To whom am I accountable?
Depending upon our various spheres of religious influence, many would agree that some degree of accountability is necessary for Christians while others would reject this altogether. The latter are generally those who think that only God can adequately judge them when that time comes. Is there a truth in the Scriptures that adequately addresses this issue of "being accountable?"
A good starting point would be to define what we mean by accountability? By sheer definition, one who is accountable is one who must give an account and this generally deals with record keeping of some sort. This definition obviously also deals with the necessity of being responsible for those things and or people who are given us to care for. When one is accountable they must render or give an account for their responsibilities, they must give an answer to those who appointed them as stewards of a particular trust.
I'd like you to consider for a moment the value you place upon the necessity of mankind being accountable for his or her actions. Is this really all that important? Is there more to being accountable than knowing one day I will answer for the things I've done in the body, whether good or bad?
I'd like you to consider a few different scenarios. Consider to whom and to what degree you would consider these individuals to be accountable? If it helps, place yourself in each scenario and ask yourself this very question, "To whom am I accountable, or to whom must I answer?"
- A single woman sits upon her living room couch thinking over what she'll have for dinner. To whom is she accountable?
- A man walks to work at a local fast food restaurant. He's recently been hired to prepare the food you are about to purchase. To whom is he accountable?
- Another young man is making his rounds in the neighborhood delivering the morning paper. To whom is he accountable?
- A local cable company president is preparing to upgrade the companies computer software that affects his companies customers? To whom is he accountable?
It's quite obvious through this little illustration that all of us are accountable to someone. Although some people are required to give an account or a report of their actions, everyone is responsible to other people in one degree or another, and that is the point I'm trying to make here. It is true that all of us are accountable, it is not true that we're all responsible for the same things. We are primarily responsible for those things that have been entrusted to us, whether that includes making a personal decision, preparing a meal for someone, delivering a service or running a corporate enterprise. As you can see from the examples above or within your own life, one thing is evident- our sphere of influence has a direct bearing upon those to whom we are accountable.
The greater our sphere of influence, the greater our responsibility, and the necessity of being accountable.
Think about what happens when the woman preparing her dinner forgoes that and eats junk food instead. If that practice is continued it will likely affect her weight ad her health. She is ultimately accountable to God for her own decisions although those decisions could also affect others if this behavior is prolonged.
The recently hired attendant is learning to perform his job as instructed. He is being paid to follow the exact procedures he's been taught in order to prepare your order. Because he works there, he has become a representative of that business, not only in name but also through his actions. Working there demands that he carry out the duties and responsibilities of that particular restaurant. That includes living up to the standard of the business itself. This individual is not merely accountable to his superior but also to you as a patron of the establishment where he works.
Our young delivery boy is also a representative of the business that hired him. Every day the local paper expects him to perform his timely duties. He must deliver each patrons paper by a certain time and that whether rain or shine. He is not merely responsible to deliver a timely paper to numerous customers regularly, but to give an account of the monies collected as well. He is responsible and therefore accountable to his boss as well as each individual to whom he delivers a paper and collects from.
Our local cable company president is also accountable. As the top man in the business, he is not merely responsible for his own actions but also for the actions of others. This includes hundreds if not thousands of employees and customers, not to mention potential stockholders. He is directly responsible for everyone in the chain of command and everyone they influence as well. His degree of accountability extends far beyond what he alone can see and control, it extends to wherever and to whomever his cable company might intersect.
A REFUSAL OR FAILURE TO BE ACCOUNTABLE
With the exeption of the single woman above, what happens when any of the other individuals above refuse to be accountable? What happens if they refuse to answer to their superiors when questioned or refuse to perform their responsibilities? What happens when the people or businesses you interact with fail to perform their promises to you? Do you just assume nobody's perfect or do you immediately get to the root of the problem by emailing people and making phone calls?
When problems occur in life, we all want to know who is responsible. Human nature naturally wants to blame something or someone when we are being affected adversely. We have certain expectations that we want met and when that fails to happen heads roll. We might forgive a cold batch of fries, a late newspaper or even a storm knocking out the cable. But a failure to offer an adequate explanation and resolution- their done, or so we say and off to the next restaurant, service or company we go!
