[This is a guest post from Dr. Daniel C. Juster. Dr. Juster leads the Tikkun Network of Messianic congregations and has an extensive background in leadership and congregational government.]
In I Samuel 26:9 we read about David’s refusal to take the life of King Saul even though Saul was pursuing David and seeking his death. David had Saul trapped and David responds to Abishai, who had asked permission to kill Saul with one blow:
Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless. As surely as the LORD lives, he said, “the LORD himself will strike him-either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed.
A Dangerous Doctrine
From this text, some leaders have derived a very dangerous doctrine of the spiritual leader. There are several aspects to this doctrine. First, the pastoral leader, or apostle leader over a network of congregations, is understood as having a position like the ancient King of Israel. He is God’s anointed. Therefore he is not to be removed by any process of men, no matter what he does. He is beyond congregational or even network discipline. He is the decision maker. While he may have elders or a board, they are advisors only and all decisions are his to make. Within his sphere he is the final authority or dictator. If he abuses people or they do not like his decisions, they have two choices. They can submit under his leadership and trust the situation to God or they can quietly leave the community. In any case, they are to make no waves or protest in their leaving.
Second, the authority of the pastor or apostle is taught in very absolute terms. Once you know whom God has chosen, it is taught, this is the proper response to leadership. Such a person can be over a local congregation or a movement, but in all cases we are told “Touch not God’s anointed.” This is a dangerous doctrine. Some have, as we say since the cult leader Jim Jones called for mass suicide, drunk the Kool Aid. It is shocking that this is taught in many places around the globe and has even been practiced in the Messianic Jewish world. I believe it is a destructive and devilish doctrine and I believe people should separate from those who teach it. Here are some responses.
New Covenant Congregational Government
First, while anointed leadership is important, the model of government in the New Testament is not the model of a pastor king or an apostle king. There is not one text that supports this. Though I believe in the role of a senior pastor or apostle (or rabbi in Messianic Jewish congregations), that role is to be the leader of a team of elders who together have strategic and decision making responsibility. This is very clear in the book of Acts, where elders are appointed in plurality to lead the congregations planted by Paul. We never see a reference to the head leader. I note as well that Timothy and Titus were apostles who appointed elders. There is simply no evidence of the dictatorial leadership model in the New Testament. Even Yeshua raises his leaders to have a peer relationship with him and he calls them friends.
The Truth About the Authority of the King in the Hebrew Bible
Secondly, this model ignores the other evidence from the Hebrew Bible. The King is not as absolute as the Samuel passage would lead some to believe. Note that in the Hebrew Bible there is a division of powers between the priests, the prophets and the civil rulers. All are accountable to God. For some reason David, as a prophet king, knew that he was not to take Saul’s life, but this does not hold in all cases. The prophet Elisha anoints Jehu specifically to take the lives of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah. He does so with God’s blessing (II Kings 9:6-10). In addition, the prophets of Israel challenged various kings in ways that really undercut what they wanted to do. So threatening were the prophets at times that they were killed, jailed and put in pits as was Jeremiah in his last years of ministry. They certainly were not giving greater standing to the kings they challenged. However, the “Touch not God’s anointed” teaching asserts that the pastor or apostle is not to be challenged. So if such a pastor sins, lies, abuses people, or commits sexual immorality there is no recourse. And some of these leaders can be so vicious that people shy away from any righteous challenge on that basis.
The Failure of the “Touch Not” Model to Understand Healthy Community
One of the most troubling aspects of this teaching is its failure to understand the nature of New Covenant community building. It is our call as leaders to build the people together into a close knit community. I know that this goes against the grain of today’s “churchianity” where the essence of church is the religious event. But the central idea of the New Covenant Scriptures is a discipling covenant community that builds lasting relationships. If a leader falls and even needs to be removed, that community should be able to survive his fall since the people have been built together. Any person should be able to initiate a process of correction for any person including a leader, for as Matthew 18 says, “If your brother sins,” the leader is first a brother who is a humble servant and anyone can be part of correction. The value of the community is a reason why Tikkun congregations have input to and finally approve the annual budget, affirm the call of elders and must affirm all major directional decisions from elders. The false doctrine makes the leader the owner of the community instead of the people, and thus people are required to quietly leave and lose community for the sake of the untouchable leader.
The Lessons of Church History
After the Protestant Church was birthed in the Reformation, new patterns of leadership developed in the Protestant denominations. They knew the corruption of the leadership styles of royalty in those days in the Catholic Church and sought to have checks and balances established as foundational in church government. Tikkun seeks to learn from history and to embrace such checks and balances in its government, both in the local congregation and the network, while at the same time allowing real anointed leaders to lead and flourish without undue restriction as can be seen in some forms of government.
In my leadership in the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, I also sought and I think succeeded, in establishing such checks and balances. We have added to the wisdom of church history, the role of apostles and prophets (and five fold ministry) in the government of our congregations, but our government is still basically through accountable elders with checks and balances. There is accountability to the congregation and to the network leaders at the network level. Sadly, most believers seek to simply attend where they have a good experience and a good program. I think this is a bad mistake and that the issue of government should be essential in choosing a congregation.
I know that some in the New Apostolic movement are teaching the royal model of the dictator apostle as if it was the Biblical model. I know there are patterns in ultra-Orthodox Judaism that teach a Jewish parallel to this where all submit to their head rabbi in the dynastic style in ultra-orthodox life. This is cultic in both regards and a terrible mistake. It has destroyed many and has led to financial abuse, sexual abuse, personal abuse in how people are treated and to other types of injustice.
So let us be done with this wicked doctrine. It is inspired from below. May God provide strong leaders