I have been asked to address several topics in this blog. The topic of spiritual authority and obedience is one of them. Before going into more detail in subsequent posts, I just wanted to give an overview of my thoughts on the subject. And I cannot overemphasize that these are my opinions on the matter. I will do my best to support my assertions and conclusions with properly exegeted (interpreted) scripture, but in the end, these are just the thoughts of another man. As with all my posts, I do hope that you find some benefit in the following.
Sadly, it has been my experience and observation that those teaching on the need for obedience to spiritual authority have done more harm than good to the body of Christ. A popular writer and speaker wrote a book and developed a video series in recent years on the subject of the "covering," or authority structure that God established for his people in the Bible. I have not seen the video series or read the book myself, so I cannot comment with great accuracy about what the author said or intended. However, multiple people have told me things they have learned from the videos, and others encouraged me (several years ago) to use the video series in the church that we had started. I chose not to use the videos. I believed then, and I believe even moreso now that the author's understanding of spiritual authority and obedience missed the mark. The author is very knowledgeable (I have read other books by him) and sincere, but I believe he is a product of his environment, and so propagates what he knows, and has not treated the topic objectively or properly.
The real harm I have seen is that the video series has been used by church leaders to manipulate church members into submission (so my critique may be more because of the use of the material rather than the material itself). Of course, when I say that, I do not believe these leaders have malicious intent. On the contrary, I believe they feel obligated to teach their congregants the importance of obedience to authority, and they saw this as a good tool to that end. The problem is that this use of spiritual authority is unbiblical. Or perhaps I should say, it is "extra-biblical." It goes beyond what scripture teaches.
One thing I saw many years ago was that I put myself in a very dangerous place when I told people that they had to "obey" me because I was their spiritual authority. For one thing, I was an incredibly flawed human being. For another, I wasn't any more spiritual than anyone else. And God had not called me to tell people how to live, or to otherwise control them. What's more, I had seen the abuse of authority by too many leaders over the years. It was amazing to me how many of my ministering peers and leaders spoke of drawing lines for their people because "people need (and want) lines drawn for them." They also spoke of not wanting to lose "control" of their congregations. People needed good strong teaching in order to keep them in line, to motivate them (read "manipulate" them), to get them to submit, was the logic. People in every church I had any association with were constantly demeaned for not "submitting" to leaders--for having "bad" or "rebellious" spirits. Interestingly, these "bad" spirits were indicated by congregants questioning the leaders. I began to see that people in these congregations were in a no-win situation. They didn't have a voice, and too many had lost their identities. People entered our churches with great intelligence, great ideas, great talents and abilities, great energy, and great intentions. But slowly their personalities would change as they learned to submit and not question authority. They learned to keep their opinions to themselves (unless their opinions were othewise valued and welcome), or they were marginalized, or they left. I still grieve when I think of what I was a part of and what I witnessed. And I have since developed a hyper-sensitive radar (good or bad I don't know) for abuses perpetrated by those with spiritual authority.
These are complicated issues, and I have only given a smattering of problems I saw with the topic, and I am sure I have only raised more questions with what I have related so far, rather than answering any. I will go into more detail in later posts, but I did want to get the ball rolling tonight. Suffice it to say, that I do not believe that disagreeing with or even disobeying a church leader (any church leaders) equates necessarily with disobeying God. Someone might disobey God while disobeying a leader, but the two are separate matters, in my opinion. I also believe that living in the kind of systems that either overtly or covertly teaches this type of spiritual authority ("Obey me because I am God's leader in your life") is detrimental to the individual and to the body of Christ as a whole. It is detrimental to the individual on spiritual, emotional, psychological, and even physical levels. It squelches a person's God-given gifts, talents, and personality. And therefore, the body of Christ does not get the benefit of all of these wonderful diverse characteristics that make each of us unique. It is sad to me, and it doesn't need to be. I hope this and subsequent posts will encourage you to consider your own situation or the situations of those you know, and give you strength to be yourself again. You are greatly loved by the One who made you--by the One who made you YOU. God bless you this week.