June 8, 2010

“Obey” and “Submit” to your Leaders? The Hebrews 13:17 Deception

Posted in False Beliefs about Church Leavers, IC Doctrine and Practices, Misconceptions Dispelled tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 5:58 pm by Set Free Indeed


Many in the body of Christ believe that Hebrews 13:17 demands complete and absolute obedience to a spiritual leader, but is that really what the passage is saying?

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) – 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.

Upon surface reading of this passage, I will offer an interpretation: The body of Christ is to submit to and obey our leaders, the clergy who are in leadership in every local institution there is. The reasoning for this submission is that they watch over your souls, and it would be of no advantage to you to cause them grief as they do so for they must give account for every soul that God has given them charge.

Semi-Disclaimer

Today, I want to address some misconceptions about the sort of authority a leader in the body of Christ has, for many today in these last days have taken unwarranted and abusive authority in areas of the believer’s life where they simply have none. Many of these power-hungry Nimrods lord it over, and exercise false authority over the flock in varying degrees, and includes but is not limited too:

  • Financial Exploitation
  • Legalism
  • Spiritual Abuse
  • Physical and even Sexual Abuse
  • Authoritarianism and Absolute authority of the Leadership over the Body
  • Not being accountable to the body or other leaders

To add insult to injury, many have use passages in the scripture like Hebrews 13:17 and a host of others to intimidate and manipulate their congregations to keep them under their ungodly control.

Please make no mistake about it, this is not a blog to undermine the biblical authority of an elder or other leader operating in their true calling. They are a wonderful asset to the body of Christ and are appreciated by this blog writer. There is no doubt to me that God has given elders a responsibility in the body of Christ to oversee Jesus’ flock. They are watchmen whose charge is to protect the flock whether it be from false doctrine, wolves in sheep’s clothing etc. God has given them the authority in Christ to rebuke, exhort, teach, encourage, and lead the body of Christ in many areas.

This is why this blog is necessary: To clear up the CONTEXT of why the writer of Hebrews 13:17 spoke those words. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here, but I do know there is a WRONG contextual meaning being pushed out here concerning how the body of Christ is to submit to leaders which conflicts with other poignant passages in the scriptures.

If you are interested in studying along with me, READ ON.

Obey and Submit…. to WHAT Exactly?

Those words carry strong connotations in today’s language. Obeying and submitting to God is difficult enough as believers, and we know He is perfect in all His ways, it is even more difficult for our flesh to obey and submit to authorities which God has established. I highlight those words for a reason.

For example: A wife is to be obedient and submit to her husband in everything, EXCEPT those things which go against the word of God and cause his wife to go into sin. The same is true for our governing authorities and our submission to them. Just like above, you will find submission and obedience, all throughout the scriptures, like children to parents, slaves to masters, we to submit to each other in reverence to Christ in the same manner. etc., and MOST IMPORTANTLY GOD requires this sort of submission.

I am finding that many pastors believe they have this same sort of “obey and submit” authority over the people of God, such as a parent has over their children or a husband has over his wife, but is this the case? If Hebrews 13:17 is saying that we obey and submit to leaders IN EVERYTHING (save the exception above) then this puts the authority of the lives of many in the body of Christ in the hands of a few.

Now if we are going with the general secular definition of the of the words Submit and Obey – to bring under control or dominion, to make (as oneself) amenable to the discipline and control of a superior (Merriam-Webster) – then the answer is NO and I believe the bible supports that. No pastor or spiritual leader is to lord it over or exercise authority as the gentiles do over the body of Christ. All one has to do is look at the way our world governments and kingdoms are set up.. They put the people under subjection by setting people in ranks, and usually there is one person at the top of a pyramid hierarchy which gives orders through their vision for their government, but yet Jesus says clearly THIS IS NOT SO WITH YOU BODY OF CHRIST. If your church has this same sort of structure, and your leaders demand authority like your government does, this is an ungodly leadership structure in the body of Christ.

Just to be sure I have thoroughly researched this subject, I looked up all the Hebrew and Greek mentions of the words “submit.”

OT: Kana,Kabash

NT: Doulagōgeō, Hypotagē, Hypotassō

The words Peithō are used in Heb 13:17 for “Obey” Hēgeomai for “your leaders” and Hypeikō for “Submit.”

