Is the Church Infallible?

Tampa Hillsborough Bay

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 NLT

Many believe that in Matthew 16, Jesus was setting Peter up as the first pope and giving the church unconditional authority. This comes from reading more into Jesus’ Words than what He intended. Instead of giving the church authority over the consciences of individuals, in making its own laws Jesus was declaring just the opposite. In Matthew 16:9Jesus is not giving the church license. To the contrary He is giving it limits in what it can and should teach. The keys of the kingdom that Jesus gave the church were not keys to authority. The keys of the kingdom are the knowledge of Jesus’ teachings.

What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.” Luke 11:52 NLT 

Jesus made it clear that no man is authorized to make ecclesiastical laws that man must submit to, much less that heaven must recognize!

Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God. For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. Mark 7:7-9 NLT

Contrary to the idea that Jesus told the church that it could make laws that would be recognized in heaven, Jesus told the church to teach completely those things from heaven alone.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NLT

While I was living in Texas, a police officer in a small town was fired, because he was pulling over young girls who were obeying the laws just so he could flirt with them. The town had given him authority to enforce the laws of the city but not to flirt with young girls! Likewise in the passage just cited, Jesus gives the church authority to teach everything He has commanded but nothing more and nothing less!  Just like a police officer cannot make up his own laws and pull people over who are obeying the laws of the land, so a church leader cannot make up his own laws and meddle in the personal affairs of others.

A police officer and even lawmakers are sworn in or inaugurated by an oath to protect the laws and constitutions of the land. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus is swearing in the disciples, simply telling them that they are to bind (lock in or require) what is bound in heaven and are to lose (or allow) only what is allowed in heaven. Matthew 16:19 is a command to His disciples and not a license to make their own laws. Jesus told His disciples, what you forbid should be that which is forbidden in heaven and what you allow should be that which is allowed in heaven. As a young boy, when I would get out of line, my teacher would tell me, “you will march right over to the the principal’s office.” That was a command, not a license! So when Jesus tells the church that what they bind is what will be bound in heaven he was Commanding them to only bind what is bound in heaven.

The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply rooted of papal errors. –Ellen White, The Great Controversy, Page 293.

I am loyal to my parents without claiming they are infallible. I follow my parents as they follow Jesus. No more no less. I am also loyal to my church without claiming it is infallible. I follow my church as it follows Jesus. No more no less.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Respecting God While Respecting Our Leaders

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson suggests that “Over the long centuries, people have struggled to understand the role and function of government and how citizens should relate to it. What gives rulers the right to rule?”

I believe it is worthwhile to think about the role of government and our individual responsibility.

Former United States President Richard Nixon, defended himself in the Watergate scandal, by telling reporter David Frost, “If the President does it, then it is not illegal.” This bold statement shocked David Frost, and every other competent thinker! I suspect that in the United States, people really started to question their leaders after Nixon’s downfall.

I believe we keep a healthy balance of respect for leadership, without blind submission, when we ask for accountability and checks and balances. In the United States we have a constitution with which the President must conform. This Constitution declares who has the ultimate authority. It reads, “We, the people.” Not “I, the President” or “I, Thomas Jefferson, or Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.” The power and authority of the Constitution comes from “The People!” Therefore the United States president is not above the law.

In the church we have the Scriptures as our sole authority, and our leaders must be held accountable. And the church as a body has authority derived from the Scriptures and the leadership of Jesus Christ as represented in the body of the church.

God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.” -Ellen White, Last Day Events, p. 56.

Just as in the United States, the President is not above the people, the church leaders are not above the church. While working in a different Adventist conference many years ago, my boss told me to do something on the Sabbath which my conscience did not think was appropriate. My boss told me the conference president expects me to do it so I better do it no matter what! (Please keep in mind my boss said this and the conference president never actually made such a threat.) I thought to myself, Sorry, Jesus died for me, not the conference president. I have to be faithful to Jesus.

It does not matter what church affiliation you belong to, you have to follow your conscience and what the Holy Spirit has convicted you is truth based on Scripture. If any leader, secular or ecclesiastical, tries to place his authority above your conscience based on the Scriptures, then consider,

The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply rooted of papal errors. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 292-293

Papal errors are not confined to the papacy. The church in Christ’s day was quite papal when they crucified Him even though the word “papal” was not recognized yet.

