Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Authority and Submission

We need a totally new understanding of submission and authority. Authority in the church is different from authority in the world. In the world systems authority comes with a position. Appointment as a sergeant gives a soldier authority to tell the members of his platoon what to do. When a person gets promoted to a supervisory permission, they get control over the people they supervise. The owner of a business gains authority over the people employed in the business. A policeman has authority to make people do what the law requires.

Pastors and elders often assume that they have a similar authority. They think that they have authority to tell members of their church what they should do. This is wrong. Christians are required to obey the Holy Spirit. Pastors and elders should not expect Christians to obey them.

Authority in the church does not come from an appointment to a position, but through relationships. It does not come with a role, but through being trusted. A person becomes an elder when Christians who know their character begin to trust their wisdom.

Christian submission is not like the submission of a grunt to a sergeant. It is not for guidance. The Holy Spirit is already providing them with guidance, so a Christian does not need an elder to give them instructions about what they should do. The believer committed to obeying the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus as their Lord, so they cannot obey someone else as well.

Christian submission is different from worldly submission, because its purpose is protection against error. Christians submit to an elder by giving the elder permission to speak in to their life. They grant their elders permission to challenge them, if they are making a bad decision or taking a wrong action. The elders will know the Christian well, so they will notice any mistakes.

Elders have authority ask the tough questions, that no one else will ask. The elder may ask, “Did you pray about that?”, or they will say, “That does not sound like the Holy Spirit to me”. Elders must know their disciples well enough to see their hidden mistakes, and they must love them enough to challenge them, even at the risk of losing their friendship.

Many Christians fall away when they make a bad decision or slip back into persistent sin. This often happens, because no one loves them enough to challenge them, at the time of their first mistake. Many Christians watch other believers and see their mistakes. Elders are different because they act on what they see. The best protection for a struggling Christian is a challenge from a wiser person who understands and cares about their struggles.

Elders do not have authority to give instructions to people who submit to them. Their only authority is to watch over the believers who relate to them and challenge their mistakes. Elders also have authority to encourage believers. They will look for openings for each believer to fulfil their ministry and encourage them to take them up any opportunities that arise.

Trust builds authority comes, but control destroys it. Elders gain their authority through their relationships, not through their title. Wisdom and kindness increases the authority of an elder. Domination and control will diminish it, because believers will walk away. Authority disappears when relationships fail.

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