As much as contemporary western culture hates it, the Bible talks about submission. It talks about wives submitting to husbands, church members submitting to leaders, and it talks about mutual submission out of reverence for Christ.
However, submission is not unconditional. There are times when it would be wrong, unhealthy and un-wise to submit. 9Marks have a little piece on their Facebook page which demonstrates this principle perfectly.
When should you not submit to church leaders?
All of us will, at times, be called to endure humbly a leader’s mistakes and sins. But if you find yourself in a church where the leadership is characteristically abusive, you should flee. Flee to protect your discipleship, to protect your family, to set a good example for the members left behind, and to serve non-Christian neighbors by not lending credibility to the church’s ministry.
How do you recognize abusive leadership? Paul requires two witnesses for a charge to be leveled against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19), probably because he knows that leaders will be charged with infelicities more often than others, often unfairly.
That said, abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically:
– Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent.
– Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4).
– Play favorites.
– Punish those who disagree.
– Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment).
– Recommend courses of action which always, somehow, improves the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others.
– Seldom do good deeds in secret.
– Seldom encourage.
– Seldom give the benefit of the doubt.
– Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart.
– Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.