Throughout history there have been those who seek to control the faith of others. Since they have superior understanding of God’s will (they think), they also have the obligation to tell others how to live. Their directives may be as general as how many times to pray each day or as specific as the actual words to be uttered in those prayers. Religious control has been a common phenomenon.
This is a serious question that every Christian must contemplate. Who has the final word in how I live my Christianity? To whom do I answer when it comes to religion?
Paul made a comment in 2 Corinthians 1:24 that merits consideration. In responding to false accusations about his involvement with the church at Corinth, he stated: “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand” (NKJV).
The office of apostle carried significant authority. Only fourteen men have ever held this position (the original twelve, plus Matthias and Paul), and their place in the establishment of the church cannot be minimized. Paul sometimes spoke of the authority that an apostle might use (1 Thessalonians 2:6), as did Peter (2 Peter 3:2). But did this mean that people answered to the apostles? Or did the apostles have limits placed upon them?
Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 1:24 shows that apostles were given boundaries by the one who called them. They were apostles, but they were not to be lords (the meaning of the Greek word translated as “dominion”). The apostles’ work was to make known the will of Christ that had been revealed to them, but that was the extent of their authority. (See also Galatians 1:8.)
In our day, the office of elder is to be given respect. Paul taught that they were to be overseers of the church, to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28). But Peter cautioned that elders are not to be “lords over those entrusted to you, but [be] examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3) (The word for “lords” is from the same root as Paul’s “dominion” in 2 Corinthians 1:24).
If we do not answer to elders or even to apostles, then to whom do we answer? Ephesians 4:5 states it simply: there is “one Lord.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the only kurios.
“For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. … For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:9,10). Others in the church may have authority, and their wisdom and experience can be of great value. But may I never forget that I ultimately answer to only one. Everything I believe and do must be at the direction of the Lord himself.
Who has the right to direct my faith?