A Church with accountability but not legalism

A Church without accountability is not being built by the One who said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). It is not an apostolic Church; not one that conforms to New Testament expectations for the Church.

But what should accountability in Church look like and how does it differ from legalism? I invite you to explore this important theme with me.


Jesus required accountable relationships when he told His disciples to go and make new disciples “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Another truth that teaches accountability for Christians is the fact that (in the Church), we are members of one another (Romans 12:5). We do not “live for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone” (Romans 14:7).

The call for mutual care and accountability, as well as the structure of leadership and membership for the Church taught in the New Testament, assume accountable relationships. 

A closer look at accountability

  • Definition: obligated to give an account for ones actions; responsible to answer to another.
  • Places: home, school, work, government, Church, athletics, nature: law of gravity.
  • Tools: covenants, contracts, laws, rules, boundaries, consequences, relationships.
  • Christian accountability: helping people keep their commitments to God.
  • Benefits: protection and encouragement (Hebrews 3:12-13/10:25-26).

Two kinds of accountability:

1. Mutual Accountability – Two way

  • Hebrews 3:12-13 – Protection – “See to it, brothers (or, “watch out for one another”), that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (see: Watching out for one another)


  • Hebrews 10:24-25 – Encouragement – “Let us think of ways to motivate (or provoke) one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (see: Proverbs 27:17).

2. Mentor Accountability – One way

  • Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
  • I Thessalonians 5:12-13 –“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Thoughts from others:

“Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting.  It is also tough love that holds one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness.  For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability and the subsequent discipline involved. Which is one reason the behavior of Christians is often little different from the behavior of non-Christians.  Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we succumb to cultural pressures.”

“But too often we confuse love with permissiveness.  It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby.  True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.”  (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130)

“Christian community starts at the point of commitment and covenant.  There is no genuine Christian community without a covenant…  Christian community cannot exist without commitment to Jesus as Lord and to each other as sister and brother.  And this must be more than a general mental commitment.  It must be specific and explicit, involving our time, energy, and resources.  Covenant is not just a nebulous commitment to each other; it takes specific shape in history”  (Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church, p. 127).

Final thoughts

Spiritual leaders have authority (Hebrews 13:17) and are to be honored by those under their charge. Sometimes their authority requires them to admonish, rebuke and warn people (I Thessalonians 5:12; Titus 1:13; 2:15; 3:10-11).  As shepherds, leaders must protect and defend the flock (Acts 20:17, 28-31; Titus 1:9). They must engage in ministries of discipline and restoration (I Corinthians 6:5; I Timothy 5:17-21; Galatians 6:1-2). 

Church elders are also warned not to exercise their leadership in a way that is “lording it over those entrusted to you” (I Peter 5:3). There is only one Lord of the Church and He is the Chief Shepherd and overseer of the souls of the Church (I Peter 2:25; 5:4). All human leadership must be an evident extension of the will of the Lord of the Church. This means that while pastors and elders have authority, their leadership is always under and answerable to Jesus Christ.

A Church with the right kind of accountability must guard against becoming legalistic. It will need to teach and re-teach texts like Romans 14-15 while practicing Hebrews 3:12-14. The leaders must be certain that the believers understand the difference between legalism and biblically based authority (see: Understanding Legalism parts 1, 2, 3, 4).

Leaders must repeatedly emphasize the difference between watching one another and watching out for one another. 

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Accountability, Church, Church discipline, Church Leadership, Church membership, Disciple-making, Discipline, Elders, Emerging Leaders, Leadership, Life of a pastor, Pastors and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Church with accountability but not legalism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s