God has designed many places of responsibility, then He placed men in those roles. As men, we can have a distorted view of the office and the man in the office. Which should receive the greater respect? Which brings the honor to the other? Does it make a difference how we answer these questions?
There are numerous reasons why the office is of greater importance than the man serving in the office. While we tend to consider ministerial callings, many of the principles in focus would apply to fathers in the home and men in other areas of responsibility.
The office is more important than the man because the office came before the man. God established the roles of service before we came into existence. God called men to fill the role of fatherhood. The roles of prophet, priest and king were established in the Old Testament. The New Testament church has deacons, ministers and bishops (overseers). The Mennonites did not create these offices. The Pilgrim Conference did not design these roles of church authority. God did. They were instituted before we were on the scene.
The office is more important than the man because the office will continue after men pass off the scenes. Men come and fill roles of responsibility, but history has a long list of men who died and the work was picked up by others. We will be no exception to this historical fact. The office one presently fills will continue beyond his short life.
The office is more important than the man because the office deserves unqualified respect. Second Peter 2:27 says, "Honour the king." This respect was not conditioned by the man who was the king. Nero was a godless king who was in an office that was to be respected. Parents are to be honored because they are parents. They fill a position worthy of respect. Masters fill a role of responsibility to be honored (1Tim 6:1). Church leaders who rule well are worthy of double honor. It would be consistent to consider the first honor to be for the office they are ruling in (1Tim 5:17). The second honor may be for the person who faithfully fills the role of service. Fallible man cannot claim the same degree of unqualified respect the office deserves.
The office is more important than the man because God's design of the office is infallible. God created a perfect plan for parents to fulfill. God created a perfect plan of authority within the church. The problems in the home and church do not reflect against the God-ordained roles of authority, but rather the imperfect activities of those in the places of responsibility. When we reflect against the office, we are reflecting against God's perfect design.
The office is more important than the man because the person in the office needs to live in respect to the office. Parents have the solemn responsibility to be good parents filling their role. Deacons are called to be faithful deacons as they handle the church monies and relate to the needs of the congregation. Ministers are to be faithful in ministering the Gospel to the needs of those to whom they are called to serve. A bishop has the serious responsibility to oversee the spiritual life of the church. When we as called individuals grasp the responsibility the work our calling includes, we should be challenged to humbly live up to the God designed purpose of the office.
History has many sad illustrations of what can happen when a person is regarded above the office. If the person in the office feels he is greater than the office, faulty concepts of self and opportunities will prevail. If people have higher respect for the man than the office, the man may be unduly honored and ruined.
If we respect the man above the office, we will diminish the respect for the office. The office as stated above has a calling for the man to live up to. The respect for the man and the office will exist when leader is faithful, but when a man fails in the office, respect for the office will be wanting. The reason is because the man in focus received more honor than the office.
If we respect the man above the office, we will fail to hold the leader accountable for the misuse of the office. Many problems in leadership are a result of abused authority. While David did not lift his hand against the Lord's anointed, God did have another man of authority to challenge the errors of King Saul. Samuel rightfully gave Saul the correction and direction he needed. Later, King David needed Nathan the prophet to challenge him of his misuse of the office. God has designed that men have equals and superiors to whom they are accountable. Every conservative Mennonite bishop, minister, deacon and father needs to be accountable to others. Where this is not clearly understood, men can misuse the office without any accountability.
If we respect the man above the office, we will stand by leaders at the expense of principles. God has incorporated principles in His leadership plan for man. When a person is favored because of his wealth or position, the stage is set for loyalty to be shown to the person even though he is in the wrong. Justice is no longer vindicated. Leaders are exonerated at the expense of those under their authority. Sin and its vices will grip men of authority and who then dares to stand in the way of such protected men in office?
If we respect the man above the office, we will create untouchable leaders. One of the strengths of the United States government is that even the president can be impeached for improper conduct in office. In governments where this is not true, the stories are not good. In the church, we consider qualifications of men before they are ordained. If they become untouchable leaders after they are ordained, we have lost sight of the qualifications for the office and have become more concerned about saving the man's reputation than the dignity for office. No earthly authority is untouchable. God can always touch a man. God knows all men have a carnal nature. Therefore, all men need to be within touch of other men of authority.
If we respect the man above the office, we will lose God's blessing in our homes and churches. God has not promised to immediately deal with all problems men create on the earth. He may allow men to live with and in the confusion they have created. His blessing is withdrawn because men have digressed from His wisdom and will. The Children of Israel give us many examples of the years of hardship they created for themselves because men in the office were not faithful to the office. Kings, priests, prophets and the people lost God's blessing. Conservative American Mennonites will also lose God's blessing when we hold men's admiration and acceptance above the responsibility to be humble and faithful in the role of service God intends us to fulfill.
God desires that the roles of His design are respected by the man in the office and the beholders of the office. When men are faithful in the office, the office and the office holder are worthy of double respect from men. God will also give the credit-worthy leader words of commendation for being a good and faithful servant in the office of His calling.
- Richland, PA