THE AUTHORITY OF BELIEVERS OVER OTHER BELIEVERS
The Scriptures teach and assume that in a world warped by sin, governing authorities are a necessity.
But a vital question for Christians has to do with the nature of authority within the Body of Christ. In its philosophical and theological sense as freedom of action to control or limit the freedom of action of others, do Christian Leaders really have authority within the Church?
The issue is an important one and deserves much study and debate. But a number of observations should be made to help us think about this issue.
For instance, Jesus delegated authority to His Disciples (Mk. 3:15; 6:7; Lk. 9:1; 10:19), but this was authority over demons and diseases. No Passage suggests freedom to exercise control over other human beings. In fact, the freedom of choice of those to whom these Disciples came is clearly protected (Mk. 6:11; Lk. 10:8–12).
One incident reported in the Synoptics is especially significant. Matthew Chapter 20, Mark Chapter 10, and Luke Chapter 22 all tell of a heated debate among the Disciples over which of them would be greatest. Jesus took that opportunity to instruct them on Leadership and its character within the Church.
Each Passage reports that Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” In each Passage Jesus bluntly rules out this kind of Leadership Authority for His Disciples and Followers. He said, “Not so with you!”
The alternative that Jesus spells out is a “Servant Leadership.” And a servant is a far cry from a ruler!
These Passages suggest strongly that whatever authority Christian Leaders may have, their freedom of action does not include the right to control the actions and choices of their Brothers and Sisters in the Lord.
THE APOSTLE PAUL
The Apostle Paul is deeply aware of the fact that as an Apostle he does have authority. He speaks of it in II Corinthians, Chapters 10 and 13. He told the Corinthians that the Lord gave him authority with a specific purpose: “For building you up, not for tearing you down” (II Cor. 10:8; 13:10). In II Corinthians, Chapter 13 Paul speaks of his concern not to be “harsh in the use of (his) authority” (I Cor. 13:10). The context shows that the Christians in Corinth refused to admit that Christ was speaking through this servant Leader.
Paul did not respond by threatening. He did not try to manipulate or to coerce. He simply reminded them, “(Christ) is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you” (II Cor. 13:3). By that he meant the following:
Paul had no need to resort to manipulation or to coercion, because Jesus was alive and acting as Head of His Church. Jesus remained powerful among His People and was free as the Head of the Church to exercise His Authority in disciplining ways. Paul relied on Jesus to bring about a response to the Words that He, Jesus, had given to Paul to speak to the Corinthians.
LIMITATION OF AUTHORITY GIVEN TO LEADERS
These Passages, and studies of Paul’s style of Leadership, suggest strongly that in the Church God limits the authority given to Leaders.
The Leader’s authority is not an authority to control, but an authority to help the Believer to use his or her freedom to respond willingly to Jesus as the Head of the Church.
Using Paul as an example, which is what the Holy Spirit intended, it becomes easy to observe how wrong it is for so-called Church Leaders to attempt to exercise dictatorial control over others, even going so far as to demand that they do things which are unscriptural. As should be obvious, this is not according to the Word of God, and must be rejected hands down, irrespective of the cost.