Peithō, and Hypeikō do indicate a type of submission, but the question is to what? The TYPE of submission is what this blog is concerned with. So in reading this entire chapter, what type of submission is the Hebrews writer speaking of?

Biblical Submission to Leaders

I believe in context Heb 13:17 tells us to submit to the words of God which the pastor speaks, so in turn we are really obeying the word of God. I believe the Greek words used in this passage support this. It is the charge of an elder, especially those who have been gifted to pastor to point the flock to the Good Shepherd who is Jesus Christ. A Godly pastor will always admonish the flock to obey and submit to the word of God in their lives, and will labor intensively, earnestly, and diligently in these matters. Instead of making his labor difficult for him, for he must give account to God for every soul he has been given charge, we ought to yield, give way, and allow ourselves to be persuaded by his words. As long as his words do line up with the scriptures in context, we should submit to him concerning the teaching in the word of God.

This passage does not require that the body of Christ obey and submit to a pastor in the same manner as we would to a husband or government. The submission this passage speaks of is to the words of God a leader speaks. A pastor or spiritual leader is not to try to master you in any manner.

This is the Hebrews 13:17 Deception: This passage unfortunately has been twisted by many in leadership in churches today to assert that the Laity is supposed to be in subjection to the Clergy of a given institutional church, regardless of the lives those leaders are living as evidenced by their fruit, or if the doctrines they are teaching line up with the word of God. Many require ungodly devotion to leaders, often wanting complete control over the people in the congregation. This view promotes the type of Nicolaitan leadership which is forbidden in the scriptures by Jesus himself and echoed by the apostles.

Elders are NOT to be the type of leaders where they put you under subjection to their own authority in the church, but rather they are to be examples to the flock, and wouldn’t you submit to the words of an elder who is being a godly example before you?

To confirm the context of the chapter Hebrews 13, verse 7 (ESV) says it all:

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

Jesus gives the model for biblical leadership as the EXAMPLE of the leader. Servanthood is the mark of a biblical leader. His example is what we, the body of Christ imitate. His godly words from the scriptures are what we are to be persuaded by, submit to, and obey.

Paul the apostle confirms this as well:

1 Corinthians 11:1 – Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Biblical Examples of Domineering Authoritarianism

The Pharisees were terrible examples to the flock and because of this, Jesus accused them of being religious hypocrites. WHY? Because according to Mat 23:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”

The Moses Seat was not a position or office to be exalted, it was the responsibility of explaining, expounding, interpreting God’s laws to the people. This is why Jesus told the disciples to listen to those who sit in the Moses’ seat… HOWEVER the life the Pharisees lived was contrary to the VERY WORDS THEY SPOKE. In other words, do as they say, (as long as it is Scripture) but don’t do what they do. (living in their tradition while ignoring the words of God)

“Had they taught what Moses taught and lived it, Jesus would have had no rebuke. Jesus then points out how they want the best of everything and be noticed because of their teaching position, he then explains they are to be servants, not self-exalting themselves and that He instead of they should be their teacher.” (Let Us Reason)

Another rarely mentioned biblical leader who is the antithesis of what biblical leadership looks like is Diotrephes in 3 John verses 9 and 10.

“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.”

Diotrephes was a proud and arrogant man who loved the preeminence: being first and prominent in all things over the body of Christ. His attitude was surely a hindrance to the body of Christ, but more of a pressing issue was that his arrogance was in direct conflict to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who in all things has the preeminence, including his body. He did not recognize the true biblical authority in Paul’s letters, and even kept the words inspired by God away from the saints in favor of his wicked words. His arrogance didn’t stop there, he also refused to welcome other brothers in fellowship, and if there were people in the congregation who disagreed and wanted to fellowship with these brothers, Diotrephes would excommunicate them from fellowship. Diotrephes was obviously a leader who abusively used his influence to lord it over, and exercise dominion over the body of Christ.

These types of leadership examples are exactly what Jesus doesn’t want in the body of Christ. Any leaders exhibiting these qualities themselves need to be excommunicated until they repent.

Conclusion: True Authority

True biblical authority comes from God and his word. Any authority here on Earth has been established by God, but we must make certain that we understand the different types of authority of which God has established not just in the world, but in the church. Spiritual authority need not be forced, coerced by intimidation or scripture twisting. It ought to be clear to the body that one speaks and acts in the authority God has given them, and we ought to listen to them. We see so many leaders today using ungodly devices and schemes to show they have “authority,” but let’s take the words of scripture to heart: The greatest among you shall be your servant.

