One would need to be nearly blind to have not noticed a peculiar and disturbing trend over the last few years. This trend appears to be fostered and promulgated by the social media world. Those who are taking part in it appear to be so enamored with it that they will not rest until they have brought everyone into the fold, ironically. The trend I am speaking of is rebellion against Scripture in submitting oneself to elders/pastors in a local body.
Quite honestly I have seen so much of it that were I not so convinced of the Sovereignty of God I would be trembling at what this could mean for the role of the visible Church in the United States today. Case in point; I observed a conversation taking place on FaceBook several days ago in which a young man was castigating numerous people for going to Sunday morning worship services in a building referred to as a church and for referring to the men leading worship as pastors. Why? Because every individual is the church in this young man’s eyes and that the word pastor never appears in Scripture. This entire conversation was sparked by this same young man posting a statement like this:
“What does one do after they have spiritually outgrown their pastor?”
Not sure if the word hypocrite is appropriate here or if maybe ironic would be better used.
I also observed a statement from another individual within the same time frame in which this person stated rather vehemently and with pride that they are not part of any denomination, follow no prescribed doctrinal position and do not spend their time gathering with others on Sunday mornings because they haven’t found a place where the bible is taught purely. Now on the surface this statement almost sounds laudable, it rings of something to be admired. Yet upon deeper consideration it sounds just as prideful as the other statement I mentioned above.
These two individuals, and the countless others like them in the social media realm, have set themselves up as the judges, juries and executioners of the Church in “Murica”. They have determined that any local body would, first, be fortunate to have them if that local body were only good enough for them, second, aren’t good enough because they aren’t living up to the standards of these self-promoted-watchdogs-of-orthodoxy. What is happening is that these folks have lost sight of the standard of Scripture. Lest we fail to understand what it means to be part of the local body and why it is of such great import I point us now to Hebrews 10:19-25:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
This alone should compel us to be part of a local body. Why? Because the closer we get to the Day, the End, the more we need to be compelled to love and good works by one another as we gather together to be reminded of what it is that Christ has wrought in us through the great sacrifice of Himself. I am not saying just show up at any old place and worship. I am not saying to unite yourselves to apostate denominations who have compromised on the Word of God simply for the sake of being in a local body. What I am saying is that no matter how well you think you have doctrine nailed down you don’t have it nailed down perfectly. Not by a long shot. No matter how well you think you are living out the faith once for all delivered to the saints, someone else is walking before you and doing it with far more maturity.
The key to understanding this is to understand that God has ordained the structure of the Church Universal and in that ordination He established local congregations. Within those local congregations He has ordained that elders be set in place and put there to shepherd the flock as Christ’s undershepherds. Due to this God ordained structure He has also put in place standards and requirements for elders. These aren’t merely guidelines but stringent requirements that must be adhered to or those men will be disqualified from the office of elder. This doesn’t call for perfection. It doesn’t call for these men to be 100% on it all day every day. It means that they are daily pursuing God and working to be the men that Scripture says they are to be as elders. They will recognize when the fail and when they sin and they will confess this. But unless we think we are better than they are; which of us loves God as completely as He requires without fail?
This structure of local congregations is contained in Scripture so clearly that to fail to adhere to it is to place yourself in a very terrifying position. So if you think I am being foolish please look at the passage below:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained in order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
1st Timothy 3:1-7:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
When you fail to seek out a local congregation to be part of and where you can submit yourselves to the teaching and admonishing of the Word you are failing to adhere to the very standards you are holding others to. This is beyond mere ignorance; it is outright rebellion against God and His ordained order. It is sinful hypocrisy and you look more like a Pharisee than you do a believer. You are holding others to a standard that you yourself are not willing to adhere to.
Who holds you accountable? Who checks your doctrine and ensures that what you are espousing is correct and not conjecture and self-willed opinion? Who is it that is watching over your soul and feeding you? And don’t tell me it’s Christ; because it is Christ that is the living Word and He has established elders to be His representatives to rule over His Body in local congregations. You are disobeying the very one that you say you are trying to follow when you fail to be led by elders and to gather together with other sheep. And just as no man is an island so is no single believer the Body of Christ on their own. A believer who fails to join with a local body and submit to the elders leading that Body is in reality a disembodied foot or hand or eye. It is useless and purposeless in such a state.
I know there are hundreds upon hundreds of apostate and heretical congregations out there. I understand how hard it can be. I have been there. I even understand what it is like to feel alone because you are having a hard time finding likeminded believers in your area. When I got saved and came to be where I am now doctrinally I was in a congregation led by men that I was in stark disagreement with. Yet these men loved the Lord and we simply disagreed. I had to lead my family away; but we didn’t flounder around without leadership. We searched it out and were willing to make sacrifices to find leadership we could submit to; at one point driving 2 ½ hours one way just to worship. This wasn’t perfect and I sinned in a horrible way during this time but it didn’t last very long; but we made sacrifices and we eventually landed where we are now. And guess what? Things still aren’t perfect. But neither am I. AND NEITHER ARE YOU!
Wandering stars as described in Jude are worse yet. They are cold and vapid things without the warmth of the Son and they do damage to everyone they encounter. Eventually drifting off out of reach of the Son’s light and destroyed in the pitch back reaches of space. Wolves are the worst of the lot. And what concerns me is that many of the individuals I am encountering on such a regular basis these days are maybe more than just immature sheep without shepherds. I am concerned that despite all of their professions of faith they are in reality wolves sent by Satan to harass and cause division. This should terrify the ones out there thinking that they are ok on their own with no need of a local body and elders to lead them because they have it all figured out.
What I see is a constant refrain from these folks to leave what they call pagan Christianity to return to the pure church; as they define it. This is dangerous and these people should be marked and the true shepherds should be warning their flocks away from people like this.
These people need the Gospel, no matter how much they protest that they are saved. No matter how much they scream at the top of their lungs that they are part of the true Church they are in sinful and wicked rebellion against God and they need to hear about the finished work of Christ. They need to repent and believe the Gospel because anyone who spends their time hating the Bride of Christ as Christ has described her is not part of that Bride. This has to be our response to them when we encounter them from this point on. They must be treated as unbelievers and given no quarter, for their own spiritual good. This is vitally important and it is what Gospel informed love is compelled to do…
Soli Deo Gloria!