Many Biblical Examples exist of Political Situations within the Church. One notable situation was the Congregational Regime related by the beloved Elder and Apostle John as he concluded his Third Epistle.
In these latter decades, especially as the Church of God grew, becoming its most significant work in centuries, then when coming under extreme duress, both from without and especially from within, a concept of government was developed to meet the challenges of the times. Not all members were entirely comfortable with what developed, and not all were treated equitably as it all played out. But comfortable or not, it impacted all of us in rather profound ways, and forms at least a part of the methodology under which we operate today.
Partly due to concerns of aberrant doctrines being brought among the membership and partly due to concerns that wrong leadership might take control of the Church, or at least draw away a following, a concept of government developed with intent to protect the flock. With commendable intentions, the Church made itself vulnerable to being ‘taken over’, if not widely, at least locally, by a certain few who coveted the prestige and power inherent with the ministry. This was not new. In fact, in a notable situation related by the Elder John, he and his epistles were ‘excluded’, being refused admittance, as were those who appreciated his fellow-ship in at least one local congregation.
Not Receiving the Brethren!
The Elder John relates this situation with brief but potent implication in his third epistle: 9:“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10: Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” Though we’d like to regard this as a rare and isolated situation, too many have, in differing situations over the centuries, found it to be an unpleasant reality and it still is with us today!
Though this phenomenon can often be found within individual local congregations, even more significantly is its adaptation into the methods of operation of many separate organizations that have come into being in this generation. Organizations that form around the ministry of one preeminent individual, and even those that have formed around groups of ministers can often exhibit similar exclusive disdain toward all others. The basis of fellowship isn’t so much the content of ones’ beliefs, or the indwelling of God’s Spirit, as it is a person’s organizational affiliation. There may be Spirit imbued people ‘outside’ of their particular organization, but many have decided to not have anything but a negative regard for them!
The Authority Factor
We can conclude that the Apostle John’s ‘problem’ with Diotrephes wasn’t based on doctrinal matters, though perhaps that could be inferred, but more likely it was the issue of ‘authority’. His ‘prating against them’ being based on a repulsion of the ‘challenge’ to his hold on his personal turf that a wider fellowship might pose. John, of all people, in both his writings and in person, represented the love of and toward Christ that put Him in first position, focusing on His supremacy, obviously lessening the inappropriately high level of esteem toward any self-promoting ‘intermediary’.
John recognized the danger of any man setting himself as a sole authority in any Church. Because to do that, one has to stand in an intermediary position between the individual Saint and his Lord. The action of “casting them out of the church” speaks volumes! It strongly suggests a belief on the part of the membership that affiliation with and the acceptance within this one enclosed group has direct bearing on ones’ possession of the Spirit of God. It wouldn’t have been effective if the membership didn’t believe that. People are intimidated into conforming to the dictates of their esteemed leader, acquiescing to his every rule in order to maintain their standing with God!! It is alleged that being ‘insubordinate’ (independent / disloyal / rebellious / dissident, etc.) to that one chief leader puts ones’ salvation in jeopardy. In this we can see how ‘the hold’ works. Way too many remained with the apostate organization of the Worldwide Church of God under this perception. Long after its (obvious to most) repudiation of all it once stood for, people hung on and on, refusing to walk away, offering the explanation that ‘this is the Church I was called-into’, or ‘God will intervene and fix this problem’. Most believing firmly that to walk out would put their salvation and their access to God’s Spirit in jeopardy, when in fact, the very opposite was the case! (see Revelation 3:12)
But such is the hold intermediarys can have on their followers. They present themselves as God’s official spokesmen (or in some cases,‘spokesman’) suggesting that their official proclamations carry the very authority of God in Heaven. To challenge their local dictates is seen as an offense against God! This works especially well when members effectively lay down their bibles and discontinue using the Berean approach. This also is a method of operation. I recall well a pointed conversation with a speakin’ deacon, who admitted to doing this. He felt no continuing obligation to continue ‘proving all things’ as we’re pointedly commanded to do. I was somewhat aghast at his adamant stance ! He strongly felt and freely admitted that, having once proved WHO the true Apostle was, it no longer was incumbent upon him to prove anything further! His quest was over, his lock on the eternal Truth by now was a foregone conclusion. It made his‘spiritual life’s routine’ much easier, but in doing so, he put himself in a danger far greater than we would ever have guessed at the time.
Needless to say, when “the Church” began its wholesale exchange of doctrines, this fellow was thrown into a tailspin! He, being in a double bind, because at that time to challenge any changes, his ‘deaconship’ also would have been forfeit. So the new intermediary with its organizational structure prevailed on him. He was soon ‘gone’, in more ways than one! The primary facilitator of his disillusionment being his reluctance to restore his method of operation back to a Berean approach and to follow scripture rather than men. It was too long since he’d done that. He had himself become Diotrephized! In reality, his faith was misbased!
