As early as the late 1980’s sociologists began to recognize a new trend in Western society which they dubbed “cocooning”. This trend was manifest in people becoming increasingly isolated in their homes and purposefully avoiding or minimizing their social interaction outside of the home.
Obviously Covid intensified this trend and many have yet to, and probably never will, emerge from their cocoons. One of the many factors that has fueled this trend is the fact that you can now do everything on the internet. There is no need to go shopping, go to places of entertainment or even church. You can remain comfortable in your pajamas and control all your social interactions through social media.
Society has changed dramatically, and in many ways, in recent decades. One such trend has been the increased emphasis on individualism as people have isolated themselves from social interaction and drawn back into their cocoons. Sadly, this trend has visibly affected the church as many stay home and consume their spiritual “nourishment” through their screens.
But many of those who continue to attend some form of gathering of believers, have not escaped the tentacles of this corrupting influence. While they may not physically isolate, many do so emotionally and even spiritually. This has resulted in an emphasis on individualism as each emphasizes his own rights, including his “right” to interpret the Scriptures the way he chooses, establish his own norms of behavior and form his views on morality in isolation of the church, or the Bible. Worst of all, each one now has the right to form his own version of truth.
I suspect that the seeds of this independent spirit, were sown in the overemphasis of the individual in the preaching of the Gospel. One example is the idea that “if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would still have died for you”. While there is truth in that and yes, He died for each one of us individually and personally, but His goal was never one individual, or even a bunch of disparate individuals, but a Bride consisting of many sons and daughters, united as one. Let me emphasize; I do not deny that He loves us personally and individually, but He came for a bride, called the church. In the rapture, each of us will be raptured but we will be raptured together. 1Thessalonians 4:15 empathizes that those who are alive at the time of the rapture will not precede those who died in Christ and the dead are awaiting the moment that we will be caught up together.
We will spend eternity in heaven, together. There will not be isolated cabins in the woods in heaven!
This togetherness was so wonderfully illustrated in the first church in Jerusalem. The word “together” appears 31 times in the book of Acts. The essence of this togetherness is summed up in “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44)
This unity transcended the local church and affected the relationship between churches as they cared for, helped, and supported one another. Paul even appeals to this commonality when it came to issues of doctrine and practice (1Corinthians 7:17; 14:33 etc.).
In speaking of the Church, Paul refers to it as a body in which we are members of one another. The context is clear that this membership is not theoretical but practical and physical. He furthermore rebukes the Corinthians for their independent spirit at the Lord’s table. “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others…”. (1Corinthians 11:21).
This togetherness of necessity, requires a mutual submission: “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) but it is exactly here that the beautiful picture falls apart. We will enjoy one another, as long as everyone does what we want but, woe to anyone who may even suggest that our behavior or doctrine is not right!
This rebellion (for that is what it is), is not the fault of the congregation. The problem begins in the pulpit! These days leaders of local churches are fiercely independent, reserving to themselves the right to formulate doctrine, behavioral norms and ministerial ethics, independent of established criteria or the council of others. I have been shocked, over and over, in recent years, by the independent spirit that exists among leaders. Many rule as monarchs over their congregations (better known as cults) and do not submit to any form of external, let alone internal, accountability.
Yes, they say they are accountable, but it is in name only. There is no real accountability. This is proven when they step out of the bounds of orthodox doctrine, established moral norms, or ministerial ethics. The moment they are corrected they react violently and reject the voice of reason and truth. I have literally lost count of the number of pastors who have pledged accountability to me (not that I ever desired it) and the moment I bring correction for blatant error, I become the villain. Every one of these men are now far from orthodoxy and deep into cultic behavior and doctrinal error.
Even young men, with no experience, training, or even gift, regard themselves as captains of their own destiny and despise the council of the elders as they set themselves up in their own little kingdoms. I must admit, I feel little pity for such but feel immense pain for the “innocent” followers over which they reign.
Let me get very practical here: If you are a member (at whatever level) of a local church, you must, for your own protection, ask the leader(s) who it is they are accountable to. If they cannot give you names and contact details, then flee for your life. If they do give you a name(s), then contact that person and check whether your leader(s) are indeed accountable. As I said above, many will claim that they are not lone wolves and will claim to be in mutually submissive relationships, but the reality is mostly that they are not! Flee! And, please, do not buy the nonsense that they submit to the Lord. The Lord is in heaven and has put men on the earth to lead and oversee the church and if they will not submit to those whom the Lord has gifted here on earth, they do not submit to the Lord. “And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7).
Oh, I know the counter argument. These rebels will call what I have outlined above as “heavy shepherding”. It is not. I know what heavy shepherding looks like, having served in such a group for many years. Godly submission to others and Christlike leadership is not abusive and is not heavy shepherding, it is following in the steps of the Great Shepherd who loves, cares for, and protects His flock.
While this trend seems to be gaining momentum in the 21st century, it is an ancient problem. The father of it is Satan himself who rejected the authority of The Almighty and saw himself as equal to God.
In fact, the Scriptures are full of examples of men who got to big for their boots and rejected godly authority: Ham despised his father Noah, Aaron and Miriam reviled Moses, Saul ignored Samuel, Uzziah disregarded the priests in the temple. Even the mighty Moses and Aaron were rejected by a group of Israelites: “They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3). We know that ended in the Lord opening up the earth and the rebels going straight down to hell.
The chaotic time of the Judges was a precursor of modern times as every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). One man even appointed his private hired priest – just as many are doing today.
This spirit was also present in the first century church. One example was an upstart who rejected the aged apostle John: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.” (3John 1:9). Another were the impostors who despised Paul and said “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” (2Corinthians 10:10).
The fact is that individualism and an independent spirit and rebellion against God-given leaders is equal to the sin of witchcraft and those who reject authority will be rejected by the Lord Himself. Yes, it is that serious! “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1Samuel 15:23).
God did not institute the pattern of authority and submission in order to hamper us, but to protect us. He knows that within each of us (yes, even Christians) lies the seed of arrogance, pride, rebellion and insurrection, and if these things remain unchecked, they could lead us to destruction. We are just not good at examining ourselves objectively, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes…” (Proverbs 16:2). We need the objectivity of an honest friend who will correct us when we are wrong. “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:5-6).
You will not be a leader in your home or church until you have learned to follow. You cannot expect obedience from your children or church, until you yourself have learned to be obedient to those the Lord has placed in your life to lead you. Indeed, some will counter that they do not have anyone they can submit to. That is exactly right. It is not because the Lord has not provided them with oversight, but because they have rejected and despised those whom the Lord has placed in their lives.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:13-17).