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Volume 16, Issue 1: Doctrine 101

Spiritual Mavericks

Patch Blakey

When still but a young Christian going to college, I was challenged not to be a spiritual maverick. This challenge came from the gentleman who was leading the Bible study I attended. What he meant was that I was not to be an independent Christian laboring on my own. Rather, he said the biblical pattern was that I belong to an organized group ministering faithfully for Christ. I was supposed to be under authority to someone who was more spiritually mature than I was. In this particular context, I, along with several other young men of my age in this same Bible study, were being exhorted to place ourselves under the authority of our Bible study leader. As a committed group, he said, we would have a much greater impact for Christ than if we were all functioning independently. Our Bible study leader was a staff member of a well-known parachurch organization, and he was just beginning a ministry at the college.

The basis for his argument seemed sound. He pointed out how Jesus had selected several disciples to be with Him and to minister. Since we were to follow Christ's example, this set the pattern for those of us in the Bible study group. He further emphasized our need to be committed to his leadership by showing us 2 Corinthians 8:5, "And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God." His argument was along the lines that since we had each already committed our lives to Christ ("gave their own selves to the Lord"), that we needed to press ahead and consider if it was indeed God's will for us to place ourselves under his spiritual authority ("and unto us by the will of God").
No one was coerced into making this decision; however, it was undeniable that subtle pressure had already been applied. Those in the church were not actively engaged in doing the work of the ministry, but this parachurch organization was. We had been impressed with the thought that if we were to be laborers for Christ, we needed to commit ourselves to this gentleman for his spiritual leadership in our lives and become part of the ministry team. If not, we would be something akin to second-hand Christians, and worse, spiritual mavericks, acting without any spiritual leadership. The latter was considered repugnant since the Scriptures clearly teach submission to spiritual authority. So, given the choice between choosing the USDA Grade A ground round hamburger or the hamburger made from ground blood worms and sawdust, we all naturally chose to be part of this gentleman's ministry team, and committed ourselves to his spiritual leadership.
But here's the rub. This gentleman was not a member in a local church. He was committed to someone else in the parachurch organization for his spiritual leadership, and they in turn were committed to someone else above them. This parachurch organization frequently affirmed that they were not a church. I know that some of its staff were members in good standing of local churches, and that most of them attended a local church.
But even if all of these gentlemen were members of their various local churches, there would still be a problem. Since Christ is the head over His body, the church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18), what is the chain of command from Christ to this or any parachurch organization? What is the authority link that is objectively established by Scripture? If this link is not or can not be established, then by what authority would such a parachurch organization lay claim to providing spiritual leadership at any point in its organizational structure? Christ did say, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18) referring to His authority over all things, but He is clearly linking this authority to the Church in the context given. Jesus was addressing His apostles who were given by God to the Church.
Clearly, there is no argument that the Church has authority to exhort people to place themselves under its spiritual authority, an authority that is administered by local church elders. "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:1-3).
But where is the corresponding scriptural direction for those who are ministering in a position of spiritual authority in the parachurch? It can't come from the same passages that grant such authority to the Church, because the parachurch is not the Church. The parachurch can't lay claim to biblical passages that apply to the Church. To do so would of necessity negate their "parachurch" standing.
This then raises the question: Is the authority for parachurch organizations legitimately derived from Christ via the Scriptures or is it usurped? If legitimately derived, then we have no argument. We only need to be shown how that authority is consistently derived from the Scriptures apart from the Church.
On the other hand, if this authority is usurped, then aren't such parachurch organizations really the spiritual mavericks?

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