“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13)
It is easy for us to point out the flaws and criticize the actions of others. This is especially true when it comes to Church leadership. There is a time and a place for us to question and criticize leadership. However, we are commanded to respect these church leaders even when we believe their words or actions are wrong or harmful. We are to speak the truth in love. We are to stand on the truth with respect. Above all, despite our disagreement or objections, we are to be obedient.
This is not the only time St. Paul commands us to obey authority. “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)
Today the ability to be critical of any Church leader publicly is at our fingertips. Disagreements must be made respectfully and with recognition that the leaders we disparage are placed in those positions by the Lord. There are countless individuals who solely focus on complaining about Church leaders without any desire to speak about things the leaders do that are strong and good. A tunnel vision approach to Church leadership is harmful, disrespectful, and against the commands of Sacred Scripture.
This is not to say we should never address wrongdoings within Church leadership. On the contrary, St. Paul speaks about his opposition to the acts of St. Peter when Peter was acting hypocritical. “And when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews (also) acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” (Galatians 2:11-13)
St. Paul corrected Peter because Peter’s actions were hypocritical. They were driving people away from Christ because they were driving people away from the Church and, as a result, away from Jesus. Christ corrects Peter when Peter tells Christ that surely, He (Jesus) will not do that for which was necessary for salvation. Peter proclaimed that Christ was not to die on the cross. Jesus commands Peter to “get behind me Satan”. Christ also puts James and John in their place when they start arguing and discussing positions of power in the kingdom of God. Their pride rises up and Jesus strikes it down.
Criticisms of Church leadership in Sacred Scripture were always rooted in correction of sin. It was based on a desire and intent to prevent leadership from driving people away from salvation as opposed to bringing them closer to Christ. Administrative or logistical decisions were not points of contention or critique. It was only in matters of sin. When we throw stones at Church leadership, we must take care to ensure it is rooted in correction of sin and not being fueled by our own pride or preferences. It should always be done respectfully and, when possible, in person.