1988 Letter to Boston Elders

by Ron Gholston


The below letter that I wrote back in 1988 shows how long the leaders of ICOC (International Churches of Christ) have had access to what (I believe) God teaches us is "the truth" regarding Biblical authority, yet they have continued to practice "ANTI-Biblical" authority over the lives of the members of the ICOC for all of these years (almost 15 years now!). Some have mistakenly thought that maybe the leaders of ICOC just did not know what the truth was regarding Biblical authority. In my judgment, the letter that I wrote back in 1988 shows that the leaders knew the Biblical "truth", but they just did not care to teach or practice the truth!

Apparently, the leaders (at the top of the organization) not only did not care about the "wrecked lives" of so many thousands of people they helped to destroy, but they also apparently did not care about the "truth" that God teaches that is in His word, the Bible, either! While Al Baird unsuccessfully attempted to answer my letter, along with what other people wrote regarding authority, Al did not Biblically address or answer many of the issues and points that had been raised by many of us at that point in time. In the minds of most discerning people, it was just another attempt by the leaders to coverup the truth, giving members of the ICOC the hope that something would be different and ICOC would change its ANTI-Biblical teachings and practices. I believe that those who are open-minded can easily observe that, unfortunately, even though Al Baird produced a letter called A New Look at Authority in 1992, nothing significantly changed after he wrote his letter! I might add---I'm not glad that nothing significantly changed, but I expected that would be the case. Time has revealed that to be the truth. It truly makes me sad that the leaders would proceed to teach and practice ANTI-Biblical authority over the lives of its members, which the Bible clearly condemns as wrong, and in the process ruin and wreck the lives and relationships of literally thousands of wonderful people! In my opinion, their persistent teachings and practices regarding human authority over the lives of their members are unconscionable.

I remain a faithful Christian to this day. Here is my personal background: I was raised in what ICOC calls the "traditional church of Christ" (since I was born). I was a full-time campus minister with the University church of Christ at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1970 - 1974. I then was the campus minister at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas, with the Southwest church of Christ 1974 - 1976. I was Vice-President of Williamstown Bible College with the Williamstown church of Christ in Williamstown, West Virginia, 1976 - 1978. I was a full-time minister with the Metro church of Christ in Phoenix, Arizona 1978 - 1985. As you can see, I was a full-time minister with the churches of Christ for 15 years (1970 - 1985) before I moved to Boston to work with the congregation there. I was with the Boston congregation from July, 1985 - October, 1988.

The leaders of Boston fired me and "disfellowshipped" me soon after I wrote my letter, showing that the authority that they were teaching and exercising over the lives of the members was "ANTI-Biblical". At that time, I saw from the leaders' words and actions (after I wrote this letter) that they did not want the "truth" about Biblical authority to be taught to their members, but instead, wanted to practice their ANTI-Biblical authority and spiritual abuse instead! How tragic.

The average member of the ICOC has never had access to the teachings that I presented in this letter, because my letter, along with other Biblical materials written by other well-intentioned brothers, was grouped together and labelled as "spiritual pornography" by Kip McKean, Al Baird, and other leaders of the ICOC. I have found that when many people have read the letter, it really "opened up their eyes" to the truth, and when they then tried to "change the system" within the ICOC and found that they don't make any progress in getting ICOC to teach and practice what the Bible teaches, they then realized that they need to leave ICOC and not support their ANTI-Biblical teachings and practices.

Here is my contact information:

Ron Gholston
7 Falcon Hills Drive
Highlands Ranch, CO 80126 (suburb of Denver)

[Editor's Note: below is Ron Gholston's complete 1988 letter to Al Baird and Bob Gempel, then the elders in the Boston Church of Christ. Baird and Gempel would become two of the most influencial "World Sector Leaders" in the International Churches of Christ.]

14 Fern Avenue
Brockton, MA 02401
October 21, 1988

Al Baird and Bob Gempel, Elders
Boston church of Christ
319 Lowell Street
Lexington, MA 02173

Dear Al and Bob,

A few weeks ago I met with you, Al, along with Joseph Garmon, to express some concerns that I had about the issue of human authority in discipling relationships. At that time I had not studied nor thought out the Biblical basis for that concern, but we all agreed that it was imperative that I do so. After careful, prayerful study, I want to share with you my findings from God’s word.

