Christian Leadership: Following Man or Following Christ

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
1 Cor 11:1 KJV

Introduction

What do the Scriptures say about the relationship between Christian “leaders” and Christian “followers” in the body of Christ? There are many groups of Christians that suggest that “followers” must follow “leaders” without question. The leaders that advocate this position often use Bible verses like the one above (usually in the King James Version). “Follow me,” they say, “because I follow Christ. If you want to follow Him, you will follow me too. It’s not enough to say, ‘I follow Jesus’. Are you following your leader, too?”

In this article, we will study this scripture carefully to determine:

  1. What does this say?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. What am I supposed to do about it?

Alternate Translations

First, let’s look at some alternate readings. I won’t go into a comparison of translations here, but it is important to realize that the “Authorised Version” was written 400 years ago. Because English is a “living” language (meaning that people use it in everyday life), words change meanings, phrases take on different connotations, and people understand language differently than they did even ten years ago. Just watch a typical parent trying to talk to their typical teenager!

The New King James Version phrases it, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” The New International reads, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” It’s interesting that the NKJV drops the word, “follower”. To “imitate” someone has a different connotation than to “follow” someone. Imitation is primarily related to copying someone’s actions. Similarly, the NIV’s “follow my example” takes the focus off of following “me”, and onto following “my actions”.

Sometimes we hear leaders emphasizing following them. They often stress obedience to their commands, and advocate imitation of their actions, but time and again the focus comes back to following the people themselves. Why? “Because I follow Christ.” Well, let me suggest an alternate reading.

Studying the Greek

Strong’s Greek/Hebrew Dictionary (a standard reference work) defines the Greek word kathos as “just as” or “inasmuch as”. “Inasmuch” is a word we don’t use frequently today, but there are two distinct meanings. Webster’s New World Dictionary (footnote) demonstrates these two meanings. The first is the one some leaders use “seeing that; since; because”. Thus the verse might read, “Follow me since I follow Christ”, or “Follow me because I follow Christ.” This is not a bad way to read it, but there is a subtle danger.

Sometimes we make the assumption that a leader is following Christ, without questioning or testing that leader. “Of course, they’re following Christ! They’re the pastor/elder/worship leader/Sunday School teacher/prophet/apostle etc.” But none of us is immune to error. The Apostle Peter was seduced into “the circumcision group”, a faction of Jewish Christians that felt that the Gentile Christians had to obey the Jewish law before they were worthy to follow Jesus. Paul repented in his later letters for his rejection of John Mark. Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6, NIV). Who of us is infallible? Who of us is unable to be mistaken and, when we are in a position of leadership, then mislead our brothers and sisters? Who among us can trust ourselves to the unquestioning obedience of our fellow believers?

A Call to Humility

I suggest that, because we are all prone to error, that we read the verse we’re discussing the other way: to the extent that. The verse might then read, “Follow me to the extent that I follow Christ”. As much as I follow the Messiah, you should follow me. But in those ways that I am still “working out my salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), do not follow me. At the very least, lovingly share with me what the Holy Spirit, who lives in every regenerated believer, is telling you. Maybe I am in error. Maybe I need loving correction, even though I am your “leader”.

When a Christian leader will not accept a questioning of his teaching, behaviour, or motivation, that leader is in danger of closing his mind and heart to God’s correction. When this happens, the leader is in great danger of falling into sin, particularly the sin of “spiritual abuse”. The first step in the cure is humility. If I am willing to admit, “I could be mistaken”, “I may not have heard from God correctly”, “I need help”, then I am in a much better position to receive God’s correction. However, the farther I go in asserting my “authority” and suppressing criticism, the farther I will move from an attitude of humility before God. The opposite of humility is pride, and “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” (James 4:6 NIV).

What Do I Do?

This question is much too complicated for a small paper like this, but here are some starting points.

  1. Pray that God will open your eyes to his truth.
  2. Study Scripture for examples of godly leadership (try Matthew 20: 20-28 and 23: 8-12 to start)
  3. Start studying the difference between healthy and unhealthy leadership. Try Johnson and VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Bethany House Publishers, 1991.
  4. Talk to mature, wise believers (that are not in your immediate situation) for their perspective.

Finally, listen to the command of the Apostle Paul, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Good leadership will be able to handle questioning, testing, and proving. Godly systems and leadership can pass the test of Scripture, and should therefore welcome such testing. If we are in fact “Bible Based” and “Spirit Filled”, then we have nothing to fear from questions and tests.

