Ex.27:20 – I Sam.3:3


Within the Great House known as the church are to be discovered both vessels to honor and those to dishonor [2 Tim.2:20]; those who bring glory and renown to Christ and those who are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame [Phil.3:18,19].

As we survey the religious landscape of this generation, we are confronted with a vast host flocking to church gatherings that nonetheless are incurably godless. They worship in the spirit of the age, boasting in the disgrace of human wisdom and ceremonies while celebrating an absentee Christ who is not among them.

They love the rule of man but not that of God. The Lord Jesus has become the figurehead of their association, a mere emotional rallying point of allegiance. But He is not actually their living Head, who in fact guides, directs, and controls their activities.

Other “heads” and “shepherds” have effectually supplanted Christ in their midst, and the people love it to be so. There the pronouncements of men are bowed to and obeyed while other lovers allure and claim their affections, but Christ Himself is not the object of their devotion.

In such gatherings the “Man of God” has replaced the Word of God and the messenger has taken the place of the message. Tradition, not truth, reigns; and the farther the departure from biblical sanity, the greater the number there are swelling its ranks.

The rule of man is a dark cloak, a thinly veiled shroud of “godliness” under which countless untold evils have been perpetuated in the name of religion. It renders the people of God subservient, impotent, and passive. By it the church is stripped of God-given responsibilities and privileges.

This formally designated or informally recognized class of “rulers” who occupy an “office” or positions of authority over the “common” people, presume to reserve final say over the lives of men as if this was their God-given right and “ministry.”

The manipulative club whereby their churches are beaten into subjection is taken from one verse in the King James Version of the Bible. “Obey those who have the rule over you” [Heb.13:17]. And so their members prostrate at their feet in dread of incurring their displeasure. But they do not fear God, neither the rulers nor the ruled either one.

How like Israel in I Samuel 8 these churches are! Longing to be like the world, they willingly rush after their self-chosen shepherds. Where they might be led, they do not know, whether to pastures fresh or unto the slaughter. They long after a champion, anyone, to deliver them from unwanted responsibilities, and ultimately from God Himself though He is provoked to wrath thereby [Hos.13:9-11].

“We want another lord! We will subject ourselves! Enslave us! Ravage our families! We will pay him to do it! [I Sam.8:11-20]. But give us a pastor, a bishop, a prophet, a priest, or a pope! Let us have a president and founder, a ruler, a doctor, a reverend, a minister! Any will do, as long as it is not God Himself!”

This is precisely what Israel demanded in the days of Samuel. “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations…and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them’” [I Sam.8:5-7].

Corinth did likewise, eagerly courting deceivers to dominate and destroy them. They “bear with the foolish gladly. For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he hits you in the face” [2 Cor.11:19,20]. Foolish, enslaving, devouring, abusive dupes; it is what they wanted! It is what we want as we heap to ourselves teachers in accordance with our own lusts to listen to religious fables [2 Tim.4:3,4]. Woe unto us!

Religious rogues have exalted themselves over the people of God in the name of being “benefactors” [Lk.22:25]. Actually, they are not benefactors at all; they rather esteem themselves to be “great men” [Mt.20:25], “rulers” [Mk.10:42], and “kings” [Lk.22:25]. And what does their ministry consist of? They lord their decisions over and exercise authority upon the people of God [Mt.20:25; Mk.10:42; Lk.22:25].

But this is precisely what the world does! It has nothing to do with leadership within the true church of Christ. The Lord Jesus expressly forbids there to be this type of ruling and dominating of the people of God. Listen to what He says in Lk.22:26: “But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.”

Nothing could be plainer. Leaders in the true church of Christ are servants, not lords. They are humble men who do not promote themselves or dictate to others but who rather devotedly serve the saints as slaves. They are not served, they serve.

A true leader according to the God of heaven is one who leads by godly example of character combined with the persuasive power of the truth of God’s Word. Leadership in the church is never a matter of force or of subjecting men to autocratic demands and lordly decrees. This is worldliness and wickedness. This self-centered ruling with dominance and force was what was hated by the Lord God and brought judgment upon such false shepherds in days of old [Ezk.34:1-4]. It is hated by Him still and will result in wrath once again.

The Apostle to the Gentiles says in no uncertain terms that he has no right or desire to exercise authority over anyone. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy” [2 Cor.1:24]. The Apostle to the Jews says the same. “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder…shepherd the flock of God among you…nor yet as lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock” [I Pet.5:1-3]. Paul was a worker with them, not over them. Peter is a fellow elder, not a ruling one.

Now here is an amazing thing. Neither the Apostle to the Gentiles nor the Apostle to the Jews allows ruling and exercising authority over the brethren. Jew and Gentile account for all of humanity that comprises the church of Christ. And if they are not to be ruled and dominated, then there is no one else left to rule! Jew and Gentile are all that there is!

Yet the oppressive rule of man continues, despite the Lord Jesus’ direct forbidding of this and regardless of the Apostles’ doctrine and practice. All we can conclude is that such lords and authoritative “Men of God” are not like Christ or the Apostles. They are like the world, like the kings of the Gentiles whose only means of leadership is by force combined with threats of punishment if one does not obey.

