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VII. THE UNQUESTIONABLE ELDERS

The Household of God

David Bovenmyer is another long-time member of GCI. He is currently the Managing Editor of The Cause. He wrote an article for the June/July issue entitled, "Respecting Local Leaders". The article deals with the following question, which he raises at the beginning:

"What would you do if someone came to you and said, 'I was put out of a church, even though I did nothing wrong!' How would you know who to believe in a situation like this?"1
Bovenmyer sets out to address this question by making a correlation between the church and a family. He says:

"Let's take the example of a family...The same is true in the church, which is a family (I Timothy 3:15)."2
The verse that he refers to here does state that the church is the "household of God". It is important to note that it does not call the church the "household of the elders". But Bovenmyer is attempting in his article to demonstrate the similarity between the father's role of authority in the family and the elder's role in the church. This is the same blurring of distinction between various types of authority which we saw from McCotter in chapter three.

Bovenmyer blurs this distinction in the following way: After citing I Timothy 3:15, which refers to the church as the household of God, he then goes on to quote I Timothy 5:17, which refers to elders "ruling well". With this quick jump from I Timothy 3:15 to 5:17, he leaves us with the impression that we are to view the elders in the church in just the same way we viewed our fathers at home, and to obey them in the same way.

However, the church is the household of God, not of the elders. Spiritual leaders in the church are encouraged to love and care for their charges as a father would his own children. But nowhere are the Christians told to relate to the elders as if they were their fathers. In fact, Jesus specifically commands against such a relationship with spiritual leadership when He says:

"And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven." Matthew 23:9
In the context of this verse, Jesus is specifically dealing with the area of spiritual leaders and teachers. We are not to consider them our fathers. Nor are they some kind of mediator to interpret the Word of God for us, or to determine for us the Will of God, or what is truth. 

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." I Timothy 2:5

"...you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you all things..." I John 2:24

"But you are a royal priesthood..." I Peter 2:9
Of course, there is no doubt that elders have been given "watch" for the church, and thus have certain obligations and authority. As long as they continue to function as true shepherds, and their teachings and practices concur with the explicit truths of Scripture, then they are to be obeyed in areas of faith and moral conduct. Beyond those limits, however, they have no authority. God alone is our Father, and we owe unquestioned respect, obedience, and loyalty to Him alone.

Questioning Elders - Questioning God

Bovenmyer's unbalanced view of authority of elders worsens as he progresses:

"Just as we respect the order of authority and responsibility that God has set up in the family, we need to respect the order He has set up in the church. If we don't respect the judgments of local leaders, we don't really respect God or His word."3
Caution! The reader would do well to carefully observe what Bovenmyer has done here. He has taken a well-documented point of doctrine, and made a subtle shift to produce an unbiblical teaching. Yes, we are taught to respect our spiritual elders. No, we are not taught to respect their judgment. There is a subtle, but significant distinction here. The man who is truly a qualified elder, and who is ruling well, deserves our respect. However, he may very likely make errors in his teaching or conduct which are not to be respected. Consider Paul's instructions concerning prophets. Though they are not necessarily elders, I am confident the principle applies:

"...do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good..." I Thessalonians 5:20-21
Consider also the Bereans, who:

"...were more noble...for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." Acts 17:11
Nowhere in Scripture are we taught to unquestionably respect or accept the judgments of any authority. Questioning authorities, when their actions are questionable, is not to be confused with being insubordinate or disrespectful. Certainly the Word of God does not teach that questioning the judgment or action of an elder is tantamount to not respecting God or His Word.

Bovenmyer is elevating the authority of elders to a very dangerous level, making them equal to God. Nevertheless, it gets worse.

Holding Elders Accountable

Finally, for the first and only time throughout the entire magazine, the possibility of there being an unrighteous elder is seriously addressed.

"But what if the leaders in a certain church are unrighteous and judge someone unjustly? If a believer has been unfairly judged, he should appeal to God...If certain church leaders really are wicked, God will judge them and will justify the innocent."4
Bovenmyer goes on to cite David and Saul, the Joseph and Potipher as examples of ones who were oppressed by authority, and waited upon God for deliverance and vindication. It should be pointed out, however, that David was not waiting for vindication, he was waiting for the kingdom to be given into his hand. He knew that to take the kingdom by force, before God gave it to him, would be foolish and ultimately counter-productive. 

