Submission to Spiritual Authority

Just a couple of thoughts I had on the subject of submission to spiritual leaders in the church.

First of all, there are many clear and emphatic scriptures in the Bible about submission to spiritual leaders……and it’s all wonderful. The Bible is very clear on the subject of submission, not just in the church, but also for husbands, wives, children, and employees, to civil, parental, and spiritual authority.

As I read the scriptures I see a couple of words in the Bible that are synonymous with submission; Honor, respect, giving, love and humility

Find a person who understands submission to authority and you’ll see a person who is humble, full of love, unselfish, accountable, and personally responsible.

Find a person who does not understand submission to authority and you’ll see a person who is prideful, full of criticism, selfish, self ruled, and spiritually irresponsible.

BIBLICAL SUBMISSION IS NOT SLAVERY, It is a very fundamental principle of life that is to be practiced in the world and the church.

There are many scriptures on how spiritual authority should govern and guide the church as well as instructions about the right response to authority, both civil and spiritual.

Understand the principle of submission and you’ll understand the practice of submission

WARNING: Beware of people who are always finding fault with the leadership of the church and the church it’s self, for they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their heart is rebellious and their fruit is pride and dishonor. They seek to destroy people, the church and even the faith while lifting up themselves and their “cause”. They are bitter against leaders and long for control. Watch out for them for they claim to love God and His commands.

Let’s go to the scriptures about submission to spiritual authority:

  • Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Jesus is head of the church and He has established these offices as well as people to be leaders with authority in those offices over the church. God also has given these leaders the responsibility to serve, oversee, and establish HIS word and commands for HIS church in the earth

  • Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. 18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.

Clearly this is not talking about civil authorities, but spiritual authority. It says OBEY and SUBMIT. (swear words to some Christians). But Paul also said, PRAY for spiritual leaders.

Submission to spiritual authority is about a functional relationship of love and honor, to God first, then to man       

Look at these two scriptures about honoring spiritual leaders.

1 Tim. 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

1 Thess. 5:12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are
over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves

I’ve noticed that people who have the biggest problem with authority in the church usually carry resentment because they want to be in charge themselves and can’t be.

More than ruling over people, spiritual authority has an obligation to Jesus Christ to love, feed, and protect the flock of God. And God has given them His grace and authority to govern. Along with that responsibility comes instruction, counsel, warning, correction, and even rebuke when necessary. Spiritual authority is more than a title; it is a relationship with people. They stand as servants, ministers, and even spiritual parents in the lives of God’s people.

1 Cor. 4:14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sonsI warn you. 15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

In many instances Paul gave commands to the church and even put people out of the church for disobedience and sin. In fact one time Paul said that the leaders of the church were to turn someone over to Satan that they learn not to blaspheme. Listen to this scripture;

2 Thess. 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

Leaders are to be a strong godly example and to lead in strength and certainty. However, many people are offended by this quality and cry “spiritual abuse”. They are simply offended at God’s word rather than the leader.

  • Eph. 5:20-25, 28

Vs. 21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Vs. 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
Vs. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

The principles of submission in this passage are submitting in the fear of God and as unto the Lord and loving and giving as Jesus did.

Children obey your parents…because it’s right” (Eph. 6:1)

Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20)

Submission isn’t a power struggle but rather a mutual relationship of love, humility, and respect.

Submission is a principle that should be practiced in every area of life, including the church, for it is godly order and divine principles for safety and success.

AGAIN; Understand the principle of submission and you’ll understand the practice of submission

Many Christians who do not want to submit to the authority in the church do not want to submit at home.

  • 1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

This is another example of spiritual leadership and authority

As Christians we are commanded to LOVE and SERVE one another. (Gal. 5:13)

The real love of Jesus is expressed through submission 

This is not about the abuse of a title but rather a mutual relationship of love, humility, and respect that starts with our submission to God first than man.

Shocking scripture about Civil Authority;
Rom. 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

  1. The correlation between governmental authority or “non-spiritual” authority and God’s authority is very clear.
  2. God has not only established authority among men but, honors their judgment and punishment
  3. “The higher powers” or “rulers” are called MINISTERS OF GOD
    (vs 4) so one could say that they are a type of “spiritual authority”
  4. First the natural then the spiritual. Why would God expect you to obey the natural authority and not the spiritual authority? Isn’t it God that places pastors and elders over the church to feed the flock of God and to watch over the church?

NOTICE: Only those breaking the law have an issue with the law! It’s the same in the church; only those who hate authority will not submit to authority. But those who understand the principle of authority understand the practice of submission .

Two examples:

  • Joshua with Moses

Numbers 27:20 (the Lord speaking to Moses about Joshua’s ordination) And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.

Joshua 1:16 And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go. 17 According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses.

We see that the principles of submission were operating in the Old Testament in the Life of Moses and the Children of Israel, who were called “the church in the wilderness” by Stephen in the Book of Acts.

A key here is that Joshua was referred to as, “Joshua, the servant of Moses” long before He was placed as the Leader. Also Joshua was called the “minister of Moses”.

Submission is about being a servant out of love for God and others. Jesus constantly admonished the disciples to be servants and to lay their life down for the Gospels sake instead of being concerned about ruling over people.

Submission is a position you take and then a condition you live 

  • Jesus submitting to his parents or those over Him in the Lord.Luke 2:51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man

Jesus not only showed us submission to natural authorities but He also demonstrated submission to spiritual authority when he said, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30)

Look at the results of His submission to His natural authority,

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52

And of course look at the results of His submission to His spiritual authority…….

