Question & Answer Forum: Accountability of Workers

[This first question completes last month’s questions.]

What is the significance of expressions similar to “come in My Name” (Matthew 24:5)?

This expression in the Lord’s Olivet Discourse is one of seven instances in the AV where “in My Name” is literally “on [epí] My Name.” In seven other similar phrases about the Lord’s Name, epí (on) is translated “in.” Thayer’s lexicon gives the meaning of the preposition in this construction as resting on, hoping on, or basing an appeal on, the name. It indicates that the value of the name is the foundation of the action.

When deceivers “come in My Name” (Matt 24:5; Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8), they use the Name of the promised Christ for their own advantage. Jesus Christ is the only One capable of fulfilling all that this Name involves. He gives value to the Name. Ironically, in the deceivers’ opposition to Him, they must invoke all the value of His person to further their agenda.

The Lord speaks of receiving a child “in [epí] My Name” (Matt 18:5; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48). Based on the value that believers place on Christ, they receive the child. Twice, performing miracles is “in [epí] My/Thy Name” (Mark 9:39; Luke 9:49). Miracle workers appealed to the value of His person to perform miracles. No wonder the Lord said they could hardly employ the value of His person in their miracles and then speak against Him! Speaking, preaching, and teaching were in [epí] His Name (Luke 24:47; Acts 4:17, 18; 5:28, 40). The messengers preached Christ because their hope and confidence rested in Him, and so should we (Luke 24:47). The remaining instance is the command to be baptized “in [epí] the Name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Those many believers were baptized based on their changed view of the worth of His person. Lately, they and their nation had rejected Him and crucified Him. Now, as they listened to Peter’s message, they recognized that He is Lord and Christ (v 36).

D. Oliver

If a commended worker moves to a different assembly than the one from which he was commended, to what assembly is he accountable?

Some principles from the New Testament may point us in the right direction, but we can’t be dogmatic.

With Barnabas and Saul, the Spirit of God used the leadership in the commending assembly to recognize that God called these individuals (Acts 13:1-4). In a special sense, the workers commended from Antioch were accountable to that assembly to inform them about how they had fulfilled their work (14:26, 27). A report of their work to another assembly would not have that same specific focus on “fulfilling” their work. Barnabas and Saul were particularly accountable to the Antioch assembly, because through that assembly, the Lord confirmed their work.

A present-day worker may become part of an assembly the Lord has planted through his labors. In this case, he definitely should retain accountability to his commending assembly. An assembly planted through his labors may find it difficult to carry out responsibilities associated with accountability for either doctrinal error or moral misbehavior. As devastating as such a case would be for this relatively new assembly, having to confront a father in the faith and deal with such a matter could divide and destroy this assembly. In addition, some believers might question the objectivity of the worker’s own spiritual “children.”

In a different scenario, a commended worker may move to an established, mature assembly. Even in this case, the commending assembly still seems to bear some unique responsibility for commending that individual. If, for instance, the assembly to which he has moved decides that the worker needs to limit his work or that he should be removed from the work, that assembly would hardly negate his letter. That assembly’s elders would contact the commending assembly. Altering his letter would be the commending assembly’s responsibility; they signed it. The principle of Christian courtesy (1 Peter 3:8) would require that consideration! Even Paul would not make a decision in a matter that was Philemon’s responsibility (Phe 14).

These hypothetical circumstances help to show where accountability lies.

On the other hand, suppose the commending assembly is many miles from the worker’s residence and present home assembly. The commending assembly could hardly be expected to keep up to date with every detail of the preacher’s doctrine and behavior. So, his present home assembly would have to take leadership in matters of accountability.

These considerations seem to indicate that the commended worker would have specific accountability to two assemblies: his assembly of residence and his commending assembly.

D. Oliver

Practically speaking, how would two or more assemblies share accountability for one commended worker?

If a commended worker were called into question for some reason, both his home and his commending assemblies ought to cooperate in this matter. This cannot, however, override the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18:15-20. Each assembly answers directly to the Lord. In the unusual case where those two assemblies disagree on how to handle a matter and each has made reasonable attempts to reach a consensus with the other assembly, each assembly is responsible to act as it feels it must before the Lord. If the commending assembly withdraws the letter of commendation, the other assembly may feel, before the Lord, that it is the right thing to issue its own letter commending the worker to the grace of God for his work (Acts 14:26). If they differ on handling matters of doctrine or behavior, each assembly has to act as it senses the Word of God guides it. No assembly has jurisdiction over another assembly. Each assembly acts directly both on behalf of the Lord and in accountability to the Lord. It would, however, be a sad day if such a difference of judgment existed between two assemblies, seeing they must both be guided by the same Bible.

Weighing as many applicable principles as we can discover is our only way to know the mind of God for even such rare circumstances.

D. Oliver