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The Danger of Submitting to
Human Authority for
Spiritual Direction

A homily for you by Christopher J. Cisneros

Christ's Power in us
The death and resurrection of Christ have afforded us ultimate wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in divine things. Jesus work has provided complete power of the Holy Spirit to gain access to God. This is direct access and requires no human interference, mediation, or governance. Paul says in his writings, "there is one mediator between God and Men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Tim.2:5). We need no human to stand between us and the Lord in our relationship, communication, guidance, or things which we must believe or practice. No man has been ordained to guide you to truth. If born again, you have been personally ordained by the indwelling Holy Spirit to seek the truth. Remember, greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Men desire to have this power
John says in his epistle, "the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you" (1John2:27). Why does he have to say this? Because many people submit to certain church leaders who invent doctrines for the people to follow; these extra biblical commandments slowly guide people away from the established truth of the word (Mat 15:9, 14). John knows this first hand when he writes of Diotrephes, who loves to have preeminence over the brothers, so he refuses to welcome outsiders for fear of losing authority. He forbade the brothers of his church to associate with other believers, and if his members associated with other Christians, he excommunicated them (3John1:9-10). Diotrephes set himself up as a spiritual leader between his congregation and God. He is a prime example for us as we test our adherence to human doctrines regarding the faith.

The Apostles affirm that others desire power over us
Paul speaks of Christians who will live in complacency and have no desire to learn for themselves, but rather entrust their faith to others. He says they gather around themselves a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear and they turn from truth and regard the fables spoken by their teachers (2Tim4:3-4). Paul speaks to churches, which succumb to human authority, and gives examples such as, "they command believers not to marry and order them to abstain from certain meats" (1Tim4:3). They promise the church a reward for submitting to rules, touch not, taste not, handle not; which have a visual appearance of humility and humbleness, so others will see, but Paul calls it self-willed worship brought about by the doctrines of men (Col.2:18-23). All visual appointments intending to display piety are false acts of humility with no reward (Mat.6:16).

Peter says these teachers gain followers while misrepresenting the truth so others speak evil of us (2Pet.2:2). These teachers exploit the church with stories they have made up (3). They seduce the unstable believers (14), and by choice words appeal to the unstable by offering liberty, but they make converts slaves of their own corrupt teachings (18-19).

Jude tells us to contend for the faith that was "once" delivered. Not "our" faith, but "the" faith (3), because of certain men crept in among us (4), who despise true authority (8). They pretend to have some better thing to offer (11), but are clouds without rain (12). They use powerful words, while holding the positions of advantage in the church, and they love to be admired (16). They are the cause of division among brethren (19).

Tactics of certain church officials
Some leaders counsel the church to submit to their doctrines. They generously quote Hebrews, "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account" (Heb.13:17). They twist this scripture, "must give account," by implying they are accountable to God for our spiritual walk, when it clearly means they are charged to preach the written word. "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God" (13:7). We are to remember, and obey, those who speak God's word only, so we won't follow strange doctrines (13:9). Even Paul charges men to preach God's word only (2 Tim. 4:1-2), because of the doctrines of men (v.4). Be assured, every one of us will give an account of ourselves to God, (Rom. 14:12) even for the words we choose to speak (Mat.12: 36), whether the word of God, or our own teaching (Titus 2:1).

Testing required by the believer
Paul directs us to "know" them who are over you in the Lord. We must esteem those who are over us in the Lord. But we must not forget what the Apostle tells us, to "know" (consider, have knowledge, perceive) when one is over you in the Lord (1Thes.5:12). He does not say "over you" in regard to another's status or position, but recognition of another's advanced knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and practice of the scriptures. Paul wants us to know if our teachers speak truth or false or invented teaching. "If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing" (1 Tim 6:3-4).

