AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCHPrint This Page.
In order to understand authority in the church, we must first understand what authority is. Otherwise, we will not understand authority in the church.
What is authority? In the whole universe, nothing is harder to understand than authority. Two things are very difficult to explain in the Bible: glory and authority. Many people can understand holiness, righteousness, and patience; they may comprehend these matters a little. But what is God’s glory, and what is God’s authority? Man cannot understand them and explain them. God’s glory is related to God Himself, while God’s authority is related to His government. God Himself is glorious, while His government is executed through His authority. God’s authority was the principle by which He organized the universe. He rules the universe through authority. (Today, we will only mention the matter of authority in brief. We will wait for another day to discuss the subject in detail.) How did God create the heavens and the earth? He created by His authority. How did God restore this world? He restored by His authority also. On the first day when God created light, He did not gather all of the electricity together and make light; He only gave a command and said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. The second day God said, “Let there be the firmament,” and there was the firmament. God commanded with His word, and He acted according to His authority. He did not act according to His power or His ways. His word signifies His command, which represents His authority. Can you see that God only exercised His authority? God created the universe with His authority, and He rules the universe with His authority. Both the beginning of the universe and the maintenance of the universe are the result of God’s authority.
In the beginning, after the universe was created, God appointed a cherubim as the archangel to rule over everything. God was over everything, and He ruled over the spirit-endowed animals and over all things through the archangel, the cherubim. Sin is lawlessness, and lawlessness is just the overthrowing of God’s authority. Lawlessness was the reason the archangel fell and became Satan and also the reason sin entered the universe. The archangel attempted to overturn God’s authority because he desired to uplift himself to become equal with God. Sin entered the world because Eve would not submit to Adam. She acted without Adam’s command and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Although the world is filled with sin today, authority is still the principle of God’s government. In many things, we can see God’s appointed authority. For example, wives should submit to their husbands, servants to their masters, students to their teachers, citizens to the officers, and subordinates to their superiors. All of this is ordained by God. God desires that man submit to authority because the authorities are not only appointed by God, but they also represent God. This is why Romans clearly says that there is no authority except God. Therefore, no Christian student should boycott classes, no Christian worker should strike, no Christian children should dishonor their parents, and no Christian citizen should engage in a revolution. If anyone does these things, he is not just overturning those he directly opposes, he is overturning God’s authority. God created the universe with His authority, and He maintains the universe with His authority. What is sin? It is lawlessness—refusing to submit to authority. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Both Satan and Adam overturned God’s authority; by this both sinned. Whoever does not recognize authority and submit to authority is a lawless one, and he has sinned.
Many believers have never realized such a wonderful thing as authority. Yet if a man wants to be a good believer, he has to know what authority is. Authority represents God. If one traces authority to its ultimate source, he will see that authority is just God. Therefore, a Christian must not only submit to the head of a nation or to all its ministers, but he must submit even to a policeman on the street because the latter has authority. He represents not only the government, but God as well. You cannot despise him just because he earns a few dollars a month. Authority is something that issues from God. The Bible is very strict about this matter. Paul, Peter, and Jude all said that we should not revile those in high position. Therefore, in our conversation, we cannot accuse or criticize the head of our government. It is difficult for a Christian to be an editor of a newspaper because one can hardly avoid criticizing the superiors in political commentary.
The book of Jude records the incident of Michael arguing with the devil over the body of Moses. Michael dared not revile Satan. He would only say, “The Lord rebuke you,” because he was once the subordinate of Satan. There was a time when Michael was under his authority. Therefore, Michael only said, “The Lord rebuke you.” He would not speak on his own; he only invoked an authority higher than Satan’s—God’s authority. He knew what authority was. Therefore, he dared not revile Satan himself.
When our Lord was on earth, He was also fully under authority. During His youth, He was under the authority of His parents, and He kept all the ordinances. He was the Creator. Yet He was limited by every one of man’s limitations. He told His mother, “Did you not know that I must be in the things of My Father?” (Luke 2:49). If we were there, we would not have gone home with our parents. But the Lord was different; He went back with them. When He began to work, He was under the authority of the government. During His trial, He was still under the authority of the government. He did not revile the government; rather, He allowed it to do whatever it wanted to do to Him. We can see that no one has ever been as submissive to authority as our Lord.
Once when Paul was judged and stood before the court, he willingly submitted to the authority there. When the high priest’s accusations became too much, Paul said, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall” (Acts 23:3). When the others rebuked him for reviling God’s high priest, Paul became quiet and allowed them to accuse him. According to the Bible, nothing is greater and more important than the matter of authority.
The other side of authority is submission. Therefore, the Bible mentions authority, on the one hand, and submission, on the other hand. The Bible also pays considerable attention to the matter of submission. Submission and authority are related one to the other. If a man submits, he comes under God’s authority. Otherwise, he overturns God’s authority.
In the church God has also appointed His authority, and we should submit to this authority. In the world, in the community, and in our homes, we should submit to authority. God has ordained us to do one thing, which is to submit to authority. We have to lay hold of this one point: whoever wants to overturn any authority overturns God. Do not think that we can submit to God and, at the same time, disobey our parents, husbands, superiors, headmasters, principals, or other men with authority. There is no such thing. If we cannot submit to God’s appointed authority on earth, we can never submit to God. In the same way, those who cannot submit to authority in the church cannot submit to God.
I am afraid that many brothers and sisters have come to meet with us for different reasons. Some have come for the purpose of practicing mutual love and mutual care. This, of course, is very good. But we have to realize that we are not without authority among us. There is authority among us, and we ought to submit to authority. Christians often think that once they leave the denominations, they can act as they please. They think that we are all the same and that no one can rebuke anyone else. They think that they can be lawless Christians. Actually, we have to realize that if we leave the denominations just because we want to be free from any kind of control or domination, this kind of presumptuous leaving of the denominations is a big mistake. Those who come to meet with us have to know that we are more bound by authority.
There are three reasons that a man leaves a denomination: (1) He is disappointed in the denominations. For example, he may expect to become a pastor. However, when his wish is not fulfilled, he disagrees and leaves. (2) He does not have freedom in the denominations. He feels that he is limited and controlled by men, and he thinks that by leaving the denominations, he can be a free evangelist. He will not have to take a salary and be controlled by men, and he can act according to his own wish. Actually, before God there is no such thing as a free evangelist. Today, we only have the Body life. We are restricted by the church and do not have any freedom of our own. (3) He sees the divisiveness in the denominations and that divisions are of the flesh. At the same time, he may see the Body of Christ and realize that everything he does has to be limited by the brothers and that he should learn to be a member in the Body. (Yet many people do not see the Body. They have merely left a big denomination and become a small denomination in themselves. They have not seen that they should be restricted among the brothers and sisters.)
Of the three kinds of people mentioned above, only the third kind is right in God’s eyes. God’s goal is to have the Body life and to take away all independent movement. God has His authority in the church, and He desires to manifest His authority in the church. Therefore, every member should learn to submit to God’s authority and be restricted by the other members. Therefore, on the negative side, every brother should see how wrong denominationalism is, but on the positive side, he should see that there are no independent activities in the Body life.