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 authoritarianism, authority, Diotrephes, Elder, hebrews 13:17, Leadership, obey, Pastor, pharisees, spirtual abuse, submit, teacher at 5:58 pm by Set Free Indeed
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.
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
- 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.”
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.