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15 Comments »

  1. Is true that the pastors we seeing today are false prophets agents of devil’ God will gudge them according to there work

  2. Pon said,

    “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Eccl 12:13
    since, obedience is the whole duty of man, therefore, obedience is the highest form of worship.
    obedience to such church rulers is an expression of submission to God. God requires it, which obviously place it within the over all area of obedience to him. Obedience requires True Humility, which leads to Submission.

  3. I have responded to Mr. Lappos’ questions. Please view them at the blog here:

    http://setfreefromtheic.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/some-qa-with-a-responder/#more-687

  4. Thank you for making this blog, it`s a good way to start, to begin with the Bible, and letting the truth set you free, as for me I have seen this error creeping into nearly every “churchianity” as they merchandise.
    Today we see how those denominations are signing under (mark) authorize the oecumenical concepts, and even trough backdoors, forcing the unsuspecting people in the “denominations” to agree to the ecumenical error, inviting Pentecostals to go for a common meeting together with the orthodox Mary church! Those “pastor`s” are false, and erroneous; teaching doctrines of demons!

    The reason is, they are fallen of from Christ Jesus!

    God Bless You in Christ Jesus!

    Leif Berg

  5. Reader said,

    I’m actually waiting for a response to Alex Lappos extensive set of questions. However defensive they seem to me, they do have validity.

  6. Alex Lappos said,

    Dear brother

    How does an elder or pastor become a pastor. How is he appointed ? Who appoints him ? What qualifications allow him to teach and preach others since all have access to Scripture and personal interpretation on an equal level ?

    What distinguishes him to feed the rest of the flock and how is that distinction recognized by the others.
    How does a group of people know someone has been called to lead them ?

    What areas does can the pastor speak to in the life of a believer specifically. You list specifics in the negative but not the positive.

    You write ” There is no doubt to me that God has given elders a responsibility in the body of Christ to oversee Jesus’ flock. They are watchmen whose charge is to protect the flock whether it be from false doctrine, wolves in sheep’s clothing etc. God has given them the authority in Christ to rebuke, exhort, teach, encourage, and lead the body of Christ in many areas”

    What areas ? How is a wolf exposed ? By whom ? How do I know you are not a wolf in sheep’s clothing ? Are you wolf or sheep ? If you say you are a sheep why should I believe your answer.

    Is is not obvious from Scripture that a true godly leader is also the servant of all. Would not a true shepherd in God’s kingdom diligently examine his heart and motives continually to make certain his doctrine is sound and his character and heart are pure.

    And having done that how does he know with absolute certainty that he is sound on all levels ? Does he decide within himself ? Does the give himself the seal of approval by virtue of his own sense of authority ?
    What is he is deceived or in error ? Who corrects him ? How can he know he is deceived or correct ?
    To whom is he accountable ? For that matter to whom are you accountable ? How can I verify you are a man who speaks for God other than your own word for it.
    How can I verify your references are trustworthy ?

    The scripture says that that role of spiritual leaders is to equip the saints unto maturity (Ephesians 4)
    Wouldn’t any true leader have the goal of building people up so they can by the direction and inspiration of the holy spirit be “spirit led” and be able to by the spirit govern their affairs. Would he want to play the role of the Holy Spirit substituting himself as the as the foremost authority in the life of a Christian ?

    If he is corrupt is it necessarily because he is part of an “institution” . Does the structure make him corrupt or his own black heart ? Can’t a man who is not part of an “institution” but considers himself a teacher also be corrupt ? How do I know you are not corrupt in some form ?

    Are you not through this blog establishing yourself as some kind of authority ? Who appointed you to write blogs teaching Christians at large ? Who are you that we should trust of believe you ? The title of your blog suggests you are someone burnt by pastors and churches ? How do we know you are not some kind of unteachable rebel what drove your pastor mad with frustration ?

    What precisely do you mean by the institutional church ?

    Are you a home church advocate? Or a maverick Christian pontificating on the state of the church ? Other than writing blogs what are you doing to invest yourself toward the restoration of the church ?

    Are you yourself some kind of self appointed authority
    who speaks about submission but is in no way in submission yourself ? I am not being sarcastic. I really want to know . Because you criticize those who assume unwarranted authority where they have none.

