Wisdom From Our Church Fathers

The Danger of Centralized Authority


 This concept of authority as something that causes another person to “do what you want him to do” is reflected in most definitions. For instance, the Random House Dictionary of the English Language speaks of authority as “a power or right to direct the actions or thoughts of others. Authority is a power or right, usually because of rank or office, to issue commands and to punish for violations.” Again, the root idea seems to be control or direction of the actions of others.

We see this same idea even in sophisticated examinations of authority. For instance, William Oncken, Jr., in a 1970 Colorado Institute of Technology Journal, gives an analysis of authority that suggests it is composed of four elements, but for the purpose of brevity, we will only include one.

The Authority of Position: This component gives you the right to tell someone, “Do it or else.” It has teeth. “The boss wants it” is a bugle call that can snap many an office or shop into action. -William Oncken, Jr., Colorado Institute of Technology Journal 22, July 1970, p. 273.

The second wall that Luther attacks in his 1520 Letter to the Christian Nobility deal with the issue of authority.  In Luther’s words, “The second wall is still more flimsy and worthless. They wish to be the only Masters of The Holy Scriptures, even though in all their lives they learn nothing from them. They assume for themselves sole authority, and with the insolent juggling of words they would persuade us that the pope, whether he is a bad man or a good man, cannot err in matters of faith, and yet they cannot prove a single letter of it.”

Luther’s argument: Quoting from St. Paul in I Corinthians 14:30: “If to anyone something better is revealed, though he be sitting and listening to another in God’s Word, then the first, who is speaking, shall hold his peace and give place.” What would be the use of this commandment if we were only to believe him who does the talking or who has the highest seat? Christ also says in John 6:45 that all Christians shall be taught of God. Thus, it may well happen that the pope and his followers are wicked men, and no true Christians, not taught of God, not having true understanding. On the other hand, an ordinary man may have true understanding; why then should we not follow him? Has not the pope erred many times? Who would help Christendom when the pope errs if we were not to believe another, who had the Scriptures on his side, more than the pope?  Therefore, it is a wickedly invented fable, and they cannot produce a letter in defense of it, that the interpretation of Scripture or the confirmation of its interpretation belongs to the pope alone.

There is a real and present danger when anyone pastor or church leader believe they are without error.  And it is very tempting in life to surround ourselves with people who will agree with our every decision.  No one likes conflict, nor naysayers, nor people who refuse to follow our lead, but the danger of not having people around who will correct our errors is that we may lead people right out of the arms of grace and into a life of rules and requirements.  Paul expressed that concern in Galatians 3:1-4, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?”

To keep the masses in line a leader will impose man-made rules that lead people away from God’s amazing grace.  Leaders need people around them to hold them accountable, not just to do what is right and wrong but to the truth of God’s word. So, to one whom God has given the responsibility to care for His flock, be watchful of the lure of supreme authority.  Only God is without error, cling to His Word, and allow the truth of Scripture to be your guide.



Wisdom From Our Church Fathers

Is the Church’s Authority Over​ the State?

Gavel and Justice.
Wooden gavel and American flag with room for your type.

This series is based on the work of Dr. Martin Luther in a 1520 Letter to the Christian nobility.  In that pamphlet, Luther warns of dangers of church leadership that has so much power and influence it is above reproach and reform.  You may have seen this in your church or your church body.  A charismatic leader rises to power, or a small group of leaders reaches a point where they have gained influence of the masses and then claim supreme authority.  The Roman Catholic church in Luther’s time had achieved this point.  In 1500 the Roman Catholic Church was all powerful in western Europe. There was no legal alternative. Having reached this point, the Catholic Church oppressively guarded its position and anybody who they deemed a threat to the Church was labeled a heretic and burnt at stake. The Catholic Church did not tolerate any deviance from its teachings as any appearance of ‘compromise’ might have been interpreted as a sign of weakness which would be exploited.

To address this dangerous culture Luther attack the church on three fronts.  In this post, we will study the first one.

Luther’s First Attack: The secular authorities have made decrees saying that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over the church, but, nor is the spiritual above the temporal power.

Luther’s argument: It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests, and monks are to be called the “spiritual estate”; princes, lords, artisans, and farmers the “temporal estate.” That is indeed a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy.  To make it still clearer. If a little group of pious Christian laymen were taken captive and set down in a wilderness, and had among them no priest consecrated by a bishop, and if there in the wilderness they were to agree in choosing one of themselves, married or unmarried, and were to charge him with the office of baptizing, saying mass, absolving and preaching, such a man would be as truly a priest as though all bishops and popes had consecrated him. That is why in cases of necessity anyone can baptize and give absolution, which would be impossible unless we were all priests.

