Tag Archives: leadership

THE ANTI-GOSPEL

Whatever happened to the simplicity of Jesus and his Gospel? Now we have full-blown Christendom instead.

Sadly, my wife and I know many who have departed from the original faith of the apostles by going on sideshows, men’s ideas. Some turning back to Judaism, to Rome, to mysticism, to mediaeval teachings and practices–people who once walked in close fellowship with us. There are 1000s of sidetracks.

As if the Jesus of the gospels is insufficient! As if the Holy Spirit is not there to show us, to supply us with the power and authority from the Throne. As if we need more than what we have received from the mouth of the living God as given by the writers of the New Testament!

As if it is up to us to decide what commands of Jesus to obey—or ignore.

As if it is up to us to decide how to build the Kingdom of God!

Jesus, referring to the church leaders of his day said “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind . . .” (Matthew 15).

All your efforts, all those works of yours, will be rooted up if they are not planted by the Father. Examine your life—is what you are doing “in Jesus’ name”, planted by the Father? Are you helping God?  As if we could!

Are we, are you, bored with the true gospel, with the simplicity of faith given to us by those who learned from Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Is there something secret in these deviations and systems which you practice that is hidden to everyone else and especially those who are determined to stick with the New Testament?

When you fail to stay, persist with, persevere in and fight for the “faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” you are in grave danger of drifting into side issues, sideshows, blind alleys, instead of going straight ahead. The Holy Spirit goes straight ahead, takes no detour, constantly points to Jesus and the cross. Where else?

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Jude 3-4

Jude was compelled to write about this knowing the addition and substitution of error for truth, even in those early days. Paul consistently warned about numerous false teachers and prophets to come. Jude goes on . . .

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.  These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

The people who divide you! These are those who follow natural instincts and the result is the 30,000 to 40,000 denominations we have today in the world. And they all claim to be the truth!

But in Jesus there can be no division, none. We must be one with one another and our oneness comes from being in Him and He in us, one in the Father and the Son as Jesus prayed (John 17). There can be no other way.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.(1st Timothy 6)

Christendom began to ignore Jesus and his words and has lived according to natural instincts to this day. But it is time to stop and to turn to the real Jesus, the one who has proved himself as the one to obey, to follow.

THE VANITY OF WORSHIP

“In vain do they worship me – their teachings are merely human rules”  (Jesus’ words in Mark 7:6—7 of the church leaders who opposed him.)

Such manifest vanities are today practised and displayed daily by millions of church goers. Jesus could well say of today : they worship me after their own traditions instead of obeying my words.

Consider : Jesus never asked his disciples to worship him!

Imagine this absurd scenario:  The first disciples come together to worship Jesus. So they put him up on a throne and lift up their hands or they prostrate themselves! They say they love him, adore him, bowing down and singing before him, sure that their devotion, their religious acts will please him. They devise a form of service and trot it out ….. and they ignore his expressed words in the gospels.

Or, just imagine the first disciples post-Pentecost composing or going through a liturgy or holding services or dedicating buildings to Jesus! Of course, such scenarios do not fit. Human constructs.

Instead they show the worth of Jesus by obeying his Holy Spirit, sharing goods, experiencing apostolic teaching, eating together, praying, receiving the Holy Spirit.

Are we using “worship” as a substitute for plain obedience to Jesus? Faithfulness unto Jesus means we  follow him to the end.

Many ignore his commands to believe, to pray, to persevere, to go make disciples, to teach all peoples all his commands, to receive the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to him.

He has unequivocally and expressly stated that his disciples are to put his movement, his kingdom, before their interests and agendas, to put him first, to seek the Father’s will and heart, to sit at his feet, to abide in him, his words abide in them, to love one another as he has loved them.

Have we forgotten he asks us to lose our lives for his sake, to be fishers of men, to give freely, to rejoice in suffering ….. ?

Did Jesus start “worship” classes? Did he teach about how to do “services of worship”? Did he appoint worship leaders? The whole idea is absurd. So many human inventions.

“Do whatever he tells you said Mary, his mother to the servants at the wedding (John 2)—the best advice ever given. The last recorded words of Mary. How spot on! “Do whatever he tells you.

Now that’s worship: Do whatever he tells you.

Listen as he teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. His Father’s will not just listened to, but actually done.

The writings of the whole Bible are all about pleasing God, doing his will, living under his wonderful rule (that’s worth-ship—acknowledging God’s amazing and eternal worth). Isn’t that what Jesus’ parables are all about? The house built on the rock is the person who not only hears but does the will of God.

