Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious group variously
known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children of God,” or the
“Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian perspective.
Obedience to Leadership
Churches, as in secular
organisations, operate under a great variety of management structures,
ranging from loose, ‘bottom-up’, rank-and-file-directed models to more
authoritarian, ‘top-down’ models which implement well-structured chains
of command. Some churches allow their leadership to revolve around an
individual while others believe that a plurality of leadership better
conforms to the New Testament directives.
Since its beginnings in the late
1960s, the Family has undergone a number of organisational changes and
leadership restructurings, often in response to crises of various kinds.
In fact, the Family of today bears little resemblance to the group from
which it grew decades ago, although there remain several key
organisational issues that ought to be discussed.
The Family has consistently
functioned under an autocratic, ‘top-down’ management model, in which
leadership authority is firmly held by those at the top, with limited
choice given to rank and file members. It is true that there have been
concerted efforts made by Family leadership, beginning with the
introduction of the Charter in 1995, to hand more control to
Family members at the ‘Home’ level. These changes allowed Family members
a certain amount of long-overdue self-determination, and began a gradual
process of reform. However, it also may be said that many of the changes
that were made relate to freedoms that should never have been withheld
in the first place, or are attempts to clarify the limitations of
authority in order to prevent the abuses of power that had not
infrequently occurred in the Family. The changes do not alter the
autocratic nature of Family governance.
Therefore, organisational changes
notwithstanding, the Family retains what it would term a spiritual chain
of command, through which overall direction and leadership is supposedly
delivered to Family members from God via top leadership. In other words,
the top Family leaders claim that God tells them what ordinary Family
members need to know. Official Family publications often contain
material that is claimed to be the words of Jesus, received in
‘prophecy’, which Family members are encouraged to study and obey. The
top leaders – at the time of writing being Zerby/Maria and Peter
Amsterdam – have power to judge doctrine, determine the values that will
be held by rank-and-file members, arrange and rearrange the Family’s
organisational structure, appoint and remove leaders and so on. In
short, they hold absolute power over what happens within the Family as a
whole, over what Family members hold as personal values and crucially,
over matters of faith. Family documents state that the directors of the
Family International have the power to “judge matters of Family
International doctrine” (1).
The danger that lies in such power
cannot be overstated. In fact, the organisational and structural changes
that have been made with the purpose of granting a certain amount of
self-determination to Family members are of little consequence when one
realises that Family members’ core values and belief system are actually
determined by one or two people. The error here is huge. Matters of
doctrine are, of course, determined by that which is recorded in the
Bible. No Christian may ever take from another the role of judging right
and wrong. Yet this is precisely what has been done in the Family.
Biblical principles are reinterpreted so as to conform with the belief
system that is peculiar to the Family, and individual Family members do
not have the right to question these matters of faith. If, for example,
a Family member studies the numerous scriptures in the Bible that relate
to sexual activity and realises that the plain meaning of these texts is
that all sexual activity outside of marriage is sin, this person is now
faced with a choice: he or she will have to either renounce this belief
in favour of the Family’s teachings, or leave.
There should be no question about
it: when faced with a choice to accept biblical truth or the teachings
of men, one must never relinquish these matters to one’s leadership.
Obedience to God always supersedes submission to human leaders. Biblical
truth is clear enough that each and every believer is responsible to God
for what he or she does. That is, Family members are responsible before
God to study the pages of the Bible for themselves in order to “judge
matters of doctrine”. Sin may never be excused by shifting the blame to
This page briefly discusses several
important biblical principles of leadership as they relate to the
It is true that the Bible encourages
believers to submit themselves to their leaders in the faith.
13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over
your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy
and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. NASB
16:15-16 I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to
everyone who joins in the work, and labours at it. NIV
However, it is also true that these
exhortations are by no means presented as absolute principles. That is,
in the Bible, church leaders are not given absolute power and obedience
to Christian leaders does not take precedence over obedience to God.
In fact, all Christians are exhorted
to submit to each other.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. NIV
This mutual submission is based on
the principle of the church as the body of Christ, who is the head.
Submission and obedience are ultimately owed to Christ.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the
firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the
Christians therefore submit to each
other as fellow members of the body of Christ. Submission to a Christian
leader is not based on his or her authority – for authority
belongs to Christ – but on the position or role that he or
she has been given. The book of Ephesians shows that all relationships
among believers are to be based on the headship and ultimate authority
of Christ, including husbands and wives, parents and children, employers
and employees and so on (see Ephesians 5:21-6:9).
Christians are also told to submit
to secular government.
2:13-14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human
institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors
as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those
who do right. NASB
Ultimate authority always belongs to
God, yet we are to submit ourselves to other people according to the
various positions we and they have been given. This submission is
mutual, as befitting those who are all members of Christ’s body, and it
is based on role or function, not spiritual authority.
