Over the last two weeks, we have talked about who we are to obey. We have talked about what kind of people God chooses to give His authority to and how some people falsely claim to have God’s authority.
This week let’s look at little further at what our responses should be to ungodly church leaders. We already know from our discussion two weeks ago (Do We Have to Obey Ungodly Church Leaders?) that Paul’s words were not and are not a commanded for us to obey those who are teaching actions and behaviors contrary to God’s word, but rather a command for us to obey those doing what is good and right in God’s eyes.
The issue of ungodly church leadership doesn’t end when we alone stop obeying them though, so what is our responsibility when we encounter or are faced with such leadership? I ask this because, I’ve heard Christians say things like, “Well, we recognize that he’s not doing what he should be, but he’s the pastor.” As if his position simply strips them of any right to say or do anything.
Does the holding of a position of leadership in the church mean for that person that no other Christian has the right to ever speak against or take action to oppose them, stand against them, or remove them from leadership?
If your answer is “No.” Then I ask you, where in Scripture are we commanded to allow an ungodly person to remain in church leadership?
If your answer is “Yes.” Then I ask you, where in Scripture do we find that we are allowed to remove ungodly church leadership? Because in Scripture there is no doubt that there can be leaders in the church who are not of God.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”
What are we to do when we encounter these false apostles?
Ephesians 5:8-11 “For you [saints in Ephesus] were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”
Instructions given to Titus by Paul: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you . . . For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. . . . They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” Titus 1:5-16
Titus 3:10-11 “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”
What are the instructions given to Titus about leaderships and the church? Read the above passage again carefully and notice the words Paul uses. “Set in order the things that are lacking.” Meaning there were things lacking. Those who are insubordinate, idle talkers, deceivers are such “whose mouths must be stopped.” They are disqualified for every good work. Reject them.
Matthew 18:15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Below are instructions Paul gives to Timothy who is in Ephesus (1Ti 1:3) so “that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” (1Ti 3:15)
1Timothy 5:19-22 “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.”
Note: They who are sinning are to be rebuked and if it’s discovered that it’s necessary to do so, laying hands on them was acceptable, if done with proper knowledge and not in hasty action. (“Laying hands on” as an action against someone. Mark 12:12, Luke 20:19)
1Timothy 6:3 “If anyone . . . does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.” (spoken by Paul to Timothy about how he should conduct himself in the church at Ephesus)
2 Thessalonians 3:13-14 “But as for you, brethren [of “the church of the Thessalonians” (2Th 1:1)] , do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.”
2 Thessalonians 3:6 “But we command you, brethren [of “the church of the Thessalonians” (2Th 1:1)], in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”
1Corinthians 5:11-13 “But now I have written to you [“the church of God which is at Corinth” (1Co 1:2)] not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
Just a few definitions of characteristics in this list:
Reviler—criticizes in an abusive or angrily insulting manner.
Extortion—the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threat.
Hmm, and what are we supposed to do with this kind of a person?
Do not keep company with them and put that evil person away from the church. (Note: “yourself” in the above passage is referring to the church because this letter is written to the church as a whole, not to an individual.)
Please note that many of these instructions are given to churches, and the reason it does not say, “Remove them from the church” is that there were no physical churches built yet. The Church was the people. If the brethren of the church didn’t keep company with this person, that person was affectively removed from the church. If the brethren withdrew themselves or rejected that person from their midst, this was removing that person from the church.
Challenge: As the church we are commanded to not keep company with ungodly leadership. Therefore, are you as a member of the church rightly speaking up and taking action to see the church withdraw from and reject those “whose mouths must be stopped” and who are “disqualified for every good work.” (Tit 1:5-16)