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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 one’s teachers.

This page briefly discusses several important biblical principles of leadership as they relate to the Family.

 

Submission

It is true that the Bible encourages believers to submit themselves to their leaders in the faith.

Heb 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

1 Cor 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.

Eph 5:21 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.

Col 1:18 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 supremacy. NIV

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.

1 Peter 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.

Heb 13:7-9

7 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.

NASB

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.

Matt 24:4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. NASB.

Acts 20:30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. NASB

Rom 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

Eph 4:14 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

Gal 1:9 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

Eph 5:6 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.

Mark 10:42-45

42 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.”

NASB

See also Matthew 20:25-28, Luke 22:24-27.

1 Peter 5:2-3

2 Be 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.

NIV

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 trusting membership.

 

In summary

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 purpose.”

 

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: more resources

Bible.org

Ray Stedman

Christianity Today – Leadership

Building Church Leaders

Churchleadership.org

Churchleaders.com

Churchleadership.com

Small Church Leadership Network

 

 

References

The Family's governing charter may be found here

 

 

 

 

 

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