    How do we know you are not one of these ? Other than yourself who do we consult ?

    How are you a member of the body of Christ ? Does that exclude sincere believers and true shepherds who ARE part of the local church on the corner ? What precisely are you a member of and how is that “membership” manifested in your life ?

    Since you are a self confessed fallible individual why should anyone listen to you ? Who are you exactly ?
    What is your story ? You don’t identify yourself. Why not come out in the open and tell us who you are ?
    Maybe we can check you out and find some of the answers to the questions I have been asking about you.

    How should the church practically function ? Where should it meet ? How should it meet ? What should we do when we meet ? Who should lead ? Someone ? No one ? Everyone ?

    And when we meet do we meet regularly with the same people or as the “Lord leads” and with whomever we happen to run into who is a brother or sister. How do we determine they ARE brothers or sisters ? What is the responsibility of brothers and sisters toward one another and how is that responsibility practically carried out ?

    How is the assembling of ourselves organized and who is the one who brings the saints together. Someone, no one or everyone ? Or do we just wait for the Spirit to bring us together and wait for him to give each of us revelation of where we meet ? If then there is no such revelation then who makes the call and what gives that individual the authority to make the call ?

    What if someone wants to meet somewhere else how is the location determined: by vote ? What do we make of the local assemblies mentioned in the New Testament ? Were they an aberration ? How could Paul miss that they church was not to be organized into “local friendly churches ” If that is not the model for assembling the body then what is and how does it function ?

    Though I may seem sarcastic I am not. These are sincere questions. These are questions that the body of Christ has been trying to answer for 2000 years.

    There are great churches and lousy churches . Some are independant . Some are institutions . Others are not . Some meet in church buildings others in rented halls and even living rooms…Some are part of a formal denomination and others are not. …There are good pastor and lousy pastors…Great leaders and terrible leaders. Mature christians and immature…..I am certain one is not better than another and it is the heart that determines what glorifies God and what doesn’t…

    This response is more for others who read this blog than for you. Your experience is obviously of one who has been deeply hurt and disillusioned by what you call the “institutional church” Not all of us share that experience.

    I myself am a pastor and I must confess that the issues you bring up confront me everyday. But I believe in the local church and its pastors and overseers because there is no way to escape it :This is the Biblical model. I too am grieved over what it has
    reduced itself too but I am convinced it can be restored. We are by the grace of God “striving ” in our
    hearts to be Christlike and be a body of believers that is pleasing to Jesus and lays down our lives for the sake of others.

    Your comments will force to ask questions that will make us better…and try to avoid producing people that carry the hurts and disappointments you must have experienced.

    • Alex,

      I will be answering these questions shortly. Sorry it took so long to respond, I was on hiatus for a long time from the blog.

      God bless you and thank you for being a Berean.

    • boyscout said,

      Are you the kind of leader like Paul who worked with his own hands to supply his own needs and the needs of his companions or are you the kind who are supported by the congregations?
      Did you start the church or did you apply for the position at an existing church?
      Did the church you apply to requires some sort of credentials like a degree in seminary for the position?
      How do you lead when they are in effect your boss?
      How do you explain the fact that the title pastor was never used on salutations in the scriptures?
      I just wanted to know too.

  7. Toby thank you for the additional insights. Grace and Peace to you.

  8. Toby said,

    This is something I studied out a few years ago when I had a pastor that was all about people obeying him.

    Young: To persuade
    Strong: a primary verb; to convince (by argument, true or false); by analogy to pacify or conciliate (by other fair means); reflexively or passively to assent (to evidence or authority), to rely (by inward certainty): agree, assure, believe, have confidence, be (wax) confident, make friend, obey, persuade, trust, yield.
    Robertson: I stand convinced

    So we are to follow a truth that we have become convinced of. We are not to follow anythng that is rammed down our throat.

  9. Jazmin said,

    Awesome!

  10. Veretax said,

    Well Said! Excellent post, and I agree. And the only thing I would even think of adding is remember what Christ said. He who shall be first shall become last, and even then when he washed the disciples feet, he was setting an example that those who would be leaders should be servants, not ringmasters. Very well written, and a topic of discussion around the blogosphere of late too!

    • Great. This was labor post LOL. I’m totally agree with you, the example Jesus set for the flock is one every leader should emulate.


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