But what about the misused stick of the would-be lords of Christendom? “Obey them that have the rule over you” [Heb.13:17]. Let us carefully consider what this misapplied passage is actually saying.

The phrase “them that have the rule over you” is taken from the King James Bible which was translated nearly 400 years ago. Many recent English translations translate this phrase as “leaders” which is the true sense of the term such as in the NIV, NASB, Good News, and other versions. This word “leader” is the identical word that we looked at in Lk.22:26 where the Lord Jesus said that His leader is a servant, not a ruler; a leader but not a lord. They guide by example, not by exercising authority as the world does.

Secondly, the word “obey” in Heb.13:17 does not mean obedience to one in authority, it means being persuaded by. The appeal is to spiritual reasonableness, not to blind subjection to someone who is exercising authority over another. We are simply to “Be persuaded by our leaders and submit.” This is the meaning.

It is what is clearly commanded in Heb.13:7: “Remember your leaders [same word as in 13:17 and Lk.22:26] who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the outcome of their way of life, imitate their faith.” This is true leadership; speaking the Word of God in truth coming from a life that is conformed to it. This is what persuades believers to follow leaders.

But this is precisely the reason that we see worldly leadership in the Great House of the church. Such rulers are not godly examples, they do not speak the truth, and they want no one getting close to them to observe the outcome of their way of life. Therefore they distance themselves from the brethren, fearing exposure of the skeletons in their cupboards and fearing the collapse of their empires if discovered.

Christ is to have first place in everything within His church [Col.1:18]. There cannot be two heads in one body. Two kings cannot share one throne. No man can serve two masters. Christ must be pushed aside from His rightful place as Lord, Bridegroom, and Shepherd to make way for human ruling substitutes. This is the heart of the matter.

What have we done? Something has gone radically and tragically wrong! What excuse can we lay before the Lord Jesus for allowing man to effectually usurp Him as Head of His church? What explanation can we bring for the development of the ceremonies and carnal noise of Christendom’s “worship services”? Where can these things be found in the New Testament? If their origin is not from the Word of God, then they have arisen from foul and corrupted sources. Why do we continue to defend and practice them when they have no biblical basis? Why are they not abandoned immediately?

The NT knows nothing of routines of tinkling bells, swishing robes, flickering candles, and mumbled mysterious liturgies. No evidence is discovered in the Scriptures to support the frenzied noise and chaotic uproar of the typical Pentecostal gathering. These things merely unmask the bankrupt state of God’s professed people.

Keyboards and choirs arouse sluggish saints to chant religious choruses. Majestic and ornate crosses tower before our adoring eyes. Drums drive to a fever pitch enthusiastic anticipation of our coming breakthroughs. “Worship leaders” shout prayer-points through their microphones into our too willing ears.

O how we love our church! How we love our tradition! How we pride ourselves in being found within the fold of the Rev. Dr. So-and-So! How we account our denomination as the guardian of the true and right way! Our pathetic and sickening addiction to such fleshly notions and practices is all too evident. Strip us of these things and we will sit in appalled bewilderment as to what is to be done to worship our God.

We have become the willing servants of man-made routines and fleshly practices. We are paralyzed by such inventions and have made ourselves incapable of actually worshiping in Spirit and Truth because of them.

The essence of idolatry is the manufacture of an external tangible form along with a ceremonial ritual in order to “see” and obtain the assistance of our god. Such things we imagine are a help and an aid to better conceptualize our god. Or so it is claimed. But remove the “aid” to worship, and the worshiper is at a loss as to what must be done to worship his god.

It is no different in the Great House of the church. Remove our “aids” to worship and our “worship” vanishes with them. Thus, if the “worship” disappears when the “helps” are gone, then the “worship” is actually totally dependent upon them. If we silence the choirs, if the “Man of God” comes down from the high table and does not direct us, if prayer-points are not shouted in our faces, if robed reverends do not administer the communion elements, if bulletins do not announce the order of service, then we will sit in stupefied uncomfortable silence, not knowing what to do so that our God may be worshiped.

This is a great delusion on a grand scale. Worse yet, it is idolatry. Why is it that the priesthood of all believers is content to sit in dumb passive silence observing the performance of a higher caste of churchly overlords? Is it actually true that we cannot worship apart from “praise and worship” leaders?

Is Christ not capable as Head of the body to direct its activities? Isn’t the voice of the Good Shepherd sufficient to guide His flock into the pastures of His choosing apart from “rulers”? Does not His heart of affection alone arouse a response of love from His bride apart from someone shouting in your face that you should love Him? Doesn’t He as Lord have the only legitimate right to prescribe and command His servants’ worship? Isn’t He present in the midst of even two or three who are gathered in His name?

The answer from the true church is, “Yea and Amen!” Those who would answer otherwise can be readily encountered in the Great House this coming Sunday. There’s one on nearly every corner.

Steve Phillips