church, if I may ask?

Rob: (embarassed but firm): Redeeming Grace.

Pastor Cal (obviously shocked): Rob, why?

Rob (reddening in the face): Pastor, I have been studying the Scriptures in the original Greek, and the Lord has enlightened my understanding….

Rachel (cutting in): But I’ve told Rob that he has to OBEY you, Pastor, and stop this foolishness!

(Pastor Cal stares quizically at Rachel)

Rachel (heatedly): “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!”

Rob: Rachel, stop this nonsense. Pastor, I have simply come to a different understanding on key verses of Scripture than what you preach at 1st Baptist. That’s why I can no longer in good conscience remain a member of your congregation. I just don’t agree with your interpretation of Scripture any more.

Rachel (almost shouting): But you have to obey your leaders, Rob! It says so in Hebrews 13: 17! Just as I have to obey you as my husband, you have to obey Pastor Cal as your spiritual leader!

Rob (angrily) Rachel, I am bound by my conscience! I just don’t agree with his teaching anymore!

Rachel (staring furiously at Rob): If you submit only when you agree, you’re not really submitting – you’re just agreeing! (Turns on Pastor Cal) Explain to me again, Pastor, why I have to obey him???

Good question, Rachel! Why do you have to submit to your husband if you don’t agree with his decisions?

Evangelicals tend to be pretty clear on the issue of wives submitting to their husbands. They understand that “the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5:23). Few of them would fall for the “But I think he’s wrong!” excuse for not submitting. Things get pretty vague in the Protestant camp, however, on the equally Biblical issue of submission to one’s spiritual leaders. “Bible-believing Christians” are of course familiar with Hebrews 13:17, which Rachel quoted from the KJV:

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.

Or, as it reads in the New American Standard Version:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Luther at Worms

Now, “Wives, submit to your husbands” and “Obey your leaders and submit to them” seem to be equally clear. Luther, however, became the prototype of the unsubmissive Protestant when he delivered his famous “My conscience is captive to the word of God.” Notice the shift – it is no longer “Obey your leaders,” but rather “Obey your own personal interpretation of the word of God.” Pretty big shift. Seriously, where does the Bible tell us to defy our leaders and set up our own church if we disagree with them? This tactic allows anyone anywhere at any time to REFUSE to obey his or her leaders, simply by playing the “But I Disagree” card.

Let’s compare the issue of Christians submitting to their leaders with the issue of wives submitting to their husbands. First of all, there are many Bible verses which address the subject of wifely submission, whereas there is only Hebrews 13:17 for the Christian to refer to on the issue of obeying one’s leaders – at least, that’s what Evangelicals will tell you. For, unfortunately, when Protestants strapped on their backpacks and strode off after Luther in a rather questionable direction, they jettisoned the concept of apostolic succession (they have, as a consequence, pretty lightly equipped backpacks). When the author of Hebrews wrote that Christians must obey their leaders, by “leaders” he meant the apostles and their successors, men like Sts. Timothy and Titus. Look at the advice St. Paul gives these bishops (and yes, the KJV says they were BISHOPS): “Command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” “Command and teach these things” “Correct, rebuke and encourage” “Let no one disregard you” “Encourage and rebuke with all authority” “Rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in the faith.” The repeated use of the words “command” and “rebuke” ought to tell us something. In fact, these bishops were instructed by Paul to “rebuke sharply” and “with all authority!” They definitely held a different position than that of the modern-day Protestant pastor. To the Evangelical believer, your pastor is your employee. Now, few people would put it in those words, but yes, if you are an Evangelical, the pastor is in your employ. Should you find sufficient fault with him, you dismiss him as you would a lawn care professional who refused to trim your grass to the length you specified.

Take a look at the Baptist procedure known as “calling a pastor.”

–    A Baptist congregation faces an empty pulpit, so a search committee is formed and candidates are interviewed. Based on what criteria will the committee make its recommendations? Obviously, based on the fact that the chosen candidate’s beliefs mirror those of the committee members. Let’s get this straight: a committee of lay people, none of whom most likely possess any kind of formal theological training, chooses a new pastor based on his agreement with their interpretation of the Word of God. And for some reason this doesn’t strike anyone as perilously close to “accumulating for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires”….

–    When the committee has narrowed the field down to several acceptable candidates, said candidates will ascend the pulpit over the course of the next few weeks to preach. Once the congregation feels sufficiently exposed to all the candidates, the voting commences. That’s right – voting. The congregation (once again, a group of lay people , none of whom most likely possess any kind of formal theological training) votes on the candidates. The congregation then has a new leader, one to whom they plan to submit themselves… sort of. Should this new pastor, one Sunday, divulge a hitherto undisclosed interest in, say, baptizing infants, Monday morning will find him filling out forms at the unemployment office. Obey your leaders? Yeah, right – since when does a boss obey his employee?

Of course, not all Protestant churches follow this model. Some, like United Methodists, have bishops who assign pastors to churches. This makes the leadership claim a little more credible. But what to do as a Methodist if your newly assigned minister is preaching against homosexual behavior? You, after all, just know that Jesus was all about love and acceptance, and never expressed an opinion on the subject of same-sex marriage – “Judge not!” and all that. Not to worry, disobedience to a mainline Protestant pastor is not unthinkable – you can strike a downright noble pose as you exit 1st Street United Methodist Church and enter 2nd Street United Methodist Church where the pastor sees things your way. After all, you are “captive to your interpretation of the word of God.” No mean old bigoted man in clerical garb can tell you what to believe….

The truth is, by jettisoning apostolic succession, Protestants jettisoned the very reason why the Bible insists that we must obey our leaders. We must obey them because they are the successors to the apostles to whom Jesus Christ spoke these words:

He who hears you, hears Me.

You see, when the Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord,” it is making a similar argument. Christ has so ordered His body that there are people to whom we owe obedience, and by submitting to them we are in fact submitting to Him. Wives who refuse to submit to their DH are actually refusing to submit to the Lord who commanded this. Christians who refuse to submit to their leaders are actually refusing to submit to the Lord who commanded this. And submission cannot mean “agreement.” In the words of Bryan Cross’ immortal couplet

If I submit only when I agree,

The person I am submitting to

Is me.

And so Pastor Cal’s point about being careful who you marry is very apropos. In a matrimonial sense, you can spare yourself a world of grief by choosing prayerfully and wisely. Certainly, most of us think that the choice of a spouse is one of life’s most important decisions. Yet the spiritual choice we are called upon to make involves stakes which are infinitely higher. Earthly marital unhappiness is truly nothing next to eternal misery without God. Choosing your spiritual leaders, to whom you plan to submit yourself because of your submission to Christ who commanded this, is literally a decision of eternal importance. Yet for most Protestants, this is given as much thought as the question of which grocery store to shop at, and for the same reason.

On the memorial of St. Giles

Deo omnis gloria!

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