Before doing so, however, I want you to know my heart. Having now spent the last three years here in the Boston church, I have come to love and respect and appreciate so many people. The commitment to sacrifice is exemplary here. I have personally put my heart and soul into making disciples and raising up leaders for the kingdom, and I thank God for what He has taught me while here in Boston about my life, my heart, and my ministry. I love and appreciate so much the fervor, intensity, and drive in the hearts of the leaders, and I am also grateful for the convictions which run deep in their hearts and lives.

In spite of all the wonderful things I see, there is one significant and seriously dangerous departure from New Testament teaching and practice being advanced by the Boston church, which I pray that you will recognize and correct as soon as possible. On several occasions you have stated that if any member of the Boston church sees an area of teaching or practice in the church that is not consistent with what is taught in the Scriptures to let you know so that you can make the necessary changes. I respectfully yet forthrightly submit to you that we are pursuing a course in discipling relationships here in Boston which is contrary to that taught by Jesus for His disciples and practiced by the New Testament church. While discipleship IS right, some of the teachings and practices in the Boston church concerning human authority in discipleship are WRONG. I pray that you will prayerfully study out from the Scriptures the ideas that I will be sharing with you in this letter, and I pray that you will receive them with the same sincerity of heart that I have as I write you this letter.

The Bible is emphatic: Not only must a disciple’s “life” be right but so must his “doctrine” (teaching) (1 Timothy 4:16). You know how deeply committed I am to the belief that disciples are to “make disciples”, but HOW we “make disciples” must be consistent with Jesus’ teachings and the practices and beliefs of the New Testament church. If we are “making disciples” in a way that is contrary to that taught in the New Testament, then our “doctrine” (teaching) on discipling is not the same as in the New Testament, and therefore must be changed if we are to be in fact a New Testament church. After studying the New Testament on the issues I am writing you about, it is obvious that we are contradicting the doctrine in a very vital and critical area.

The departure from Scripture is best summarized in two teachings which have been shared publicly (as well as privately) on numerous occasions here in Boston concerning discipling relationships. These two teachings are as follows” (1) “You are to submit to anything your discipler tells you to do, unless it violates Scripture or your conscience.” (2) “To not obey what your discipler asks you to do is equivalent to not obeying God.” Brothers, I want to “lay it out” (as we sometimes say in Boston): These two teachings are gross misunderstandings and perversions of the role of the human discipler in discipling relationships and go against and contradict the teaching, belief, and practice of the New Testament church. These two teachings go beyond the scope, realm, and authority of what Jesus taught fallible human beings area to have and what the first-century church and its leaders believed, taught and practiced.

The Boston church is on record as believing, teaching, and practicing that the disciple “must” “submit to” and “obey” the human discipler in “matters of opinion” unless what is asked of him/her violates his/her conscience. The implications of this belief, teaching, and practice are astounding and deplorable. Wed. morning in my discipleship time with Joseph Garmon (my zone leader) I asked him if the elders of the church have the authority to tell a married couple to sell their house and give the money to the church. He emphatically stated, “Yes”. He added that they may not use that right and authority, but they definitely have the authority to do so. He further stated that the elders have the authority to tell a disciple that he cannot move to another city unless they first give approval for such a move. The example he used was, “If a couple in the Boston church wanted to move to New York, but the elders did not want them to do so, the elders in Boston have the authority and right to tell that couple that they cannot move to New York.”

