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One of the last Sundays at the church, I arrived only to discover that our long-time personal friend who was also on staff at the church was fired. We were shocked and deeply saddened. I had arrived early for praise and worship practice as normal, but was obviously not in the right frame of mind for praising and worshiping after hearing the news. I asked to meet with one of the elders on the praise and worship team and we sat in the back pew of the church while I asked him “why?”. I remember he was gracious and tried to answer as best as he could. The other elder joined our conversation and the first elder went back to practice with the praise and worship team. I continued discussing the situation with the second elder.
It felt odd to be speaking to an elder in the back of the church when I normally would have been with the praise and worship team, but he had things to share with me. He opened his Bible to Hebrews 13:17 and read it out loud to me. The version he used was NKJV:
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
I don’t know how long we sat in the back of the church, but it was long enough to miss the entire praise and worship practice which usually lasted over 30 minutes. I also don’t recall how many times that verse was read to me – especially the first part: Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, but those words were permanently etched in my brain.
As he read and reread the verse to me, I wondered if he felt I was not obeying. What was I not obeying? I did not know. I was only asking questions, sharing my concerns, thoughts, and disappointments. How did that equate with not obeying? This was my friend who was fired. Didn’t I have a right to question why this precious family was being ripped from our church? Nobody had told me to be quiet, to not have concerns. As far as I was concerned I wasn’t not obeying anything.
Sadly, I have skipped over that verse the last few years. It has been too painful to read. I heard it so many times from that elder’s lips in an authoritarian fashion that I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It felt like this elder used this verse to make himself and pastor appear as the authority in my life and used in an effort to make me crumble under the weight of those powerful words.
Recently, however, I found something very interesting. Yes, the verse uses the words “obey” and “submit” in the text in many translations, but what is the context of this verse and what is the meaning of the original Greek words? It never occurred to me to look deeper to find the meaning. I now firmly believe that this verse was used inappropriately. I cannot guess whether the leaders in the church have studied this verse or not. But it was used in a way that benefited them and their assumed authority position over congregants. Had I known the truth then, I could have responded differently. Instead, I felt the cloud of authoritarianism and rebuke coming down. That is absolutely contrary to the examples in Scripture of how a shepherd tends his sheep. No one should be lording their position over anyone.
As I have been reading more about spiritual abuse, I have run across this Hebrews 13:17 verse used in spiritual abuse situations over and over again. It is a key verse used by those who spiritually abuse. Men have distorted God’s Truth and have used it to elevate their status in an authoritarian-type position over the lives of their flock. This is a misuse of scripture and an abuse of God’s precious flock. Look at this verse which discusses how elders should treat the flock:
1 Peter 5: 1-4: 1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Take a look at John MacArthur’s commentary on the responsibility of a shepherd. Click on the link below:
We don’t read anything about a shepherd “lording” over the flock in this article.
. . to be continued . . . .