Law and Religion – Reclaimed!
by Gerald R. Thompson
I. A VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATION
The invisible Church, that is, the universal body of Christ, is truly a wonderful splendor. It spans across all nations and ages, incorporating believers from all of history. It is the creation of God, being led directly by Christ himself, its head, by divine covenant. It is spiritual, not physical. You cannot become a member, except by a second birth. It is a kingdom not of this world. It is sacred, and holy. In short, it is an organization which cannot be ruled by men, and most especially, it cannot be governed or regulated by civil government.
Almost every Christian church ever formed would have you believe it is a part of the invisible Church, thereby making it sacred, holy, untouchable, and divine. All such claims are inherently false.
Every Christian church – and every other religious organization regardless of faith – is a voluntary association. It is created by men, not God, and therefore physical, not spiritual. It is governed by human agreement, not divine covenant. You join it voluntarily, you aren’t born into it. And most importantly, it is ruled by men – men who are not divinely appointed, but are selected by men. In short, every church that ever was, is, or will be, is a voluntary association.
II. NO TOP-DOWN AUTHORITY
God has an absolute right to rule over man. God has chosen to rule man by covenant. Man has no choice but to rule by covenant. Every covenant pertaining to the visible church is a covenant between men, not between God and man. The organization of the visible church is not via a divine covenant. No religious organization (ecclesiastical authority) derives its authority directly from God. Just as there is no divine right to rule in the civil sphere, there is no divine right to rule in the visible church.
Church governments are not endowed or imposed by God. Just as with civil governments, God has not instituted any specific form or identity of religious organizations. No visible church institution has been instituted by God. The people (church members) have an unalienable right to institute their own church government. Church leaders (laity or clergy) may propose a form of church government, but have no authority to adopt it apart from the consent of the members.
III. AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CHURCH
Is my pastor more a member of the body of Christ than I am, yes or no? Are any members of the body of Christ more important than other members, yes or no? Is the Great Commission more applicable to my pastor than it is to me, yes or no? Does the Great Commission grant different levels of authority to different members of the body of Christ, yes or no?
The rule is this: There is an equality of authority within the members of any church body.
There is a clear division in the Bible between those offices which God appoints, and those which men appoint. But the divinely appointed offices carry no authority to rule over men. Authority to rule comes from the people, not from God.
If I am called to be an apostle, does it give me a church to plant, the right to conscript members, or any authority over another person? If I am called to be a prophet, does it give me an exclusive channel to the mouth of God, the right to punish anyone for disobedience, or any authority over another person? If I am called to be an evangelist, does it give me the power to save anyone, the right to force anyone to listen to me, or any authority over another person? If I am called to be a teacher, does it give me a classroom or a forum, the right to compel attendance by students, or any authority over another person?
Why, then, is the office of pastor assumed to include authority over church members? If a person is called to be a pastor, does he have power over the lives of his flock, the right to discipline another Christian, or any authority over another person? If a person is called to be a pastor, all he has the right to do is to seek employment. And unless I and my fellow members give it to him, he has no authority over us whatsoever, because we are the principal, and the pastor is our agent. He is there to do our bidding (hence his employment) – we are not there to do his bidding. And he brings no authority straight from God when he enters our employ.