Yesterday in thinking over these things I finally realized the implications of these two teachings Boston is advancing: The elders can tell a person to do anything they choose, and if it does not violate Scripture or conscience, a person is obligated to do it. For example, it does not violate Scripture to sell a house and give the proceeds to the church (in fact, some --- though not all --- Christians in the first century did sell property) nor would it violate conscience to sell a house, so if the elders told a person to sell their house, according to the doctrine (teaching) advanced by the Boston church, a couple would be obligated to sell their house or run the risk of being disobedient to the leaders of the church, which is equivalent to being disobedient to God (according to the teaching of the Boston church). Again, if a Christian wanted to move from Boston to New York and the elders of the church said, “No, we do not want you to make that move”, does continuing to live in Boston “violate Scripture”? No. Is living in Boston a violation of your conscience? No. Then according to the doctrine of the Boston church, A Christian who decided to go ahead and move to New York would be thought to be “rebellious”, an “unsubmissive heart”, and no longer considered to be a “good disciple”. That this is the thinking and belief of the leaders of the Boston church is undeniable. The question I raise to you is this: Is this doctrine from the New Testament or is this doctrine from “man” (the leaders of the Boston church)?

Going back to the illustration of a couple having to sell their house if the elders told them to do so, I shared with Joseph the thinking of the apostle Peter (definitely a church leader in the first-century New Testament church) in Acts 5 in regard to Ananias and Sapphira’s selling their property. I pointed out that not even the inspired apostles believed or felt that they had the authority or right to demand a Christian in the New Testament church to sell his property.

Joseph proceeded to explain to me why church leaders today have the authority to tell a Christian to sell his house. His reasoning was that since Jesus had the authority to tell the rich young ruler to sell everything he possessed, and since we are to be like Jesus if we are a church leader, then church leaders have the right and authority to tell a person to sell everything they have. Brothers, this kind of reasoning from the Scriptures is a perversion of Scripture and is dangerous. This reasoning is Biblically unsound and unfounded, as I will show you from the Scriptures.

Before doing so, however, let me share another insight from Scripture Joseph shared with me. In the context of our discussion about a Christian’s being directed by the elders to sell a house, Joseph asked me what Luke 14:33 meant. We agreed that it means that everything we have (including material possessions) is to be given over to be used by Jesus and the kingdom. He said, “Then who does a person’s house belong to?” We still agreed that it is under the Lordship of Jesus. Joseph then explained that because a Christian’s house belongs to Jesus and the kingdom, then the leaders in the kingdom (church) have the final say as to what the Christian can do with his property.

Such reasoning may appear valid to some who are naïve or ignorant of the New Testament. The thinking of the leaders in Boston conflicts completely with the thinking of the leaders in the first-century New Testament church. We see the thinking and mindset of the apostle Peter (a first-century church leader) in Acts 5. Peter says to Ananias in Acts 5:4 concerning property which Ananias and Sapphira (two Christians in the first-century church) owned: “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” The apostle Peter understood the property as under the individual control and stewardship of Ananias --- not the church leaders! Brothers, Peter did not see the church leaders as having the authority or right to tell this couple to sell their property, but the leaders of the church in Boston (by their own admission) see themselves as having this authority and right. This thinking and belief is a fundamental and serious difference between the New Testament church leaders and the Boston church leaders. I say that you are guilty of going beyond the authority that even inspired apostles had in the first-century church.

Philosophically and theologically, you elders (through your teachings) are taking a doctrinal position that you have the authority and right and control over any and every decision (even in “matters of opinion”) of the members of the Boston church. In practice, you have not YET used such control, but whether or not you ever use that power, control, and authority is NOT the issue. The issue is this: “Do you believe you have such right and authority and control over the personal affairs, choices, and decisions (in “matters of opinion”) of the lives of the members in the Boston church?” God, in His word, the Bible, did not delegate that kind of unconditional and unbridled authority to any man or group of men (including church elders) in the kingdom of God (the church talked about in the New Testament).

