No statement should be believed because it is made by an authority.
Robert A. Heinlein link
Captain Sully-He commands respect!
When Campus Crusade for Christ changed their name to CRU, people were stymied. What did it mean? Nothing, really. The leaders said that since it meant nothing, the Crusade staff could infill it with their own meaning. I propose that church leaders and pastors are doing the same thing with words such as complementarian, church discipline and authority. I will be writing more on church discipline and the law in the next week. In the meantime, here is one post we wrote on ill-defined church discipline a couple of months ago.
Complementarian doctrine is equally difficult for even complementarian women to define. For example, Mary Kassian, in this post claims to be the progenitor of the complementarian movement and says that being complementarian has nothing to do with homemaking. This leads me to believe that the complementarian movement boils down to no female pastors and elders and the man gets the tie breaking vote in a marriage. So why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on conferences and books on the matter?
Which leaves me to discuss authority in this post. Authority is defined as (Bing Dictionary):
right to command: the right or power to enforce rules or give orders
holder of power: somebody or something with official power
power given to somebody: power to act on behalf of somebody else, or official permission to do something
Therefore, someone who has authority is also the definer of rules, can give orders, has power and/or has the power to act on behalf of someone else. However, unless one lives in a totalitarian country, authority is limited by laws and guidelines. For example, the police have the right to stop you from speeding. However, they cannot tell you that you cannot move to Florida, brag about the fish you caught last week or that you can only drive with same gender in your car.
Problems arise when church leadership does not define the parameters of their authority. They just have "it," whatever "it" is.
Julie Anne Smith link, Spiritual Sounding Board wrote two posts 9Marks: Church Authority over Church Members link and 9Marks, Spiritual Abuse, and How Church Members Can Fall Through the Cracks link. She quoted the following "authoritarian" pronouncement from a 9Marks post titled: Pastors, Don't Let Your People Resign Into Thin Air link. First Julie Anne says:
I would first like to address an overall tone that I find prevalent at 9Marks. What do you think an average church member will think when they read that title? Look at the word “let” – it implies that a pastor is the one who decides, not the congregant. Once again, pretend you are a congregant when reading the following excerpts and see if you can read an underlying tone that church leaders own church members:
Then she quotes from the article.
WHY YOU CAN’T LET PEOPLE RESIGN INTO THIN AIR
When your church made that person a member, you were declaring to the world that this person belongs to the kingdom of Jesus (Mt. 16:18-19). By regarding this person as a member, your church affirmed that he is indeed a “brother” in Christ (1 Cor. 5:11-13).
If someone tries to resign mid-process in order to “escape discipline,” should the church just let them go? Of course not. That would defeat the whole point of church discipline. Instead, the church must retain the right to refuse someone’s resignation and send them out another way—through excommunication.
The upshot of all this is that a church should not accept a member’s resignation who is not doing what Christians do—in this case, regularly assemble with a church.
9Marks: The local church has the keys to authority
It is imperative to understand that 9Marks believe that they hold the "keys to authority" via the local church. What does this mean? Let's look at it in their words from a post called Church and Church Independence.
The church, meaning a local church, holds the keys to excommunication, remove someone from membership, receive people into membership, pick pastors and adopt a statement of faith.
The theological champions at the Westminster Assembly spent several days debating who in the post-apostolic age holds the keys that Jesus originally gave to Peter (Matt. 16:19), since they understood that the keys represent, at the very least, the power of excommunication. And the power of excommunication is the highest authority in a church, just as the power of the sword is the highest authority in a nation. All power in a nation derives from the authority to end a life, and, in the same way, all power in the church derives from the authority to remove someone from membership, including the authority to receive members, pick pastors, or adopt a statement of faith. Whoever has the power of excommunication has the power to do those other things, or at least to decide who does.
Staring down at Matthew 18:15-20, I would argue with the dissenters that Jesus places the keys squarely in the hands of the local church—wherever two or three are formally gathered in his name.
Then we learn that another key to the kingdom is teaching and oversight (another loaded term) which is found in the elders. Then he discusses some vague key belonging to the congregation.
Later in the New Testament, we learn that elders should be set apart for teaching and oversight, which suggests they ordinarily lead the church in using those keys. I would even say the church needs the elders to responsibly wield the keys. But finally the keys belong to the entire congregation. No text in the New Testament explicitly links the oversight of the elders with the keys of the kingdom in the manner that Matthew 18 so clearly links the keys with the whole assembly. Elder authority is real, but it is a different kind of authority than congregational authority.
These keys represent the authority to build the church on earth on behalf of Jesus.
I have argued elsewhere that the keys represent the authority to build the church on earth on Jesus’ behalf by declaring what and who belong to the kingdom of heaven—what is a right confession of the gospel, and who is a right confessor. Certainly, preaching is highly related to the exercise of the keys, and could even be said to form an implicit part of their exercise.