HUMAN NATURE NECESSITATES BEING ACCOUNTABLE
"Every mans ways is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts" [Proverbs 21:2]
The above verse isn't some great revealation now is it? We all think we're right about a whole host of things do we not? But I've got a revelation for you:
Desiring to be right is not a Christian virtue, living righteously is.
And yes, we're getting to that part. For you see, human nature doesn't naturally do what is right. Do we naturally forgive our enemies, esteem others as more important than ourselves and love our enemies? Of course not, and that's why we need the benefit that's derived from being accountable to others. It prods individuals with a human nature to do what is right, even when we would often do otherwise.
I suppose it is time to shift this all into a Christian context, for their are some noticeable differences between sinful men's need to be accountable and God's equivalent of be subject one to another. Just because the word accountability is not literally in the Bible is no excuse for refusing to be subject one to another as God commands.
MANDATED SECULAR AUTHORITIES
Everywhere we look, we witness and experience the authority of this world and its institutions. Whether that authority stems from a simple business, the military or any particular organization, each operates with a top down hierarchy from which various individuls exercise authority. This authority is exercised from both a "position" an individual possesses and a "title" for which they are known by. The greater the position and title the more authority that individual has "over" others. We only have to open our eyes to see the above as true. We live within this framework of authority every day of our lives.
AUTHORITY OVER CHRISTIANS?
Although Jesus never questioned the authority of this world's institutions and actually tells us to obey them [Romans 13:1][1 Peter 2:13], He also made plain that the authority system of this world (one of hierarchy) was not to be permitted among His children or within His Ekklesia:
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whomever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as 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]
What Jesus is condemning here is not merely some individual's desiring to exercise authority over others but the very spirit of hierarchy itself. The ekklesia at Ephesus was commended for hating the "deeds of the Nicolations" which was the sin of ruling over the people. Sadly, not only have Christians neglected to take Jesus' command above seriously, but they have adopted this worlds system of authority entirely for what they call "Church" today. This is how and why false doctrines such as "A Covering" (the false need to have some believers or ministry over others for protection etc) have originated.
New Testament Christianity does not promote a religious hierarchy of any kind and in fact condemns one. In any place where believers gather together under a so-called leader or leaders who possess a special "religious positionn" and or a "spiritual title" that individual is out of harmony with both the direction of the Holy Spirit and the cross of Christ. Yes, that includes Catholic Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Protestant Senior Pastors, Associtae Pastors, Youth Pastors or Singles Pastors etc. Was Jesus joking when He said;
"But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" [Matthew 23:8-12]
Unless one has been born deaf and blind, the meaning above is plain. Those who take religious titles unto themselves regardless of whether that includes those above or others such as "Pastor" or "Reverend" or any other name are exalting themselves. This would also include "Elder" if such elders hold a religious position within any local ekklesia. Jesus didn't say that some believers don't teach, lead or even act as our fathers in the faith. All of these things are good and even necessary at times. He is condemning anything that detracts from the equality that all brothers have in Christ, namely the very titles and positions that religious men take unto themselves. These titles and positions create the very type of authorative hierarchy that Jesus condemns for His Ekklesia. This is another result that stems from men abandoning Jesus' own heavenly Ekklesia (that which He builds) for their own earthly churches (which they build). In an earthly organization, it is both necessary to have a top down authority and positions from which to exercise that authority.
PROPER AUTHORITY STEMS FROM MUTUAL SUBMISSION
The Bible is clear that all Christians are equal brothers and sisters and that each should submit one to another. The submission God commands is our willing submission in obedience to Him as our One Teacher, Leader and Father.
