Dear Fellow Midway Members…
Given the present controversy at our church and the confusion that has resulted for the average Midway member, I write to encourage you by setting forth things in a simple, understandable way that may help as you navigate the present situation and you anticipate what could be very difficult decisions which lie ahead for all of us at Midway.
In the most basic terms, the controversy at Midway is rooted in an unhealthy view of elders’ position in relation to God and in relation to the congregation they oversee. You have repeatedly heard from Midway’s pulpit and in the Session’s written communications of the need for you to submit to the elders’ authority. You have been taught a mystical view of how that authority is received and exercised – one that the average church member cannot understand and should not question. The casual listener or reader of these communications may come away believing that by virtue of their calling, the elders’ authority must be unquestioningly obeyed, even when that authority is exercised in unhealthy ways that harm the church.
A Better Perspective
A more biblical view of authority is rooted in the elders’ accountability before God as undershepherds of Christ’s flock. Even as the author of Hebrews urges the church to “Let brotherly love continue,” he exhorts the church to, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” And again, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” (Hebrews 13). Notice that according to the inspired writer, the entire notion of church authority begins with a sincere effort to further brotherly love among the flock. To put it another way, church authority may be defined as leading the church in brotherly love. It is no wonder then, that the author writes that the elders exercise their authority “as those who will have to give an account” (13:17). It is difficult to set an example of brother love; pastors and elders are often tempted to lord their authority over their flocks (1 Peter 5:3). The strength to resist this temptation is rooted in the elders’ sober realization that they must give an account before God.
Are the pastors and elders called of God to their authority in the church? Yes. Once called, is blind submission required by virtue of that call? No – we are instructed to consider their Christian witness and their conduct among the flock even as we obey them. We consider their conduct when we nominate them to office. We also consider their conduct as they exercise that office – and we respond accordingly. Nowhere in the Bible is the Christian church told to submit to leaders who act in ways unbecoming of their office. To the contrary, when we see leaders acting in ways contrary the scriptural description of their office, we must recognize it, expose it to the light, and seek to reclaim our brothers as they, like all Christians, embrace the grace of repentance and endeavor after new obedience (WSC Q/A 87). In that way, we members do our part to “let brotherly love continue.”
What Steps Can You Take?
If you are one of those members who knows something is wrong and feels uncomfortable with how the elders are conducting themselves at present, you have a few avenues to consider. First, you ought to avail yourself of the opportunity to express your concern, frustration, and disappointment directly to your pastor and elders to give them a chance to consider the concerns of their flock. Second, you may exercise your God-given authority as one of Christ’s beloved flock to nominate men better suited to office for the next round of officer elections. Finally, in an acute situation like what is currently taking place Midway, you may recall one or more of the elders from their office through the mechanisms afforded to the congregation in our form of government (BCO 23, 25). When approached prayerfully and carefully, these options are all dignified ways in which well-intentioned church members may express concern for their church family, their leaders, and their church’s gospel witness beyond Midway.
As you consider your experience at Midway in light of the Bible’s message about church leadership and authority, pray for guidance and discernment. Pray for wisdom – God is ready to supply it (James 1:5). Pray for your leaders. And pray for courage to navigate the turbulent days ahead in a way that glorifies Christ – the Good Shepherd.
The Sheep Matter
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