Jesus developed favor with God and man by being under authority and therefore being answerable for His character

Look at the lives of those who do not like spiritual authority, most often they refuse to be answerable for their character. 

Has there been abuse with spiritual leaders? ABSOLUTELY! Just as there has been abuse with money, love, and freedom, but that doesn’t make those things bad or invalid. The mistakes by church leaders and Christians is not an excuse to violate godly principles. But they must be upheld and practiced the way God intended.

The Bible is very clear about how spiritual leaders and authority in the church ought to behave and minister. It gives several strong warnings towards abusive and greedy leaders. Jesus called them hirelings and on many occasions openly rebuked them.

Being a spiritual leader in the church is not about the title one has but rather the responsibility of the title.

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

1 Peter 5:2 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; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s
heritage, but being ensamples to the flock


When you understand the principle of submission you’ll understand the authority of God. The point of submission to spiritual leaders, governmental leaders and parents is love and submission to God first then to man.

1 john 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.


~ by bromatt on June 22, 2009.

48 Responses to “Submission to Spiritual Authority”

  1. Good post.

    I have found that sometimes God will let you get into a misunderstanding or a disagreement with a spiritual leader to test you. Our ability to correctly navigate this and deal with the misunderstanding in our attitude and situation is the measure of our maturity.

  2. I’ve found many bitter, dsillusioned sheep roaming around. Most often they have become that way – not because they were prideful and arrogant — but because someone in leadership took advantage of a willingness to submit, and took it to extremes. If you read some of the examples of abuse in churches, you marvel at how some have survived in the church, and cease to marvel at why some have left the church.

  3. Thanks for this information. I believe it is an informative, accurate biblical representation of authority. In fact, I have incorporated most of it in our fundamentals course.

  4. Hebrews 13:17 the word translated obey, is also translated as agree, assure, belive, to have confidence in. As the church leadership teaches, you should listen and be pursueded to follow, ONLY if what they are teaching is found in Gods word. In Jonestown, the people were told they must submit to Jim Jones, and albeit an extreme case, they submitted and drank the Kookaid laced with poison, and almost 1000 people died. In Hebrews 5:9, the word obey is translated, to hear under, to listen attentivly. To heed or to conform to a command. Hebrews 5:9, is speaking of obedience to Jesus Christ. Its speaking of if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. On the other hand Hebrews 13:17 is once again speaking of being teachable by the leadership of your church. It is not telling you to blindly follow everything that someone in your leadership might want you to do. The word “rule” in this verse, means to lead or to guide.

    The leadership of your church will not be standing with you, when you stand before God. Every person will personally give an account of their lives. Jesus and the apostles never taught that a believer is to do anything that a leader in the church tells you to do. A true leader is not a commander, but according to Jesus, is a servant. A proper study of Gods word is important for theological reasons. Hebrews 13:17 is commonly quoted in connection with the Biblical view of authority and submission. If you misinterpret this verse, it will have effects that can be very damaging to the church. Many times this verse is taken out of context, allowing many to abuse their authority in the church without being questioned, and God forbid you question them. If you question them, you will get labled bitter, devisive, trying to break up the church, a sheep in wolves clothing etc. The misuderstanding to this verse, typically comes from a misunderstanding of the greek translation of the word obey. The mis-teachings on this, typically end up in a continual preaching on submission to authority, and you will do as we say, or you are out of here. This kind of teaching comes from a lack of understanding of the scriptures.
    If pastors and leaders in your church are continually preaching on submission to their authority you can be assured, that trouble is just around the corner. If pastors are telling you who you can and can not fellowship with, this is not biblical teaching. If pastors or leaders in your church or people you attend church with have shunned you, ignored you, judged you, gossiped about you, for whatever reason, then you need to get counsel outside of your church, because chances are you are in an unhealthy church environment.
    Pastors, and church leaders have no place and no right to try to control your life under the guise of “submission to their authority” and tell you what you can and can’t do, or if you do this, we will stop talking with you. We will stop fellowshipping with you, or kick you out of the church. That is control, manipulation, and them running your life, and is not biblical teaching, and has no place in the church. They have no right to point their finger at you and judge you, and treat you bad, under the guise of, “it’s tough love” or, “we do this because we care about you”.
    They have no right to make life decisions that are between you, God and your family. It’s not their business. If you want to ask them for counsel, or advice, that’s another thing. Then they of course are free to counsel you, but not demand that you do what they want you to do.
    I do believe in BIBLICAL SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY. This is what biblical submission is: A pastors biblical authority over you is to teach the word of God, and to represent the word of God. A true shepherd, won’t demand submission, or shout you down from the pulpit, or try to control and manipulate your life.
    The ultimate authority in your life, is your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not a pastor, telling you what they feel you should or should not do. Using it in that context is not scriptural in the least, but takes holy scripture out of context, and twists it to make it work for those in question.
    God bless you all 🙂

    • well, “you shall know them by their fruits” and bromatt & the pastors here have very godly & good fruit. it is sad that there is so much deception from pride. it’s human nature to go our own way, but we as CHRISTIANS should not live like the world (or want to). it’s a lack of a love relationship for God, and it’s pointless to argue with people who really don’t want to live a christian life. they are trying to make themselves feel better by twisting God’s Word. Well it ain’t gonna fly on judgement’s crazy that people sooo harshly come against the pastor for speaking Gods Word, they are tuly offended at His Word, not the pastor. That spirit cannot submit to Godly authority & so it runs from God’s presence. you can tell by this, our pastors pray for those who have left , while those who have left are trying their hardest to speak bad about them. what would Jesus do? Keep up the awesome work that GOD has given you & don’t worry about the comments above, unfortunately, God will deal with them. and it’s not like that’s always preached, far from. anyway, You have truly been such a blessing to us & we could not have such a great marriage without the great teaching we have from our pastors. we love you guys.