Luther’s point was that the Pope, priests, and bishops who called themselves “spiritual” as a way to place themselves above the ordinary people in the pews did not differ from other Christians. Their calling, their vocation did not make them superior to the people they were called to serve.  The only distinction is they were charged with the administration of the Word of God and the sacraments, which is their work and office.  Their work while vital is not a higher work than the farmer, or the banker, or the school teacher, or the mechanic.  Each person has a vocation, a mission, that must benefit and serve the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community.

Luther quotes these verses from Paul and Peter.  Roman 13:1, 4 “Let every soul (I take that to mean the pope’s soul also) be subject unto the higher powers; for they bear not the sword in vain, but are the ministers of God for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” 1 Peter 2:13, 15 “Submit yourselves unto every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, for so is the will of God.”

Each of us is called, as members of one body, to serve one another, none is above the other, but we all have an important role in the body of Christ.



Leadership, Lesson From The Global Leadership Summit

Five Ways to Expand Your Ministry Capacity


Looking back in time I remember vividly embarking on my professional career.  Newly armed from all the training to debate theology with my younger counterparts I thought I was prepared.  But when I attended that first leadership meeting I realized just how ill-prepared I was to lead this seasoned leadership team. All eyes turned to me as the new young rookie out of Seminary to solve the church’s problems of declining school enrollment, revitalize a Sunday School program that had more teachers than students, and a church with six years of declining worship attendance.  At that point, I knew that the churches future depended in some small part on my leadership capacity along with the Holy Spirit who plays the dominant role in actual congregational growth.

What this post will provide for leaders are the Five C’s to expand your leadership capacity.  Craig Groeschel shared these five points at Willow Creeks Leadership Summit in 2015.  He also shared this quote, “You are the leadership lid on your organization.” I felt that weight as I sat in that first meeting facing those three ministry challenges, armed with a Master’s level theological education but an elementary level leadership capacity.  So, let’s dive into this discussion.

  1. Build Your Confidence.

The first lesson I had to learn is to change my self-talk.  The journey to reaching your greatest potential is through your greatest fear.  To avoid getting stuck as a leader you have to turn the volume to mute on those who attempt to define who God has made you and created you to be and do. You are who God says you are, not the critics.  Think of Job responding to his critics in Job 12:1-5:

 Job said to his friends:

You think you are so great,
with all the answers.
But I know as much as you do,
and so does everyone else.
I have always lived right,
and God answered my prayers;
now friends make fun of me.
It’s easy to condemn
those who are suffering,
when you have no troubles.

2.   Expand your Connections.

In 1269 Kublai Khan sent a request from Peking to Rome for “a hundred wise men of the Christian religion…And so I shall be baptized, and when I shall be baptized all my baron and great men will be baptized, and their subjects baptized, and so there will be more Christian here than there are in your parts.” The Mongols were then wavering in the choice of a religion. It might have been, as Kublai forecast, the greatest mass religious movement the world has ever seen. The history of all Asia would have been changed.

But what actually happened? Pope Gregory X answered by sending two Dominican friars. They got as far as Armenia, could endure no longer and returned home. So, passed the greatest missionary opportunity in the history of the church. -Dunkerly, inResource, No. 2.

You may be one connection away from changing your destiny.

3.   Improve Your Competence.


As I sat in that first meeting, I had to make a tough choice.  Do I let the fear of working to improve hinder my ministry from that day forward or do I do the hard work of improving my competency and raise my leadership lid?  Here is a great illustration. “Complacency is a blight that saps energy, dulls attitudes, and causes a drain on the brain. The first symptom is satisfaction with things as they are. The second is rejection of things as they might be. “Good enough” becomes today’s watchword and tomorrow’s standard. Complacency makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new. Like water, complacent people follow the easiest course — downhill. They draw false strength from looking back.” Bits & Pieces, May 28, 1992, p. 15.

4.    Strengthen Your Character.

When faced with leading an organization character is a central quality that can easily be sacrificed on the altar of success.  I love this quote. “Character is much better kept than recovered.”  Thomas Paine.  When leading do so with a strong sense of right and wrong.  The character is forged on the rocks of adversity.  Paul has two insight verses on that in Romans.