Examining Christian leaders
The Bible is also clear that those
who teach or lead the church are accountable to their congregations.
That is, it is the responsibility of every believer to carefully measure
the things their teachers and leaders say, and weigh them up against the
standard of the Gospel. Christians are to submit and obey their leaders,
but that submission and obedience does not extend to allowing them to
spread unbiblical teachings or lead people astray.
In fact, only a few verses before he
told his readers to “obey your leaders and submit to them”, the author
of the book of Hebrews said that Christians were to watch their leaders
closely. They were to imitate their faith, but they were also to be on
the look out for spurious teachings, which were not to be obeyed.
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and
considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus
Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried
away by varied and strange teachings.
In verses 8 and 9, the author
reminds us that the Gospel is constant and unchangeable, for it proceeds
from the unchangeable God. In other words, Christians should be
especially wary of strange new teachings.
The warning to examine the things
that church leaders teach occurs repeatedly in the New Testament.
24:4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one
misleads you. NASB.
20:30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse
things, to draw away the disciples after them. NASB
16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause
dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned,
and turn away from them. NASB
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by
waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of
men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; NASB
As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to
you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! NASB
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the
wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. NASB
Clearly, submission and obedience to
leadership does not mean blindly accepting that everything that they say
is true. Family members, therefore, are under biblical obligation to
examine Family doctrines and reject those things which are in error.
Abuse of power
The Bible warns that those with
positions of authority in the church are not to abuse their privilege by
taking too much power to themselves.
Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who
are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their
great men exercise authority over them. 43 “But it is not this way
among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your
servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of
all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to
serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28, Luke 22:24-27.
shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers —
not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to
be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over
those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Those who are ‘shepherds’ of God’s
flock do not have blanket authority to do with them as they will. They
are, first and foremost, servants of the church, not masters.
Family leadership, entrenched within its autocratic structure, naturally
lends itself to abuse of power. It is the viewpoint of the authors of
this website that the most dangerous abuse of power that occurs in the
Family is the dissemination of unbiblical teachings to an overly
True Christians certainly should
submit to each other, but the obedience expected of Family members goes
well beyond biblical principles. The autocratic structure of the Family
tends to promote individuals who take power to themselves justifying
these excesses through scriptures taken out of context.
The founder of the Family demanded
submission and obedience, to the point that his unbiblical teachings
were accepted without question. All Family members, past and present,
are under biblical obligation to examine Family doctrines against the
light of the Bible. Those teachings that do not conform to biblical
truth are to be rejected, along with the leaders who teach such things.
Articles on Christian leadership
Following are a number of links to
articles on external sites giving much helpful information on Christian
principles of leadership.
The New Testament Church—Its Leadership
Christ-centred church leadership.
“The major question for us, then, is ‘How is the Headship of Christ over
His church practiced?’ Out of this great truth that Christ is the Head
of the church, I see at least two foundational and fundamental
operational principles for the church. These two principles dictate to a
large degree a kind of church government which does not square with what
is being done by the world or by most churches. (1) Any form of church
government which gives pre-eminence to men rather than to our Lord is
unbiblical. (2) The Headship of Christ is best reflected in the rule of
a plurality of elders.”
Effective Leadership in the Church
In-depth study on leadership from
the Christian Reformed Church in North America. “Effective Christian
leadership is the process of helping a congregation embody in its
corporate life the practices that shape vital Christian life, community,
and witness in ways that are faithful to Jesus Christ and the gospel and
appropriate to the particular congregation’s setting, resources, and
A Pastor’s Authority
“Jesus indicates that an entirely
different system of government than that employed by the world should
prevail among Christians. Authority among Christians is not derived from
the same source as worldly authority, nor is it to be exercised in the
same manner. The world's view of authority places men over one another,
as in a military command structure, a business executive hierarchy, or a
governmental system. This is as it should be. Urged by the
competitiveness created by the Fall, and faced with the rebelliousness
and ruthlessness of sinful human nature, the world could not function
without the use of command structures and executive decision. But as
Jesus carefully stated, ‘...it shall not be so among you.’ Disciples are
always in a different relationship to one another than worldlings are.
Christians are brothers and sisters, children of one Father, and members
one of another. Jesus put it clearly in Matthew 23:8, ‘One is your
Master, and all you are brethren.’”
Leadership in the Church - An Examination of Eight Words
“The New Testament mentions a wide
variety of leaders in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists,
pastors, teachers, bishops, elders and deacons. What are these offices?
Are they commanded for the church today?”
Leadership in the Church
A comparison of secular and
Christian management styles.
Leadership, Servanthood, and Submission
On men leading women.
Principles of Christian leadership:
Christianity Today – Leadership
Building Church Leaders
Small Church Leadership Network
The Family's governing charter may be found
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