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The Christian Chain of Command

Given a sense of purpose and sufficient preparation, how should God’s people apply themselves toward fulfilling their responsibilities as God’s representatives and world-changers? They have their general direction specified in the Great Commission and are to be guided by God’s word but what are their specific duties? They cannot wait until they know all there is to know, that would require more than a lifetime of study. Some attempt to do this though, and end up as monks in a recluse or as students that continually argue the fine points of Scripture all their lives. No, God expects His new creatures to be the world-changers that usher in the fruits of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).

To do this they must go out into an unbelieving world and teach it to obey their Lord. They must, as the Pilgrims of old, leave the comforts of home, go out into the moral wilderness this world has become, and take dominion for Christ. They cannot, though, just leave the civilized world and attempt to build a civilization in a new world, as their predecessors did. Their pilgrimage is to be practiced at home. God’s people should emulate the Pilgrims a) in their strong sense of purpose, the building of a godly world; b) in their sense of individual responsibility, their recognition of Christ and only Christ as Lord; and c) in their life-long and life-giving effort to do all they can to further His kingdom on earth. Christians should see themselves as pilgrims and colonists, foreigners in a hostile world they have been chartered to subdue for Christ.

A question of historical importance has been: how are they to relate to their fellow believers, to the elders and to the world outside? Should they organize themselves into ranks as an army with officers and enlisted men, with some that command and some that obey? What guidance does Scripture give? Does it give any guidance at all? Indeed, it does; here are the Apostle Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth:

I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3)

This verse begins a passage that deals with familial relationships but it goes beyond that and gives us the God-intended authority order for all of society. Authority flows from God, the Father, to the Son and thence to the regenerate family head. Within the family there is rule; children must obey their parents and the man is the head of the wife. Above the family is Christ and above Christ is God. Just as there is no head between Christ and God, so there is no head between the man and Christ, no one he must obey unconditionally or to whom he can transfer his God-given responsibilities.

The apostle says essentially the same thing to the believers in Ephesus:

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. (Eph. 5:23)

Here again we see only two heads, the husband and Christ. The word translated church here is ecclesia (the called-out ones), a reference to the believers as individuals, not as an institution. So, the phrase “as Christ is the head of the church” is understood as “Christ is the head of each individual believer.” God’s people need the support of other believers and normally would work with them; but they should never make themselves or allow themselves to become subservient to any man or any institution. The Christian family head must understand and feel a direct personal responsibility to Christ and Christ alone.

However, to be directly responsible to Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, for one’s words and actions can be an awesome and seemingly ominous position to be in, especially so for new or less mature Christians. A very natural tendency is to look for an intermediary, someone that can make decisions for them as to right and wrong, someone to whom the awesome weight of responsibility can be transferred.

On the other hand, some individuals do not share this timidity; they are confident of themselves and are ready to accept this leadership role that is being thrust upon them. They do so, become comfortable with the arrangement, and in time acquire other followers. If these adopted mentors refused to act as leaders, restricted themselves to teaching and diligently worked to develop self-assurance in those under their care, all would be well. However, pride is not entirely erased by regeneration and the temptation to step up into a leadership role is often too attractive to overcome.

These leaders associate with one another; they meet together, recognize their superiority and an upper class begins to form. Often this arrangement, although devoid of scriptural support, is found to be more efficient and more effective in terms of outward accomplishments. The ecclesia, perhaps knowing this usurpation of power is wrong, resists for a while but eventually acquiesces and its operative modality is changed. The previous monolithic composition of the community is very gradually transformed into a clergy-laity, class-oriented structure.

The above is a process that, contrary to God’s directions, has led to the conversion of the ecclesia assemblies into churches led by pastors and priests instead of by the Holy Spirit, working in the hearts of God’s people.