Martin Luther posted a list of 95 discussion points on the Wittenberg church door for a shocked town to read, touching off the Protestant Reformation that transformed European civilization. Luther’s main thrust was to remove obstacles to the free flow of God’s grace, using Scripture and faith to open heaven’s floodgates.
Five centuries later, some pastors and denominational leaders, especially in older churches, put man-made policies first, thereby failing to let God’s people obey all of Jesus’ commands. This failure disallows thousands of new churches and cell groups around the world the joy of baptizing or celebrating Communion. Even though new, gifted leaders, who are not ordained according to denominational by-laws, meet all biblical requisites to shepherd God’s people, older leaders often keep them from doing so freely.
Church planters in pioneer fields consistently face this blockage of God’s grace. Among the many godly clergy, there is a selfish elite, jealous of its monopoly of authority to dispense God’s grace in the sacraments. They force churches to disobey our Lord Jesus Christ, thereby discouraging thousands of godly lay leaders who meet all of God’s requirements for pastoring. Can we all speak frankly and honestly about this? Let us call the practice exactly what it is: to block the flow of God’s grace knowingly is a form of selfish, apostate unbelief.
Ordination by itself is not the problem, for it is biblical; shepherding elders are to lay hands on new pastors and commission them. The evil comes when man-made requirements for ordination replace those from the New Testament. Every congregation has the right to define its requirements for naming shepherds. Jesus said that when even two or three believers agree on something on earth in His name, His Father binds it in heaven. However, this binding applies only to that congregation. What God binds for one church does not govern any other church. Ignoring this fact consistently causes oceans of divisive ill will. For example, a highly educated congregation might require a leader to hold academic credentials, but it would be simply wicked to force its missionaries working among illiterates to impose those same requirements.
Wise church planters are like good plumbers, unstopping clogged conduits to let God’s grace flow freely. Blocked grace keeps churches failing to multiply in the normal, New Testament way. Let us liberate those who suffer under abusive ecclesial control. In much of Asia, Africa and Latin America, new believers, many of whom remain poor and poorly educated, learn they have authority to bind evil spirits and to deliver one another from disease and poverty; many do so, and they empower other to do likewise. However, traditional leaders often deny them this right of binding and loosing, withholding from the poor their free access to heaven’s throne. Because of this, the worldwide church-planting movement is not spreading as rapidly as it could. In order to regain momentum, workers must alert believers to their need for a massive shift away from men’s rules to those of Christ and His apostles. Let us pray and act.
To free up new workers to multiply churches, many pastors switch from a common, but restrictive “spider web” model to a New Testament model. The spider web enables an influential pastor to start ‘satellite’ cells or congregations and put an ‘assistant’ in charge of each one, while retaining for himself sole rights to baptize and serve the Lord’s Supper. Reproduction stops when he grows too busy to start and to serve more groups. When he retires, the web wastes away.
Spider web leadership
Avoid impeding the flow of God’s grace that results from creating and enforcing clerical privileges. This has stagnated God’s work in almost every nation.
The normal, New Testament way to multiply is continually to raise up new generations of leaders to serve new churches of new believers, as well as cell groups that are tiny churches within larger ones, empowering them to lead God’s people in obeying Jesus’ commands before all else.
New Testament leadership
God gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). Where church leaders freely obey Jesus’ commands and empower others to do so, the Holy Spirit saves sinners, strengthens disciples, calls new leaders, starts new churches and gives biblical understanding.
Let those of us who are guilty repent! We who give ourselves to serve Christ’s Church remain the greatest obstacle to multiplying God’s Church throughout the nations. Instead, let us become its greatest asset.