There are several ways ways believers can and should submit (be accountable if you will) one to another:
"When they had arrived and gathered the ekklesia together, they began to report (anaggello: to bring back word, announce) all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" [Acts 14:27]
"Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole ekklesia…." [Acts 15:22] "Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report (anaggello) the same things by word of mouth" [Acts 15:27]
"You yourselves know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring (anaggello) to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:18-21]
Here we have specific instances of individual believers bringing back news of how God has been using them in various kinds of ministry. The following are also examples of how believers are to be subject or accountable in a very similar manner:
"When the apostles returned, they gave an account (diegeomai) to Him of all they had done" [Luke 9:10]
"But Barnabas took hold of him (Saul) and brought him to the apostles and described (diegeomai) to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to Him, and how at Damascus he has spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus" [Acts 9:27]
"And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell (diegeomai) of Gideon, Barak, Sampson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight" [Hebrews 11:32]
Now let's look at a few more words relating to this matter of being subject or in subjection one to another. First we have the word (hupotasso) found in the following contexts;
[Romans 13:1] subject to earthly powers/government
[1 Corinthians 14:32] subject to prophets
[1 Corinthians 14:34] women subject to men
[1 Corinthians 16:15, 16] subject to godly men, examples
[Ephesians 5:21] subject one to another
[Colossians 3:18] wives unto husbands
[1 Peter 2:18] servants to masters
Here are some more practical ways in which believers can be subject one to another and set a proper example for others;
"So I thought (hegeomai) it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not be affected by covetousness" [2 Corinthians 9:5]
"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard (hegeomai) one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others" [Philippians 2:3, 4]
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted (hegeomai) as loss for the sake of Christ" [Philippians 3:7]
Anbother somewhat controversial verse where this theme of subjection is brought up again as it relates to elders:
"Obey (peitho) your leaders and submit (hupeiko) to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account (logos). Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you" [Hebrews 13:17]
Despite the many verses in the Bible that relate to subjection to include those above, "What is the common characteristic that pervades them all? Do you find anything entirely consistent within the Bible's command to be subject one to another?
Upon this site we have often related how the transition from small fellowship home based ekklesias to large churches has adversely affected the health of the body of Christ. Because of these changes we have come to view God's Ekklesia as an institution and as a result have redefined both scriptural terms and their definitions. The result is a false misrepresentation of what God has always intended for His people.
As an example, think about the typical manner in which we think about and utilize the word minister. Despite the Bible making plain that a minister is simply a servant (and therefore can and does apply to every Christian), the majority of professing believers think a minister is an individual that leads a particular church or group of Christians. They have come to believe that most groups of believers have a single minister or a few ministers at most. They would view these "ministers" as those whose primary responsibility is to run a church or lead the people of God. In most cases they are the primary Bible teachers upon whom the majority of ministry responsibilities fall.
In the paragraph above several lies stem directly from a false interpretation of the word minister. There are many more as that false definition is also disseminated amongst those outside of the faith thus obscuring the truth with unrighteousness. We should be very careful in our all too frequent claims of others redefining terms as we ourselves continue to do the very same things on a daily basis. The words minister and ekklesia are two very prominent examples.
Consider another example in the verse quoted above in Hebrews 13:17. What is generally considered when we read obey your leaders in this verse? When we obey someone, we immediately do as we are told or consequences are sure to result. We only obey those we believe have an authority over us as that authority relates to responsibilities we have. Obedience to another person can only issue from a system of hierarchal authority wherein one individual has more authority than another individual. For example, we obey God because He commands us to obey Him. We have absolutely no say in the matter for God's authority overshadows any small amount of authority we might have. To challenge God's authority is to be in rebellion against Him and His decrees. In a similar fashion, it would also be considered rebellious to ignore or neglect to obey those who have an authority over us in the military or workforce. We are "hired" to perform specific functions and responsibilities and therefore are subject (accountable) for how we carry those out.
As we have stated earlier, the system of hierarchal authority in this world is entirely condemned by Jesus for His Ekklesia. Therefore, the only authority that can exist is the authority of Jesus Christ Himself. One Christian cannot have authority over another Christian for that would constitute the "deed of the Nicolations" which Jesus hates. Whether or not a pastor or priest seems sincere or humble is irrelevant. Our actions make evident what we truly believe in our hearts. If these things are true, "What exactly does the above verse say?"
