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Divine Authority


(Written shortly after the "split")

I have tried all my life to convince myself that anyone can be a leader; but no amount of effort on my part has been able to get some people to see past following whoever happens to be shouting the loudest at the time, regardless of whether they are right or wrong in what they are shouting. We can't put all the blame onto bad leaders if people are silly enough to follow them unthinkingly; but then, if the issues are complex and the bad leader is clever with words, I'm not so sure that we can put all the blame on the followers either.

The ability to lead is a gift, that can be used for good or evil. But you need to learn how to choose good leaders over bad ones.

I can't help but feel that if I had better access to some people, I could get them to follow me in preference to their churchy leaders. And I feel that if I could get them to follow me, I could eventually get them to follow Jesus. But maybe not. Maybe some people are just attracted to rebellious leaders, and it was just a matter of time before they would find one to follow. At any rate, it is important to realise that, merely being a gifted leader does not guarantee that a person will not abuse that gift.

There is something else that I'll call divine authority, which is quite separate from gifted leadership. Every leader will claim some kind of authority, which seems to be almost synonymous with being a leader. But divine authority is different, and it can only come from God. It is something like the difference between pride and confidence. People often confuse them, but one is the counterfeit of the other. A confident person has the respect of others; but is actually humble enough to accept criticism. A proud person tries to demand that people respect him or her, and a proud person hides from criticism.

Rebel leaders are like this. They hide from criticism and teach their subjects not to criticise them. But having such power does not say anything about whether they have God's authority to be leading. In fact, as a general rule, the worst leaders are usually the ones whose so-called authority needs to be most protected from criticism. And the best leaders are the ones who are most tolerant of criticism.

I have always tolerated a great deal of criticism, even criticism from rebels, ex-members, and outright enemies. But don't forget that I am the leader of this community (at least for the moment). I know where we are going, because I am seeking God's will above my own. I don't have to preach long sermons on it or abuse people in order to make it clear. Nor do I need to hide from confrontations with critics. For the most part, my record will speak for itself, both in showing my authority from God and in showing my ability to take criticism. But the bottom line is that I am here because God has given me a job to do, and I must do it. I'm not here to promote myself in opposition to someone else. I'm here to get God's work done.

I would like to think that each one of you could leave this community and start another community all over again, as Cherry and I did from scratch; but unless you did so under clear direction from God, you would most certainly be led astray if you tried, just as has happened with others who have left our community. The problem is not that they lacked ability, but only that they lacked authority from God to do such a thing. "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that do it." (Psalm 127:1)

Being clever with words and having a stack of my teachings won't amount to anything if you aren't being led by God. For the moment, all the evidence suggests that God has put me here to lead you, and you are not free to just declare yourself to be the leader and automatically expect God to honour your decree.

I rebelled against the "covering" doctrine in the churches, because they were saying that, right or wrong, people have to follow church leadership. No way! If the leaders are wrong, you must not follow them. But if they are right, it's a different story. If you rebel against a "right" leader, you rebel against God, and he will lift his anointing and protection from you. The reason you would fail would not be because I'm so special, but just that any kingdom divided against itself will not stand. God is not stupid. If he has appointed me (or anyone else) to lead this work, then he will expect others to work in submission to the one he has put there.

He may have other leaders out there (whom we haven't met yet) who also have his authority; but he is not going to anoint two leaders in opposition to one another. Even completely separate ministries must be willing to submit to one another in love.

God has at this time and in our little community, anointed me to act as leader. As long as I am doing my job right, he is not going to anoint someone else to rebel against me. If I get away from God, then I will lose my anointing and God will give authority to someone else to take my place. But beware! Just because you get a chance to start a rebellion, doesn't mean that you have authority nor that I have lost mine; and if I catch you rebelling, I will pull no punches in correcting you, in obedience to God, since it is really God that you are rebelling against when you do that.

For many years in the churches, I listened to sermons from desperate men trying to keep their troops together. They preached submission to themselves in sermon after sermon, week after week. Because of that I more or less vowed not to preach such sermons in my community, and I urged followers to think for themselves and not to be afraid to question me. But over and over the very people I have taught this to have turned on me when they got out of the spirit, and argued that I was power hungry and cruel, just as they have argued with God.

All that was bad in all those preachers has come out through the lips of those who have rebelled against my leadership. They have become obsessed with protecting themselves from criticism, and refusing to talk to anyone who criticises them. Now I see that, in overreacting to a false teaching, I had missed an element of truth in it as well. People are given a choice between leaders who welcome criticism and ones who outlaw it, and they end up attacking the ones who tolerate criticism, because they know we will be tolerant of their outbursts.

I now see that, in an effort to do what is right myself (i.e. to accept criticism), I failed to teach respect for divine authority. So gutless followers who are too frightened to stand up to really dictatorial leaders, will turn on the gracious one because they know that he will take it. And if he doesn't, then they'll quote his own teachings back to him in an effort to get him to justify their actions. It is time to put an end to this misconception. Just because I am willing to listen to criticism (and my critics are not) does not mean that the critics are right. In fact, most of them are eternally wrong.

What I am saying does not exempt you from a need to develop a strong conscience and personal accountability before God. These things are especially important in the event that I do go off the rails. But I am ruling out everyone running off with their own opinions and saying that they have as much right as me to say what is right. The plain truth is that you don't. You don't all have the "divine authority" which God has, at least for the present, given to me, to lead this community. Any organisation that is divided against itself is going to fall. If you want to rebel, go somewhere else and start your own community, but don't come telling me that I have to do it your way.

What I am saying here also does not make me infallible, nor does it exempt me from criticism, as I've already said above. But it does say that if you are going to take a grievance against me, you had better be sure before you start that you are right, or you may be dealt with harshly for taking a false or frivolous grievance. We need to put an end to all those vexatious litigations that I used to almost encourage, in order to make it clear that I wasn't trying to railroad people on issues.

I have authority from God, to lead a movement back toward obedience to Jesus, and back toward living by faith, in preparation for the return of Jesus. There is a difference between divine authority and the political manoeuvrings of those who seek power for selfish purposes. The political empire builders are like blithering idiots when confronted with someone who is sincerely looking for the truth. And when they're not spreading hatred against me personally, they are running in fear that they will have to answer for something that they have said. The truth is that they are running from God, to whom they will have to answer for their actions, no matter how much they run from me.

I want to especially thank those of you who had the courage to act on authority from God in confronting rebellion even when I was guilty of trying to be soft on it (in order to make myself look like a "nice guy"). Confronting rebellion of your own initiative is the kind of action that makes you true leaders. Mind you, it doesn't guarantee that you too might not be lifted up with pride one day; and it appears that that is why God has put me here for the time being. But it does show that you have a certain amount of divine authority already, which will just simply make way for itself if you continue to sincerely and humbly follow God.

Update, June, 2003. The group that split from us five years ago has totally fallen apart and several are now professing atheists.

Further update, July, 2009. I used the words "apostle" and "captain of this ship" in the original version of this article, which were taken, by our critics, as a declaration that I was something almost superhuman, and so I have made a few minor adjustment to this article... something I have rarely ever done to stuff that I have written. I really do not know what an apostle is. If it's someone who is pioneering a new work (e.g. a missionary to an untouched region) then Cherry and I both might qualify. On the other hand, it could be considered a leader of several communities, in which case Joe and Alf may be "apostles" at the moment. But because so many people think of it as being one of only twelve leaders in the world (as in the Twelve Apostles), the title is far too grandiose to be bothered with, when "leader" works just as well. Nevertheless, the lesson about respecting leaders in the Lord is still valid.

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