  5. How do you discern who a God-given authority figure is? I mean according to the scripture the Church, or the Body of Christ could only be divided into churches or different bodies on the grounds of the city the believers lived in, and within each city a plurality of elders were recognized to oversee the body. Today however you see multiple individual ministries claiming spiritual authority over the rest of the Body within the same city, and normally that authority rests in the hands of one individual, the pastor. As well did Jesus at any time tell us to recognize any one but Himself as the Head of the Church, yet many today claim that title in their ministries. Also you mentioned Eph. 4:11 as a reference to offices of authority in the Body, but if you read that in context and compare it with other portions of scripture that speak of the same thing you will clearly see it has nothing to do with a seperate group of men whose authority must be yielded to in order to see the Body edified. 1 Peter 4:10 As EACH ONE has received a GIFT, minister it to ONE ANOTHER, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Rom. 12:3-6 For I say through the grace given to me, to EVERYONE who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think but to think soberly, as God has dealt to EACH ONE a measure of faith. For as we have MANY MEMBERS in ONE BODY, but all the members do not have the same FUNCTION, so we being many, are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. Having then GIFTS differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them….. With that instruction in mind now look at Eph. 4:7-16. Paul is clearly talking to EACH MEMBER in the Body. vs. 7 But to EACH ONE of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s GIFT. Now let’s get this straight, Paul is talking to every believer, He explains every believer has a GIFT, then in verse 8 He proceeds to when these gifts were given. Now I have no clue how the phrase “and gave gifts to men” could suddenly be understood as a select few when verse seven clearly says EACH ONE. As well in both 1 Peter 4:7 and Rom. 12 we see the words gift and the functioning of those gifts mentioned, and in both references it is clearly to EACH ONE, EVERY MEMBER. Verse 11 is a simple reference to how these gifts given to EACH ONE function, and if EACH ONE does function we see the body edified and built up. verse 16 from whom the whole Body, joined and knit together by what EVERY JOINT supplies, according to the EFFECTIVE WORKING by which EVERY PART does its share, causes growth of the Body for the edifying of itself in love. There are seven functions mentioned in Romans, there are five functions mentioned in Eph. 4:11 and there are eight functions mentioned in 1 Cor.12:28. Curiously pastor is only mentioned once in the entire new testament, and should have been translated shepherds like it was every other time the word was used. In the bible the elders were the overseers or bishops with the function of shepherding. Titus 1:5-7 (a bishop is clearly one in the same as an elder). In Acts 20.17 Paul calls for the elders of the church in Ephesus and proceeds in verse 28 to tell them: Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (same word as bishop), to SHEPHERD (the function of the elders) the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after themselves. Clearly the savage wolves come in through leadership and they identify themselves by having to have everyone follow after them. They feel their ministry should have preeminence in the assembly over all others. They do not discern the Body of Christ, nor the necessity of every member participating in both the ministry of the Word, and the ministry of the Spirit. 1 Cor. 12. Therefore the Body revolves around their ministry. The so called church is nothing but their ministry. If you can find a city where the elders are actually functioning according to the Head and the Body of that City is one, then you can teach submission, but when the entire body is divided and seperated and leaders are just trying to get more followers to their own ministries, and those leaders can’t even work together to bring the Body together in each city, then there is no grounds to understand true spiritual authority, you can not exercise the authority of the Head while you operate in the principle of satan. If you can’t follow their example then you definately should’nt follow their advice. God has called multitudes out of the “institutional churches”, He has revealed how the one man pastoral system is a counterfeit which hinders His purpose for the Body of each city, and I suggest before you accuse anyone of rebellion against authority in the church, or call them wolves, or teach someone to submit to false authority, that you test what I’ve told you, (1 Thess. 5:21 Test all things; hold fast what is good). Remember Paul had “authority” to rebuke Peter because He stood for the progress of the truth revealed to Him by revelation of Jesus Christ, not because of position or office or title. Gal. 2:11-20.

  6. good words, very true. pastors that try to control their congreation using the guise of “authority” by twisting scriptures to what they want it to mean is wrong, and goes against Gods word. I have seen Pastors in adultry, or that have commited sex crimes etc that are in leadership, brushing their sins under the carpet, and telling people to submit to them and do what they say to do. If they were honest with the people and discussed thier sins and thier past people would be running for the doors instead of blindly following their authority because they are told if they dont they are sinning.

  7. Matt,
    Great balanced article on Spiritual Authority, I have taught this same thing in my church for some time. As you say, authority is not a tyranny but comes from relationship. I just happened upon your post after a rebellious issue we just had to deal with. BTW are you any relation to the Holcomb’s in PA?
    God Bless,

    Mike Chatt, Rock Church of Tarboro

  8. Spiritual abuse is the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the individual who needs help. Sometimes abuse arises out of a doctrinal position. At other times it occurs because of legitimate personal needs of a leader that are being met by illegitimate means. Spiritually abusive religious systems are sometimes described as legalistic, mind controlling, religiously addictive, and authoritarian.

