Monday, November 20, 2006

Characteristics of Christian Leaders (8)

It's nearly a year since I last wrote something under this thread, but in response to some recent events and questions from readers I'm picking up the theme again.

I am convinced that Jesus did not come to build a ‘church’ (as in an institution or organisation), as I've probably made clear in my posts under other threads - He came to establish a community He called ‘the Kingdom of God’. Institutionalised churches generally aren’t communities, and nor are rule-keeping, legalistic, dogmatic denominations (unless we use ‘community’ very loosely in its broadest sense).

The King James Version of the Bible was intentionally mis-translated on King James’s instructions to ensure that the ‘authority’ of the Bishops - and more importantly from his perspective, the King – was maintained. So we have ‘bishops’ and ‘deacons’ instead of ‘leaders’ and ‘servants’, and we have verses which instruct Christians to "obey them who have the rule over you". A lot of Christadelphian ‘rulers’ have latched on to King James’s self-serving distortion of the Bible to serve their own interests, and so we have the mess that we see in Christadelphia today.

Hebrews 13:17 is one of the passages often quoted to enforce submission to the decisions of Arranging (or Managing) Brethren (and sometimes even committees such as the Bible Missions!). "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."

We should first look at verse 7 which says “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation”.

There are a couple of things we should note about verse 7:

(a) It is in the past tense but has been translated to read as though it were in the present tense.

(b) The word over (“rule over you”) in this verse has no corresponding word in the Greek and was added by the translators (humon means “of you” not “over you”).

(c) The phrase, "them which have the rule over" is a paraphrase of one Greek word - hegeomai - a verb - meaning to lead, to go before as a guide. In a Christian context hegeomai is descriptive of the act of guiding, going on ahead, leading the way as an example, not sitting as overlords.

(d) It is referring to those who have died in the faith, not to living individuals presiding over the body of Christ.

Hebrews 11-12 is filled with accounts of those who have gone before us as examples of those who have walked by faith. The reader is exhorted to remember such, to reflect on their faith, calling to memory "the end of their conversation" (or "the outcome of their way of life" NIV). These were some of the exemplary guides, the hegeomai that were to be remembered. So Heb 13:7 is saying “remember those who have gone before and follow in their footsteps”. The NIV has “remember your leaders ...” and “leaders” in this context means those who “led” the way.

The KJV translators also changed the intent of verse 17 to suit the King. The Greek word, peitho that was translated obey appears only 55 times in the New Testament. It is only translated obey seven times. The word peitho is in the passive voice and simply means be persuaded, as the following lexicons demonstrate.
"Peitho: To persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe. To make friends of, to win one's favour, gain one's good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one. To tranquillise. To persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something. Be persuaded. To be persuaded, to suffer one's self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing. To believe." (Thayer and Smith’s Greek Lexicon)

"peitho, to persuade, to win over, in the Passive and Middle voices, to be persuaded, to listen to.... (Acts 5:40, Passive Voice, "they agreed"); The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion." (W. E. Vine Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words)

Acts18:4 is a good example of how this word is used in the NT: “And he (Paul) reasoned (dialegomai…'To think different things with one's self, mingle thought with thought. To ponder, revolve in mind. To converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss'. Thayer and Smith's Greek Lexicon) …in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded (pietho) the Jews and the Greeks." Here Paul is reasoning with Jews and Greeks in the synagogue. He did not command them to obey him. Rather, he persuaded them.

In this verse pietho means “listen to the reasoning of your leaders” or “be persuaded by your leaders”, but not “obey them”.

The Greek word that was translated submit in verse 17 is hupeiko. It occurs only here in the NT and means yield. Hupeiko in no way infers any kind of outward force being placed on the person yielding. It is a voluntary act. In the body of Christ you cannot demand that someone “submit” to your authority. If you do, it proves that you really do not have authority. He is not fit to lead who is not capable of guiding.

The Message translates this “Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel.” This conveys the sense of deferring to the wise counsel of wise leaders more accurately than the authoritarian language of the KJV.

Verse 7 is a call to remember those who led the way (e.g the faithful in ch 11), and verse 17 follows the theme with advice to follow the counsel and example of the present generation of leaders.

Authoritarian leaders cannot be trusted. It seems to me that these two things are related: a bullying, authoritarianism which attempts to control other people, and immorality. We often see these go hand in hand. Alarm bells should always ring when we see authoritarianism in the Body of Christ. Behind it there will always be abuse of some kind.

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