By Thomas Williamson
In 1970 five prominent charismatic
leaders, Derek Prince, Don Basham, Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson and Ern Baxter,
electrified the Christian world by announcing that they had entered into a covenant of
accountability with each other. To avoid falling into temptation, they were going to meet
regularly and hold each other accountable for their Christian walk and life decisions.
This new movement, called
"discipleship" or "shepherding", attracted thousands of followers, who
willingly submitted themselves to be accountable to their spiritual leaders in all
matters, including finances, dating and marriage, career choices, and where they lived and
Human nature being what it is, thousands of
lives were ruined as their spiritual leaders took advantage of them, forcing their hapless
"disciples" to give up their Christian liberty and power of decision-making,
subordinating their personalities and talents for the good of the larger group.
In 1985 the famous five founders of this
movement announced that their covenant of accountability was not working out and they were
breaking it up. They have been apologizing for the abuses of this movement ever since.
However, the concept of accountability keeps
popping up in various circles, under new guises. Some men's movements are urging their
followers to meet in small groups for the purpose of holding each other accountable. There
is no shortage of would-be "disciplers" circulating in some churches and
Christian movements, looking for spineless "schmoes" who are willing to be
"discipled" and let someone tell them what to do with their lives.
Before we jump on the accountability bandwagon,
let's stop and see what the Bible has to say about all this.
First of all, are we accountable to our leaders
and fellow Christian concerning our personal finances? The Bible answer to this question
is NO! In Luke 12:13-14, the Lord Jesus was invited to step into an inheritance dispute
and He declined to do so. Then in Luke 12:15 Jesus identified the motive of those who try
to tell others what to do with their money--it is covetousness!
When overpioused Christians try to tell you
what to do with your money, it is time to hold on to your wallet and head for the nearest
exit. No Christian has the authority to tell us what to do with our money. The Apostle
Peter disclaimed any authority over his members' finances and property, Acts 5:4. We do
have a duty to tithe to the local church, as affirmed by Jesus in Mt. 23:23 and by Paul in
1 Corinthians 9:13-14, and this should be preached today. But even here, our
accountability is before God, not some nosy Christian.
There are some who would like to hold fellow
Christians accountable for whom they choose to marry, but the Bible does not grant this
type of authority to anyone except the parents of the child who is getting married, 1
Corinthians 7:36-38. Paul told widows that they could freely choose their marriage
partner, 1 Cor. 7:39. Moses gave the same advice to the daughters of Zelophehad, Numbers
Should Christians allow someone else to hold
them accountable for major life decisions, such as career, where to live, etc.? Here
again, the bible does not give anyone that kind of authority over us. The Apostle Paul
suggested to Apollos that he go to Corinth in 1 Cor. 16:12. Apollos replied that he did
not feel like going, and that was the end of it. Paul accepted the fact that Apollos had
the liberty to exercise his own decision-making power, and he did not rebuke Apollos or
try to make him accountable.
The whole emphasis of the teaching of the New
Testament is on Christian liberty and the freedom of the Christian, not accountability.
Christian liberty is one of the main themes of Galatians, where Paul rebuked the Apostle
Peter for trying to tell the Gentiles how to live (Gal. 2:14) and advised Christians to
"Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free," Gal. 5:1.
Paul advised the Corinthians not to submit themselves to abusive "disciplers," 2
There are many people who want to gain control
of their fellow Christians so they can straighten them out, but most of the time we have
no scriptural basis for trying to make the other guy live the way we do. In Romans 14:3
Paul forbids us to judge each other over matters of diet and then goes on to defend the
great principle of Christian liberty, saying, "Who art thou that judgest another
man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for
God is able to make him to stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another
esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."
The woods are full of people who do not want to
let their fellow Christians be fully persuaded in their own minds regarding nonessential
matters, things that are not sin, personal decisions that god has given each of us the
liberty to decide for ourselves. Those who submit to such bossy, domineering types will
find that, in most cases, they can never grovel and submit completely enough to satisfy
their masters and be accepted as spiritually mature. They are trapped in a course of study
from which they can never graduate, taught by teachers who treat them like kindergarten
children. Once their devotion and financial resources have been sucked dry, they are often
unceremoniously booted out of the religious society to which they devoted everything.
As Baptists, we are people of the Book,
followers of that the Bible teaches. Therefore, we should reject these notions of
accountability, discipleship and shepherding that are being hatched in charismatic and
We believe in accountability to the Lordship of
Jesus Christ, to the commandments of the Word of God, and to the church discipline process
of the local New Testament Missionary Baptist church. But we reject the lordship of mere
humans trying to Lord it over their disciples, 1 Pet. 5:3. We are not libertines who will
let our people commit any sin without rebuke, nor are we harsh, judgmental types who will
condemn people for things that are not sin while trying to control their entire lives. We
must offer the right balance of church discipline and Christian liberty to refugees from
the liberal churches where "anything goes," as well as those fleeing the
cult-like authoritarian churches where vulnerable believers are "discipled" and
forced to give up their liberty and individuality.