Stanley L. Morris

fter Zebedee's wife and her two sons (James and John) tried to "get the jump on" the other apostles by asking for the right and left side of Jesus' coming throne, Jesus gathered the indignant group of his disciples together and taught them a vital lesson: "You know that the rulers of the world lord it over their people. 'Important' men use their 'authority' over them, but YOU MUST NOT THINK THAT WAY. Instead, if one of you wants to be great, that person should be your servant [diakonos]" (SEB, Matt. 20:25, 26). In other words, in this material world, raw power is the norm if you want to "get to the top." The organizing principle is hierarchical, not fraternal (Matt. 23:8-10).

The Roman centurion in Matt. 8:5-13 had a clear understanding of how that type of authority (exousia) works. It is clearly linked to physical force ultimately. He sensed that Jesus possessed even greater authority. Jesus certainly is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16). Though Jesus has ALL authority (exousia) (Matt. 28:18), he came to this earth to show that the true nature of power is NOT political but spiritual, i.e. God ruling in the hearts of His faithful followers (John 18:36).

When Jesus said, "It must not be so among YOU" (plural), I assume that he was talking about all of his followers then, not merely his apostles. If that is true, I think it's safe to say that Jesus intended for his inverted orientation to apply to ALL his followers today as well. The question is: Is it SO among us now, or not? If we ARE imitating the worldly model in our churches, how and when did that happen? It's hard to say, but I believe that this state of affairs DOES exist among us! And, I think that this condition has become much more pronounced in the last two decades. More importantly, WHY do we allow it to continue? How bad does it have to get before somebody speaks out and does something about it?


Perhaps we can discern what we SHOULD be by observing what the earliest Christians believed and practiced. What were they doing right? We need to find the answer to that question and imitate THAT pattern, not the worldly pattern of today.

They simply believed what Jesus himself said and did. The word diakonos is used of domestic servants in John 2:5,9. (That was the category of persons that Jesus was talking about in Matt. 20:26.) They were accustomed to washing other people's feet. So, Jesus demonstrated the kind of service that we should perform for others by washing his disciples' feet (John 13:1-17). Phil. 2:3-11 tells us all about the example of Christ, the consummate servant.

Once, when settling an argument among the apostles about which one of them was the 'most important,' Jesus took a small child to himself and said, "The one who is the most humble among you is the most important person" (SEB, Luke 9:46-48). How we all need to learn this basic lesson! Later, Jesus praised God, saying, "You have hidden these teaching from the 'wise' and 'intelligent' people yet You reveal Your teachings to little children" (SEB, Luke 10:21 ). We need to feel the way the tax collector felt when he confessed, "O God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner!" (SEB, Luke 18:13). Even when we have done everything we've been told to do, we should still say: "We are not good slaves; we have only done our duty and nothing more!" (SEB, Luke 17:10). There are no class distinctions in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Rich and poor alike are equal in the body of Christ (James 1:9,10). "God is against those who are proud, but He gives help to humble people" (SEB, Prov. 3:34).

Paul had to learn these things the hard way: He could only brag about how weak he was (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:5). The Lord said to him, "Power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9b). So, Paul said, "1 will be very happy to brag about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ will rest upon me. This is why, for Christ, I can take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and disasters. Because when I am weak, that's when I am really strong!" (SEB, 2 Cor. 12:9c-10).

Therefore, Paul wrote these words: "Don't think you are better than you really are. Instead, be modest in the way you think ... Have the same kind of love for one another which brothers have. Give each other more honor than you do yourselves ... Get along with one another. Mix with humble people; don't try to be clever. Don't think you are 'wise' " (SEB, Rom. 12:3b, 10, 16). "God chose things which seem meaningless to people in the world. Why? To make wise men ashamed. God chose things which seem weak to the world to make strong people humble. God chose things which the world thinks are not important, but He destroyed things which they think are important" (SEB, 1 Cor. 1:27, 28). We should

NOT try to follow "the world's standards" (1 Cor. 3:18). Paul continued: "A person should not compare himself with someone else. Each person should judge his own actions. Then he may take pride in what he himself has done. Each person must shoulder his own responsibility" (SEB, Gal. 6:4, 5).


Suffice it to say that the first Christians mainly believed one thing JESUS IS LORD (cf. Acts 2:36; 10:36; 1 Cor. 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:5; Phil. 2:11 et al.). As Lord, he is the ONLY one that they served. Was Jesus the Lord (kurios) or was Caesar the Lord? That was the litmus test used by the Romans in later persecutions to determine who was loyal to the emperor and who was truly a Christian. Some recanted, but most were willing to die rather than to utter "Caesar is Lord."

So, Jesus is the ONLY head of the ekklesia, the body (soma) of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18, 24). Another synonym for ekklesia is the oikotheou (family of God), see 1 Tim. 3:15. Notice how these key Greek words are PEOPLE-oriented, not denoting an impersonal institution, as the English word "church" does. This is how one can properly interpret Matt. 16:18.


