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The Bible has much to say about exercising discernment, critical thinking, and being on guard against false teaching from false authorities.In the book of Acts, Paul commends the Berean believers because they searched the scriptures diligently to see if what he taught them was true (Acts ).
New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace says that the “consistent pattern in the New Testament is that every church had several elders,” citing, among other passages, Acts ; 15:2, 4; 16:4; , 28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim ; Titus 1:5; James ; 1 Pet 5:1-2, and especially Acts where Paul and Barnabas appointed “elders in every church.” The reason for a plurality of elders in the church is to provide mutual accountability among the leaders in order to prevent a single leader from going astray.
Even the apostles were accountable to other apostles, as is evident when Paul confronted Peter (Gal -14) and when Paul submitted his teaching ministry to the scrutiny of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:-1-2).
Just as a spiritual leader’s competence in life should be obvious to the people around him or her, so too should their godly character be evident to people in different spheres of their life.
Paul lists a number of godly character traits as qualifications for spiritual leaders in the church.
Its force is an ultimatum: ‘Follow these principles and you will discover truth; disregard them and you will wander in the labyrinth of error.’” The New Testament strongly emphasizes truth as a qualification for spiritual leaders (cf.
Acts -31; 1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 4:2-4; Titus 1:9, 10, 14).Spiritual authority requires three things to function in a healthy manner: truth, trustworthiness, and accountability. For example, a prophet who claimed to speak for God in the Old Testament was required to prove his authority by whether or not what he prophesied came true.If it did not, the people were not to listen to him or be afraid of him (Deut. It was not enough for a prophet to claim that he was a prophet and therefore people should follow him.Spiritual authorities are accountable both to God and to people.My former pastor used to say that only God could call a pastor to account.These traits are not optional; they are the standard.Traits required of a person in order to qualify as a spiritual leader include being above reproach, monogamous, temperate, prudent, hospitable, sober, gentle, peaceable, not pugnacious, not greedy, mature in the faith, humble, dignified, truthful (1 Timothy 3:2-8); not self-willed, not quick-tempered, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled (Titus 1:6-9); eager to serve voluntarily and not under compulsion, not lording it over the flock entrusted to their care, and clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:2-5).When I was in a cult I believed that my pastor’s claims to authority obligated me to obey him. Evangelicals can avoid spiritual abuse if leaders recognize their role as servants of the truth and if followers recognize their own responsibility to cultivate critical thinking. In order for someone to claim spiritual authority they must base that claim on veracious authority, i.e., reality according to the true revelation of God. Today, I understand that when I blindly obey someone who claims to have spiritual authority I put myself at risk of spiritual abuse.When someone is moved atop a pyramid, that person no longer has colleagues, only subordinates.Even the frankest and bravest of subordinates do not talk with their boss in the same way that they talk with colleagues who are equals, and normal communication patterns become warped.” Critical thinking guards a Christian from submitting to false spiritual authorities.