Do teachers teach the scripture only?
The Apostle wants us to regard our leaders worthy after we conclude they are teaching from scripture only. This means we must test them just as the Bereans tested the things Paul taught them, "so they checked the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts17:11). The Apostle tells us to test everything and hold to that which is true (1Thes.5:21). So Paul wants the Thessalonians to be noble like the Bereans who test Paul's words, because Paul was confident he was sent by God and not ordained by the hands of man (Gal.1:1).

Therefore, we are not to favor the position of man; for there is no respect of persons with God, (Lev. 19:5, Deut.1:17, Rom 2:11) but we are to call on God who judges us (1 Peter 1:17). We do well to try the words of men, "And thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" (Rev 2:2).

Scriptural protection
Then Peter pleads with the reader to remember God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2Pet1:3), so we need no teaching from man. Peter wants us to diligently work on our own growth (v.5) and tells us how to do it (5-7). The invisible qualities we gain will protect us (10). Peter wrote us his letter so we would always have the true method for spiritual growth (15). He does not want us to follow cunningly devised fables that come from men's minds (16). He says we will do well to heed the apostles teaching only (19), because "Private Interpretations" are cunningly devised fables of men who claim their teaching comes from God (20). But prophetic truth originates from God's apostles (21). Those who privately introduce their own teachings are false teachers (2:1). They also twist the scriptures and re-interpret the meaning (3:16), so we should beware of what we take into our hearts (3:17).

Self protection
Paul carefully reminds us never to regard anything above that which is written (1Cor.4:6). In a stern warning the Proverbs proclaim the same, "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar"(Prov.30:6). The Torah does not excluded this admonition, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it" (Deut 4:2).

The Prophets speak plainly about following the counsel of man and the dangers of such. Isaiah says not to trust in man who is but a breath, for what account is he" (Is.2:22). The Psalmist tells us, "it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in Man" (Psm.118:8). Micah says, "put ye not confidence in a guide," and, "a man's enemies are the men of his own house" (Mic.7:5-6). Jeremiah says watch out for families who learn lies and deceive each other (Jer.9:4-6), and other family members pretend to love, when in fact, they hate (12:6). If this is true we should be very careful when taking spiritual advice, even from family members, as some tend to do (Matt 10:37).

Personal accountability
Jeremiah continues with a harsher message, and because God cares for our souls, he says, cursed is the man who trusts in man and depends on flesh for his strength (Jer.17:5). God will not hold the teacher accountable if you are misled, you will be held personally accountable (Ez.18:2-20), because a man who proclaims to give truth but not according to the word has no light in him (Is.8:19-20), and we are responsible for determining whether he has the light or not. We read, "the leaders of this people cause them to err, they that are led of them are destroyed," (Is.9:16), and, "Oh my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths" (Is.3:12). If you insist on submitting to another doctrine or custom which finds no place in scripture; Jeremiah says a horrible thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophecy falsely, the priests rule by their own authority, and the people love it this way (Jer.5:30-31).

Tactics of the invisible foe
If you continue allowing others to spiritually lead without question, you make way for demons to guide you, creating and molding another doctrine, a wind of doctrine tainted with the tradition of man and created by evil spirits intending to divide Christians. "If he that cometh preacheth another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted ye might well bear with him" (2Cor11:4). What does this mean except if you receive strange stories without confronting them you eventually accept false teaching as true because of the force, power, and spirit of the preacher. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness (11:14-15). Ponder the results when these ministers of new doctrines, establish a stronghold to themselves; debate, envying, wrath, strife, backbiting, whispering, swelling, tumult (12:20), all causes of division in the fellowship. So we must test ourselves to see where we stand (13:5).

The foundation of true division
But there are those who still believe the unsubmissive cause division by not obeying the teaching of the leadership. Since the stronghold established by the leaders is great they are able to deceive many by quoting the scripture, "stand fast, and hold to the traditions which ye have been taught." Their private interpretation of this scripture comes by presumptuously thinking they hold the keys of the kingdom. But they forget to interpret the rest of the verse, "whether by word or our epistle" (2Thes.2:15). Has the scripture come from these leaders of today or the apostles of old? Paul says, "by word," because the apostles walked and talked with the believers; "by epistle," because the scriptures are a living witness, which God is pleased to provide. (1Pet.1:23), (Heb.4:12).