    #1) Authoritarian
    The most distinctive characteristic of a spiritually abusive religious system, or leader, is the over-emphasis on authority. Because a group claims to have been established by God Himself the leaders in this system claim the right to command their followers.

    This authority supposedly comes from the position they occupy. In Matthew 23:1-2 Jesus said the Scribes and Pharisees “sit in Moses’ seat,” a position of spiritual authority. Many names are used but in the abusive system this is a position of power, not moral authority. The assumption is that God operates among His people through a hierarchy, or “chain of command.” In this abusive system unconditional submission is often called a “covering,” or “umbrella of protection” which will provide some spiritual blessing to those who fully submit. Followers may be told that God will bless their submission even if the leadship is wrong. It is not their place to judge or correct the leadership – God will see to that.

    #2) Image Conscious
    The abusive religious system is scrupulous to maintain an image of righteousness. The organization’s history is often misrepresented in the effort to demonstrate the organization’s special relationship to God. The mistaken judgements and character flaws of its leaders are denied or covered up in order to validate their authority. Impossibly high legalistic standards of thought and behavior may be imposed on the members. Their failure to live up to these standards is a constant reminder of the follower’s inferiority to his leaders, and the necessity of submission to them. Abusive religion is, at heart, legalism.

    Abusive religion is also paranoid. Because the truth about the abusive religious system would be quickly rejected if recognized, outsiders are shown only a positive image of the group. This is rationalized by assuming that the religion would not be understood by “worldly” people; therefore they have no right to know. This attitude leads to members being secretive about some doctrines and the inner policies and proceedures of the group. Leaders, especially, will keep secrets from their members. This secrecy is rooted in a basic distrust of others because the belief system is false and can not stand scrutiny.

    #3) Suppresses Criticism
    Because the religious system is not based on the truth it cannot allow questions, dissent, or open discussions about issues. The person who dissents becomes the problem rather than the issue he raised. The truth about any issue is settled and handed down from the top of the hierarchy. Questioning anything is considered a challenge to authority. Thinking for oneself is suppressed by pointing out that it leads to doubts. This is portrayed as unbelief in God and His anointed leaders. Thus the follower controls his own thoughts by fear of doubting God.

    #4) Perfectionistic
    A most natural assumption is that a person does not get something for nothing. Apart from the express declarations of salvation by grace through faith God has given in the scriptures, it would be natural to think that one must earn salvation, or at least work to keep it. Thus, in abusive religions all blessings come through performance of spiritual requirements. Failure is strongly condemned so there is only one alternative, perfection. So long as he thinks he is succeeding in his observation of the rules, the follower typically exhibits pride, elitism, and arrogance. However, when reality and failure eventually set in, the result is the person experiences spiritual burnout, or even shipwreck of his faith. Those who fail in their efforts are labeled as apostates, weak, or some other such term so that they can be discarded by the system.

    #5) Unbalanced
    Abusive religions must distinguish themselves from all other religions so they can claim to be distinctive and therefore special to God. This is usually done by majoring on minor issues such as prophecy, carrying biblical law to extremes, or using strange methods of biblical interpretation. The imbalanced spiritual hobby-horse thus produced represents unique knowledge or practices which seem to validate the group’s claim to special status with God.

    Examples of spiritual abuse are found throughout the Bible. God describes (and condemns) the “shepherds of Israel” who feed themselves rather than the flock, who do not heal those who are hurting, or seek to bring back those who were driven away but rather discard them, ruling with force and cruelty (Ezekiel 34:1-10). Jesus reacted with anger against the thievery of the money changers in the Temple as they misused God’s people for selfish reasons (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-16). He was angry at those more concerned with rules and regulations than with human suffering (Mark 3:1-5). In Matthew 23, Jesus describes the abusive spiritual leader in great detail. In John 9 the Pharisees “cast out” the man born blind simply because the truth he told about his healing exposed their own corruption. In Acts 7:51-56, Stephen called the Jewish leaders to account over their spiritual abuse. His testimony of Christ vindicated Jesus, whom they had abused, and condemned them. The legalistic Jews were so angry they stoned Stephen to death. In Galatians Paul addressed a performance based Christianity which leads to the abuse of legalism. There are many more such examples.

    As God in human flesh, Jesus had legitimate spiritual authority. But He did not exercise it to gain power for Himself, or to abuse and control others with rules and regulations. He said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The Greek word for “heavy laden” is phortizo which means here “to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety)” (Strong’s Concordance #5412). Jesus gave a balanced perspective on positional authority when he said, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren” (Matthew 23:8). He gave another key to discernment when He taught, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory…” (John 7:18a).

    Jesus was not “image conscious.” He was willing to associate with wine drinkers, cheating tax collectors and even prostitutes. He accused the legalistic Pharisees of “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9) and likened their showy, hypocritical outward rightousness to “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

    Neither was He paranoid. His ministry was conspicuously open to the public. When He was on trial (John 18) He was asked about His teachings and His reply was, “Why askest thou me?” Jesus pointed out that He always taught in public, and never in secret, so why not ask His disciples. He had nothing to hide.

