The Authority of the Church

Magistrates’ Court in Chirstchurch is a “long standing authority”
Picture by Jim Henderson, 2008

Authority exercised with humility, and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live.

CS Lewis

What does the Church have authority over and to do?  If we do not know, then either we will ignore instruction from the Church when it is valid, or we will submit what should be in our realm of control to someone else.  Neither is helpful, and either can be spiritually harmful.

To put it another way, why are we here under the sway of the evil one?  If the very first sin was pride carried in Lucifer’s heart, then the second was probably discontent and the spreading of division, followed closely by the sin of rebellion.  Rebellion is the rejection of proper authority, so we need to ensure we are not ensnaring ourselves in it!  Rebellion caused Lucifer’s downfall, and it caused Adam and Eve to be ejected from the Garden of Eden.  Rebellion against God is the root cause of so many of the world’s evils, and as long as there is rebellion against God’s laws, those evils will never cease.

It is impossible to be unified as the Body of Christ as long as we cannot see eye to eye about what the Church legitimately has authority over.  In this article, we will concentrate on this, and we will concentrate upon what the Church does not have authority over in a later article.

Source of Authority

It is important to look at how and why Jesus taught and wielded authority while on the earth.  It is from Him that the Church derives any authority at all.

18 Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

~ Mt 28:18-20 (HCSB)

Jesus starts out this section saying He has been given all authority.  Using that as a backdrop, He gives His instructions to preach the Gospel throughout the world.  This tells us not only what the Church has authority to do, but it also stresses from whence that authority comes.

22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

Ep 1:22

Jesus is the Head of the Church, and that authority has been delegated to His Church.

20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

Jn 13:20

It is important to recognize whom Christ has sent, as that authority has been granted to the one He has sent, and not to any other.

18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

~ Mt 18:18

This is the second time that Jesus used this imagery; the first time was in Matthew 16:19.  In the previous one, He was talking primarily to Peter, but here Jesus is talking to all His disciples (18:1)!  Therefore, we cannot get the so-called “primacy of Peter” from these passages, or else there would have been a contradiction.

More importantly, it was in the context of “Who is the greatest…?”  Somehow, pundits of the primacy of Peter and one-man in charge heresies seem to overlook that one.

Recognizing the Authority

Thus, we have our first clue as to who does not have legitimate authority, and that is the person who seeks power in the first place.  The one “in charge” should always be a servant with a servant’s heart.  It’s not difficult to sort out which are the tyrants from the rest.  Those who micromanage every aspect of members’ lives are working with the spirit of Satan, in whom no liberty is ever offered unless it is for the purpose of further ensnaring an individual in sin.

4 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

~ 1Ti 4:1-3

Notice how these false teachers delve down even to the level of micromanaging whom to marry!  Undoubtedly, Paul is writing of Gnosticism, which taught things like all physical pleasures are wrong.  The Catholic Church is obviously full of such Gnostic heresies!  Not only do they command their priests to not marry, but during certain times of the year, they tell you to abstain from meat.  How much more like the above can they be?

Very simply, one who has authority must derive it from the One Who has all authority!  He left us the written word to establish His desires!

20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

~ Isa 8:20

We are to be children of light (1Th 5:5; cf Jas 1:17).  Therefore, we must follow those of the light.

Furthermore, the NT was written down by the apostles just as the OT was written down by the prophets to be revealed to us through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ep 3:1-5; cf Jn 14:26).  This teaching came from and through Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2), and it is a complete record of what is needed for salvation (Jude 1:3).

Therefore, you recognize a true teacher by whether or not he teaches in accordance with the word.

Go and Make Disciples

First and foremost, the Church has the authority and obligation to teach.  How can you make disciples if you cannot expound upon the word of God?

8 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.

2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.

3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

4 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.

5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:

6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.

8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

~ Neh 8:1-8

This is the job of the Church!  To teach and make disciples!  Everything else is secondary.  It includes the preaching of the Gospel, and it includes the continued teaching being passed down generation after generation within the Church.  The job of the Church is to “make disciples”, and disciples are much, much more than students.  Remember, Jesus’ disciples traveled with Jesus, ate with Jesus, slept with Jesus as well as take in everything He said. A disciple learns to imitate the master!

Authority to Organize

One of the entries on “organize” at says:

to form as or into a whole consisting of interdependent or coordinated parts, especially for united action: to organize a committee.

Notice how this requires people to get together at the same time and in the same place.  Otherwise, it’s just a loose mob doing different things whenever they feel like it.  Therefore, to make both teaching and worship effective, the Church must get set times, locations and procedures for services.

