Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Authority and the Church

We as Americans have a funny relationship with authority. Our society maintains–or at least attempts to maintain–a balance between rule of law and personal liberty. The Declaration of Independence grasps at this balance when it says:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Our nation was founded on the very principle that the authority of the government infringing on personal liberty is an actionable offense. It states that it is better to disband and reform the government rather than take away our personal liberty. This principle is very evident in our society today. We see it even going beyond the government infringing on our personal liberty. It extends to disputes between individuals taking away the personal liberty of another. Most if not all cases of civil rights violations are situations of one person violating someones "Life, Liberty [or] the pursuit of Happiness." I don't share this to debate the validity of how our nation is structured or the legitimacy of American Individualism. I share it because the nature of the church is at odds with the foundational worldview that is inherent in how our society operates.

Governmental leaders–as viewed from this societal perspective–gain their authority from the governed. In other words the theory is that those people in charge only get their authority because we the people say they can have it. And those people in charge can only do what we the people say they can do. If we don't like the way things are going in the country then we can vote new people into authority in order to change the laws that we don't like. So–again the theory is–that we the people in essence control the authority.

But the church is different; or at least is should be different. Yesterday I shared how the church is really the Body of Christ and that God requires us to be a part of that Body. It is important to remember that while we as the church are the Body of Christ, Christ is the head of the Church. He is the ultimate source of authority within the chuch and not the people of the church. I think that this is easy to at least understand in principle even if it is not always easy to live out. But if Christ is the ultimate source of authority then this also has consequences for the leadership of the church.

The Elders within the church do not get their authority from the people of the church. The author of Hebrews says:

"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Just as governmental leaders are answerable to the people that give them their authority, the church leaders are answerable to the one that gives them their authority. Those leaders will have to give an account for their actions to God. They will also be held accountable for the actions of the church. And because of this we are told to submit to their authority. This means that there are two eternal consequences for the leaders and people of the church. The first is that the Elders of the church will have to answer to God for any abuse of power. The second is that we will all have to answer to God for any insubordination to the authorty of the leaders of the church.

Church leadership does not follow the same exact pattern as our government. Church leaders are not answerable to the people of the church in the same exact way. (This doesn't mean that the Elders are not subject to church discipline like everyone else in the church.) What it does mean is that we run into problems when we start picking our church leaders because we like the way that they run the church. Rather the questions that we should be asking when we choose leaders is whether or not they meet the Biblical requirements for church leadership and whether or not they are going to do a good job leading us in the ways of God. We must remember that because we are sinful human beings that we may not always like it when the Elders do a good job of leading us in the ways of God. And that is not a good reason to challenge their authority.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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