The church gets to decide who is a true confessor of the faith and who is a "citizen of the kingdom of heaven."
But, strictly speaking, I would argue that the exercise of the keys is the pronouncing of a judgment. It is a legal or judicial binding or loosing. It is a church’s decision about what constitutes a right confession and who is a true confessor.
In other words, the keys are put into practice whenever
a church decides upon a confession of faith that will bind all church members,
a church admits a member,
a church excludes a member.
The holder of the keys—the church—is being called upon to assess a person’s life and profession of faith and then to make a heavenly sanctioned and public pronouncement affirming or denying the person’s citizenship in the kingdom and inclusion in the church.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the means by which the church controls the membership. If they say you are not in, you cannot be baptized or take the Lord's Supper.
In the same way, the independent authority of the local church makes the rule of Christ’s kingdom visible on planet earth as it exercises the keys, which it does through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The ordinances are what make the receiving and dismissing of members by the authority of the keys visible. Call them Christian passports.
Only the local church can dispense the Lord's Supper.
Christians should belong to local churches. Christians do not have the authority to declare themselves Jesus’ representatives. The church has this authority, which it ordinarily exercises by dispensing the Lord’s Supper to its members. (Which is not to say that church cannot provide the Lord’s Supper to visiting members of other churches for the sake of acknowledging the wider body of Christ.) Plus, maintaining the credibility of one’s profession of faith requires a believer to remain under the oversight of a church.
9Marks in a post called Regulative Jazz says that the local church gets to decide what the gospel is and who is a gospel citizen.
The gathered local church is authorized in Matthew 16, 18, and 28 by Christ’s keys of the kingdom to make an international declaration about a what and a who: what is the gospel, and who is a gospel citizen?
But, how is this authority applied in real life?
This all sound nice and orderly, doesn't it? However, the devil is in the details. How does one define said authority and to what is it applied? The following is a list of true circumstances. They show the real problems of not defining the rules of the game when it comes to authority.
- A pastor, along with his buddies, the elders, suddenly decided to tear up the church constitution and make everyone reapply for membership. Some people have been devoted "gospel believing" members for years and helped to build the church which is now being redefined. Hundreds leave the church.
- A pastor does not declare his intent to change the entire church structure. He was hired with the belief that he supported the current church polity. When he tries to change it, he declares all those who disagree with him, "unregenerate." Said "unregenerates" are not. They love the Lord but disagreed with the former pastor.
- Church members decides that they disagree with the church leadership which supports and sells the books of a pastor with whom they deeply disagree. They make their theological disagreement known. They are not allowed to resign from the church until they "join" another church. They wish to resign as a matter of conscience. The pastors refuse to remove their names from membership.
- Several members resign from a church due to the mishandling of sexual abuse case and decide to join another church. The former pastor calls the current pastor and claims they have left their church under a cloud. The new pastor, a closet buddy of the former pastor does not let them join the new church.
- A woman repents of a sin and makes reparations. She is not allowed to take communion at her church because she must first apply to become a member to do so.
- A pastor tells other pastors to never, ever admit that they are a Calvinist to a search committee.
- A small group which has been meeting together for years celebrates communion several times a year. They are now told they cannot do so because they have members from other churches and only churches can do communion.
- Small groups are told they cannot study the Bible. They must teach from the books written by their pastor.
- A pastor in a certain groups of churches declares two members to be full of pride and declares they cannot take communion for 6 months.
- A pastor, when asked how he came up with his interpretation of a particular passage, declares that the person asking the question has the sin of "sinfully craving answers."
- Two churches in the same town disagree on the issue of baptism. Since both have the keys to authority to declare a statement of faith, and both have differing views, did one of them pick the lock and sneak in? Or are there many paths up the mountain of authority? For that matter, with many, many denominations, who does, and does not, get the keys. Do they all get it and does that mean the majority of them are totally screwing it up?
Jonathan Leeman attempts to define good authority.
Jonathan Leeman attempts to define authority over at Julie Anne's blog here. He does recognize that there are abusive church "out there." His answer falls flat because he continues to talk in esoteric terms. Authority, without well defined parameters, can, and will usually, result in abuse. I would be willing to bet that Leeman only needs to look at his own group of churches to find examples of authority gone wrong.
What’s worth recognizing, I think, is that in Genesis 1:28, God places authority into the hands of human beings. In subsequent passages, he places authority into the hands of people possessing specific institutional roles or offices (e.g. government, parent, pastor, church). Now, each one of these offices can be used for good or for ill. The tragic thing is, we often use them for ill. We “misapply” them, as you say. And that’s the story of humanity. God gives us a tool to build a house, but we use that tool to hit someone on the head.