33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

~ 1Co 14:33, 40

Does the Bible say how to organize?  No.  It gives some hints, however.  At minimum, it should be evident from the many Scriptures that elders are in charge of making decisions about conduct, etc., in the congregation.  It is evident that Paul went out and evangelized and then left others in charge of the churches he started while he went elsewhere, so it is evident that there is a division of labor.

Paul wrote many letters exhorting people to use their gifts to edify others.  Some might lend themselves to various offices, but in reality most of them are simply gifts.  Some of the traditional ideas that lay members should do nothing except pay and pray need to be eradicated from our thinking.  I suspect the ideal model that Jesus had in mind for a church government is a lot flatter than many today would claim it should be!

Each of us is responsible to give back in kind to how much we are given.  In the parable of the sheep and goats, the king didn’t divide lay people and ministers.  No, he divided those who used their talents from those who did nothing to help anyone else out.

People talk a lot about “hierarchy” when in reality all governance is about hiearchy.  What most mean is “one man is in charge”, which is a load of stuff.  There is no such verse in the Bible, and there are countless examples of leaders in various places at the same time in Israel.  Then, there are Jesus’ own words:

39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.

40 For he that is not against us is on our part.

41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

~ Mk 9:39-41

IOW, someone else is doing a work that is not working against us simply because he is separate.  If anyone could claim there should only be “one man” doing a work, it would be Jesus!

Authority to Settle Disputes

6 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?

2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

~ 1Co 6:1-3

This is mainly what the “binding and loosing” Scripture is all about!  It is the authority to discern and make judgments.  Obviously, part of teaching and part of keeping discipline within the Church involves interpretation of the Law!

Here is where things get tricky, though.  Someone may not agree with the judgment.  Then what?  Unless the Church can be proven wrong by clear Scripture, it would behoove anyone to follow the judgment of the Church!

4 Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.

~ Hos 4:4

Not all translations agree with the above, but Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) does!

I don’t know much about him, but in an online “Study Notes: Hosea 4:1-19” Pastor Ron Daniel wrote:

4:4-5 Those Who Contend With The Priest

“Those who contend with the priest” is a reference to the Law of God in Deuteronomy 17. In that chapter, the people were instructed that if a difficult case arose, it should be taken to the priest for a prayerful decision.

Deut. 17:9-12 “So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is {in office} in those days, and you shall inquire {of them,} and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. And you shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. And the man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.

Some, no doubt, would contend with the priest’s prayerful verdict. They would argue and resist the justice that was pronounced. Someone who did so was commanded to be killed. All of the Israelites in Hosea’s day were like those who contend with the priests. They wouldn’t listen to godly judgment, they had no desire to follow righteousness. So none of them were in a position to find fault or offer reproof.

You know, this sounds chillingly a lot like much of the COG landscape of today!

It is interesting what familiar verse follows this one in Hosea.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

What kind of knowledge did the people reject?  Revealed knowledge!  Revealed knowledge comes through God’s word, and the understanding of it almost always comes through other people.  When righteous judgments are passed, it is the practical application of the Law.  In the OT, this was done through the priesthood, and in the Church era it is done through the Church guided by the Holy Spirit.

Bottom line: When you or I choose to reject the judgments of the Church, we had better be sure we are right.  Otherwise, it is nothing less than rebellion without cause.

In extreme cases, a person may be put out of the Church for cause.

3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

~ 1Co 5:3-5

Notice Paul did not command him to be put out for any small cause!  If disfellowhipping is anything but last course of action, then your church organization is seriously flawed!  Jesus Himself gave the course of action to reconcile a brother:

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Mt 18:15-20

When you think about this, those are pretty strong words!

Why two or three?  Those are the required number of witnesses in a court of law!

15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

~ Dt 19:15

Sins are generally against another person, and that is the context of Jesus’ instructions with binding and loosing.  All judgments are to be made within the confines of the Law, but we must be realistic and realize that it requires a certain level of interpretation of the Law in order to render judgment.

Our Obligation

We too, as individuals, have areas of control and authority.  They may be in the home or at work, but they exist.  We must exercise discernment in all areas of life, but in particular we need to exercise it in our areas of control.

I’ve written about this before, so I don’t want to repeat it too much that we cannot control others.  So, we don’t have the right to tell our employer to rid the workplace kitchen of bread during the Days of Unleavened Bread.  When our adult child leaves home, we don’t have the right to tell them to keep the Sabbath.  Those are not our areas of control, and they will eventually stand before Christ discussing their own sins even as we will for ours.

However, we also have an obligation to submit to proper authority when it is required.  We have an obligation to do so willingly even.

5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;

~ Ep 6:5-6

Of course, the Church has an obligation as well, doesn’t it?  If it has been given the job to teach, then it must teach correctly, and it must wield its authority correctly.  That will be a subject for later.

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