How Church Leadership Silences Remnant Voices :: By Jonathan Brentner

Jan Markell has made popular the term “remnant church,” which refers to today’s minority of saints who maintain beliefs in the pre-Tribulation Rapture, a literal seven-year Tribulation, and the thousand-year reign of Jesus over the earth before the eternal state.

As many of you can attest, those of us in this group have been disenfranchised or ostracized by churches that claim to believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Its leaders often scoff at our beliefs and forbid any teaching that goes against their covenant theology, which claims that the church is now God’s kingdom on the earth and designates the Millennium as either the church age or the eternal state.

How did we get to this place? Why are we regarded as outcasts in churches that claim to believe the Bible and, in many cases, faithfully proclaim the saving message of the cross?

I believe we can find some answers to these questions in 3 John, in the little-known pastor named Diotrophes who personifies many church leaders today, particularly those immersed in the aforementioned covenant theology.

When I wrote the chapter on Diotrophes for my book Cancel This!, I didn’t yet realize how closely his behavior aligns with today’s pastors and elder boards that effectively silence the voices those of us who long for Jesus’ appearing.

Who Is Diotrophes?

Although very few believers recognize the name, Diotrophes’ behavior provides us with an abundance of insights into those that rule over the body of Christ rather than serve those that the Lord places under their care.

Here’s what we know about Diotrophes from 3 John 9-10:

  • He rebuffed John’s apostolic authority, which highlighted his arrogance, among other things.
  • He paid no attention to the letter that John wrote to him concerning the matter of hospitality.
  • He spoke “malicious words” against the Apostle John.
  • He refused to allow those in his church to show hospitality to traveling believers, who were often itinerate teachers traveling to churches in the late first century AD.
  • With no place to stay, the traveling preachers had no opportunity to speak to the believers in his church.
  • He excommunicated those who did open their homes to these travelers, which left them with no church home.

Why did he have such a contemptuous view of John? We know that the apostle was about ninety years old at the time, which leads many to suggest that the much younger Diotrophes believed he knew much better how to conduct the affairs in his church than the aged apostle.

Diotrophes didn’t want anyone to interfere in how he ran his church, even if it was one of the Lord’s select apostles or an itinerate preacher passing through his town.

When Elder-Led Signifies Ruling Rather than Serving

Although I agree that an elder form of church leadership has biblical merit, I have observed that when the pastoral staff and board regard the church as a kingdom, they often see themselves as rulers rather than shepherds. Please understand that shepherds lead; they never rule.

The result of such domineering leadership is that those in the chairs have no say in the staffing of the church; the elders make all decisions concerning the mission and affairs of the church. Because the staff and elders themselves have the final say in who joins their select group, they become a self-propagating group that strictly maintains the company line of covenant theology.

Additions to the pastoral staff are announced to the church, and it’s often the case that they have received training at a seminary that teaches covenant theology.

The ruling board at such institutions often becomes an ingrown clique that excludes all viewpoints with which they disagree. This dictatorial approach to church leadership might seem okay when all their beliefs are biblically sound, but what if they are not? What if they have unbiblical views of the Rapture and Tribulation, such as those that hold to covenant theology? What if the pastor believes one can lose his or her salvation? In either case, there’s no room for a dissenting voice or for a discussion of what the Bible teaches.

If one happens to have gray hair, it’s all the more the reason for Diotrophes-like pastors/elders to dismiss that person as a nobody with little value, just as this elder from long ago treated the aged Apostle John with much disdain. Based on the emails that I have received, I know many of you in the remnant community have experienced such disrespect, just as I have on several occasions.

An Example

Here’s an example of how a covenant pastor might mute the voices of the remnant church. An elder-led church votes to call someone as their pastor; let’s say he claims to be premillennial (one who believes the Second Coming happens between the seven-year Tribulation and thousand-year reign of Jesus). What’s not clear at the time is that the candidate believes the eternal state equals the millennium, which signifies that he doesn’t have a literal view of Revelation 20:1-10 or of most of the last book of the Bible. He adheres to something called “covenant premillennialism,” a term that never existed in the church until the past fifty years or so.

Once a covenant theologian pastor leads a congregation, he’s able to change the direction of the church, especially if he’s highly skilled in communication and forceful. He’s able to control the selection of other pastoral staff and those that serve on the elder board.

Because they lack in-depth biblical training in matters such as the Rapture, Tribulation, and Millennium, most of the members in the church go along with the new direction. Those that understand the biblical basis for these things soon realize that something’s wrong with the teaching they hear.

The pastors of churches immersed in covenant theology are often excellent speakers and godly men that draw many people to their churches. Many, however, mistake this aura of success as affirmation of their covenant theology and the exclusion of other viewpoints.

Sadly, the members of such places never hear of the over-the-top joy that awaits them in eternity and find no consolation that comes from understanding how the current events of our day fit like a glove with what the Bible says about the days leading up to the seven-year Tribulation.

The Similarities Between Diotrophes and Domineering Elder Boards

The following shows the similarities between Diotrophes and domineering elder boards that are immersed in covenant theology or perhaps Preterism or Dominion Theology, which also quiets the voices of the remnant church.

Diotrophes: Disregarded Jesus’ admonition not to “lord it over” those in his charge.
Domineering Elder Boards:
Have total say in the staffing of the church and its missional agenda.