The word obey in Hebrews 13:17 carries the idea of those who go before or lead the way. The words "them that have the rule over you" in the King James version gives the appearance that some believers can rule over others. The only way one believer could rule over another believer is if one had more authority than another. We've convinced ourselves of this lie (that certain believers, usually leaders have more authority than other believers) primarily due to an institutional mindset that exalts leaders by granting them spiritual titles and religious positions from which they exercise their supposed authority. Just like this world's system of authority which Jesus condemns for His Ekklesia, the majority of church leaders exercise authority through their title and/or position. It is true that elders are recognized in local ekklesias, but that is altogether different than them holding an office or position in a local assembly.
An official office or religious position leads to exactly what Jesus hates, a spoken or unspoken division of two types of believers, clergy and laity; religious hierarchy and positional authority.
In a war, the experienced "go before," they "set the pace for others to follow." These men do not command anything or tell other believers what they must do as believers. They do not exercise authority over anyone but just the opposite- they live an exemplary Christian life in love, service and suffering when necessary. The submission this verse requires, (hupeiko) is only used in this Bible verse. It means to "give way or to yield" (to the elders) and is the result of the manner in which they carry themselves as servants before others. It is the very opposite of a modern day "Pastor" or "Priest" who by their very title and position is shown to be a hireling who places themselves over God's people. This is not to say that all professional pastors or priests are insincere or unbelievers- it is to say that anyone who in any form or fashiion exalts themselves over others will be humbled. I'll leave the degree of that humiliation and the time frame to One greater than I.
Once it is acknowledged and recognized that Christians cannot have authority over other Christians and that authority cannot stem from a religious position or spiritual title, now we can return to an earlier question;
Do you find anything entirely consistent in every Bible verse relating to the command to be in subjection as a believer?
In every verse related to the issue of subjection one thing remains consistent throughout- the subjection required is solely directed from God to individual believers. It is never forced from without and can never be mandated by any other believer. It is solely voluntary and entirely consistent with a Christian who is living a cross centered lifestyle which denys oneself.
Is there a doctrine of "accountability" in the Scriptures? No, of course not. That said, that does not negate every Christians responsibility to act in a manner consistent with that calling to which they have been called. That calling mandates certain responsibilities such as "loving my neighbor as myself," "bearing others' burdens," "accepting those weak in faith," "confessing sins one to another," "being honest" and "laying down my life for my friends." To think or believe that I owe no man an answer when called to account is not consistent with Biblical Christianity. No doubt that is likely the result of "church services" but by no means does that exemplify the interaction of family members of a true New Testament ekklesia.
TO WHOM AM I TO BE SUBJECT
Do you remember my earlier examples? We saw that the single mother, the restaurant worker, the paper boy and the corporate executive were all accountable and that accountability related to their sphere of influence. I would like to suggest that this is also true as it relates to our responsibilities as believers within the body of Christ.
In a typical church fellowship, the individual believers have either been told or convinced themselves that they must be accountable or subject to the elders of that particular church. That subjection is often mandated by the leaders themselves and at times even accompanied by threats and other forms of judgment. Rest assured that in every instance where any individual is attempting to mandate that you be subject to them or a group of people is not Biblical subjection. Biblical subjection in God's Ekklesia is always freely offered verses mandated by any other believer.
Men's mandates bring about the obedience of slaves, not the loyalty of sons or family members.
YOUR LOCAL ASSEMBLY
It goes without saying that the majority of Christians belong to a local assembly of believers. It is within this framework that each individual is to cultivate first (intimate friendships with family members where they learn to serve with their individual gifts) and then a local outreach of some sort to the community. Although this will vary from person to person, each member of the local body should have both a local service to the saints and sinners alike.