The love of customs
So division comes as the Christian grows and learns greater truth than his brother. He is regarded as backsliding because he does not participate in tradition that he learns is neither faith building, active, or living. Then the brethren, who do not grow in understanding, condemn the inquisitive Christian and consider their growing brother as sin-ridden and turning away from the faith. Next, the sheep that follow the human shepherd turn against the enlightened brother; telling him to repent, and contend for the faith once delivered to the saints; believing they hold the noble customs and have come into all the truth.

Customs become doctrinal laws
Consequently, if the Christian has too much understanding to turn back to useless religion; if he won't be swayed by counsel or force, they disregard him as a brother. Thus we see the true cause of division to be extra biblical practices simply revealed by the developing Christian who is escaping from customs that cause legalistic bondage in the church. Isaiah says those who desire to esteem God's word only will be cast out by their brethren, and they will excommunicate, in the name of the Lord (Is.66:5).

Is leadership always right?

Let no one think it is impossible for leadership to err because Paul recognizes even apostles may turn from the truth and warns, "though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal.1:8). Because he knows the devil's effect over the desires of men who love to have authority over others (Gal.4:17).

Men who usurp authority
Peter and Jude say these leaders despise dominion (God's ultimate authority) and speak evil of dignities (2Pet.2:10), (Jude 8), but for us the dominion is Christ (1Pet.4:11). Jesus says, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (Mat.20:25-27). The apostles know this so they dare have no dominion over us, because they are true helpers, and true helpers help the Christian learn for himself (2Cor.1:24). Remember, our God is able to make us stand in Christ alone (Rom.14:4), and not on the foundations of man (1Cor.3:11).

Judgment for submitting to man's authority
But for the believer who refuses to learn, for the Christian who stands fast to the teachings of man and whomever continues in invented practices awaits heavenly comfort which seems genuine though false. Like Ahab, who refused to listen to truth unless it suited his own desires and a lying spirit came from the Lord to answer Ahab, because his heart would not be turned from following his own path (1 Kings22:22). Note, this is in accord with the scriptures which state, they have been "given up" to the sinful desires of their hearts, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and served the visible creature, man, rather than the invisible creator, God (Rom.1:24-25).

We obey man rather than God when we assume religious teachings not contained in the Holy Scriptures. God will send us strong delusion when we do not love the truth of the word only (2Thes.2:10-11), and we will believe lies as we glory in the appearance of the flesh (Gal.6:13). Man loves to take confidence in the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1Sam.16:7). We are in danger of being "given up" when we insist on visual appointments as proper worship. When we regard the visible, above the invisible, we disobey God's requirement for true worship (John4:23-24), (John6:63), (Phil.3:3).

Summing Up
Now we can fully understand the words, "try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1John4:1). So the Lord is right in his judgment when he says, their worship of me is made up of rules taught by man (Is.29:13). This is the consequence, blindness of heart for those of us who are complacent in our faith, who hand over (give up) personal responsibility for the spiritual life to human authority. God may "give us up" to serve man (the creature) rather than God. In that "given up" state we believe we are holy then we separate ourselves from other brothers, condemning and hating the liberty of brethren who we think should follow the doctrines and customs we have embraced (Is.65:5).

Where true unity is found
Lastly, Paul reminds us not to forget Satan's devices, which intend to keep us in division (2Cor2:11), (Jas.3:14-15). If we regard the word of God, rather than the word of man, we can confidently say we have held fast to the traditions which we have been taught, and be true keepers of the faith.


Clouds Without Rain


Chapter two

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Copyright 2003 Christopher Cisneros