    Jesus did not fear to criticize the religious leaders or their faulty doctrines (e.g. Matthew 15:1-9; 23:1-39, etc.). And when confronted with criticism or with treacherous questions designed to discredit Him, His response was never to simply demand silence or only positive recognition from His accusers. Rather, He gave answers – scriptural and reasonable answers – to their objections (e.g. Luke 7:36-47; Matthew 19:3-9).

    Jesus upheld the high standard of the Law, yet He clearly placed the legitimate needs of people before any rules or regulations (Matthew 12:1-13; Mark 2:23-3:5). The scriptures make it clear that no one will cease to sin in this life (Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8). Jesus made it plain, however, that one can know in this life that one has eternal life (John 5:24; 6:37-40), a theme developed by Paul throughout his epistles, and by John (1 John 5:10-13).

    The Pharisees, quintessential spiritually abusive leaders, were quite unbalanced in their perception of what mattered most to God. Jesus said they, “…pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, – judgment, mercy, and faith….” (Matthew 23:23).

    Spiritual abuse has a devastating effect on people. A very high level of trust is often placed in spiritual leaders. It is, and ought to be, expected that the trust will be honored and guarded. When such trust is violated the wound is very deep. Sometimes the wound is so deep that the wounded person cannot trust even a legitimate spiritual authority again.

    An analogous situation exists with the victims of incest. The emotional and psychological symptoms exhibited by victims of incest parallel those of spiritual abuse to a remarkable degree. The main symptom is the inability to relate normally to people who represent the source of their emotional injury.

    Besides an unhealthy fear of, and disillusionment with, spiritual authorities, the spiritually abused person may find it difficult to trust even God. “How could (or why did) He let this happen to me?” Anger is also deeply felt. Anger itself is not always wrong – God Himself expresses anger at such spiritual abuse (see Biblical Response, above). However, even legitimate anger, if not properly channeled and dealt with, can degenerate into bitterness and cynicism toward everything spiritual.

    Healthy recovery from spiritual abuse must begin with understanding what has happened and how. A victim usually thinks he is the only one experiencing these problems. Just being able to give a name to the problem is important. There are many books on the subject (see Resources, below) that will be helpful in learning about spiritual abuse and recovery.

    Afterward the abused person must learn the true nature of God’s grace, love and forgiveness. This is the foundation for being able to eventually forgive the abuser. Being able to share the experience and what has been learned so as to minister to someone else’s need is also very important. This could be done in a support group made up of people with a similar experience who can share the healing love of Christ.

    Finally, a lot of time must be allowed for full recovery.

    • I felt your comment was worth reading. Good points. I believe leadership and authority are important in any area of life. But like everything else, there must be checks and balences. here’s a suggestion: Give the points to what spiritual authority and leadership should look like and how to navigate a body of believers in a New testament order. Maybe some practical advice on how to deal with difficult people in that leadership role. With that, I think that would be a great help to many.

    • Thanks for your comment James. It was biblical, very well written, and wise. Can you point out the “Resources” you mentioned? Thanks.

  9. If you’re gonna comment on my blog please do so with a valid point and sound scriptural references. We don’t need more, hot air with attitude comments.

    most people who talk like this have a major problem with any authority (including their own) and loving people in general. Most comments come from people who haven’t been in a significant leadership role for any length of time. When we talk nasty to each other and don’t “respectfully disagree, its No wonder the world speaks evil of us (Rom. 2:24 TLB)

  10. i noted from your web site that you are a leader in a church and that your two brothers are also leaders there.Your father is the central leader with his three sons around him,i have grave concerns,that this shows all the hall marks of dictatorship,saddam hussien,hosni mubarrak,assad of syria all the way back to the pharohs,i dont know you from adam,i am from another part of the world,your heavy leaning to submission and that type of set up has me asking questions,does this make me a wolf or critical of my Father

    • It’s not dictatorship, it’s called inheritance. What if my father owned a cheese shop? Would it be so vile for his sons to help him and support him? I like to think of Abraham & Isaac. Noah & his sons, Jacob & his sons.

      • Comparing my family to sadam and his family isn’t exactly a mild definition

    • Wow, I heard about this comparison between the pastors of my church and those murders in the Middle East and just had to check it out — people just feel they can write any stupid thing about someone they don’t even know and post it on the internet — Wow — unbelievable!

  11. yes bromatt, but braveheart has a good point. you are not selling cheese in a cheese shop, so you can not make that corralation. You are leaders in a church, where you are tying to take control over the people. That control is over peoples minds, and making them submit to your beliefs of what you think is right and wrong. That is very cult like, especially, when you are surrounded by your own brothers and father. Being in charge over someones soul, and controlling them, using “spiritual authority” is quite a bit different than selling cheese in a cheese shop. I’m sorry you can’t understand that distinction, and i am deeply sorry for your poor congregation.

    • No really please don’t feel sorry for us. We have some of the greatest leaders in our church because they’re submitted to God. Our congregation loves our pastors because they care for us. I feel deeply sorry that you can’t understand such a simple concept. Don’t try to speak like a mature Christian when you still speak as a child speaks. Your thought process is obviously still that of a child. (1 Cor 13:11).

    • No, braveheart does not have a good point. Our pastors are not taking control of our minds or making us submit to their beliefs. They are carefully, diligently following the word of God — the Bible. Which is what they teach us to do. They are humble in walking their Christian faith out and we all are free to leave at anytime and go somewhere else if we want to. Jesus regularly had people accusing him of blasphemy and even sorcery — which is what exerting mind control over some else is — so I guess we are on the right track for Jesus said — they’ve done it to me and they will do it to you too.

