Friday, July 31, 2009


I'm continuing in my "favorites" for the summer thing. This post has drawn more total e-mails, post comments, and phone calls than any I've EVER done. Interesting!! I've added some emphasis and clarity at certain points but the post is basically unchanged.

January 2007

Authority in a local church is a much debated and, as I've discovered of late, a much misunderstood concept. I want to make several personal observations about the biblical understanding of authority in a local fellowship as I see it.

First, there is only one head of the Church/churches and all authority has been given to Him. If anyone ever assumes authority because of their person or position they are usurping the authority of the Head. There IS only ONE Head of the Church after all and that is Jesus Christ our Lord. [Eph. 4:5,15]

Second, the Head of the Body [Christ] has given an authoritative Word to all the members of the Body. [Universal or local] The Old and New Testaments are that inspired Word with New Covenant people in-particularly bound to the New Testament writings. [Heb. 1:2, Acts 18:28]

Third, all believers are responsible to the Head individually and have a responsibility to each other as members of each other in the body. [Rom. 14:4, Eph. 5:21]

Fourth, all believers are priests and are gifted to minister. Therefore all must take their place among the body members to minister for the good of all. [1 Corinth. 12-14]

Fifth, there are certain gifted ones [both men and women] who become a gift to the body in a unique way. The purpose of these people/gifts is to equip all for ministry. [Eph. 4:11-12]

Sixth, there is no emphasis in the New Testament on "authority" that is derived from an "office." The King James version translates the word "office" in Rom. 11:13, 12:4, and 1Tim 3:1. But in Rom. 11:13 it is the word "diakonia" or "service." In 12:4 it is "praxis" or "action/function." While in 1 Tim. 3:1 "office" is not in the text at all. The verse simply says in the original "if anyone aspires to oversight."[Episkope]

Authority is to be experienced in the assembly because of the gifts and ministries given by the Holy Spirit to and through people. In one sense the entire body shares authority. [Eph. 5:21, 1Peter 5:5] This means we recognize one another's gifts, knowledge, or experience in the Lord and we choose to serve/submit because the Holy Spirit has placed some of them as gifts and has anointed the ministries of those gifts. That is the key to understanding Pastors/Elders and their function. No one has authority BECAUSE they have a stronger personality, knows more Bible, or they hold an office. That is foreign to the New Testament. Remember, even Paul the Apostle had to defend his Apostleship by virtue of it being the work of the Spirit setting him aside for it.

1Tim. 5:17 speaks of those Elders that "give oversight well"...."are worthy of double honor." It is that "give oversight well" that is the reason for any authority. We define it as Holy Spirit anointing. In other words, the anointing of the Spirit makes clear the authority that rests on a ministry done well, not the office holder.


I think we can conclude in all of this that a "one man show" is completely foreign to the New Testament. It may be traditionally Southern Baptist at least over the past one hundred years but It just isn't the New Testament pattern at all.

Further, submission is to be given to any of those who "serve" the body well, whatever area of "service" that might be and regardless of "gender." [Some people believe that the Spirit will never place a woman in the ministry of Pastor/Elder and the BF@M concurs with that. But whether that is true or not, and I have my own views about it, "authority" and "submission" are not "gender based" in the New covenant but "Holy Spirit ministry" based. No one is to be a leader by saying "I'm the Pastor/Elder" or "I have a Seminary degree" or I'm a man."]

Finally, servanthood is the "badge" of Christian living and is to be the overriding characteristic of body-life. If God's people are to ever reflect the biblical relationship of Body/local body to the Head and members to one another as members, servanthood is essential. So the rule of church life is really to be the Headship of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, and each member contributing with giftedness and edifying each other in the process.

Set up any system you wish, any format you desire, any procedure you choose to carry out business, but function under the anointing of the Spirit and serve one another. This must not be theory but practice if we are to reflect the reality of Christ to a lost world in need of the gospel. Check any leadership by this standard if you want authority to be biblical in church life.


Bobby Brown said...

As you stated in your post Jesus is the head of the body the church. Then we might just look at the example of what he did while here. Wouldn't it be summed up as he served rather than bossed or exercised his authority? If there were such a thing as authority in the church it is clear in the New Covenant that the higher the position one would seek the more responsible that person would be to serve.

"Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.
But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted."

Aussie John said...



You mean sartorial elegance, oratorical excellence, shiny shoes and well manicured hands,presence in the pulpit,ability to quote CHS extensively, and acquaintance with the right people around the world doesn't count?

Next thing you'll be saying that the Apostle Paul could be a church leader!

Paul Burleson said...


You've said it right and that verse says it all. Thanks.

Aussie John,

Ya think? The Apostle Paul? No way, right? :)

Chris Ryan said...

What's all this stuff about service and Spirit empowerment and Christ having the authority not the minister?? If I preached that, it would make it so much harder to fleece the sheep. Therefore, that can't be right...

Paul Burleson said...


That's funny.