“Who are you submitting to?”

This is an unfortunately common question, not just of myself, but of many who eschew hierarchical church eadership.

Before I explain my heartache over this question, I’ll first answer it so those short on patience can move onward… I’m submitted to my wife, the saints, the governing authorities, and to Christ.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk more about this question…

This question is raised in the context of talking about church leadership because there is a prevailing idea that we must be submitted to one or more church leaders. I believe this concept to be very wrong, but in some cases, sorta correct. Is that double-speak for me to suggest such?

How can submitting to a church leaders be a wrong idea?

In the New Testament, there is no teaching of Christ, or the apostles, nor examples of a believer being commanded to submit to a church leader. The scriptures are often made to appear to be saying such by cherry-picking some verses and leaving out others, and by not looking at them very deeply (as is the case with Hebrews 13:17 in my opinion) but the holistic view of submission does not demonstrate this concept. Don’t believe me? Check out the “submission” word studies yourself.

My objection to this kind of question is that it is based on assumption or falsely-held belief that the notion of local churches, led by hierarchical leadership structures, usually with a priest or pastor at the top, is a scriptural concept to begin with.

How important do you believe most local churches have made the role of “pastor” may I ask? Did you know that this word only appears once in both the King James and New American Standard versions of the New Testament (do I only care about those?)? Do you find it astonishing that such a prominent role has been created for a role mentioned zero or one time in the entire New Testament? We sure seem to have created a lot of teaching and ideas around something that is so infrequently mentioned.

Nowhere is a local assembly leadership structure demonstrated in the New Testament with a single leader occupying a chief role with other roles submitted to them. Even the Apostles submitted themselves to one another, and the local church. Therefore, to assert that anyone must place a leader in such a role is without scriptural precedent. To believe a saint to be in error for not being “under” a pastor is non-justifiable.

Is that really so bad? I contend that it is. Why? Because Jesus Christ, the firstborn from among the dead, endured the suffering for the sins of the world, died, and conquered death so that he may become the first and the last, to have first place in all things, including headship of His church! When he ascended, he took on the role formerly assigned to the High Priest, interceding on behalf of his brothers and sisters before God. To give this role to another human is to spit in the face of Christ and to return to a form of old covenant. This is precisely what the writer of Hebrews was encouraging the readers to not do. There is now only one mediator between man and God – Jesus Christ. We have no other mediator. We are to call no one “father”.

Does that mean asking leaders for counsel or to keep you accountable is wrong? I’m not suggesting such. There are appropriate ways to have such things. They are however, not commanded. Furthermore, if they are a substitute for a person directly fellowshipping with Christ and receiving from Him in favor of doing so through a leader, that is a fundamentally at odds with the New Covenant friends. We have direct access to God, why would we want to yield that to someone else? Would you, after purchasing a new home, submit your access to that new home to a good friend, asking them to monitor your coming and going, to hold the keys, to make all the decisions about how your home will be used, what it will look like, who will come over, etc.. Surely if someone did that, they’d either be considered odd or perhaps insane. Nevertheless, this is precisely what millions do when they yield their own (new) birthright of access to God to a church leader. This is simply not God’s design.

So when is submission to a leader a good thing?

The New Testament does teach that all believers are to mutually submit to one another. You and I… we’re accountable to submit mutually to one another. We’re accountable to submit to others within the local church. Does this mean we must obey them? No. Submit is not the idea of crying uncle, or giving up one’s will entirely. The concept is that of yielding.  Very similar to driving, we yield to one another. It’s placing another in a more prominent role than you place yourself in. It’s considering and giving way to one another.

Therefore, since leaders are among the ‘one another’ we’re instructed to mutually submit unto, we owe them the same. This is not because of their roles, or office, etc – but because they are among the saints.

In Christ, there is no favoritism. There is only one head. Everyone else is on equal footing.

Who do I submit to? I submit to my brethren, and thereby submit to Christ and his command that I love my neighbor as myself.

– Pilgrim

** Why only mention the King James and the NASB? I do this because these two are those that have interlinear Strong’s Concordance references available and because they’re generally “formal equivalent” translations as opposed to paraphrases or “dynamic equivalent” translations which are much harder for most of us to evaluate in their original languages. To investigate the subject of translation types further, click here.

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