There is an area in everyone’s Christian life where we’re eventually compelled to evaluate what drives us. Not everyone looks into the depths of his or her personal sub-conscious with the same clarity of mind. When new to the faith, this consideration can pose too formidable a challenge. But we who are supposedly of full age and in whom God is working are eventually put in a position where we must consider and answer the matter. It’s what we had to face during our Worldwide experiences, without necessarily realizing it. Many fear to directly consider it, but when and IF we are to ever attain the level of maturity appropriate to our true calling, it’s something that must be answered, and once answered, confidently followed!
Paul penned these words to Christians at Corinth. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians13:5) He wrote this to challenge people who for all intents and purposes were presumed to be Christians. But of apparent Christians, he asks them something important: that they should examine themselves as to their true situation. This wasn’t urged upon non-professing types, but upon Christians! It establishes that unless Christ is within a person, thru the indwelling of His Spirit, then that person is a reprobate!! But, in many situations, the reprobates appear much the same as the true! Some may appear even better than the true! What makes the difference? Paul’s urging shows that there is an evident proof that’s demonstrable! The key is found in the answer to the question, Who do we really follow and imitate, Christ,or a minister? Would Christ do what we do?
Others Will Gladly Tell You!
Ina Diotrephesian culture, there’s always someone all too willing to declare another person’s true status, and they do so by evaluating that person’s perceived loyalty to their local Diotrephes. Anyone of their fellowship not as fully committed to their discipline as they deem appropriate, are declared unconverted as they define conversion.
Such is the nature of the situation. 1
Rather, as people mature in the Faith, they will be found living more by Faith than simple sight, or in other words, just doing what they’re told without due consideration. What living by Faith accomplishes in this area is the removal of any ‘intermediary’ that stands between the individual and his God and following God where-ever He leads. This is a response or condition on the part of the individual that gives Diotrephesians fits! When a person’s motivating force is the indwelling Spirit of God and not a fearful regard for a dominating human leader, then the power over that person on their part is effectively cancelled out.
Only One Mediator
Despite our knowing this: (“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”(1 Tim.2:5))that there is only one true mediator between ourselves and God our Father, yet some effectively attest that there is another by their actions. When we allow ourselves to become too enamored of a leader or even an organization to where we fail to maintain that direct one-on-one relationship with our God, we set ourselves at odds with one of God’s Commands. We put someone between ourselves and God, a First Commandment issue. Action often justified with the excuse that “This is God’s minister and God would want me to acquiesce to everything His minister says!” What many haven’t addressed adequately is the question, “Is that what we’re really supposed to be doing as it regards God’s ministers?” Further,do we regard that man as our master or as our servant? That too defines us!
So long as we adhere to this kind of situation, we incur another shortcoming. We inhibit ourselves from growing in grace and knowledge as we should. The only ‘growth’ some people experience is just from what their minister feeds them!
Just think what would happen if everyone rejected and stepped away from these Diotrephes situations. Personality-based cults and cult type organizations would disappear overnight! That fact indicates that we also are complicit in creating the situation!
What? Who Me?
Christ had to deal with these human tendencies even while facing the most excruciating distress, that of His impending death. His disciples jostled for position among themselves, wanting to become ‘preeminent’ over the others. Matt.20:20 “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. 21. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” The text shows that the sons were in on it, but didn’t have the guts to ask! His reply was “…to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. 24: And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. 25: But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26: But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27: And who-soever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Would a Diotrephes commit himself to selfless-servitude of others?
But it’s the issue of ‘domineering’ or ‘overlording’ that fires this engine. Loving the preeminent position! We are built to be that way and to want that way. Walking by Faith on the other hand is a really scary path. It takes the indwelling of God’s Spirit to walk out onto that water, especially when it’s turbulent.
Our first service to the Church of God is to walk by Faith,examining carefully those “Works” we deem worthy of support, distancing ourselves from those destructive organizations that seek to control us for gain, and extending the right hand of fellowship toward all who are blessed with the Gift of God’s Spirit no matter what their affiliation. We see no real gain from any Diotrephesian condition.
1 A minister back east in the early ‘80’s relied on the formula of “loyalty to HWA” as the best indicator of a person’s conversion, and appointed three local deacons on that basis, passing-over long-attending people. Then HWA died! Today, while those three are long gone, their real situation was clearly proven by their rote loyalty to ‘the system’ but apparently without a functional regard for the Truth of God. Ironically, many of those passed-over people are still faithful to God and His Truth to this day!!