I got an email from a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox believer both in the same day. The biggest thing they had in common was massive miscommunication.
What I mean by that is that they both presented arguments to me that were convincing to them but didn’t make a lick of sense to me. Worse, neither of them seemed to take into account what I had already told them in a previous email. They just ignored my arguments.
Only later did I realize: no, they didn’t. They didn’t understand my arguments. Not any more than I understood theirs.
As I pondered the problem, the answer suddenly became obvious. We had two completely different paradigms concerning the church. They saw the church as a large organization, and I saw the church as local and local only.
Take a look sometime at Revelation 2 and 3. No matter which church you go to, those should be really important chapters. They tell us, in letters dictated by our Lord and Master himself, what Jesus likes and doesn’t like about a church, and what he’s going to do about it.
You’ll look in vain in Jesus’ letters for any comments about submission to the pope or even the local archbishop.
You’ll look in vain for any comments about theological stances and statements of faith.
What you will find, in every letter, is a comment about works, both in general and specifically.
You can’t apply any of those letters to a hierarchy. All of them are applicable only to the local church.
The Local Church and the New Testament
In fact, everything in the New Testament only has applicability at the local level. God’s concern, obviously, is not about hierarchy or church structure, it’s about obedience to Christ empowered by the Spirit of God.
Protestant or Rose Creek Village leadership structure is not any more important to the Spirit of God than the Roman Catholic or Orthodox structure. Hebrews says to submit to your leaders three times, but it never gives those leaders the good, Scriptural name of “elders” or “overseers.”
1 Thessalonians is worse. It tells you to submit to whoever devotes themselves to the ministry of the saints (5:12).
Note the wording: “devote themselves.”
Don’t get me wrong. I think leadership and shepherding are important. The Bible does talk about that, using all sorts of terminology. There’s apostles and prophets and evangelists and elders and overseers and leaders and shepherds and teachers.
Some of those overlap, but in the end, you’re going to have hard time proving God cares about the structure of the leadership of the church, both in the New Testament and in the later churches the apostles started.
Justin and Tertullian, for example, refer to the leader in church gatherings as the president. Clement of Rome uses elder and overseer interchangeably, the way Paul and Peter do, but everyone who writes from a church where John worked talks about one overseer over a group of elders.
The Local Church and What God Cares About
So if God doesn’t care about what leadership structure you have, what does he care about?
Well, let’s see. The Scriptures entire purpose is so that “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Jesus’ death is to “purify for himself a special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14). It’s also so that he might be “Lord of the living and the dead” (Rom. 14:9) and that we might “no longer live for [our]selves, but for him who died for us and rose again.”
The Scriptures say those sorts of things about the Scriptures and about Jesus’ death, and then Jesus writes seven letters to churches in Rev. 2 & 3 talking to them about their obedience to and love for him.
It begins to be clear what God cares about.
The Local Church and Obeying God
Good works can only be carried out together at the local level. Doctrines about Jesus and the Father sharing one substance and Mary being born without sin and everyone else being born guilty of Adam’s sin (the last an abominable doctrine that has created a doctrine of the atonement that is insulting to God)–all those doctrines can be talked about, argued, and enforced at some hierarchical level.
But God doesn’t care about any of those things.
He cares about obedience to Christ. Jesus writes letters to churches about their works and about their love for God, not about their thoughts about his earthly mother, who is dead and can’t hear your prayers, since she’s incapable of omnipresence like her divine Son.
But whatever. Fine. Pray prayers to Mary that she can’t hear. Jesus doesn’t complain about those things to churches.
He complains about churches not obeying his commands.
The Commands of Christ
So what are his commands?
The problem with the Roman Catholic Church is not that they believe the pope is the head of the church. The problem with the Roman Catholic Church is that if you attend one, no one there will care or even know that Jesus said you can’t be his disciple unless you deny yourself, take up your cross daily, hate your own life and your family, and forsake all your possessions.
The problem with the Roman Catholic Church and almost every other church in this country is that so few people care that Jesus said you must seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and not take any thought for what you’re going to wear and eat tomorrow.
In the meanwhile, we idolize retirement plans and college educations. We abandon our churches for a better job offer in a different city, never thinking that we are either serving Christ or serving money, never both.
Why Do I Pick on Modern Churches
I pick on modern churches because they separate disciples. They oppose the work of God.
In modern churches, disciples who know that Jesus Christ called them to forsake their own lives and care about nothing on earth are forced to waste their time fellowshiping with people who don’t care what Jesus Christ said. Jesus’ statements are too extreme for them.
In the meanwhile, if we could get those disciples that do care together, God would do extraordinary things through them. He would display the love and unity of Christ through them. He would shine the light of a city set on a hill that can’t be hidden through them.
But that can’t happen because one of them is down at the Lutheran Church, a couple are at the Baptist church, several are over at the Methodist church, and they are scattered all over town, attending churches filled with people who have no intentions of submitting to Jesus’ extreme demands, listening to sermons being preached by pastors who are okay with the fact that their congregation is full of people who don’t want to follow Christ.
That’s a problem.
I want the sheep back. I want them to be rescued from those pastors and rescued from those clubs for people interested in tinkering with and talking about the faith of Christ. I want them to have real shepherds and be in a flock with real sheep.
The pope’s not interested in that, so I’m not interested in him. The Roman Catholic archbishop over Tennessee isn’t interested in that, so I’m not interested in him. The Eastern Orthodox archbishop, who shares “apostolic succession” with the Roman archbishop, but who claims authority over the exact same area as the Roman archbishop with no unity of labor–that Eastern Orthodox archbishop doesn’t care about these things, so I’m not interested in him, either.
I’m interested in local disciples who can get together with local disciples and obey Jesus Christ. Local disciples who can exhort one another daily (Heb. 3:13) and show the world the unity and love that proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Jn. 17:20-23).
Well, I’ll just quit there. This post isn’t very systematic, anyway. It sorts of waddles from point to point uncomfortably, so we might as well just hit the end and stop. I think the things in this post are important.
What letter would Jesus write to us?
Would Jesus even write a letter to us?