Following Jesus is to worship him, obey him, doing whatever he says. It’s obedience to God, not sacrifice that counts, declared the prophets.

Where is worship in the Letter to the Hebrews, that most Jewish of all the New Testament writings? It’s being provocative, “stirring up one another to love and good works”.  It’s drawing near to God with faith, it’s seriously listening to your leaders, it’s enduring suffering. It is in rendering a sacrifice of praise by our lips which bear witness to his name—that is, being a witness to Jesus. It’s being mature and teaching others.

Prayer is worship. A notable example is in Acts 4 prayer with shouts of praise to God in the context of persecution.  Study of scriptures is worship.

Worship is not just a sing-song.

Worship in Acts? What about Paul and Silas in that Philippi jail in the most uncomfortable circumstances; or with Lydda at place of prayer.  Pauls’ teaching and arguing, and urging, writing letters, always on the go. Frequently imprisoned. Always acknowledging Jesus’ worth.

For Paul the apostle “acceptable worship” is service to others and witness to Jesus (Romans 12).

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 it’s building one another up when you meet together with the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit—that’s worth-ship of Jesus.

In Ephesians 5 it’s “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” … to one another! Edification of the brothers and sisters is worth-ship along with making melody in the heart to the Lord.

Entertainments are common in many churches today and they call it worship! More like having an indulgent fun time—a substitute for the solid joys of doing what he asks.

The heart of God is the saving of the lost, that’s worship. Reaching outsiders.

What did Peter teach? What did John teach? James? And the others? It’s all about serving one another and doing the work of the Lord, being lights in a dark world. Worship in spirit and in truth.

Though the Israel cultus is gone, yet people feel the need to be religious, to offer up something other than “ourselves, our souls, our bodies as a living sacrifice”.

The Father “seeks those who will worship in spirit and in truth”.

ALL SHEEP UNDER ONE SHEPHERD

In the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13, and verse 17, our author adds to what he has already said about leaders about 10 verses back (13:7):

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (NIV Heb 13:17)

Many English translations of the New Testament have been distilled in an atmosphere of an authoritarian, clergy-driven, church model and the result is seen in many of their mis-translations. Here are two examples in the one sentence, one in the King James version (KJV) and the other in the NIV.

First, the word “obey” in the KJV is an unfortunate translation of the Greek verb peitho. A better translation would be “be persuaded by”. The verb form also shows that those persuaded will benefit from the leaders’ counsel. A better rendering would be, “allow yourselves to be persuaded by your leaders”, or ”follow them … ”. Authoritarianism is far from the mind and language of our author!  We have already seen this throughout the letter.

The NIV quoted above has a much better rendering have confidence in your leaders. However, the word authority in the NIV is not there in the original! It has been added to fit in with churchy thinking.

The Greek word used for leaders, hegoumenoi, means “those who lead or guide”, not boss around with mere human authority like a ruler or policeman. As Jesus’ said in Luke 22:26-27: The most important one of you should be like the least important, and one who leads (hegoumenos) should be like a servant (diakonos), as Jesus himself demonstrated in his leadership.

Plurality of leaders always in the New Testament – we never read of the leader of a local church. This models and reflects the heavenly community of Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, a community of love, submission, communication and fellowship. We have seen that the community addressed by the author of this letter, looks nothing like your average Western church known today.

Nevertheless, leaders do have authority, a spiritual authority, not imposed by someone higher up—unless that one is Jesus! This authority has been imparted to them by the Lord, not by some chief pastor man or bishop, and that authority is evidenced in their lives, recognised. So they should be listened to and the hearers persuaded by their wisdom and gentle manner of life, their maturity, their holiness.

Leaders together bear extra responsibility—they must give account to God, not to some human official, because they watch over you—they must stay awake, they are to be alert to threats of strange teachings. It is because their accountability is to God and not to a human or some vague idea of ‘church’, they should be listened to with great seriousness.

The original word behind the NIV’s “submit” is hupeiko occurring only here in the entire N.T. But the common Greek word for “submit” was hupotasso. The word used here, hupeiko means “to yield, give way, concede”, that is, to yield to persuasion and to good mentoring as we have already seen.

