Authority in the Church

Authority in the church is a touchy subject. I won’t even begin to touch the issue of papal authority but rather look to common views of authority within the wider world of evangelicalism. Those more Orthodox will take some issue with this since we owe biblical canon, a good deal of theology and certain liturgical practices to them. That being said, apostolic authority, biblical authority and pastoral authority will be under review.

‘Authority’ is often used by those in leadership to retain control, elicit fear and unwittingly usurp the authority of Christ as the head of the church. Such use of authority can lead to abuse of power. [See my previous post on Authority and abuse] Again, I will not touch the scandals in Roman Catholicism. The issue it seems is that earthly authority is being mistaken for Kingdom authority. Kingdom authority rests in the rule of God as seen in the life of Christ. If the authority in the church (as being within the Kingdom) does not reflect the life and ministry of Jesus, something is askew. I would say it is often our view of authority that is out of line.

With this issue of  authority causing confusion, what is the proper way of addressing the issue of authority and leadership within the Body of Christ? Likewise, how do we deal with apostolic, biblical and pastoral authority? What other areas of authority in the church do we need to address? Share your thoughts.

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Authority and abuse

This past Friday I watched the 20/20 report on the problems facing Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. The problems detailed range from troublesome to repugnant. Outside of the abuse and damage meted out in the various situations, the abuse of authority by those in leadership is truly disheartening.  On the one hand, this type of behavior from pastors and other leaders in churches compels me to enter into ministry to provide comfort and guidance to the hurting. On the other hand, such behavior also makes me want to run away screaming from institutional churches and embrace a organic/simple/house church approach which is more authentic and transparent. Sadly, I believe neither will be immune from abuses of authority because of an incipient desire by some to seek power at the disregard of human dignity.

Leadership within the church is a much debated topic within both institutional and non-institutional churches. From a simple church perspective, Ross Rohdes raises some important points regarding the importance of service over leadership. David Fitch also calls for a different kind of leadership within a more institutional missional church. Both raise good points, both portray the characteristics endemic to a Christianity that seeks authenticity rather than simple assent to beliefs p, and q. Regardless of the position one holds about servant/leadership, the ultimate authority is with Jesus Christ. At the end of Matthew’s gospel he states, “”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That is the source of authority in the church. It is also the characteristic of that authority in the church. Sadly, what has happened in the IFB churches along with other evangelical and Roman Catholic churches is a denial in action of the authority they claim to have. Instead of reflecting the Shepherd, they have become hired hands.

Both denominational and house churches have baggage in this area of ecclesial power. Although I side with those who seek to abolish the clergy/laity distinction, I do recognize that many brothers and sisters in Christ function as Pastors and Teachers. Whether or not a pastor (or teacher) receives a paycheck is moot in situations where abuse(s) of authority occur. The character of Christ should be evident and with that character, a certain measure of authority. Yet let us remember how Jesus received such authority, as a servant. This seems more a matter of influence and trust rather than control and dominance. If a pastor or teacher truly trusts the sheep (they are sheep  as well), they will guide the sheep to Christ (in freedom) and not dictate laws and severity to keep control (which leads to bondage).

Grace and peace,

JWR

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