“The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. …. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” The Lord “is the Rock, His work is perfect.” “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Jeremiah 17:5Deuteronomy 32:4Psalm 2:12. (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 414)

Jennifer Schwizer wrote a compelling post on clergy sexual abuse. However sexual abuse is only one form of abuse of power. Pressuring people to violate their conscience in any way whatsoever is abuse. The ugliness of sexual abuse is not so much what it does to the body, but even more so what it does to the soul and conscience. You don’t have to use sex to rape someone’s soul and violate their conscience. Anytime someone puts their power over your conscience it is rape. (Thank God for the millions and millions of clergy members throughout the ages and across all denominational lines who have ministered to God’s children faithfully, without ever harming a single soul. Because of them we have confidence in the clergy, and people can find in them the mercy and love of Jesus.)

Many years ago, I heard the testimony of a church leader, defending himself for some shady deals, saying his boss (another church leader) told him to do it, therefore he had no choice but to obey his boss who had “authority.” I am sure Joab was thinking the same thing when King David told him to put Uriah on the front lines of the war. Please read what God’s messenger has to say about Joab’s rationale.

“And Joab, whose allegiance had been given to the king rather than to God, transgressed God’s law because the king commanded it. David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 719)

While we need to be respectful of authority,  we also need to remember the ultimate source of authority. And while we respect those in leadership, we must remember we are accountable to the Scriptures and God’s church, of which Christ is the Head. Even Martin Luther, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation, tried his best to be respectful of the leaders of his church. It was not his goal to start a new church, much less a movement that would change the world. He sought to bring his leaders into harmony with the Scriptures, and it was only after his efforts to work within his church failed, that he felt he had to make a choice between allegiance to God or allegiance to his leaders. Martin Luther was loyal to the only One who loved him enough to create him and die for him. Likewise we should make every effort to submit to our leaders as far as we can without being disloyal to the One who died for us.

Dispute over biblical truth did not stop with the age of Luther. It is our job to continue to press forward and put into action the truth that is contained in Scripture. And sometimes that makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes it causes heated arguments. And sometimes leaders weigh in with their opinions on one side or the other. Any particular interpretation of a biblical passage is not automatically more “right” because a church leaders says so. God has designed the governance of our church in such a way that, if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us individually, the mind of the Spirit will be met through the vote of the church body. And that is why the vote of the General Conference should be regarded as authoritative.

No one person or relatively small group of persons has authority to dictate his or their opinion to the rest of the church body, no matter how strongly they feel on the matter. Leaders need to respect the vote of the members, and members need to respect the position of leadership, as far as it is biblical.

I have met people who are afraid to speak up in board meetings or church business meetings, because they feel they are too young or poor, and their influence would not be felt. I have also observed people abusing their age or money to hurt others. I would like to encourage all—no matter how young, old, rich or poor you are—you need to speak your convictions in these meetings. And, no matter how young, old rich or poor you are, you need to respect others when you do. We all have a right and a responsibility to speak, and we all have  a responsibility to respect each other when we do so.

Matthew 7; Moral Authority

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:  For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Matthew 7:28-29

 

 

This verse makes it clear, that while the scribes were all full of themselves because of their supposedly exalted positions, that in reality they had no authority or influence over the people. Why? Because, while an organization had given them a title of authority, they still had no moral authority. I like the way The Message Bible translates this verse. “When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.”

 

 

I remember growing up as a teen, wanting to follow Jesus, that there were older people that I looked up to and had spiritual relationships with, not because they had a title or position in the community, but because I sensed they truly walked with God. I also remember I chose them as my mentors, they did not choose me. I was not alone. A few years ago, I went to a youth leadership workshop. I am sorry I don’t remember the name of the man giving the workshop, but he confirmed that even today, children choose their own mentors. A child may belong to a church with three pastors and a youth director, but may feel more comfortable sharing their burdens with the church janitor. Chances are the janitor has an intimate relationship with God that the youth want to find. The janitor has moral authority when his or her life is harmony with God’s Word.

 

Last week I was in a youth evangelism council meeting, where a video by Andy Stanley was shown, where he talked about moral authority. He put a label on a concept that the Holy Spirit had been revealing to me for some time. Stanley calls it “moral authority.” I had never thought of that label before. Authority does not come from a title or position, it comes from character. In heaven, Lucifer wanted God’s authority but did not want His character. Problem is, the authority comes from the character. While Lucifer, like the rest of us can never be God nor should we seek to be God, we should be seeking His character instead of his power. Where there is no morality there is no authority. Your authority is limited to your morality, regardless of any position or title you may or may not have. In other words there are people with influence that have no position, and there are people with positions that have no influence. This is why many of them seek to use force and manipulation when they can’t lead naturally. Meanwhile there are others who lead, while using no titles, positions, force or manipulation, but are quite successful, because, they have moral authority.

 

Position does not give holiness of character. It is by honoring God and obeying His commands that a man is made truly great.  {Conflict and Courage, p. 189}