Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Dangers of One Man in Charge

The fundamental issue of the Protestant Reformation was justification by faith, that we are declared righteous before God based on our faith in Christ's death on the cross for us, apart from anything we can do to earn it (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). The second related issue was the authority of Scripture, that every claim to teach God's truth must be tested by Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; Galatians 1:8,9; Jude 3). But there was another issue which fostered the corruption of the church at that time. That was the putting of the church under the control of a single individual who could not be questioned. There were attempts to deal with this corruption short of the Reformation. There was a movement to make church councils the authority rather than the pope, but this ultimately failed. Or they would require men to swear to make reforms before choosing them as pope. But when they became pope they would absolve themselves from keeping this oath. Now I am convinced it was in God's providence that these limited reforms failed, because the church needed the deeper reform of the Reformation. But there is a principle here of not giving too much power to one person. I do not bring this up just to criticize Roman Catholicism, but to point out that there is danger in giving unquestionable authority to one or a few individuals.

Now I do not want to take away the respect that should be given to good leaders of the past and present. They are a gift for God (Ephesians 4:11), and we are called to submit to those in a position over us (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13). Nor should we go to the opposite extreme of individualism and refuse to listen to the instruction of others (Proverbs 15:22; 1 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:3) But no one should place themselves above the Word of God or above correction (Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8,9; 2:11-16). Also, Jesus Christ is the only one we must go through to get to God, and no other should make that claim (1 Timothy 2:5; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 4:14-16). Now I am convinced that, particularly in our modern celebrity culture, it is possible to exalt people to a level where they are seen as unquestionable. This is bad even if the individuals involved are godly people, because we all have our sins and failings and making someone unquestionable perpetuates their bad qualities as well as their good. Also, once such an authority cannot be challenged, bad people can replace the good without hindrance. Those who established the power of the papacy were using it to fight the corruption of the church. But in the end it resulted in worse corruption than they set out to cure. We should respect those leaders worthy of it, but we should regard no one as above correction.

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