  12. Bro Matt, Thanks for always speaking the truth even when people don’t want to hear it and even when there is opposition. It amazes me how people get offended at the truth of God’s Word and feel that they have to defend the way they live their lives. People will always have an excuse for the way they live but they will not have an answer on the day of judgment. You have been a great example and role model for my wife and I and I know that I would not be serving God today had it not been for you and your families ministry. Thanks for always being obedient to God’s voice. I stand behind you 100%.

  13. All I know is that if the spiritual authority is biblically correct, then following them is biblically correct. So what is the argument.

    Also, the fruit in my life is righteousness, peace, and joy under submission. Not because I feel good and everything is “going my way,” but with Jesus I am at peace and I trust him, even through my authority in my life. I have checks and balances, my wife, the word and counsel. A lot of people like to trust themselves and say they hear from God. Good luck! I hear from God, yes, but he confirms his Word through my wife and my leaders.

    Yes there has been abuse, but that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t use it. I’m very thankful for the gifts of God, pastors, teachers, preachers, etc. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be saved if it wasn’t for my pastors speaking into my life!

    And by the way, if your selective at what a spiritual leader says into your life, your probably selective in what part of the word of God speaks into your life.

    Lastly, even David when he was going to be King, being chase by the King Saul, knew that authority was placed by God and shouldn’t be messed with. All authority is of God, right – which includes spiritual. I trust Jesus in my life with all authority that he placed over me and I trust Jesus when I am the person placed into authority also.

  14. This is a very interesting conversation and topic seeing as I am going through something regarding this. If someone is truly a Holy Spirit appointed authority it seems that when something comes up that is not regarding doctrine or outright sin then it seems they would not defend their spiritual authority if it is truly from God.

  15. Rick,
    I am deeply sadened by your experience with church leadership. However if you find the time to read the rest of his article you will see that there are abuses in the “church” today and that is why the sheep must be responsible to stay in the “Word” and
    dig for themselves. I pray for restoration of your heart and a place of refuge. There are more good churches than destructive. We all have stories we can share,but get back in the race, and use what you have learned to help others avoid the same pit falls. That’s what I am doing. I’ve been there and am using my experience to shed light to others.

  16. This is rather an interesting topic. Submission is not an easy thing but wise people look out for people they can submit to.God uses it as check and balances.

  17. Here are a few signs and symptoms of a controlling ministry and spiritual abuse, and an overall unhealthy church.

    1. The leadership says things like, don’t fellowship with people that have left our church.

    2. Members are taught that they must submit to the pastors authority.

    3. Any semblance of anything other than total and unquestioning obedience to the desires of the church’s leadership is considered rebellion and insubordination and is simply not tolerated.

    4. Members live under the constant threat of being branded as a “rebel”, openly denounced and shamed from the “bully” pulpit and consequently shunned by members of the church.

    5. An oppressive performance-based approval and promotion system keeps members in constant internal turmoil and fear as they jump through all the hoops the spiritual taskmasters put before them in an attempt to seek their leaders’ approval and favor.

    6. Members are indoctrinated and compelled to accept the leaderships set agenda of the group and given no real say. You are typically made to attend classes to learn the churches rules and stands.

    7) The church as well as the leaderships finances are not made public to the rest of the church.

    8) The church leadership often talks down about other churches.

  18. I read your submission in its entirety & I must say that as I was reading several points touched on some things I’ve been experiencing over the past two years within the church. I actually felt as if I was being “corrected.” I struggle when it comes to submitting… somehow I always managed to feel over used & under appreciated. Your entry just reminded me that to all things God gets the glory, it’s not for me to get any praise in the matter. I often feel judged & ostracized within the church, until the day that I’m called on to minister in some shape or form. Seems everyone flocks to your when the Pastor/Ministers seem to favor you. I want to submit, but somehow I end up feeling used by MAN vs actually being used by God… & Lord knows people have used me up until I had nothing left to give & they continued to live their lives & not looking behind. I stand crrected with the way I’ve been dealing with my struggles within the church body, but I don’t really know how to move past it.

  19. To: hurt but healed,
    Your comments sound all too familiar. Especially when you’re using direct quotes from my pastor. If you’ are who I think you are…..please give it a rest. Your personal crusade of making our church look bad has gotten old.

    There’s one extremely important element you fail to recognize when it comes to the kingdom of God, and it’s painfully obvious in the first couple of lines of your comment. You lack the understanding of relationships. It’s clear that you feel that the pastor should only be a public speaker and a religious figure who must have a “formal theological education and training.”. It’s also clear that you see the church as a place of personal interest and selfish gain. You miss the big (unselfish) picture of relationship.You talk about a “good healthy” church where “the word of God is being taught, and you can grow, and fellowship…,and get the real gospel message”. That is mostly accomplished by good healthy leaders who share a wonderful relationship with their people and members who are committed to a bigger purpose then themselves. Instead of telling someone to grow in their situation and encourage in their faith, you clearly advise them to leave the church and contact you for “prayer”……terrible advice

  20. Hi Matt – I read your article with great interest. I would like to hear your view on a personal matter. Are you available for a short email discussion? I respect your time and won’t use much of it.