Now, I would like to argue that the biblical solution is to learn to use authority well–to pursue a “redeemed authority.” You might disagree with me, and that’s okay. And you’d certainly be right to warn me about all the possible dangers of redeemed authority. Warn away! But hopefully this helps you to understand where I’m coming from. Look at the last words of David in 2 Samuel 23:3-4. There you have a picture of the life-giving effect of good authority. Authority should AUTHOR life. It should create, empower, embolden others, not diminish them. That’s how God has used his authority–to create. So should we. A good coach helps his team members run faster. A good mother helps her children grow in the knowledge of the Lord. A good pastor helps his members walk in the freedom of righteousness.
Part of having authority, moreover, means applying Scripture into the specific situations of life. So the Bible says nothing about bedtimes. But the authority of a parent means they get to decide a child’s bedtime. The Bible says nothing about service times, but someone has to make that decision. This is where we enter the difficult territory of wisdom. It’s easy to take the Fundamentalist’s approach by trying to codify everything in rules; and it’s easy to take the Individualist’s approach, and say that everyone should do what seems best in his or her own eyes. But I think the better (and harder) path is the middle one, which establishes the few structures that the Bible puts in place, and then which tries to walk the path of wisdom which requires us to take much of life on a case by case basis. That means I avoid words like “always,” as in “In such and such a situation, a parent/pastor/prince must always…”
We are left with the question…what is authority? I leave you with some thoughts on authority that I wrote about 5 years ago.
If You Must Demand Authority, You Don't Have It.
There are individuals in our lives who COMMAND authority, while there are others who, unfortunately, must DEMAND authority. I have been in churches where pastors pound the pulpit, insisting that worshippers look intently at them and listen carefully to what they are saying. I have heard these preachers stridently claim to have “authority” over their church members. One pastor even informed a friend that he (the pastor) was like a “parent” while my friend was like his “child.” There are growing reports of pastors declaring absolute authority over their congregations, disbanding deacon boards, and disciplining church members who dare to question their actions. Note: such pastors must TELL us they are in charge because, for some reason, we don’t seem to recognize their authority as described in the Scriptures. Are we just rebellious children? Are we not following Scripture? Or is the issue far deeper?
When Bill Clinton was serving as President, Mother Teresa visited the United States and was asked to address a joint session of Congress. This diminutive, wrinkled lady spoke of her work amongst the desperately poor. Then she addressed the sacredness of life and the evils of abortion. Members of Congress spontaneously rose to their feet to give her a standing ovation, and the pro-abortion President and Mrs.Clinton were forced to follow suit. Why? Although Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, Mother Teresa had lived her life in service to the destitute.
Mother Teresa had no money, no fancy houses, and no admiring congregation. When people wanted to meet her, they would have to travel to the poorest sections of the world where they would find her comforting the abject poor. She never once had to pound a lectern and insist that people listen to her. They hung onto her every word, mesmerized. She never had to inform others that she was in charge; yet, the most influential leaders in the world begged for an audience with her. People just naturally followed her. They recognized this tiny woman had no ulterior motive. She was called to love and serve.
Then, there is Almighty God. The immortal took on our mortality. The Creator walked among His creation. And His creation flocked to hear Him speak. Materially, He lived a simple life. He didn’t have a huge church building with a fancy sound system. His followers were not part of an established power structure – they were just non-influential townspeople and fishermen. Yet, crowds surrounded Him wherever He went.
In spite of His apparent lack of social position, those in power feared Him. The religious leaders realized that Jesus easily usurped their authority, and it frustrated them to no end. He didn’t do things the way they had always been done. He even called some of them “snakes” and rebuked them for burdening His people with unnecessary rules. He scorned them for lording their power over those whom they were called to serve; however, even those who despised Jesus were drawn to Him. They just had to see this carpenter who came from the wrong side of the tracks and who was magnetically attracting the masses.
As Jesus Christ died on the cross, He did not demand that others look at Him. He did not lecture spectators about His authority… this Man, King of the Universe. He even spoke kindly to a thief on an adjacent cross. Yet generations follow Him. Why? Because Jesus had no ulterior motive. He did not seek power and wealth. He simply and beautifully loved His people and gave His life for them.
If you are in a church with leaders who insist you follow them, you can be certain they are not in the center of God’s will. The appropriate response would be to leave! If you are in church with leaders who are distant, demanding, and arrogant, please don’t tolerate such ungodly behavior. Leave! Find a pastor who draws you by his sacrificial service to his flock. Find a pastor who would rush into a burning building to save your life. Find a pastor who knows the names of the non-influential members of his church. Such godly pastors are out there because I have known some of these great men of God.
Lydia's Corner: 2 Chronicles 17:1-18:34 Romans 9:25-10:13 Psalm 20:1-9 Proverbs 20:2-3