Does the New Testament agree with Boston’s teaching that a disciple must “submit to” and “obey” the church leader’s word when it comes to individual “matters of opinion”? NO! It teaches something quite the contrary! Instead of disciples’ being “bound” to “submit to” and “obey” church leaders’ judgments, advice, and insight (as believed and taught by the Boston church), the individual disciple in the first-century New Testament church had “freedom in Christ” to do whatever he thought was best in “matters of opinion”. If his decision and choice did not violate Scripture, his/her conscience, or cause someone else to stumble, then the decision and choice was accepted by God and other Christians in the church. The Boston church’s belief, teaching, and practice does not give the individual Christian this “freedom in Christ” to make his/her own decisions and choices in “matters of opinion”! In the Boston church, people are taught that you must “submit to” and “obey” what your human discipler tells you to do “in matters of opinion” --- you are NOT to make those decisions personally, or you are being “disobedient” to God, “rebellious” having an ”unsubmissive heart”, and are “not a good disciple”. The Bible has an entire chapter on who is to decide “matters of opinion” in the life of the individual disciple, and the Bible says the following:

“One man considers one day more sacred than another;
another man considers every day alike. Each one should
be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

Romans 14 is clear: the only issues, decisions, and choices which can be “bound” on people are the issues, decisions, and choices where God has spoken and legislated in His word, the Bible. In other areas of an individual’s life (where God’s word does not speak or legislate --- therefore, what we call a “matter of opinion”), it is up to the individual to make those decisions and choices. To teach that you must “submit to” and “obey” what a human discipler says to do in “matters of opinion” is contrary and contradictory to the “freedom in Christ” God gives members of His church, and such teaching must be “marked” as a false teaching contrary to the teaching of the New Testament Scriptures. Brothers, I beg you and urge you to recognize and change this teaching which has been believed and taught in the Boston church these many years!

The implications that a disciple must “submit to” and “obey” his/her discipler’s judgments, opinions, or decisions is not only unBiblical and unfounded but extremely dangerous! Instead of a disciple doing what he is “fully convinced in his own mind” in “matters of opinion”, following what the discipler is “convinced in his own mind” is best “in matters of opinion” is exactly that same teaching that “cults” use. The implications that some other human being has the authority and right to tell you what to do in “matters of opinion” are shocking, staggering, and deplorable. If church leaders have the authority and right to dictate to an individual what he/she is to do in “matters of opinion”, then church leaders would have the authority and right to tell the church member who they can marry, when they can marry, whether they can marry, etc. If not, why not? While you are not YET telling the members who to marry, the real issue is not whether or not you are YET using your right of authority, but do you believe that you DO have such authority as church leaders to make such a decision, if you decided to use it? If your answer is “Yes”, then I am convinced that most members of the Boston church do not realize that you believe that you have such unbridled authority to tell them what they can do and not do. If your answer is “No”, then what other areas do you not have authority and control in? These are important and significant questions, which have serious implications!

According to your belief and teaching that “you must ‘submit to’ and ‘obey’ what the elders say in ‘matters of opinion’ (unless it violates Scripture or your conscience),” it appears that you would have the authority even to tell a person who to marry. For example, you might ask John to marry Jane. The reasoning would go as follows: “Would it violate Scripture to marry Jane?” Again, the answer would be “No”. (You might not “want to” marry Jane, but it would not violate your conscience to marry her.) Then, according to the reasoning you advance (which is a subtle form of “mind control”), John would have to marry Jane or else be in danger of “disobeying the leaders of the church”, which is equivalent to “disobeying God” (according to what is taught in the Boston church).

Until last week, it had not occurred to me the implications of what you are teaching people in the Boston church. Perhaps, you did not realize the implications until now of what you are teaching. Have you realized the implications of what you are teaching before reading this letter? I hope that you have not continued to pursue teaching what is obviously unbiblical and unfounded and unsupported by anyone who knows the Scriptures and will use his thinking! Brothers, I suggest that where a person lives is a “matter of opinion” the individual Christian is to decide, not the church leaders. I have heard the explanation that “the army tells you where to live, and we are the Lord’s army, therefore, the leaders of the church have the authority to tell you where you can live.” The church of the New Testament is never referred to as the “Lord’s army”. The Boston church has referred to the church as such, but not the New Testament. It may be argued that the church is called a “kingdom”, however. The elders of God’s kingdom are not to “lord it over” the members of the church (1 Peter 5:2,3) nor are leaders to “exercise authority” over the members (Matthew 20:25-27). The teaching of the Boston church violates these Scriptures when it teaches that a disciple must “submit to” and “obey” the wishes of a human discipler in “matters of opinion”! It frightens me to realize the implications of your belief and teaching on authority in discipling relationships. Not only do you have the authority to tell people where to live, whether to marry, when to marry, who to marry, what you can do with your material possessions, but according to your belief and teaching, the authority and right to make any decision you choose in the life of the individual disciple of the Boston church of Christ. While you have not YET chosen to exercise the full use of this authority in all cases, the point is still valid: Whenever you decide it is in the “best interest” of the individual or in the “best interest” of the church (kingdom), you believe that you have the right and the authority to do whatever you feel is “best in “matters of opinion”!