  21. Thanks for the insight. It confirms much of what I am just starting to see and understand.

  22. thanks for this message

  23. -just submit… if you don’t like to submit, there is no use for you to disciple… therefore, do not disciple… ha ha ha..
    -submission (Christ Character)… no submission is Satan’s Character… Satan know’s that, that’s why Satan don’t disciple… ha ha ha… Satan would love to Go to heaven, IF THERE IS NO BOWING DOWN to God… he he he…

    -people who truly received new life in Christ submit to authority, because God uses people to transform them…
    -if you submit, your disciples will submit,
    -submission is part of discipleship… BIG PART…
    -learn from the life of david…

  24. -ha ha ha.. Jesus loves us all…
    -wag nang mag away…

  25. Oh how I know so many that need to read this! Thank you for this blog!

  26. It’s amazing how so many people can ignore the unadulterated & raw word of God & come up with so many lame excuses of why they cant or wont submit. I know so called ministers that have never done anything for God & hardly have even won a soul but can stand & try to find fault in others that are doing something because the ones that are doing something have died out to self & have learned submission the way the Bible says.

  27. I am so thankful to have found this article. I am so thankful for the freedom in the truth of God’s infallible word!! Now comes the work to apply it and truly understand the principle of submission.

  28. Great blog post – thanks for the clarity…

  29. I actually find James’ comments most helpful and similar to my observations.

    I know of too many people who got bitter and left – not just church, but a relationship with God altogether.
    Off the top of my head, I can count 8 people – 5 are VERY close friends of mine who were spiritually mature and strong – who were, or going to be, considered for leadership positions in church.

    I’m searching for answers, just to gain insight into this submission issue.
    As I almost fell into this trap myself. After witnessing so many people becoming bitter with God and listening to them and asking questions, I told myself never to let this happen.

    So I mentally prepare a “safety catch” for myself in the event that I run into a similar situation. I just rebel against the leader – no questions asked. (I reasoned that it is better to rebel against that ONE individual than to get so angry with God that I stop talking to Him, because if that leader is wrong, then God also gets the blame through “guilt by association”.)

    I still talk to God and I still pray, unlike my close friends who cannot stand the mere mention of God or Bible verses.

    I went nuts for 2 years when they told me to submit to a particular course of action for my personal life. I let 2 years pass and I got increasingly depressed and unhappy (no joy, no faith, I didn’t enjoy going to church anymore). I knew it was time to effect the safety catch- I just rebelled.

    I’m ok now and I GOT MY PROBLEM THAT BOTHERED ME SOLVED OVERNIGHT!!! ( I got pretty angry that I had to go through 2 years of darkness, but I was happy that I made it out with my relationship with God intact)

    I find James’ post is most helpful in pin-pointing exactly what to look out for.

  30. Dear brothers in Christ

    I am looking forward to the day that Christ is fully formed in everyone of us so that He – the Head can be accurately positioned on a mature body – His church.
    Having read all of the comments I have learned a lot – I also identify with most of the writers. Spiritual abuse is certainly not new to me as I experienced it quite extensively. Our church is called ‘A Household of Faith’ with a spiritual father and mother over spiritual sons. In principle it all sounds good and if you wish – it might even be God’s model. Problem is that certain individuals embrace it to such an extend that they call the pastor – “Dad” and his wife is called “Mom”. It is quite sickening to experience how some ‘sons’ literally get to the extreme where they almost worship the father and the mother of the house. The focus tends to be on ‘The father of the house’ and not so much on God. Even though in principle, the father son model might be right, I am convinced that satan subtly changed it into a religious practice which I refuse to embrace. What I also do not understand is why the ‘father and his family’ get extraordinary treatment. To mention but a few – their cars are parked at the front door of the building, communion is served by a special son on a sliver tray whilst the rest of the household uses the elements at different tables in the building. The ‘father’s’ bible-bag is carried in by someone etc. It might sound if I have an issue with the pastor. Surely it is not the case – in fact I love him dearly. I have an issue with everything that I cannot find in The Bible. 1Cor12 is clear about how the body of Christ should function and that no one member is more important than another. I believe that we should submit to one another (Eph 5:21) and serve one another and that everyone should find their place/function/grace in the body so that the LIFE
    of God can flow through the whole body. Of cause we need the five fold ministry to bring the body to maturity.
    Another thing which actually led me to this blog is ‘submission to spiritual authority’. This morning our pastor (father of the house) spoke on “The Jezebel Spirit’. If you really want to feel condemned – you should actually hear the ‘teaching’. One of the things he mentioned and I quote – ” no wife needs to submit to her husband if the husband does not submit to the spiritual authority which is placed over him” – Col 3:18. Now that is just what some wife’s was waiting for.

    In conclusion:

    Having said all of the above, I might even be wrong and if I am wrong I trust that God will bring clearer understanding, correction and insight through somebody who reads this comment.
    Currently I experience quite a lot of spiritual frustration. My deepest desire however is as Paul said in Eph 3:19 ‘That I may know Him – That I may be fully acquainted with His nature, His character, His work, and with the salvation which He has worked out.

    And finally I would like to quote Ps 133:1-3:

    1 How good and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in unity!
    2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
    running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down upon the collar of his robes.
    3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
    For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

    I would like to encourage everyone who reads this message, Let us not allow anything to bring disunity into the body of Christ. Let us become mature sons of God – a Zion company so that His light may shine in and through us to world out there who so desperately needs the revealing of the sons of God (Rom 8:19).

    Greetings in His lovely name.

