Heb 13:17 "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."
One characteristic of all cults is having leaders that simply must be followed and never questioned. If you look for the top 10 characteristics of cults on line, you will always see authoritarian leadership as number one. Autonomous and authoritarian leadership is something that one should steer clear of and yet, it is a prime characteristic of most churches, especially those that are non-denominational in which the leaders do not have a hierarchy to answer to. They often use phrases like you have a rebellious spirit, or so and so simply cannot submit to authority.
As I have stated so many times, Jesus and his followers changed the interpretation of scripture from a legal constitutional reading to a solely redemptive reading and the same is true here. One cannot take the scripture as a hard fast rule book and properly follow Jesus Christ. But in this case, in Hebrews 13:17, the actual grammar coupled with the occasion of the letter also demands a different understanding of the scripture than the one so commonly used by authoritarian leaders to demand that they be followed unquestionably.
Two things to consider in interpreting what was meant to the Hebrew believers. First is the occasion of the letter. They had waited and waited for the judgment of the temple system and it had not come as prophesied. They were being persecuted by the non-believing Jews, and many were ready to renounce Christ, and go back to temple Judaism without their Messiah. This was to avoid the persecution from the Jews and the Romans. Second, given the circumstances of the occasion of the letter, the way it reads in the NIV is more likely the actual meaning of the verse.
"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you
as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a
joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." Hebrews 13:17 NIV. The verb PEITHESTHE, with the first meaning of confidence or "have confidence" goes well with the above occasion of the letter. The writer of Hebrews is telling them to *have confidence* in the message of Christ that their leaders had given them. It was not giving them direction to just willy-nilly obey whatever their leaders said. Their leaders were given responsibility to promote the gospel and make sure that it sunk in and progressed. This follows the redemptive directive of Jesus and his first century followers. It is not a rule or regulation that some preacher can quote on any occasion to prove that one must obey all of his or her commands.
When you find leaders that demand that they are the authority set in place by God and that the rest of the congregation must follow and obey them, you have leaders that are twisting and misusing this passage of scripture. It is revolting when I hear pastors and leaders boast about how obedient their flock is. This is just another indication of how far evangelical Christianity is off the mark and how much the so-called leaders need to humble themselves and seek true understanding instead of just continuing to follow the dogma line. This is a time for examination and questioning. It is not a time of following lock step no matter what! This is not the only reason that evangelical Christianity is so cult like, but it is one of the main ones, and it is the perfect tool for power hungry leaders to dish out spiritual abuse.