Due to the service we would provide within these environments, it is to these people that we will eventually become subject. Although God has not instituted a chain of command within His Ekklesia, He still desires order and subjection so that problems and sin can be kept to a minimum. Each member of the body affects all the others as a result of how they carry out the ministry God has called them to. In this sense no one is an island nor should they be treated as if they were one. As the verses shared earlier make evident, any and all ministry and Spirit led service should be both shared with family members and even judged by them under some circumstances.
EXTRA LOCAL OUTREACH
There are many instances wherein individuals will attempt to influence both believers and unbelievers outside of their immediate locale. I personally believe this was never God's original intention and that persistance amongst our neighbors bears the greatest fruit in the long run. Despite this, technology has opened up opportunities never before available and these can be used to influence people with the gospel. Using the internet has opened doors people of past generations could have only dreamed of.
Extra local outreach, although at times beneficial has many drawbacks. One of the greatest is the manner in which the gospel is advanced, almost always under the name of an organization or an individual. Despite the Bible obviously bearing out all ministry being an overflow of a local geographical ekklesia, men everywhere are advancing the "names" of "their own" organizations and churches. This is something that is clearly contrary to the manner in which New Testament fellowship and service was carried out. God has never told nor encouraged any individual Christian to start a ministry (ministry is service not an entity), promote that ministry by naming it and then attempting to franchise it all over the globe. Despite this, man has gone full speed ahead often promoting "his or her own ministry in his or her own name." The results have been disastrous but that doesn't even slow the intentions of men. Just like others who once attempted to build their own tower to heaven, God will once again bring a tempest to devour all that men and their so-called "good intentions" have created. Are we not witnessing these very things even now?
One result of these man-made ministries is a complete lack and/or refusal to be adequately subject to other members within the body. In a small local ekklesia, problems are minimal, affect fewer people and can be quickly and adequately addressed. Rarely if ever will there be any adverse influence beyond the locae where the saints minister. This cannot be said for these man-made enterprises which in some cases could be called "kingdoms."
I find it amazing that despite the supposed desire of these man-made ministries and their founders all attempting to reach the world in a variety of ways, there is almost an entire refusal to be subject to anyone outside of the organization itself. In other words, despite the actions of those affiliated with these organizations and the affect that has upon other people where they may minister, all problems are resolved internally if at all. Any attempt by outsiders whether believer or not are entirely shunned despite the seriousness of the accusations. One proof of this is the obvious secular intervention when a scandal breaks out- all too often the result of some guru type leader or celebrity thinking they don't need to be subject like everyone else.
The Bible is very clear about a Christian's responsibility to answer those who question them. Despite all of these founders and their ministries promoting one or more falsehoods (almost all promote the false concept of "church" nowhere found in the Scriptures, all have religious hierarchy, spiritual titles, religious positions) and all have begun, advance and continue to promote that which is earthly through their own organizations) and most refuse to give an answer when called to account. The lie of being too busy to respond is a result of refusing to minister locally as all saints should, a lust for an earthly kingdom and an overtly inflated view of one's own significance. Truly, truly, you have received your reward in full, if at all.
When so-called Christians refuse to stay within the confines of Biblical doctrine they are called heretics. So what do we call those who continue to promote the false ideology of "church" that is no where found in the Scriptures? Is God pleased with a myriad of earthly substitutes in exchange for His son's heavenly Ekklesia.
It is one thing to reject a man-made doctrine that is nor borne out in the pages of Scripture. It is quite another thing to reject what is plainly commanded throughout His Word- the necessity of being in subjection to both a hierarchal authority (in this world and through its institutions) and a non-hierarchal authority that derives from Jesus Himself for and through His Ekklesia. It's long overdue that we stop confusing the two is it not?
It is only the fool who attempts to exalt himself at the expense of the family of God by making demands and usurping the corporate authority of Jesus Christ. Whether that results in the midst of any given assembly or in relation to the entire body of Christ makes little difference. If you're one who refuses to be subject to those you claim to be helping or are attempting to help, that person is you.
On the other hand, a godly man, although he yearns for neither, has earned the right to be both heard and respected. In this he should be both honored and esteemed highly among the saints.
Now may I ask, "To whom would or should you desire to be accountable?"