So, “serving” the body as a leader must be done by loving persuasion (as confirmed by Peter and Paul in their letters) and by the example of a Christ-filled life. Coercive leadership would be totally opposite to that of Jesus. Leaders who remain alert and watchful, whose desire is care for people and pray for their welfare and who live as godly examples will have their respect, their attention and will easily persuade them to listen seriously to their urgings. Further, our author asks,

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way.  I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon. (13:18-19, NIV)

For the first time, the author mentions himself and we get some insight into his character which includes his need and request for their prayers. Here is a leader who is humble enough to need the prayers of the people in this community – like Paul in many of his letters. And also note the word we, again plurality.

Here also is the first mention of the word pray. But of course, he has already spoken at great length about our need to come boldly, with overflowing confidence, to our great high priest who reigns in absolute sovereignty. Does the use of the word prayer bring up a negative vibe in our minds? Then forget the word prayer—use another term like request or appeal  and get back to enjoying the presence of God in Christ, our great high priest who welcomes us into the wonderful sanctuary, envisaged so beautifully in the previous passages of this letter. This is critical for us, such a privilege –to think we can speak to the living God! and that he wants us to come to Him with our requests! Think what it means to ask, what good things will come from our seeking and what benefits for ourselves from our persistent knocking!

The subject of requests to the Lord that the apostles put is always interesting. Along with the other apostles, our author asks that his readers appeal to God for us. Such requests again underline the absolute and consistent idea that we need one another, whether apostles or unknown disciples. We cannot be independent or an island in this.  The foreign, strange idea of a clergy caste encourages Christian leaders to be self-driven and aloof from the “sheep”. Thus in verse 19 the writer expresses his longing to see his loved brothers and sisters again.

We are to see ourselves as all sheep under one Shepherd, Jesus the Lord.

Leaders, the led and the leadings

We are into the closing part of the Letter to the Hebrews and the author has some more practical and relevant things to say. From 13:7:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

This letter is written to the whole community—not to a leader or leaders as we might expect in our subverted, industrialised Christianity of today. Here, they are all exhorted to think about their leaders’ teaching—these leaders spoke the word of God to you. The tense of the Greek verb spoke points back to the one time when they were first brought the life-changing message of Jesus, the living word of God. There is often the need to remember the beginning of our walk with the Lord and reflect onwhether we are still solidly in step with the Master.

They are to consider the outcome of their [leaders] way of life. Our author is confident that their leaders are leading lives worthy of imitation. So they can be imitated—not slavishly but considering them, and not legalistically—which would transport them very quickly out of their blessed Jesus-rest, out of the Presence. We receive Jesus through one another. We need one another. What a responsibility this is. Many will not address this preferring to shelter behind “the church” whatever that is, or slavishly follow the man or woman at the top. That’s horribly unbiblical.

We have here a plurality of leaders—there is no single leader, no single minister. Here there is no one called a ‘priest’ or ‘vicar’ or ‘minister’ or ‘pastor’. This is the case with all the groups meeting in New Testament times. Mono-ministry is foreign to the churches of the first century, a strange teaching. They knew what God wanted—a mature people not carried away by strange teachings. Consider this : a collegiate leadership is much less likely to embrace strange teachings. And where there is mutual sharing with each member participating in building up the whole body there are safeguards against error. There is wisdom in a multitude of counsellors. Their accountability is mutual and all submit to Jesus himself.

Plurality of leaders in the local community of believers wonderfully reflects the heavenly community of the Godhead. That fact alone must carry enormous weight for the way our local churches should be cared for. Leadership in the heavenly sense matches the biblical way and must of necessity be reflected in our local churches. To act otherwise is sheer disobedience. We leaders will need to give account for our practices before the Lord of glory. Furthermore what is not of God will be discovered and will not survive in judgment.

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.  We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Heb 13:8-10)

The teaching they received from the start was on Jesus, alone our only mediator, our ultimate leader. So we can say with them Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. This same Jesus who walked here on our planet, now reigns forever in the heavenly place. This is the same Jesus who told his disciples that heaven and earth would sooner pass away, than his words!

This is the same Jesus whom our author introduced us to at the very start of his letter as the appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. This is the same Jesus who after he had provided purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Did you get that? Did you see the implications of such a statement? Yesterday and today and forever. And now this! : The great Hebrew name of God revealed to Moses in the desert I am who I was, I am whom I am, I am whom I shall be, the Eternal Now, is here applied to Messiah Jesus!

He never changes, guaranteed, and because he committed his teachings to a people, to many, not to an individual, we must not change that teaching, nor add to it, but contend for the truth entrusted to us by his apostles. That is why it is critical that we read and consider deeply their written teachings and put them into practice in our lives and in our corporate life in Jesus together.