 “God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That’s why those people don’t have any excuse.” Romans 1:20

But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5

5.  Increase Your Commitment.

The final “C” is commitment.  How willing are you to give your all to the ministry?   That is a question that only you can answer.  You can do an adequate job without ever being wholly committed to the Great Commission.  But imagine if this illustration was placed before you.

Forget about the concept of a town hall meeting to decide public policy. How about this instead? In Ancient Greece, to prevent idiotic statesmen from passing idiotic laws upon the people, lawmakers–legend has it–were asked to introduce all new laws while standing on a platform with a rope around their neck. If the law passed, the rope was removed. If it failed, the platform was removed.  Quality Press, August 1992.

37 If you love your father or mother or even your sons and daughters more than me, you are not fit to be my disciples. 38 And unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples. 39 If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it. – Matthew 10:37-39

Leadership is not an easy thing, but the rewards in God’s kingdom are well worth the risk.


Three Essential Stages Every Leader Must Travel



The role of the leader is not to do it all but instead to prepare others to participate in the ministry.  Every leader goes through three stages in leading his ministry.

  1. Discovering Christ is in charge

Where a Christian leader begins is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Until the leader receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and confesses the fact that it is Jesus who is in authority, you cannot adequately serve God’s people with a shepherd’s heart.  Christian leaders realize that they are not the ones sitting on the throne.  Jesus is, and they acknowledge Him to be the head of the Church and ourselves as caretakers of the ministry.  One of the first things a leader needs to discover is faith in the one who has redeemed the world.  Martin Luther said, “The true, living faith, which the Holy Spirit instills into the heart, simply cannot be idle.” And because our faith is not idle it drives us to endow the saints for service in the ministry of God’s church.

2.   Mining for Leaders

You may never see yourself as a leader until someone taps you on the shoulder and asks you to lead.

At one time Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man in America. He came to America from his native Scotland when he was a small boy, did a variety of odd jobs, and eventually ended up as the largest steel manufacturer in the United States. At one time he had forty-three millionaires working for him. In those days a millionaire was a rare person; conservatively speaking, a million dollars in his day would be equivalent to at least twenty million dollars today.

A reporter asked Carnegie how he had hired forty-three millionaires. Carnegie responded that those men had not been millionaires when they started working for him but had become millionaires as a result.

The reporter’s next question was, “How did you develop these men to becomes so valuable to you that you have paid them this much money?” Carnegie replied that men are developed the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold; but one doesn’t go into the mine looking for dirt – one goes in looking for the gold.

That’s exactly the way we pastors need to view our people. Don’t look for the flaws, warts, and blemishes. Look for the gold, not for the dirt; the good, not the bad. Look for the positive aspects of life. Like everything else, the more good qualities we look for in our people, the more good qualities we are going to find.  Source Unknown.

So, how will you pass the baton of leadership?  Who are you pouring into as a leader?  Who have you tapped on the shoulder and said, “Let me come alongside you and mentor you as I also learn from you?”

3.    Establish an Equipping culture.

Andrew Schroer tells this story. My dad once told me the story about a peculiar fisherman from Minnesota. You see, this fisherman was very well prepared. He knew how to fish. He had everything you need to be a good fisherman. He had poles, nets, bait, and even a really nice boat, but this fisherman had a problem. You see, for all his preparation he never caught anything. Not one fish. Not one, not ever. And you know why he never caught a fish? What do you think? The answers easy: He never went fishing. He had all the knowledge and all the equipment, but he never got into the boat, he never left the dock.

As Christians we have all the tools to carry out the mission of God in the world, often the problem is no one has trained us nor equipped us to use the God-given means we have been entrusted.  Our mission is essential and here are three reasons why:

  • We are joined together. The fundamental mission Christ has given us and the kingdom suffer when we try and function independently.  Each of us is a part of the puzzle.  So, plug your piece in and watch how God uses you for kingdom impact.
  • We are bound together.  One of the advantages of community is that we don’t leave a man or woman behind.  When you see a fellow saint, who is weak and falling back go and lift them up, encourage them, offer to walk with them.   At the first sign of conflict don’t run to the elders and complain when you don’t like the direction they’re going, instead hold together!
  • We are all called to doing our part. Don’t wait for others to do the work of the church for you; instead, jump in the ministry water. Serve in a way that proclaims the life-saving message of Jesus Christ to all the world as God has planned.