Since the New Testament leaves it to the individual disciple as to what he/she will do in “matters of opinion”, when the Boston church is teaching a different doctrine (that you must do whatever your leaders in the church tell you to do unless it violates your conscience), there is an obvious contradiction between the New Testament and the Boston church’s teaching! If our teaching and/or practice is different than that of the New Testament church, then we are NOT in fact being like the New Testament church (even though we “say” that we are)! I suggest to you that we MUST recognize and CHANGE the teaching and belief concerning human authority in discipling relationships, or we will be teaching and promoting a “false doctrine”. We know how Jesus feels when he sees the teaching of “men” (Boston church leaders) going against and contradicting the teaching of “God”, when Jesus declared in a passage we use to “open the eyes” of other people in Matthew 15:9: “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men”. Al and Bob, I call on you to see this error in doctrine and make the necessary changes, so that we can be in agreement with the New Testament and its teachings! To not make the necessary changes would be to take the movement which had a great beginning down a “spiritual road” that would be contrary and contradictory to the New Testament church and its teachings, making it all “in vain”.

The New Testament has many references and instances to show clearly that disciples are under no command or obligation from the Lord or any church leader to “submit to” and “obey” beliefs, wisdom, or judgments from human disciplers (including church leaders). Even though Paul was an inspired apostle, he taught Christians that they had “freedom in Christ” to draw their own conclusions about “matters of opinion” (i.e. matters the New Testament did not talk about). There were some differences in belief and practice among individual members of the church in Rome, but the differences were about “matters of opinion” (i.e. matters which were not talked about in the New Testament). We see that the inspired apostle Paul taught that they could draw their own conclusions about these issues:

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another
man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully
convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

Do you see what the apostle Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) taught the church to do? In simple English: “You can make up your own mind and do whatever you believe God wants.” Notice what Paul did NOT say: “Go and ask your discipler or the church leaders what everyone should believe and do about this ‘matter of opinion’”! The direction the New Testament gives here and the direction Boston believes are different. Boston believes and teaches that in “matters of opinion”, you are to seek out and “submit to” the church leaders. There should not be (as Boston has taught, believed, and practiced) the attitude that if you do not “submit to” and “obey” your discipler in “matters of opinion” that you are “rebellious”, have an “unsubmissive heart”, and are “not a good disciple”. Even though the inspired apostle Paul (church leader) was “fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself” (Romans 14:14), he did not have the mindset or belief that a person who did not agree with his judgment in this “matter of opinion” was “rebellious”, “unsubmissive”, and “not a good disciple”.

Hopefully, it is also clear from these passages in Romans 14 that to not “submit to” and “obey” the judgments of church leaders (even the inspired apostle Paul) was not equivalent to not submitting to God! To be teaching people (as the Boston church does) that “to not submit to your human discipler or church leaders is equivalent to not submitting to God” is a “teaching of men” (i.e. Boston church leaders) and not the teaching of the New Testament (i.e., God). This mindset and teaching must be changed, brothers!

The apostle Paul further tells us that to not “agree with and submit to his judgment” is in no way to be considered a “sin”. Notice what the apostle Paul wrote to the disciples (Christians) in Corinth:

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I
give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.
Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to
remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce.
Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:25-27)

Notice that the apostle Paul understood that there was a difference between a “judgment” of a human being (even though he was a church leader and an inspired apostle) and a “command from the Lord”. In practicality, Boston teaches that if you do not “submit to” and “obey” the “judgments of your church leaders” that it is equivalent to not “submitting to” and “obeying” God! Do you see the unbelievable difference between the thinking of the Boston church leaders and the New Testament church leaders?