This is of great and profound importance. Heed it, or be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

We do indeed have an altar, a better one. It is the death of Jesus on the cross. This altar alone makes us holy and acceptable to God, our hearts strengthened by his grace. To replace this by anything else – by ceremony or ritual or the words of so-called priests or popes, by strange teachings, by dominant leadership, by demanded obedience is a scandal, it is pathetic.

Jesus’ life, death and living presence is the real altar, the real Presence, not a shadow or a symbol. There is no apostolic mandate for anyone to speak of an “altar” as a piece of furniture in a man-made building. “Altar” always denotes a place of sacrifice, of death, and it is insulting to the Lord in the extreme to imagine or teach that Jesus’ body –or anybody for that matter, is offered now —unless this author is to be regarded as totally deceived, along with all the apostolic writers. Jesus’ once for all offering is unrepeatable. Yet the benefits flow forever for all who trust him.

Here is an extraordinary statement for a Hebrew to make : those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat from this altar that has been granted us! Truly, these Hebrew believers, and we also today, eat his flesh and drink his blood by believing on him and following him, by living our lives immersed in him and his in us, anywhere, everywhere, his Presence.

We are continually seated at table with Jesus our great high priest and pioneer, the author and finisher of our faith.

The Sacred Cow of Going to Church

We have seen in the wonderful Letter to the Hebrews that because Jesus is faithful and the promise is lock solid, guaranteed, at last we have something to hold unswervingly.This is the place to be. But notice how the author keeps addressing, not a lot of individuals, but a group of people. This is their place corporately. Together.

So now in chapter 10 and verses 24 and 25, he addresses how and why they met together:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This all leads to our author’s plea to concentrate on the care of one another. How critical it was that they should consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. It was the role of everyone, not just some vicar or pastor or a dominant leader. Their meeting together—their ‘worship’, was all about encouragement and stirring up one another. In the NT the meaning of ‘worship’ is service by one another, to one another.

Here is the only place in the NT calling believers to be together regularly, but it is often quoted by clergy to keep people coming to their church. It really means something quite different.No one among the first believers “goes to church”. They were the church when together, wherever. They were together the Body of Christ present to encourage, to serve one another and to spur one another on to love and to excellent deeds!

Until the Day of his return, which seemed to them quite ominous.

Two important things stand out. First the necessity of meeting together—we cannot do without our brothers and sisters. We cannot do without expressing the Body of Christ. We must not go it alone. A hand or an eye cannot stay alive apart from being attached to a living body—to recall Paul’s metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12. They were not just a lot of individuals collected together. They were a body! A living body.

Secondly, the one essential matter when gathered was to encourage one another. If we fail to do that we have departed from God’s ordained pattern, God’s design. To follow God’s amazing design, his plans and specifications is to truly worship him. To do otherwise, is to dishonour him.

Look, we are asked to consider how to stir one another to love and good deeds. There is a pattern to follow, and the mundane details are left to us to arrange. But the pattern, most certainly, always concerns reproducing Jesus’ life, his love, his servanthood, his actions, priorities, behaviour, his perfection, his will, his purpose, his way, his truth, his life—by looking unto Jesus.

Our author is consistent with the other authors of the New Testament documents. It is clear that they did not come together to hear or see a “service” conducted by a minister. Nor did they come to hear a preacher. They did not come together to sing “worship songs” or hymns organised by a “worship leader” or clergyman.

They came together to care for one another, to weep with those who weep, to comfort one another, to encourage one another, to help one another in building up faith, to love one another, to confess their needs and faults with one another, to pray for one another, to submit to one another ….

The phrase one another appears over 40 times in the New Testament in relation to believers together.

How can we practice this if an “ordained” priest or minister or a dominant leader is present?  They will instinctively do what they have been trained to do, what they are paid to do. There is no hard evidence of any official or officers active in the churches described in the New Testament record. There is function and not form. There is dynamic action led by the Holy Spirit, his gifts distributed among his people, the organisation of the Holy Spirit.

Today, churches are frequently described in terms of their leader, pastor, priest or minister, in terms of a dominant controlling leader. Jesus sternly warned his disciples to avoid this scenario. Paul warned against this and constantly calls himself ‘a servant/slave’.  Peter echoes Jesus words that God’s people are not to be ‘lorded over’ by leaders. And so does our author.

God knows how much we are in need of him, his resources and how much he has to give us through our brothers and sisters when we submit to one another in the fellowship of Jesus.

We need all the help we can get, eh?