Tag Archives: Authority

The Limit of Authority

 

Having looked recently at the nature of leadership, established by Christ for His kingdom, we saw how the authority of the Pharisees and scribes was limited insofar as they were representing Moses faithfully, or we might say teaching faithfully the Law of Moses.   This principle of limitation on authority is not isolated to Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders of the day, but may also be subtly seen in His ‘Great Commission’, “teaching them all I have commanded you” as it likewise provides boundaries on the nature of authority.

In keeping with this principle, the Apostle Paul, writing to the troubled community of believers in Galatia**, rebukes them for quickly deserting the word of the gospel that was preached to them and, similarly, provides the guardrails of authority.  After introducing the letter by establishing the divine source of his apostleship, Paul turns toward the central thesis of his writing

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

In this passage we find the motivation of the rebuke in verse 6, that the Galatians were turning away from the true gospel to another gospel (as though there was another gospel) and that there had arisen among them those who claimed to be teachers of this false, distorted gospel.  As the letter unfolds, we gain clarity and insight into the nature of this false gospel and find that it is a works-based gospel resting on works of the law, most notably circumcision.

In his rebuke, instead of staking a claim on the exclusivity of his apostolic authority, the Apostle places the emphasis on the authority of the true gospel

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Here we see that neither an apostolic messenger, nor a messenger from heaven holds authority, rather the authority is from the Gospel itself, the good news that God has proclaimed.  For emphasis, Paul reiterates this point in verse 9 to make sure that his purpose has been delivered with clarity, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received.”  Again, the authority is placed on the message of revelation, not the messenger, while the wisdom needed to discern a false gospel from the true gospel is placed in the hands of the people.  In practice, this is precisely what we find taking place in Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

This brings up some important questions on the nature of authority within the ekklesia(s) (churches) of Christ, particularly in light of the kingdom leadership paradigm that we recently looked and the limits of authority that our Lord has established.

  • Why doesn’t the Apostle, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, appeal to the authority of his own office? He introduced his letter by establishing his apostleship from God, yet we do not see him defer to it in the rebuke, i.e. listen to my message because I am an apostle.
  • Why doesn’t he defer to the ecclesiastical church officers, i.e. elders, pastors, bishops, of Galatia and instruct the people to simply submit to their authority and rule?
  • More pointedly, why isn’t the letter addressed to the ‘leaders’ of the Galatian congregations with the message to straighten out the people?

The answer is really quite simple.  Authority does not rest in man, either by position or status.  All authority is Christ’s (Matt. 28:18) and He mediates that authority through His Word, the very revelation of God.  When one believer speaks truth to another believer, whether for correction, rebuke, training, or exhortation, the limits of that truth are confined to God’s Word.  Certainly we may take human wisdom into consideration, particularly as God has gifted men and women with levels of faith, maturity, and discernment, and has placed them in various contexts where they can communicate that wisdom.  But human wisdom is by nature fallible and the communication of it is not binding or authoritative, rather it is subordinate to the Word of God, indeed it must be derived as well as always point back to God’s Word.

Aware that perhaps those who had been teaching or preaching this distorted Gospel might object on the basis of their self-assumed, human authority, the Apostle defends his bold statements by revealing his motives as seeking the approval of God.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

One has to ask here, why would the approval of man vs. God enter into the equation?  Why would Paul even assert this as a question?  It seems reasonable to conclude that because Paul is elevating the message above the messenger that their would naturally be push-back.  Their could be those, either claiming positional authority or claiming relational authority, as though being from Jerusalem gave them authority.  Whatever the case may be, clearly Paul is uninterested in pleasing man, but all the more interested in pleasing God.

Barnes comments on this passage, “The great system of salvation had been taught; and no other was to be admitted, no matter who preached it; no matter what the character or rank of the preacher: and no matter with what imposing claims he came. It follows from this, that the mere rank, character, talent, eloquence, or piety of a preacher does not of necessity give his doctrine a claim to our belief, or prove that his gospel is true. Great talents may be prostituted; and great sanctity of manner, and even holiness of character, may be in error; and no matter what may be the rank, and talents, and eloquence, and piety of the preacher, if he does not accord with the gospel which was first preached, he is to be held accursed.”

In concluding this introduction, before he moves towards expounding this thesis, the Apostle concludes with a word on the gospel that he preached

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Again, this places the authority of the message above man, resting it squarely upon God.

Stepping outside the bounds of Scripture’s authority always leads to abuse.  The abuses of authority have been the cause of many reformations throughout history and of course, the central cause of THE Reformation from the 16th century.  Let this be a reminder to us in our day.  The moment we begin to accept assumed authority, is the moment we begin retracing the steps to Rome.  All authority belongs to Christ and He has chosen to mediate that authority through His written word – Sola Scriptura

 

**It should be noted that most translations use the phrase, “to the churches of Galatia” in Galatians 1:2.  There were multiple gatherings in Galatia, and these are the audience; not elders/pastors and not a general, universal concept of church.

A Kingdom Leadership Paradigm

 

In our Lord’s earthly ministry, there is much that could be commented on from the records that we have in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John.  In fact, it is this latter gospel account that informs us that had everything about Jesus’ ministry been written down, there wouldn’t be enough books to contain them.  However, there is one particular theme about Jesus’ ministry that touches everything else He had to say and came to do, a theme that we’ll summarize as a Kingdom Paradigm (pair-a-dime).