Dioptrophes: Dismissed John’s letter without heeding its instructions regarding hospitality.
Domineering Elder Boards: Regard the book of Revelation as irrelevant for today’s saints.

Diotrophes: Arrogantly assumed he knew better how to run a church than the much older Apostle John.
Domineering Elder Boards: Assume they possess superior beliefs than the seasoned saints in their churches who talk about Jesus’ imminent appearing.

Diotrophes: Refused to recognize John’s apostolic authority over his church.
Domineering Elder Boards: Despite what they claim, they don’t acknowledge the authority of God’s Word, as is evident by their dismissal of the author’s intent by spiritualizing the words of prophetic texts.

Diotrophes: Excommunicated those that didn’t follow his directive on hospitality.
Domineering Elder Boards: Disenfranchise those that believe in Jesus’ imminent appearing and future thousand-year rule over the nations, effectively putting them out of the church.

Doptrphes: Disobeyed Jesus’ command not to “lord it over” those in his charge.
Domineering Elder Boards: Their domineering leadership style is the exact opposite of Jesus’ command for His followers to not “lord it over” those in their charge.

Diotrophes: John doesn’t criticize his theology in 3 John.
Domineering Elder Boards: Often maintain a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and sound views regarding the saving message of the cross.

Diotrophes: Without a place the stay, the itinerant teachers weren’t able to teach at his church.
Domineering Elder Boards: Refuse to allow any teaching that disagrees with their belief that the church is God’s physical kingdom on earth. The only voice allowed is that of covenant theology.

A significant reason that many “remnant believers” have no church home today is that the staff and elders of the church they attend, or once attended, follow the example of Diotrophes. They “lord it over” people like kings ruling over small kingdoms. The members have no say whatsoever in the staffing, the direction of the church, or its missional agenda.

Shepherds Lead; They Never “Lord it Over” the Sheep

I’m not an expert on church leadership, but I am aware of how an empowered elder board, particularly one immersed in covenant theology, silences the voices of the remnant church. Its domineering spirit is light years away from what the Lord said about servant leadership.

In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus said this about those that would lead His sheep:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Apostle Peter understood what the Savior meant about leadership. In 1 Peter 5:1-10, he instructed that those who serve as elders copy the humble example of the Savior rather than domineer over those in their charge. I read these verses at least once a week because I need the constant reminder that I’m a servant and that the Lord deserves all the glory for everything He accomplishes through me.

This domineering style of leadership often expresses itself in how pastors mention the matter of future things in their sermons.

I find it more than a little curious that in churches that proclaim our hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing, one often hears references to other viewpoints. When the topic of future things comes up, pastors in such places often acknowledge the existence of other viewpoints. They are confident that what they believe aligns with God’s Word and are willing to defend what they believe.

In churches devoted to covenant theology (or Preterism or Dominion Theology), however, there’s never a mention of other viewpoints, nor is there a defense of what it believes. It’s always presented as though it’s fact, as though no other belief exists.

The Church is the Body of Christ, Not a Kingdom

The New Testament, however, is clear that our inheritance of the kingdom lies in the future rather than the present. In 1 Corinthians 15:47-55, the Apostle Paul tells us that we cannot inherit the kingdom until Jesus appears for His church and gives us imperishable and incorruptible bodies. His words cannot possibly be misconstrued to mean anything else; we cannot inherit the Lord’s kingdom until after the event Paul describes in these verses, which we today refer to as the “Rapture” of the church.

The fact that we are coheirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) signifies that we don’t yet possess the kingdom. Is that not what it means to be heirs?

The New Testament never refers to the church as a kingdom, not once, but repeatedly identifies it as the “body of Christ.” Jesus is the only head of the church; He’s the only one that rules.

The whole point of the gifts of the Spirit is that we are all equal under His authority, albeit with differing roles based on our gifts and places of service.

The apostle’s words in Romans 12:3-8 eloquently describe how the Lord intends the body of Christ to operate with all the parts serving with humility:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

While you’re likely to hear an emphasis on spiritual gifts in churches immersed in covenant theology, the equality that Paul stresses in the above passage doesn’t exist. The pastoral staff and elders rule, and if you use your gift to further their ministry programs and agenda, all is well. But woe to the one that suggests a viewpoint that opposes the company line! How dare that person question anything we do at our church!

I speak as one whose voice has been silenced in the churches I have attended during the past five years, and perhaps that taints my viewpoint somewhat.

On the other hand, I recognize the spirit of Diotrophes that exists when pastors and/or elder boards dictate everything that happens in a church and rule rather than lead and serve. As I mentioned earlier, there’s biblical merit in elder-led churches, but most definitely not in the domineering way it’s practiced in many churches today.

And it’s certainly not honoring to the Lord when such churches silence the saints who make up today’s remnant church and watch for Jesus’ imminent appearing.

Thanks so much for reading! Maranatha!


I provide a detailed defense of the Pretribulation viewpoint in: The Triumph of the Redeemed-An Eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times. I demonstrate, using an abundance of quotes, that the belief in a thousand-year reign of Jesus dominated the church during its first three hundred years. The historic view of the millennium is a literal view of Revelation 20:1-10 that places it between the Tribulation and the eternal state. There’s no such thing as a “historic premillennialism” that denies a literal interpretation of this text.

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