New Testament Christian Churches of America, Inc. is a dynastic organization in love with its own perceived effectiveness. Though their effect is rather limited (most people have never heard of them at all), the danger exists that such a growth-oriented movement may expand its sphere of influence over time. The church currently boasts a membership of six thousand spread over the globe (not very impressive for forty years of aggressive recruitment on multiple fronts), and believes the fantasy that they are What God is Doing.
The effect that this organization has upon people is the result of a very basic formula, the purpose of which is to cement loyalty to the leadership, enforce obedience to the leadership, and confirm admiration upon the leadership.
Them That Have the Rule…
There are two separate but similar verses in the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews that make reference to spiritual leadership. The first is vs. 7, which states “Remember them which have the rule over you…” We know that this refers to spiritual leaders because he goes on to identify them as having “spoken unto you the word of God”. Reading this verse in the original language yields an interesting shade. The meaning of the opening phrase is actually “be considerate of your guides”. These are not rulers or dictators of any sort, but merely guides or helpers. The word “minister” suggesting servitude, it should therefore come as no surprise that they are never treated as authority figures in the scripture. Paul further exhorts the Hebrews to follow the example set by these people. He never suggests, however, that the example of their guides should set the standard. On the contrary, we know that by implication our guides are responsible to adhere to the standard already set, which is Christ.
The second passage is vs. 17, which states “Obey them that have the rule over you…” These are clearly spiritual leaders as well, since the reference is to them that “watch for your souls”. Again, reading from the original and paraphrasing expansively, we find the full meaning to be “Your approach toward them that guide you, who remain alert at all times for your spiritual well-being, should be cooperative. They are responsible to God for their work, so do not make their ministry burdensome through stubbornness, but allow yourselves to be easily persuaded.” Again, there is a conspicuous absence of authority. The meaning in the original specifically conveys the sense of “being easily persuaded by those with spiritual responsibility”, and conspicuously avoids the sense of “unquestioning obedience to authority figures in the church”.
In spite of the foregoing facts, NTCC takes full advantage of these and other similar passages. Within this group, the phrase “Obey them that have the rule over you…” is often quoted, but rarely understood in its proper sense. NTCC preachers expect obedience from their congregations. They are offended when someone exhibits a mind of their own, or when someone discounts the pastor’s advice and makes a decision independent of church authority. They will often shame such “rebellious” people in front of others, and when such persons seek guidance at another future time, the pastor will frequently remind them of the time his advice went unheeded. If you do not obey the pastor in minor matters, or in personal affairs, you are considered “hard-hearted” or “un-teachable”. Church members are encouraged to “obey the man of God, and God will bless you, even if he is wrong.” The exercise and enjoyment of Pastoral authority and ministerial respect are chief pillars of New Testament Christian Church. Both are non-scriptural and destructive to the spiritual lives of the people for whom they are supposed to be caring.
NTCC places a severely distorted and disproportionate stress upon the concept of “obedience” and “submission”, always erring on the side of authority, and always siding with the prerogatives of the ministry in any dispute between a preacher and a “mere church member”. There is no real place to which members may appeal for a hearing to redress grievances inflicted by abusively authoritative ministers, and the protocols surrounding respect border on oppressive, reflecting very little the servant model taught by Christ, and veering more toward a Feudal arrangement between Lords and Vassals. The clergy are the rulers and masters, and the laity are the surfs and flunkies. Jesus said that it should not be this way among us.
…and such like…
In writing to the Gentile believers in Asia Minor, specifically the church at Galatia, Paul provided them with a list of what he called “the works of the flesh”, ending his list with the phrase, “…and such like…” The meaning of this expression is very clearly intended to convey the thought “and things like these”. For this reason, we ought to consider the list to be as practically comprehensive, and to avoid needlessly adding thereto. NTCC makes a great deal of hay out of this phrase, giving it the essential meaning of “and there’s more!” For this reason, when combined with their distorted view of pastoral authority, they are not the least bit cautious about adding to the list things that are not to their personal liking. When such a mentality has taken possession of an organization, it becomes perfectly acceptable and normal for the leader to assume authority not given him by the Bible. That is why RW Davis declares, “God put pastors in the church to perfect the saints” and therefore “He put me here to tell you what His requirements are”, and “to tell people what sin is”, and “to tell them what God’s standards are”. Merely stating “you can’t legislate righteousness” is revealed as insincere lip-service in light of NTCC’s long-standing practice of condemning things that are not necessarily sinful.
The Power Spiral
Exclusivity plus Authoritarianism equals Power. This is the formula employed by NTCC. It is difficult to exercise power and influence in the lives of normally functioning adults unless you have something they need. They thing that NTCC offers that people cannot do without is salvation. While this might be obtained elsewhere, NTCC relies upon its peculiar doctrines and holiness standards to persuade people to think that good teaching is rarely found in other groups, and that a rejection of NTCC is a rejection of God and his standards of obedience. Thus, the threat of hell looms heavily upon the mind of anyone who might question his involvement in this very controlling church environment. This is the exclusivity of which we speak.
It is also difficult to enforce the standards of such a group, or to control the flow of information in order to solidify its influence, unless a strong authority structure is in place. NTCC has erected a pyramid pattern of authority that ignores the pattern laid down by Christ and the apostles. In this way, the authority structure enforces the exclusive standard, and the exclusive standard feeds the willingness of individuals to submit to the authority structure. This creates an ever-ascending spiral of influence which, over time, secures the prerogatives and privileges of the ministry class and reinforces the power of the organization over the lives of those it professes to love.