If you are somehow afraid to question your leadership, may I encourage you to pray and ask God why you are afraid of your leaders. If they are humble, godly Christian leaders, standing firm on Scripture as their base for truth, listening to the Holy Spirit for his guidance, and genuinely interested in your spiritual health, then why would you be afraid of their response to your questioning?

Sometimes people are afraid to question because they have seen people rejected as a result. People may have been disciplined or even asked to leave the fellowship because of “divisiveness” or “rebellion”. Let me be very clear. Questioning your brother or sister regarding the Truth that you find in Scripture is never wrong. We must all “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). If we will discuss with one another what God is teaching us, we may be able to better discern the Truth. Excommunication is clearly not designed for questioning, but for chronic, unrepentant, habitual sin. Rejecting those who question is a sign of serious problems in the leadership.

The Holy Spirit resides in all who have surrendered their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He will guide you to Jesus and to Scripture. There you will be able to determine Jesus’ plans for you. His plans are not that you live in fear and subjugation to man, but that you live confidently free to be his very own chosen son or daughter, obeying him instantly and unquestioningly. He alone is perfect and worthy of our immediate obedience.

It is my prayer that God will guide you into a healthy understanding of how the Body of Christ is to operate.

© 2000 Jason Friesen

footnote:

Often people make the mistake of using the English Dictionary to interpret the Bible. I am not doing this. I am using the English Dictionary to help communicate the English definition of the Greek word. The Bible was not written in English, and so we must be very careful to capture the original intent of the Greek (or Hebrew, or Aramaic) words used. Misuse of Scripture is the primary source of wrong thinking about God.

Related

Key Passage:

1 Corinthians 11:1

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” — King James Version

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” — New King James Version © 1982 Thomas Nelson Inc.

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” — New International Version © 1984 International Bible Society

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” — New American Standard Bible © 1988 The Lockman Foundation

“It pleases me that you continue to remember and honor me by keeping up the traditions of the faith I taught you. All actual authority stems from Christ.” — The Message © 1995 Eugene H. Peterson

Strong’s Greek/Hebrew Dictionary
2531 kathos (kath-oce’);

from 2596 and 5613; just (or inasmuch) as, that:

KJV — according to, (according, even) as, how, when.

Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English. Victoria E. Neufeld, Ed. New York, Simon & Shuster, 1988. In|as|much as (in’ ez much’ az’) 1 seeing that; since; because 2 to the extent that

ACCORDING AS

1.kathoti ^2530^, from kata, “according to,” and hoti, “that,” lit., “because that,” <Luke 1:7; 19:9; Acts 2:24>, is translated “according as” in <Acts 2:45>, RV (KVJ, “as”) and in <4:35>; “inasmuch as,” <17:31>.#
2. kathos ^2531^, from kata, “according to,” and hos, “as,” signifies “according as” or “even as,” e. g., <1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 9:7>.
3. hos ^5613^ is sometimes rendered “according as,” e. g., <Rev. 22:12>; in <2 Pet. 1:3>, the RV has “seeing that,” for the KJV “according as.”
4. katho ^2526^: see INASMUCH AS.

INASMUCH AS

1. katho ^2526^, lit., “according to what” (kata, “according to,” and ho, the neuter of the relative pronoun), is translated “inasmuch as” in <1 Pet. 4:13>, KJV (RV, “insomuch as”); in <Rom. 8:26>, “as (we ought)”; in <2 Cor. 8:12>, RV, “according as” (KJV, “according to that”). See INSOMUCH.#
2. eph’hoson, lit., “upon how much” (epi, “upon,” hosos, “how much”), is translated “inasmuch as” in <Matt. 25:40,45; Rom. 11:13>.#
3. kathoti ^2530^: see ACCORDING AS, No. 1.
4. kath’ hoson, kata, “according to,” and hosos, “how much,” is translated “inasmuch as” in <Heb. 3:3>, KJV (RV, “by so much as”); <7:20; 9:27>, RV (KJV, “as”).
Note: In <Phil. 1:7>, the phrase “inasmuch as” translates the present participle of the verb eimi, “to be,” lit., “(ye) being (all partakers).”

(from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words) (Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

3 thoughts on “Christian Leadership: Following Man or Following Christ”

  1. @Ramon: No, but it sounds like the author(s) went through similar things that I and many others have. I’m sure it will be a useful resource to someone going through the hurt and pain of an abusive church.

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