The apostle Paul even went ahead and told us what would happen if some Christian decided not to “submit to” and “obey” his judgment in the very next verse in this passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 7:

But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin
marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will
face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you
this.” (1 Corinthians 7:28)

Notice that the apostle Paul said that if you do marry (i.e. you do not “submit to” and “obey” my judgment) “you have not SINNED.” This verse clearly shows the mindset and attitude of the church leaders in the New Testament church! Paul here clearly and succinctly shows that to not “submit to” and “obey” human leaders in “matters of opinion” is not equivalent to not “submitting to” and “obeying” God! Paul further shows that you do not necessarily need to “submit to” and “obey” human church leaders in “matters of opinion”. Do you not see again that the apostle Paul (as a church leader in the New Testament) did not see church leaders having the “authority” to dictate to individual disciples what to do in “matters of opinion” (matters which the Lord has not commanded one way or the other). Paul (a church leader and even an inspired apostle) did not have the feeling or conviction (as the Boston church leaders have) that to go against a church leader’s “judgment” is equivalent to not being a “good disciple”. Do you see the difference in Boston’s beliefs and teachings and apostle Paul’s? We need to repent and change what we have believed and taught about human authority in discipling relationships!

I now want to share with you how repugnant this false belief and teaching is to God. For a discipler or church leader to tell a disciple that he is not obeying “Jesus” if he does not obey the church leader (in “matters of opinion”) is to put “human judgments” on the same par and plane as the “Lord’s commands”(see 1 Corinthians 7:25 again to see that the apostle Paul made a distinction between the two). The Bible is so obvious: If you do not “submit to” and “obey” the “Lord’s commands”, you have sinned! If you do not “submit to” and “obey” the “human judgment” of a church leader, you have NOT sinned! Nothing could be clearer: Boston’s teaching that you must “submit to” and “obey” your discipler and church leaders in “matters of opinion” is “unBiblical”, “unfounded”, and “unsupported”, and constitutes a major “false doctrine” that “cults” teach to control the lives of church members.

I have been in the full-time ministry of the church of Christ for the past 18 years and have “examined the Scriptures” to see if what the Boston church is teaching about human authority in discipling relationships is “true” or “false”. It is obvious from the Scriptures that there is a major contradiction between the teaching, belief, and practice of New Testament Christianity and the teaching advanced by the Boston church of Christ.

Having been a house church leader here in Boston (fulltime) for the past three years, I have led diligently, fervently. I want to “submit to” and “obey” God’s word FIRST. I want to “seek advice from human leaders”, but I do not believe I should be thought to be “rebellious”, “unsubmissive”, or “disloyal” as a disciple should I ever not agree with or choose not to “submit to” and “obey” a human discipler in “matters of opinion”. I cannot teach other people in my house church that they must “submit to” and “obey” their human discipler when God’s word teaches that each one (in matters of opinion) is to make his own choice and decision (unless it violates Scripture, his/her conscience, or causes someone else to stumble --- Romans 14:20-23).

Until I began to study the Scriptures and examine them, I thought that church leaders had “authority” to require “submission” and “obedience” to human church leaders in “matters of opinion”. The passage which led me to believe that was Hebrews 13:17 (in the New International Version):

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.”

Because I had never studied out or examined this passage until the last few days, I had concluded that church leaders had “authority” to “bind” not only “the word of God”, but even “matters of opinion”. When I studied out Hebrews 13:17 I was shocked to learn that in the original Greek text of the New Testament, the word “authority” is not used! In fact, the word “authority” as used in the New International Version of the Bible is NOT used in Hebrews 13:17 in the King James Version, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New King James Version, or New English Bible. The translators of the New International Version obviously inserted this word into this verse without any authorization to do so from the original Greek text of the New Testament.