The greatest heresy is when someone tries to interpose himself, themselves, or someone else BETWEEN you and your only Lord, Jesus Christ (e.g. a pope, a priest, a preacher, a Boston COC "discipler," an "eldership," or the virgin Mary, etc.). Jesus is the ONLY one between you and your God (1 Tim. 2:5)! God has no grandchildren. Believers are all supposed to be His first-generation sons and daughters, directly-related to God (John 1:11-13; 3:3, 5; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 4:7; 5:1,4).

Each of us (the branches) must cling tightly to our Savior (the true vine, John 15:1-10), and not permit anyone to lead us astray (cf. Col. 2:6-8). Jesus is our ONLY true (good) Shepherd (John 10:11,14); Rev. 7:17); the Ruling Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4); the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20). We must not listen to any single human being or any group of people who claims to have "authority" over us! We obey Christ, not the "Church of Christ" or any other man-made denomination (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 6:46). Never follow followers. Follow ONLY Jesus!

True "elders" (older leading males) are also supposed to be followers of Christ, not "lords" (Matt. 20:25). They should lead by example, not by the whip. There is a vast difference between "THE LORD" and "TO lord" (i.e. lording it over, 1 Pet. 5:3). There are lots of abuses, then and now. As long as these men realize that they are the same species as the flock and they too are part of the flock of God, everything is O.K. But when they forget that fact and start to view themselves as being ABOVE other brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, that moment is precisely when the problem begins! This is WHEN they stop being fellow-servants and try to become lords!!

Usually, in church circles, "authority" is perceived to mean CONTROL, particularly of territorial domains (whether physical or spiritual). Thus begins earthly, materialistic struggles to gain the upper hand (to do things "decently and in order"). Since we have fallen into the real estate trap in modern times, Christians often end up squabbling over the control of church buildings, directly or indirectly. I know of one example where some folks built another church building less than 25 yards away, out of spite! I wonder how that looks to outsiders in the community? How foolish! What a pair of monuments to leave for the next generation! What a waste of good money!

Speaking of money, that's where many "elderships" think the real power is. They believe that if they can control all access to the church treasury, then they've got the balance of power firmly in their hands, if it ever comes to a showdown. They can hire and fire any hireling preacher at will, regardless of whether he is teaching the truth or not. Some of them don't feel that they have to give an account to the members who gave the money in the first place (e.g. the Sixth and Izard Street Church of Christ, Little Rock, Ark.). It's endowment city! No strings attached! This official Board of D rectors never gets bored counting the "profits" of this "non-profit" institution. They don't even have to pay taxes to the I.R.S. (Talk about havin' your cake and eatin' it too!) Many religious institutions can operate very competitive religious businesses and never worry about "losses." All that matters, they say, is that the "Lord's Church" gets the "credit." However, I think you ought to look at what Jesus had to say to some who were in a similar "position" (cf. Matt. 23:16-22 and Mark 7:6-13).


I ask you, is THIS what Jesus had in mind for us in Matt. 20:26? No, no, a thousand times no! Jesus wants us to be diakonoi ("waiters"; spiritual "bus boys"). Unfortunately, we have been duped by Satan once again. We've fallen into his clever trap.

John 8:31, 32 says, "...If you stay with my teaching, you are TRULY my followers. You will find out THE TRUTH, and THE TRUTH will set you free." The "truth" that Jesus was referring to here was the opposite of the entire religious system of his day. He urged people to draw their own conclusions about their so-called religious "leaders" who were guiding them down the path toward spiritual destruction. Today, as well as then, each truth-seeker, after carefully weighing the whole situation, must break free from all man-made traditions and follow ONLY what Jesus and his designated apostles have said. The apostles seemed to have possessed DELEGATED authority (Acts 3:12; 5:40; 9:27; 2 Cor. 10:8-10; 12:12), but does any human being today have that kind of authority? Does any preacher? Any "eldership"? No! Jesus is the only one with God's authority! And, he does not share it with anyone on earth today.

The COC's clergy-oligarchy system is nothing short of bondage! This unwarranted, unholy, preacher-eldership alliance has a virtual choke-hold on the minds of so many well-intentioned Christians!

When the chief priests and scribes came to Jesus, while he was teaching in the temple courtyard (Matt. 21:23-27), they got right to the point: "What sort of authority do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?" THAT is always the CENTRAL issue! We should ask the same questions of all religious "leaders" today. Unless they can cite an authoritative book, chapter, and verse for everything they are doing (Col. 3:17) in following only Jesus (who has ALL authority, Matt. 28:18), we should expose them for what they are - imposters (Titus 1:10, 11). We should shake off the dust of our feet and move on!