  31. Willie;
    thanks for posting. Please don’t be swayed or deceived by people who claim to be Christians and yet openly hate other Christians. I posted this article about 3 years ago and quite frankly haven’t blogged or twittered for a long, long time. I’m not into fighting or arguing so that’s why i don’t respond to every different view from mine.

    In response; there’s a saying that goes like this – “some may abuse it, but we’re still gonna use it.” (example of Jeremiah the prophet) meaning, some people have abused principles like; authority, money, worship, gifts, etc. But that doesn’t make those things that God has ordained null and void. We as Christians need to uphold and live these principles as God intended. I have been raised in church, traveled around, and met thousands of Christians enough to have seen this godly principle both work… and yes, fail.

  32. Discusted Dan;
    I hope that you will be able to respectivly disagree in the future. I pray that your offense doesn’t keep you from the Love of Christ, which teaches us to walk in Love.

  33. Thank you for sharing such insight into the will of God’s call to submit to his directive!

  34. […] might a person’s attitude toward others demonstrating authority reveal character […]

  35. The article seemed to be well balanced. I have been under a bad Pastor but that does not change the word. The only people I see that have a problem with authority are those that refuse to submit to any authority. The guy that keeps attaching you and your church has a problem for sure.Even his email handle is a clue to his attitude. I am a Pastor that has taught wha you teach but as you say it is all about relationship.. The abusive Pastor I was under wanted nothing to do with relationship.When I first was hired I shared all of my past both good and bad. He was amazed he couldn’t understand why I would do that. That should have given me a clue. He has went from one church to another repeating his sin.But he has to give an account for his actons. I left on good terms with him and he would be welcome me today. Each of us has to be accountable forour own actions. When someone attacks those in the body you can see the problem. If you can’t feel comfortable to submit pray then leave.But my spirital father and I had a relationship he could speak into my life but he also gave me permission to speak into his. This is relationship and was when I was just a member in the church. Did I ever speak into his life ? Yes on several times. As I have told my people you can say anything to me as long as it is done with respect. The check and balance is relationship. Thanks for speaking on a subject that is so needed in these last days.

  36. The church I attended for almost 35 years has deteriorated into a controlling church. They meddled in my family, undermined my authority as a parent, and tried to use members of my family to make me do what they wanted. A preacher’s daughter, eight years older than my minor son, tried to seduce him into illicit activities. When I tried to stop it, the leaders fought me. The pastor and his wife told me that I should allow the relationship to continue. But all the while, the pastor was making his own son stay in the men’s Sunday School class to keep him away from another girl who was chasing him.

    The pastor asked me if his son could court my daughter, I agreed and the young man came to our home twice, Later the pastor asked me if my daughter could come to their home. I declined, saying that we see each other at church 3 times a week but that the son was welcome to court her at my home. He then said that his son couldn’t come to my home anymore. When asked why, he claimed it was not retaliation. He then asked if our families could meet together to discuss it and I declined that**

    The next revival, he got a visiting evangelist to rebuke me for my actions from the pulpit. I confronted the evangelist in PRIVATE after the meeting.
    The evangelist tired to deny it but said :he only asked me to pray about your daughter and his son”. The evangelist went straight to the pastor and told him about me confronting him, saying that I had not approved of the courting in the first place; which was not true and I never told him this. The pastor then had his son write my daughter a note, breaking up with her and telling her that it was all because of “your dad”.. My daughter began crying and I drove back to the church to confront the pastor who then stated “OK and I want my whole family in the room”, I agreed.

    In the room, he immediately called the evangelist and put him on speaker phone for everyone to hear, The evangelist accused me of coming to him two other times about something he preached. But one of these was to ask a question about it and had nothing to do with disagreeing with him. The second time wasn’t even about what he had preached at all, it was about something I had been studying in my Bible and wanted to get his thoughts on it. I was shocked that he had used those things against me.
    I regret that I didn’t slow down and ask the evangelist a few questions about the later incident because that would have exposed him in his lie.
    However, I freely and unashamedly admitted before all that I had confronted him about ‘preaching’ on the courting subject. I had gone to this man in private in accordance with Matthew 18, and I don’t see how he had the right to run and tell the pastor anyway. Isn’t that talebearing?

    After this, the pastor’s messages became more angry and accusatory as he preached on things like ‘obey them that rule’ and ‘the scorner’. I sent him an email asking why his children shunned me to which he never responded. So after one of his angry sermons, I confronted him with two witnesses, and again asked him about the shunning. I chose two men who I knew would probably NOT agree with me. He began to accuse and THREATEN me, **Then he denied ever asking that our families meet together to discuss the courting situation. I told him that he would answer to God for lying.

    Since we left the church, he has not called or tried to reconcile with me but still has his son call our home and tries to send messages to my family through my mother, with offers of kindness to them. In conclusion, yes, authority is needful, as is submission, But when some abuse their authority, what;s a man to do?

  37. Bro. Matt, This is awesome! Such truth! Those who oppose this teaching also oppose scripture. This is absolutely how the Lord set up the church. How else will we come into one Mind and one accord? I love how you brought up Hebrews 13:17 If you study this out in the Greek you can not at all disagree with what you have said. 1 cor 11:1 where Paul said follow me as I follow Christ. That’s simple as long as our leaders are following Christ we submit to there authority. Anyway Great post here! Thank you so much. God Bless.

  38. The devil is called the devil because he had a problem submitting to authority that’s Why I am nt surprised to read so many articles of people with problems with authority in their lives. You very correct bro matt. Stay on it and God bless you

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