It amazed me to discover that nowhere in the New Testament does it state that church leaders have “authority”. This discovery is especially significant when we realize that God did use the word “authority” 102 times in the New Testament, but never in reference to any church leader other than the apostles. The basic Greek word translated “authority” is exousia. This word is found in Matthew 28:18 where Jesus proclaims, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

There are seven other words translated “authority” in the New International Version. Likewise, these are not used to refer to anyone in the church as having an authoritative position. Four times they are used to say one should NOT be in a position of authority (katexousiazo – Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42; exousiazo – Luke 22:25; and authenteo – 1 Timothy 2:12). In Tutus 2:15 the apostle Paul writes Titus and states, “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” The word translated “authority” in this verse is epitage. The lexical definition renders it as “with all impressiveness”. In other words, Titus is to teach with all “impressiveness” as he presents the message of Christ. This verse does not indicate (unless a person has a preconceived idea already) that he is given an authoritative position, but rather he is told to teach authoritatively.

What did Jesus tell His disciples their role would be in His kingdom? We find the answer in Jesus’ own words in Matthew 20:25-28:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over
them, and their high officials exercise authority over
them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be
great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants
to be first must be your slave --- just as the Son of Man
did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his
life as a ransom for many.”

The role of human leaders in the kingdom of God is to be that of “servants”. Jesus made it clear in the above passage that we are not to “lord it over” other disciples nor are we to “exercise authority over them” (Matthew 20:25). The New Testament, however, teaches us to “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” The respect comes from the discipler’s committed life, not from a “position” of authority that he occupies. (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13) Paul does not tell the Thessalonian disciples to “respect” and “highly regard” these leaders because of their position. Rather, he uses three terms to describe the “function” of these leaders: kopiao (work hard, toil, strive, struggle); prohistemi (over you, concerned about you, care for you, give you aid); and noutheteo (admonish, warn, instruct). Paul’s use of prohistemi describes one of the “functions” of the leaders (i.e., caring for, being concerned about, giving aid, watching over), not a “position of authority”.

Going back to Hebrews 13:17, the passage is correctly translated: “Be persuaded by your leaders and submit to them.” Going back to a parallel passage in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Is it not obvious what the Hebrew writer is saying: “Be persuaded by your leaders’ speaking the word of God to you and submit”? We know from previous passages that disciples were not commanded nor even expected to “submit to” and “obey” the “judgments” of church leaders (as previously discussed in this letter). What were they expected to be persuaded by (or obey)? Obviously the “word of God” which the leaders of God’s people commanded. They did not command the people in the New Testament church to “submit to” and “obey” “human judgments”, but rather the “Lord’s commands” (or the “word of God”).

Brothers, we cannot put ourselves in the position of Jesus Christ, and that is happening in the interpretation of Scripture. The thinking in Boston Goes something like this: Jesus was a disciple to God (the Father); therefore, God the Father was Jesus’ discipler. We should see our discipler in the same way as Jesus saw God. Jesus looked to God the Father to imitate because GOD was PERFECT. We are never commanded to just blindly or comprehensively imitate a human being (who is NOT PERFECT). The Boston church, however, is on the record, even in bulletin articles as teaching that we should comprehensively imitate whoever is discipling us. Brothers, this is a perversion and misunderstanding of what God intended. If we are not careful, we will find that we are substituting a human discipler into the place of God in discipling relationships. In fact, this teaching is already being advanced by the Boston church.

To illustrate what I mean, in an article in the Boston bulletin, the following statement is found:

“In order to be discipled by others a person must have a trusting
heart, one that listens even when it doesn’t fully comprehend
or see the end result. Proverbs 3:5 teaches: ‘Lean not on your
own understanding.’ Often we rely on our own ideas and
perceptions instead of listening to those who are discipling us.”

Do you see what the brother who wrote this article did? He substituted the human discipler into the place of “the Lord”. Proverbs 3:5 reads:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on
your own understanding.”

Do you see what happened when the writer explained this verse? Instead of teaching the readers of the Boston bulleting to “Trust in the LORD”, he taught them to trust “THOSE WHO ARE DISCIPLING US”. Subtly, we are putting the human discipler and his judgments on the same plane and par as the LORD and HIS COMMANDS! Brothers, please understand the difference in God and human beings.