And what of poor Joseph? What could he possibly do? He was thrown into the prison. However, he took advantage of the first opportunity he received to clear his name and get out of jail. To the cupbearer he said:

"(mention) me to Pharaoh, and get me out of the house...I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon." Genesis 40:14,15
This hardly sounds like the one who appeals to God for vindication, and then waits silently on the sidelines, saying nothing, waiting for God's miraculous deliverance. It sounds more like the one Bovenmyer mentions that comes to us protesting his unjust treatment at the hands of unrighteous church leaders.  

But Bovenmyer teaches the oppressed one here to passively bow his head to the sword of unrighteous, oppressive authority. Bovenmyer expects everyone to submit unquestionably to the unrighteous elders, simply because they are elders! Whatever has happened in his mind to the many passages in the Word of God which demand that we implement justice for the oppressed, or that elders in sin be publicly rebuked?

On at least two occasions, the Apostle Paul, when he was about to be unjustly treated by an authority, appealed to a higher authority for deliverance. Once he appealed to Roman Law (Acts 22:25), and the second time to Caesar himself (Acts 25:11). The elders in any church are not the highest authority in the local church. The elders are accountable to the Word Of God, and can be held accountable to it by the general body of believers, or the body of Christ at large.

"Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two of three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest may also be fearful of sinning." I Timothy 5:19,20  

"An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and my people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?" Jeremiah 5:30,31
Note that in Jeremiah the people are chided for going along with the abuse of authority on the part of the priests. Note, also, that although the priests had an authority given to them from God, they had gone beyond that, and were operating on their own authority. All of this bode ill for the future of Judah.

Co-oppressors

At last we come to the conclusion of Bovenmyer's piece, where he puts the whole thing together for us:

"So, to answer our original question, if someone comes to you claiming he has been wrongly judged, you should respect God's order of authority in the churches, and respect the judgment of those local leaders. You should encourage him to get right with that church, and you should fully honor the discipline by refusing to associate with him."5 (Emphasis mine)
If the discipline was actually unjust, as the person claimed, then consider the tragic consequences of following GCI's teaching here.

The person has come to us as an oppressed person, but is rejected out of hand. Simply because he is not an elder, his word is not to be trusted, but that of the elders is. The one who might be able to help sides with the oppressor without examining the facts of the case!

"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it." Proverbs 3:27
Though the oppressed one has done no wrong, he is told to return to the church which so grievously wronged him, and to "get right with that church". This is telling him to violate his conscience by admitting to a wrong he did not commit. It also puts us in the place of the oppressor. This is wickedness!

If he cannot be so dishonest as to acknowledge such false accusations against himself as true, then he is forced to live without any Christian fellowship until such a time as the oppressive church repents. This also puts us in the place of the oppressor, and is absurd, unbiblical, and ungodly! It is certainly not the "joy of justice". It may be "joy" to the elders who are finding themselves wholly unaccountable to the Body of Jesus Christ. It is tragic, indeed, that such an ungodly, false doctrine can be poisoning the minds of naive and unsuspecting Christians.

Contrary to GCI teaching on this question, it would be incumbent upon us to see to it that a satisfactory examination was made to determine if justice had been served. We have already seen numerous verses which make that very clear.

The Double Standard

As we conclude our examination of Bovenmyer's piece, two points of concern remain.

First, we should notice the double standard. When someone slanders another person, or especially an elder, elaborate mechanisms are in place to insure that he is quickly silenced. However, if an elder oppresses or slanders someone in his flock, his judgments are to go unquestioned. The same mechanism which defends the elder from slander now shields him from justice! This is ungodliness.

"You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly." Leviticus 19:15

"You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear men, for the judgment is God's." Deuteronomy 1:17
Second, notice that Bovenmyer says not a word about our responsibility to confront injustice or unrighteousness in the elders. Nor does he mention the obligation to rebuke them in the presence of all if they do not repent. Rather, he teaches us to unquestionably accept their actions as just, simply because they are elders or church leaders, and to trust God. Elders, however, are just as accountable for sin as others, if not more so. Accusations against them are to be received if they are supported, and they are to be publicly rebuked if they continue in sin (I Timothy 5:20). 

1 Bovenmyer, David, "Respecting Local Leaders", The Cause, p 17, June/July 1985.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

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