In chapter 16 of Numbers we read about the rebellion promoted by a Levite, Korah. Great-grandson of Levi, there is no doubt he had much influence and authority, for he managed to gather after him two hundred and fifty men of renown, leaders of the people.
Inflated by his position, Korah promoted a demonstration of power before Moses and Aaron in order to tear away their authority, exclaiming that Moses and Aaron unduly exalted themselves over the people, where all should be equal. With his partners, Dathan and Abiram he instigated the people to revolt, asserting also that Moses had brought Israel "out of a land flowing with milk and honey" (Egypt) to kill them in the wilderness, and kept acting like a prince over them!
It was all a lie, without any foundation. Moses hadn't assumed the leadership of his own will, having shown much reluctance before accepting the mission which the Lord entrusted to him, and Aaron was also appointed by the Lord because Moses needed a helper. The people would have already entered the land of Canaan if it had not been for their unbelief. If they had followed the command of Moses, they would now have been enjoying the true land which "flowed with milk and honey", which was not Egypt where they had been enslaved.
Moses wanted nothing for himself, contrary to Korah, who provoked this rebellion because of envy. The Lord had defined the position and ministry of each one, including that of Korah, a coatite (Exodus 6:16,18; Numbers 3:17,28,29,31; 4:36; 26:57,62).
In his meekness, Moses didn't retort with invectives or try to defend his position. With all humility he proposed to leave it to the Lord to indicate who He had chosen to be holy, that is, the man God had separated for Himself for this purpose. It is God who makes the choice and enables His servants to discharge their particular services. Moses knew what motivated them - even though they already had an important function in the Tabernacle, they wanted leadership for themselves in the exercise of priesthood. Moses rebuked them for this and reminded them that they were acting against the Lord.
Dathan and Abiram did not want to cooperate in this test and made malicious accusations against Moses and Aaron. This time Moses became angry with such an injustice and declared his innocence before God.
The Lord's judgement came, severe and swift. If it weren't for the intercession of Moses and Aaron, He would have consumed the whole congregation. The main rebels, Korah, Dathan and Abiram were punished in a remarkable way: just as their purpose had been to separate the people, the Lord separated them from the people, then "the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods." As Paul reminds us: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." (Galatians 6:7)
It is abominable for a man or a group to revolt against an order established by God, and to introduce something to divide His people. The way to rebellion begins with discontent and, from the scepticism generated, passes on to complaints against circumstances and the order established by God, then acquires bitterness and resentment finally followed by rebellion and hostility. Let us watch if we are discontented, sceptic, inclined to complain or to be resentful, these attitudes will take us to rebellion against God and the consequences will be serious for us, as they were for that people.
When brethren in the faith meet somewhere in the name of Christ regularly, accepting the lordship of the Lord Jesus and acknowledging the control of the Holy Spirit, unconditionally submitting to the only and exclusive authority of the Word of God contained in the Bible, a church of God is formed.
Its main functions are worship, praise, thanksgiving, the Lord's Supper, prayer, supplication, intercession, communication and ministry (Hebrews 13:15-16, 1 Timothy 2:1-2; Acts 20:7). There is no teaching or example in the Bible approving an interference or jurisdiction over the church by another, even less on the part of a person or group of people not belonging to it. Even though they weren't far from each other, the seven churches of Revelation were very different, yet the Lord didn't order there to be any interference between them, or that one be "put out of fellowship" by the others because of its state.
Whenever a church is formed on this basis, God provides it with sufficient spiritual gifts for the edification of its members, which include those necessary for its leadership and administration (1 Corinthians 12). The leaders responsible for the oversight of the church, known as elders, presbyters or bishops, are called by the Lord for this service, they are never elected by the flock (1 Corinthians 12:6,11). The church is not ruled democratically, but it is the Holy Spirit who binds its members, so that each may perform his part as it has been conceded to him.
New birth must be the experience of every believer who is a member of the church, but the spiritual condition, wisdom and ability of each one varies a lot. The leaders of the church which have been approved by God are recognised by their spiritual maturity, their wisdom in teaching and in leadership, and their dedication to the work. The basic qualifications required are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-20. Integrity of character is essential.
Referring to the high priest, the Bible says: "no man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was" (Hebrews 5:4). So also the servants of God are chosen by Him, and we should never try to impose our will without His authority. The New Testament teaches us to recognise the gifts of ministry (1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Ephesians 4:8,11,12), the overseers (elders, presbyters, bishops) and the servants (deacons) (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).
Even today we see churches being disturbed by jealousy and ambition of some of their members, who in their conceit want a prominent position for themselves, without admitting that God does not want them there, because they lack character or the necessary gifts or talents. This results in rebellion against their leadership and even in the division of the church, Korah style. We are instructed to be clothed with humility and meekness (Colossians 3:12), as all authority in the church comes from God.
The members of the church are responsible concerning their leaders: to pray for them, to show appreciation of their work, to obey them, to hold them in esteem, to honour them, to give them financial support and to trust them. Just as the congregation isn't competent to elect its overseers, it cannot dismiss them from their position by means of election. The overseer will give account to God for his performance (Hebrews 13:17), not to the flock. No accusation is to be received against an elder except from two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).
Let us beware not to perish in the rebellion of Korah!