Two months ago, Tom Brown (evangelist for the Boston church of Christ) gave a lesson from Matthew 15: 21-28, stating that the Canaanite woman “begged” Jesus to help her. One of his major points was that we need to “beg” our discipler to help us. Again, do you see how we are putting human disciplers on the same plane and same par as Jesus! If we are to make a parallel between the Canaanite woman to Jesus and the disciple’s relationship to his discipler, then to be consistent it should follow that we should kneel before our discipler when we come before him. In Matthew 15:25, the Bible says, “The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” Brothers, do you see how dangerous it is to Biblically compare a human discipler with his disciples and Jesus to His disciples? We all remember that when Cornelius (a potential disciple) knelt at the feet of the apostle Peter (his discipler and a church leader) that

“Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, “I am
only a man myself.”

Not even the inspired apostle Peter thought his disciples should feel toward him the way Jesus’ disciples felt toward Him, or he would have allowed the man to kneel before him, as the Canaanite woman did to Jesus.

Brothers, I hope I have made it obvious that our understanding of the human discipler in discipling relationships is WRONG. It is not Biblical, and it is quickly deteriorating our interpretation of Scripture as these last two Biblical illustrations show (one from the Bulletin, the other from a sermon Tom Brown delivered).

Brothers, with this type of mindset, the Boston church of Christ could easily become a “cult”, if people treated their disciplers like Jesus’ disciples treated him. Again, if we teach people that you must “submit to” and “obey” a “human’s judgments” or be considered “rebellious”, “unsubmissive”, or “not a good disciple”, the Boston church of Christ will be teaching in theory what the leaders of present-day “cults” teach their followers, even though such teaching is not in the New Testament. With the mindset that the Boston church leaders now have, the Boson church could easily become a “cult” if they continue to teach that “to not ‘submit to’ and ‘obey’ your discipler is equivalent to not ‘submitting to’ and ‘obeying’ God”!

Al and Bob, I call on you to recognize the serious damage this teaching causes and to CHANGE it immediately. It is a well-known fact that history tends to repeat itself, and I see some dangerous parallels between what happened in the first-century New Testament church’s “falling away” from the truth and what is presently being advanced by the Boston church. The apostle Paul’s heart was heavy and sad when he addressed the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:29,30:

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you
and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number”
(i.e. from among the ELDERS) men will arise and distort the
truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

I am calling on you as elders of the Boston church to no longer “DISTORT THE TRUTH” about the role of human disciplers and church leaders in discipling relationships. It is to “DISTORT THE TRUTH” to take passages showing a disciple’s relationship to JESUS and teach people that they should have that same kind of relationship with their human discipler. Jesus was equal with God, while disciplers are not equal with Jesus. It is a distortion to teach otherwise! In “matters of opinion” disciples have liberty and freedom to decide in their own mind what they believe is best. It is to “DISTORT THE TRUTH” to teach that you must “submit to” and “obey” the “judgments” of “human church leaders”. It is also to “DISTORT THE TRUTH” to teach that “disobeying” or “failing to submit to” the “judgments” of “human church leaders” is equivalent to “disobeying” and “failing to submit to” the LORD! Church leaders and God (Jesus) are not on the same plane!

The Bible teaches the following:

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause
divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary
to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from
them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ,
but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they
deceive the minds of naïve people.” (Romans 16:17,18)

Brothers, I want to be in fellowship with you, but this cannot be if you persist in advocating teachings contrary to that of the New Testament. My heart’s prayer and desire is that you will be able to recognize the departures from Scripture that I have outlined in this letter and that you will courageously see that the truth about the role of the human discipler is taught not only in the Boston church, but around the world!

I understand that we shall discuss these matters on Monday, October 24. I pray that we will “submit to” and “obey” “the word of God”!

Serving Him Faithfully,

Ron Gholston, Housechurch Leader
Bridgewater Housechurch


©1988, 2003 by Ron Gholston. All rights reserved.

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