Some months ago, I was listening to a preacher talk about people being hurt by things in their past, and that hurt is ruining their life in the present. For example, some Christians have been taken advantage of by church leadership when they were younger, and it hurts them now because they rebel against authority. Being someone who has been hurt by church leadership many times all throughout my life, and as someone who wants to submit to the proper Biblical authorities in my life, I want to know who has Biblical authority in the Body of Christ and what that details.
First, let's hear what Christ said about the world's authority vs the ministers of God:
But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
If we Christians are to know if we are being servants and ministers, we need to understand what God's Word defines as a servant and minister:
servant: A person, male or female, that attends another for the pupose of performing menial offices for him, ot who is employed by another for such offices or for other labor, and is subject to his command. The word is correlative to master. Servant differs from slave, as the servant's subjection to a master is voluntary, the slave's is not. Every slave is a servant, but every servant is not a slave; A person who voluntarily serves another or acts as his minister; as joshua was the servant of Moses, and the apostles the apostles the servants of Christ. So Christ himself is called a servant, Is. 42. Moses is called the servant of the Lord, Duet. 34
(See 'servant', Noah Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, 1828, retrieved Aug 6, 2012, [http://www.1828-dictionary.com/d/search/word,servant])
minister: a chief servant; hence, an agent appointed to transact or manage business under the authority of another; in which sense, it is a word of very extensive application; to give; to afford; to supply; to attend and serve; to perform service in any office, sacred or secular
(See 'minister', Noah Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, 1828, retrieved Aug 6, 2012, [http://www.1828-dictionary.com/d/search/word,minister])
Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest's office.
An experienced Christian ought to be a minister, and here are a few examples of what Christians can do to obtain the title:
A while back, I recall talking with an elderly Christian lady on Scriptural matters, and she asked if I was a minister. I have been around modern-day churches long enough to know the proper reply to that question: "Would you define a minister for me?" She said, "Someone who heads up a church and has gone to school to learn to be a minister." I told her "no" because by her modern-day corporate definition, I was not a minister. God's Word says I am a minister, but based on this woman's definition, only a tiny fraction of specific Christians would be allowed to minister, and I am unable to find any Biblical justification for that.
This lady, being a Christian for decades, should be reading the Scripture to know what a minister is (1Thes 5:21), but it's also partially her pastor's fault for not teaching the truth of the Word so the congregations will know what a minister is supposed to be, and how they all can participate in the commandments of our Lord. However, I personally believe there are many pastors today who not only don't know the proper definitions of a minister, but others know it and do not preach about it because it will water down the authority they have asserted for themselves over the Body of Christ.
Before continuing, I need to remind Christians that not every pastor is doing bad things. Some of them DO handle their congregations in a Biblical manner, so be careful not to start making accusations at anyone that holds a pastorial title unless it can be demonstrated they are actively doing wrong. However, I have personally found a very minor number of pastors upholding Biblical authority in the Body of Christ.
I have found many pastors preaching about rebellious-natured people or "lone-wolves," and admittedly, there are some people out there like that, and yes, they are not following Biblical standard protocol, even though God can still use them. However, the problem now is that some pastors are labeling anyone who does not accept their own personal authority over the Body of Christ as "rebellious" against the church, and that is not only hypocritical, but also causes numerous problems.
"While many people associate authoritarian pastoral styles with a fundamentalist theology, authoritarianism cuts across the political spectrum, said Howard Batson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Amarillo. "It has nothing to do with Baptist politics. It really is an interpersonal skills problem. As a pastor develops a healthy self-esteem, he is less likely to be dictatorial and more likely to be a strong leader... When he's not sure of himself, he'll either hide in a corner or shout from the rooftop. When he's sure of himself, he'll do neither of those.' Bob Sheffield, a specialist in church conflict mediation with LifeWay, concurred. 'The more insecure a person is, sometimes the more authoritarian he has to be. If you're secure, you can allow people to be involved in decision making.'"
-Mark Wingfield, "Church Conflict: Pastoral authority," June 10, 2002, [www.baptiststandard.com]
A large number of American Christians, often unknowingly, have suffered at the hands of bad people in authority, and therefore, they sometimes react to this abuse by rejecting and rebeling against many authorities in their lives. I have been down that road myself, but Christ has taught me to accept the just and righteous authorities in this world. However, not focusing on the wickedness of those in authority today in the world, there are many people within the Body of Christ abusing their position by claiming a false authority they were never given, and are causing suffering (sometimes knowingly) to those around them.
We as Christians should not be rejecting all authorities, but we should be rejecting false claims to authority. We need to seek to please the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ by congregating together and supporting one another.
There are many pastors, deacons, and elders out there who think Christians need to have an authorization by a certain approved organization for someone to preach the Gospel. I have personally known some pastors who think you need their personal authority before you should have the right to preach, and those are more common than you would think. However, Jesus Christ was ALSO told He was not allowed to preach without the permission of the church leaders, and He answered them:
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed:
-2 Corinthians 10:7-8
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
One of the key ways to determine if a church leader is using Biblical authority is by testing all his actions to see if they are for edification or destruction. Lying (which includes failure to keep his word), gossip, cheating, back-biting, railing (i.e. name-calling and slander on brethren), theft, etc -- all these are actions that lead to destruction, not edification.
For instance, the Catholic church has a long history of teaching a false Gospel that will lead folks to hell, and I have watched pastors condemn and banish other Christians for teaching the truth about the Catholic church. Another example, Antioch originally had congregations meet at homes, but I have watched pastors condemn and banish other Christians for having a home church. It gets so bad, that I have watched pastors condemn and banish other Christians who support a Christian that the pastor has already condemned and banished!
No where in the New Covenant Gospel does God give one man in the Body of Christ the authority to do these things. The Catholic church believes Christ gave one man the authority, and they call him the pope! Biblical authority builds up the Body of Christ through edifying by teaching and enabling Christians to go out and do what God has called them to do, and anything that they do beyond this servant's goal is NOT Biblical authority because true Biblical authority is designed as a servitude position in faith of the
Some Christians immediately object to say, "Pastors have the authority to remove people from the church," but I challenge any Christian to show me a chapter and verse where pastors are given that authority on their own. The WHOLE congregation has that instruction in Matthew 18:15-20, and it is supposed to involve the entire Body of believers within that group before any removal is initiated. That doesn't mean board of directors, or the elders, or the deacons--the ENTIRE congregation is supposed to be involved. I have listened to many testimonies and personally witnessed pastors kicking Christians out without Biblical justification in that manner. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, there is instruction to remove people who call themselves brethren and openly live a sinful lifestyle, but no where does it give a single pastor or deacon or elder the authority or sole responsiblity to do this without the rest of the congregation involved.
Another interesting excuse for the non-biblical authority of some church leaders is claiming they are "accountable" to another Christian, and based on their claims, that is supposed to give them some sort of more credible authority. That raises some interesting questions because, often times, they will never reveal who it is they are accountable to, and generally, the people to whom the pastor makes himself accountable to are hand-picked by the pastor himself, and someone who will, in most cases, not give the pastor proper rebuke when he does wrong. (Or the pastor will never reveal to his accountable partner that he did wrong in the first place, because the pastor himself decides what is and is not wrong according to his own authoritative standards.) We all do this in some respect, but what makes the pastor's "accountability-buddy" more legitimate than any other Christian's?
And this begs another interesting question: Is the "accountibility-buddy" accountable to someone else? This really gets into respecters of persons (sin), and many "authorities" in top "clergy" levels of the church system have what seems to be a higher level club that only certain people are allowed in. What we ought to be doing is keeping open levels of communication with the congregation, via whatever means necessary, and relying on our Lord Jesus Christ via the Holy Spirit to make us accountable to Him.
We, as Christians, should not be blind to what is going on around us. Most American Christians should, from experience, be able to recognize the worldly corporate, Catholic-style church structure that is being duplicated all around us, but fear what would happen if they speak up about it. Again, not all churches have these problems, and there are some really great church leaders out there, but the problem obviously exists because of rapid abuse many of us in the Body of Christ have witnessed.
Let's follow our Lord Jesus Christ into spiritual battle as we continue to preach the truth, not only the non-believer, but also to our fellow Christian brethren, no matter their station in life. Remember,
Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ did not give commandments to his servants in a specific bracket of "pastors and deacons and elders only." He spoke to ALL His servants, expecting all of them to be ministers unto His Church:
[For the Son of man is] as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.