Sometimes, I get a little sassy, and I post things on social media, especially my personal pages, that, albeit unintentionally, kind of stir people up. The other day I was feeling particularly cheeky and posted two things, one on all my pages regarding leadership within the church and idolization of these leaders, and the second on my personal pages that kind of waded into the political realm . . . which I generally have tried to avoid as of late but felt, based upon some messages and page invites I received, I was at a point where I needed to clarify and express my stance on certain things.
The political post, I won’t address here because I’ve expressed my personal beliefs and viewpoints on certain specific issues in a post entitled Uncompromising Beliefs (and you can click on the title to read the post if you’re so inclined), but beyond that, this is not the place where I have any desire to delve into politics.
But the other post, I quickly realized, I probably should’ve saved for this space versus trying to fit it into social media. A lot of the responses were in agreement which is all well and good, and of course, there are those that flat out disagree with what I was saying. Also, well and good. I do not live in a echo chamber where I only expect to hear the voices of those that agree with me. But there were definitely those that I, honestly, don’t feel were fully grasping and/or understanding what I was saying.
Before I go any further I want to clarify, I rarely (read: never intentionally and only if it’s a mistake on my part, and if it is, I will acknowledge it and apologize should the Holy Spirit bring it to my attention) post anything regarding biblical insight where I don’t feel passionately that God is teaching me and prompting me to share. Sometimes I take pages and pages of notes and never share a single word, but other times, I just feel like I need to share even if there are those that see things differently. The reality is, we’re not going to all agree all of the time, and that. is. okay.
So without further ado . . .
I’ve been working my way through the book of Acts for the past few weeks. I’ve read Acts, in its entirety countless times, but I don’t remember the last time I read it from beginning to end. And I don’t know that I’ve ever read it, in its entirety, where I took the time to take the scriptures back to the original text and meanings. If you’re a believer I encourage you to take some time to spend in the book of Acts, reading it on your own, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and really study it. There is so much wisdom there, but it’s also our history, the history of the church, in its earliest days. And it’s incredibly insightful and important that we read and understand it.
Setting the scene: Acts 14:8-18 – Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra, Paul tells a man, who was “a cripple from his mother’s womb” to get up and “walk”, and guess what? The scriptures say he lept up.
Sidebar: I don’t believe the days of miracles have passed away. I often hear people say, “Well God’s not going to change their ______ or grow a new ______ or make their ______ disappear.” Truth is, I not only believe He can, but He does. While I don’t have all the answers as to why some receive healing on earth while others wait for heaven, it’s not going to stop me for praying and believing for miracles. Moving on . . .
“Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God , who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them . . . “ Acts 14:11-15
Those scriptures led me to share these words:
“Some thoughts as I read Acts 14 this morning. The leaders in the church (speaking of the body of Christ as a whole) are so important. They’ve been gifted by God to teach and lead, but we must be very careful that we don’t shift from holding them in high regard w/respect to idolizing and worshipping them. Paul and Barnabas were greatly grieved at being worshipped and emphasized that they were just men. So many leaders are not grieved at the concept being worshipped by the church. And although it may not look the same, I believe there is worship of men and women in the church today … where even when their “interpretations” (and I use that term incredibly loosely) of God’s word are not sound and their “revelations” are contradictory to the truth of the Bible we still accept it because of who they are. And that doesn’t even get into the the hero worship of political leaders which I’m not going to discuss today other than to say, both are so dangerous. God has given each of us the ability to read and understand the Bible through and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That’s not to say that we can’t learn from and do not need the guidance of church leaders, but we need to pray that as we study the word and listen to, read, and study teachings that truth is revealed to us. And if it’s out of context and/or contradicts the word and the nature of God in any way, it shouldn’t be accepted.”
And while I felt I was pretty clear, it seems that some things need to be clarified (obviously the word of the day). As I was reading this chapter in Acts, I first saw it through the lens of a society where idol worship was rampant, and it’s somewhat easy to say, “Well we don’t live in that kind of society,” or at the very least, “In the church, we don’t have that issue.” But that’s where the Holy Spirit placed a check in my own thoughts. Because here’s the thing, we do often hold men and women leaders in the church up as infallible when they are not.
Does that mean we don’t respect, honor, learn from, and come under the leadership and authority of men and women of God? Absolutely not. I have certain Christian pastors and evangelists for whom I have the utmost respect, and I do take the time to listen to their teachings and learn from their guidance. I also believe in the importance of the authority of pastors over the local churches where they have been called. We need to be learning and hearing from the men and women of God. We need teachers, preachers, evangelists . . .
But I will never just take what someone is saying and regurgitate it. I will always, first, take it back to the word and see if it lines up biblically, and in the cases where the interpretation and revelation of the scripture are questionable, where the proverbial red flags start to go up, I start by taking it in context of the entire passage of scripture. I also go back, as much as I can, to the original text when word meanings and interpretations come into play. I pray for the the Holy Spirit to lead me into all truth, not what I want the truth to be, but the actual truth of the word of God. I pray for wisdom and understanding. And if that interpretation or revelation doesn’t line up biblically, no matter how much I love that person, I won’t accept that teaching as truth.
Does that mean that I write them off and never learn from them in the future? Does it mean that I still don’t hold them in high regard and respect and honor them? Again, absolutely not. But what it does mean is that I know that they’re not perfect, they’re human (we’re all human), and I have a responsibility, as both a follower of Christ and a leader, to do the best I can to be certain that what I’m both taking in and putting out is biblically sound.
And that, to me, is the fine line between honoring, respecting, and coming under someone’s leadership versus idolizing them. Because when we idolize someone, we think they can do no wrong and cannot be wrong, and we never question their teachings. And that is incredibly dangerous. But when we see church leaders as God intended, imperfect men and women brought to teach us and lead us despite their imperfections, then we realize it’s okay and actually, biblical, to go back to the Bible ourselves and seek the Holy Spirit for wisdom regarding what we are being taught, and I’d venture that is precisely what truly Godly leaders want us to do.
Sidebar number 2: I am NOT saying we go around stirring up strife and spend all our time denouncing people we think are wrong. I don’t think that brings much in the way of edification to the body of Christ except in very particular circumstances where the person is purposefully and clearly misleading believers for personal gain or where the teachings are continually and obviously contradictory to the bible. It’s also important to note that the absolutes, acceptance of Jesus being the only way, His death and resurrection, the Holy Trinity, etc. are never up for interpretation or debate, but there are parts of the bible very much open to interpretation by both individuals and denominations within Christianity. If we’re reading, praying, studying, and asking God to help us, He will. He will reveal the truth of His word to each of us. But again, we need, spiritual leaders in our lives. I’m in no way saying we don’t.
Resource Note: I often use Bible Hub and Strong’s concordance when I study. There are debates about Strong’s, but as a whole, I feel it’s a reliable resource. I’ll also read various commentaries on things that I’m having trouble grasping, and sometimes, I just have to let certain things lie for a while trusting the Holy Spirit to reveal truth as it’s appropriate. Because we see things through the slant of our circumstances, it’s important to know that will affect all of our interpretations from time to time.
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