The "A" Word
There are some words that just make me cringe when I hear them. For example, when someone uses God's name as part of a swear word, I shudder. Not just out of shock that God's name would be used like that, but also out of fear of the judgment that will inevitably come upon the person who has so little fear of God that they use His name like that.
Another word that seems to make the heart of Christians shudder is the "A" word, accountability. Accountability means that someone holds me to a standard to which I might not measure up. For new or immature Christians accountability can be uncomfortable. After all, if you are a new believer in Jesus or one who hasn't matured in Christ-likeness then you will certainly not measure up. Even mature Christians don't like being held accountable. After all, long-held beliefs or actions are hard to abandon. But having someone to whom you are accountable, someone who gives you loving and informed guidance on how to grow and mature in what you believe and how you live is a good thing. Accountability is God's blessing to help us grow in holiness.
The Bible shows us clear lines of accountability. Take Jesus for instance. In John 8:29 He said that He always did the things that were pleasing to God the Father. Jesus was, in that sense, accountable to God. Jesus could look at His works, and God's standards and conclude that He was perfectly aligned with God's will. After He said this Jesus turned right around and gave a standard for His disciples "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine" (John 8:31). Jesus was accountable to God, the disciples accountable to Jesus. Next we see Jesus' apostles holding others accountable. Consider Paul. He held the churches He had planted to, among other things, the standard of His example. In Philippians 3:17 he told the church to follow his example. Another of Jesus' apostles, Peter, told the elders leading the churches throughout the world to exercise oversight over the church (1 Peter 5:2). He also told the members of the church to be subject to the elders (1 Peter 5:5). Peter was setting the standard of accountability for elders and for church members. So we see that elders are accountable to the commands of the apostles, and church members are accountable to the elders. In the Bible then we have an accountability structure that is rooted in obedience to God that radiates world-wide from Him, through Jesus, the apostles, elders, and church members with the ultimate standard of belief and practice being Jesus Himself. This accountability structure is God's gift to His Church and is there for our good and not for our harm.
I know some object to accountability on that basis that it can be abused. I don't dismiss this and agree that it is a danger. Here is what we teach our church about how to spot when authority is being abused. Here is a memorable acrostic I picked up somewhere to help you be on the lookout for spiritual abusers. They are the ones who are:
Spiritual abuse can be hurtful, damaging, and even deadly. Nevertheless, I think that more damage has been done to the church through a lack of accountability rather than through its abuse. If there was better accountability, there would be less abuse.
So what can you do to embrace the grace of God's provision of accountability and safeguard your soul from abuse? I would suggest three things. First, watch out for signs of abuse. Second, don't follow anyone who is not part of a church to which they are accountable. We live in the internet age. There are a lot of self-appointed internet preachers, teachers, and watchdogs. They criticize others yet place themselves outside accountability to any local church leader. Be discerning. Ask them the name of their pastor. Contact their pastor and check them out. Google their name and/or their ministry name and see if there is a history of abuse. Be careful, your maturity and growth in Christ are at stake. Third, if you are part of a church and have questions about what is taught or about the guidance given, then approach someone who has responsibility for oversight. Meet with a pastor or elder. Carefully and respectfully show them where you think they stray from the standard of the Bible. Then listen with a discerning yet teachable heart. If they won't meet with you or you don't agree with their understanding you may choose to leave that church, or you may in fact find that a relationship of accountability has called you up to be the person you are in Christ.