Notice all the words that suggest leading and/or following: elder(s), shepherd, flock, serving, overseers, lords, entrusted, and examples. This clearly establishes that God's church is a body in which He has placed leaders to oversee and care for His people. Further, the leadership is to provide examples for them to follow.
The Bible nowhere anticipates independent Christians in its instructions, but it always assumes the body has ministers given by Christ to provide teaching and guidance. Too frequently, people separate from one group then regroup around a person whom Christ has not appointed to teach His Word. It is not that this person cannot teach at all but that Christ has not given him the gifts to teach His people in His behalf. He was not placed in the body for that purpose. Steady spiritual degeneration within that group occurs.
John W. Ritenbaugh
'I'll Never Follow Another Man!'
The apostle Peter called Jesus "the Chief Shepherd" (I Peter 5:4). But this same Peter also admonished earth-bound men, elders of the church, to be shepherds to the church of God.
Many "independent Christians" maintain the notion that they are going to follow only Christ. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken) charge is that there is no need for the ministry. If that is so, why then does God consider scattered sheep as not being in a fold? Notice Jeremiah 23:1-4:
"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!" says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: "You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings," says the Lord. "But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking," says the Lord.
This same principle is expressed in Ezekiel 34.
The independents are scattered, but they think they are in the fold. If their premise is correct, then why all the instruction in the Bible about gathering those who are scattered? The Bible gives the impression that a person is not in the fold unless he is with the group. Why else did Jesus give the parable of leaving the ninety-nine sheep to rescue the one not with the flock? It is interesting that Jesus depicted the separated sheep in His parable in Matthew 18:12-14 as having gone astray, and in Luke 15:4-7 as being lost.
Jesus has set certain men in His church as shepherds to tend His flock under Him. They are described in Ephesians 4:11-16 as His gift to the church. In giving this gift to the church, He in turn gave gifts to them to enable them to perform their job. Like all others, some perform their appointed tasks faithfully (Matthew 25:21, 23), while others are unjust stewards of their responsibilities (Acts 20:30).
To whom much is given, much is required, and so the minister will have to answer for his use of those gifts. James makes it very clear that the teacher will receive the stricter judgment (James 3:1). But the independent has a strong proclivity to paint all with one brush, perhaps forgetting that he also will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to answer for his use of his gifts and for his possibly too critical judgments.
What is the independent looking for? Is he looking for a pastor completely unstained by any hint of defect in character or expression of personality? Where will he find him? Is he looking for a leader with absolutely perfect doctrine? What is it? Is he looking for a teacher who has exquisite ability to express the teaching with clarity and beauty? Is he looking for the fruits of that person's ministry? I think a person should look for these things. It would be wonderful to find such a person, but at the same time we must realize that finding all of them in perfection in one man will be very difficult. Especially in this difficult time, one should not make his search with the attitude that he will settle down and take root only when he finds a pastor who deserves to have him in the congregation!
God makes it very clear that other shepherds besides Christ are necessary for leading and caring for His people. Zechariah 10:2 says, "For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd." The context makes very clear that God is speaking of human leaders.
Moses understood the need for human leadership even though Israel had the cloud to follow in the wilderness (Numbers 27:15-20). The context shows God's clear assent to Moses' proposal that He appoint a human leader to assume his responsibilities upon his death.
Making a diligent and honest search for a true shepherd of the church of God is everyone's responsibility. It is imperative that we find a fold where we can be properly fed and where we can serve. The enemy has scattered the flock through the extensive doctrinal changes, and God has permitted it for our good.
John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust