Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who Is in Charge?

Who is in charge in the Christian church? The obvious answer is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Timothy 2:5). Also, the standard on which we are to base what we do is the Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; Galatians 1:8,9; Acts 17:11). But that still leaves the question of what is the place for human leadership. There are those who exalt human leadership to the point that it conflicts with the authority of Christ and of the Scripture. There are others, in response to this, who leave little or no place for human leadership in the church. How are we to approach this issue?

Scripture does call for and command subjection to human leadership (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17). Now this leadership is to be servant leadership (Luke 22:25-27; 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 13:1-20), and there comes a time when we must obey God rather then men (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29; Galatians 2:11-16). But while the leaders of the church are to meet certain qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9), what determines who may possess this role?

One way to approach it is to see a special authority passed down by organizational continuity. The idea is that an unbroken chain of ordination guarantees the validity of the position being held. But this is not taught anywhere in Scripture. In fact, the disciples are rebuked for criticizing a man who is doing good in the name of  Christ but not following them (Mark 9:38-41). The one passage most commonly used to support this view proves the opposite (Matthew 16:13-20). This statement is not made of Peter based on who ordained him, but based on his confession of faith. Therefore, those who have the faith of Peter have the authority of Peter. This same statement is later made to all the disciples (Matthew 18:18-20). (Note that it is those who have faith who have literally the "authority" to become children of God in John 1:12.) It should be noticed that while this passage is frequently applied to prayer, its most direct application is to church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17), doing the work of the church. But this authority is not an arbitrary authority, but is based on the recognition of Christ in our midst. In the same way Jesus, centering the authority in Himself, commands the eleven disciples (note it mentions their place as His students, not their office) to make disciples, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:18-20). Therefore, while we should be subject to leaders, we should beware of those who claim some special authority based on something other then the agreement of the people of God. (I do not know that this necessarily requires voting, but it is at least a tacit agreement.) But we also should not ignore the requirement to be subject to leaders, rebelling against everything we do not like. And both leaders and congregation should not emphasize what they want, but should look to Christ, who is the real authority.

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