There is this awkward question that Christians tend to ask when they feel uncomfortable around another Christian that they don’t know:
“Who are your elders?”
It is awkward because it is akin to an adult asking a young child “who are your parents?” When an adult asks this question there are two things to note. First, this child has done something that the adult does not like. Correction is apparently needed. Second, this adult is not responsible. They aren’t responsible for the child’s disobedience, and they certainly aren’t responsible for correcting the child. Someone else is. Their parents.
We have all been in one of those situations. I was recently out to dinner and witnessed the terrible tyranny of a young teenager who showed their parents no mercy. This child obviously knew no discipline. They knew of no respect for their parents. And they certainly could have cared less about the way they represented their parents to the other pizza eaters. And so you begin to make judgement calls on the discipline skills of the parents, and you think about how much better you could have handled the situation. But hey, you don’t even know the kid, so you certainly would have no right butting in to discipline the child. Not your kid, not your problem.
Some people think that this is how discipline works within the body of Christ. Not a member of my congregation? Not my problem. Don’t know them? Who am I to bring correction? Don’t like what you are doing? “Who are your elders? Who is responsible for you? Is anyone responsible for you? Someone needs to correct you.”
But this is not the way that the Scriptures calls us to view discipline within the body of Christ. For the record, I am not talking about discipline in the sense of excommunication, which is a topic for another article. I am speaking here of discipline in the broader view, as in discipleship, correction, rebuke, etc. I am speaking of simply correcting someone by the standard of God’s word.
It may come as a surprise to some, but New Testament epistles were not written to what we understand to be independent churches. They weren’t written to the congregation of 150 that you took vows to and they certainly weren’t written to the building that you gather in weekly for corporate worship. They were written to the Church in a specific region. The Church in a specific city. The Church at Galatia, Rome, Corinth, etc.
This is important to consider because of the way in which we understand ‘accountability’ today. We understand accountability as being that thing we have with those who sit in the pew next to us. Of course, our ability to be accountable to these people is greater than what we have with those one state over. But this does not therefore mean that we are accountable only to those in our specific church building. This is simply not a biblical concept.
The Scripture identifies us as all being baptized into one body. We are brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers to one another. We all drink of one Spirit, and we all fall under the Lordship and headship of Christ Jesus. The Church has no separate rolls. The body of Christ knows of no covenantal boundaries besides the covenant of grace. If you have been baptized into the Trinity than I am accountable to you.
This is not to say that prudence, tact, and wisdom are not needed. These are needed just as much as anything else. It is not to say that we shouldn’t have respect for the authorities within the family, institutional church, and state. It is not to say that I can correct my pew neighbor in the same exact manner that I can correct a Christian in Zambia. There is a spectrum. But it is to say that no one is above correction from the Word of God regardless of who is reading and applying the text. By the way, how are we comfortable correcting one another on social media, but once it occurs on our doorsteps then we have a problem? Cowardice?
It is to say that all that have been baptized have taken on a responsibility to one another. And ain’t that a beautiful and scary thing. So stop asking who your brothers daddy is. You know who he is, and you will both answer to him.
A wise man once pointed out that the bible does not look too kindly on those who feel compelled to always ask “by what authority do you do these things?” Not because authority is an extra biblical concept or because it doesn’t matter. But because it asks the wrong question. The real question we should ask one another is “by what standard do you do these things?” And this would fix a lot of headaches.
If you see someone in the wrong. Correct them using God’s word. If you are prone to ask the question “who are your elders?” Than perhaps you have no grounds for correction and are merely uncomfy being corrected yourself.