A paradigm, in it’s most common meaning and usage, is defined as a clear or typical example, properly speaking an archetype or pattern.  Under the administration of the Old Covenant, there were certainly patterns and examples as well, but those reach their completion in Christ Jesus.  Not only did the Lord come to fulfill those old patterns and examples, but by establishing a kingdom paradigm, He came to upset or alter how we view this world and each other in His Kingdom.

Perhaps more than the other gospels, Matthew is intent upon describing and defining the Kingdom of God (properly, the “Kingdom of Heaven”).  This is summarized with the verse highlighting the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”  Additionally, the founding principles of this Kingdom Paradigm are found in Matthew 5:1-7:29, which is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount.

By the time we reach Matthew 18 in the account of our Lord’s ministry, we are given the Kingdom Paradigm regarding relationships in the Christian Community.  One aspect of these relationships that’s specifically addressed is leadership and authority within the community.  The baseline for this particular facet of the Kingdom Paradigm comes by way of a question asked by the disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1)  Depending on how Jesus answered this question, would define for us the paradigm, or pattern, of the kingdom.

Notice our Lord’s response below

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of themand said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

This instruction on humility, as the entrance requirement into the kingdom, sets the tone for the next three chapters which outline and describe the nature of kingdom relationships, including kingdom leadership.  Likely because Jesus had yet to fully open their eyes to this unfolding paradigm, the disciples fail to grasp the simplicity of this reordering, that one must become like a child, and are given second opportunity to comprehend it in the chapter that follows

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”15 And he laid his hands on them and went away. Matthew 19:13-15

Reiterating the statement made earlier on a humble child being the greatest in the kingdom, on this occasion the disciples were given a tangible example, but again failed to fully comprehend the message.

A third example for the establishment of this new Kingdom Paradigm, comes by way of a parable, but nevertheless brings us to the same conclusion.  This parable, referred to as the “Laborers in the Vineyard” is found in Matt. 20:1-16 and addresses the principle of equality in the Kingdom, regardless of when someone enters.  Jesus’ concluding statement on this parable serves again to highlight the paradigm we’ve been discussing, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16

A fourth example for this re-ordering of cultural structure and one which lands more clearly on the nature of leadership in the Christian community, builds on both the two earlier passages where Jesus indicates that that one must become like a child to enter the Kingdom and the third passage, where last is first and first is last.  This particular example comes from Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Such a request from a misguided, albeit well-intentioned mother, harkens our minds back to the opening question in this section from Matthew’s gospel account, “Who is the greatest?”  This question had already been answered, those with the humility of a child are the greatest.  The low are high, the high are low.  The rich are poor, the poor are rich.  The last are first, the first are last.  This is the Kingdom Paradigm and it most certainly applies to leadership, the servants are the leaders.

While we will look at this particular passage from Matthew 20 in greater detail in a follow-up post, suffice it to say that the Kingdom leadership paradigm, outlined here by our Lord, was  contrary to the nature of worldly leadership then, “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority” and it is contrary to the nature of worldly leadership now.  Summarily, kingdom leadership is not top-down, authoritarianism, but bottom-up, servant-hood.  This, as we will see, is not the same thing as the popular, modern notion of a servant leader, or more clearly that  leaders serve.  Instead, it is that your servants are your leaders.

Jesus’ Kingdom Paradigm is intended to cause us to view the world through an upside down or inverted kingdom lens.  What the world perceives as the proper ordering of society is power, class, or wealth.  And what they perceive as the proper ordering of leadership is authority and domination.  What Jesus establishes as the paradigm for the Christian society is to be like a child.  In kingdom leadership it is humility and service.  The very pattern for this is His own life-giving service (deaconing = [diakoneo] – more on this later) which stands as the ultimate paradigm for the kingdom and the model for how we relate to one another in our Christian communities.

 

 

Who are your Leaders

 

Having already addressed the first part of a difficult, and sometimes abused passage, from Hebrews 13:17 (see the post Obey or Be Persuaded), we need to examine the meaning of the second half of the verse, “obey your leaders and submit to them….” However, before proceeding into the translation and meaning of submit, it would do us well to review what our Lord had to say regarding leadership during His earthly ministry.  Whatever else the New Testament says regarding “church leaders” must flow downstream from the kingdom paradigm that Jesus established.

Below are  two critical passages concerning the nature of leadership, according to the kingdom paradigm of Jesus Christ.  Notice how He dismantles the present religious leadership and then rebuilds with kingdom principles.

First is Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Second is Matthew 23:1-12

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

How do these passages inform the nature of leadership in our modern churches?

Is a leader a servant or is a servant a leader?

Are those in “offices” or who bear titles, pastor, elder, shepherd, bishop, deacon, de facto leaders because of their position?

What is the nature of authority among believers?

Is their a hierarchical leadership or authority structure among believers?

Before one can build a framework for leadership based on such passages as 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, or even difficult passages such as Hebrews 13:17, we must come to an understanding of the kingdom leadership principles that Jesus laid out which were counter-cultural and counter man-centered religiosity.  The difficulty, and it is real, is to view these passages without the influence of culture or our own religious experiences and preferences.