Of all the groups today, it seems that the Charismatics put the most emphasis on authority. Much of the leadership in Charismatic circles make great claims to authority and compare themselves to figures such as Moses. Those who would dare point out error, or “speak against the leadership” are labelled as divisive, rebellious and compared to the worst reprobates in scripture. However, the true obedience is the adherence to the scripture, regardless what men say.
Paul, as our pattern, exercised freedom to obey his conscience and the clear revelation of the word in the face of error. Even though Peter was considered the preeminent apostle, Paul said he had to rebuke him to his face when he was in error. This was not to be contentious or to hurt Peter, but in order to preserve the truth among the believers. When Paul took Titus to Jerusalem, Paul said that he would not give the false brethren even an ounce of subjection when they tried to compel Titus to be circumcised, so that the truth of the gospel would remain intact. God would have his children be free from the fear of men, not so that we can exercise our liberty in an obnoxious way, but so that we can speak the truth in love and contend for the Gospel. All of this is detailed at length in the first two chapters of Galatians.
For a sensitive believer, the accusation of being in rebellion can be the most difficult and painful obstacle to overcome. To believe we are in rebellion, or in opposition to God’s “appointed authority” can feel like the scariest place. We so badly want to be at peace with God.
The New Testament Model of Authority
Let’s consider what the scripture teaches about biblical New Testament authority. Jesus told us that in the Church authority is not to be exercised in the manner of the Gentiles. The Gentiles rule as lords over their subjects, but in the Church, the pattern of leadership is to wash the feet of those the Lord loves and to nourish God’s people as gentle mothers.
Mar 10:42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. Mar 10:43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: Mar 10:44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. Mar 10:45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Paul as a pattern showed us what this looked like:
1Th 2:6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
The Apostles as a pattern to shepherds exhibited an intimacy and a concern for the flock. They did not boast of their position and title (and they could have as Apostles who would have thrones in the Kingdom). They also did not exalt themselves above the flock. When Peter encouraged the elders, he did not encourage them as an Apostle, but as another elder. He told them not to rule as lords over God’s inheritance, but to feed the flock “among you” (not “under you”).
1Pe 5:1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
When you read the epistles written to the churches, you see that for the most part, the apostles knew the people in the churches intimately, or the ones they sent to minister to the churches did. The ones that served the churches didn’t live in isolation and come out to give messages on Sunday to a faceless crowd of people they didn’t know. They lived among them, serving them in every way.
1Th_2:8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
Those in a position of leadership were to be as elder brothers as a pattern, but condescended to men of low estate and identified with them. They were to be gentle and “apt to teach”. They could be entreated for explanation and their answer was to be in meekness and with gentleness and patience:
2Ti 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
Much can be said about the pattern of leadership in the New Testament and how radically different it is from our understanding. They entreated the churches for entrance into their hearts. Paul said all the churches in Asia had turned from him at the end of his ministry, but he never said they ceased to be churches or even that they were in danger of being judged by the Lord. He feared because he knew that by deviating from the truth that God had given him to reveal, they would suffer loss.
Effects of The Authoritarian Model
Today the authoritarian model in many churches is so strong that people are afraid to show anything on their faces but utter positivity and agreement with whatever is said and done so that they won’t find themselves “in trouble”. This is because either in word or in deed, the leadership has been exalted over the congregation and is ruling as Lords, demanding to be obeyed.
The perception of the sheep is that if they express anything that is viewed as “negative” they will be “dealt with.” Either they will be severely dealt with by men, or they will be dealt with by God – they will lose a blessing, or be “out of the flow”, or lose their anointing or their covering of protection. Furthermore, the pastors are unapproachable. In some churches it is quite possible to be a “member in good standing” for years and perhaps have only had one conversation with a pastor that lasted more than three minutes.
Anyone suffering because they are fearing that they are in “rebellion” because they are seeing a distinction between what is being practiced and taught and what God has said in the word should consider seriously whether or not the authority is from men or from God. If you are living under a cloud of condemnation because you feel that by disagreeing with “God’s anointed and appointed” you have put yourself at odds with God, you need to search out the scriptures for what they have to say about authority in the New Testament church. Religious authority is possibly the most difficult device of the enemy to overcome, but if we do not it will completely shut us down. You will find that in most cases the appeal to authority made by these kinds of leaders in based on the Old Testament kingdom theocracy. In that model, David did not touch Saul, “God’s anointed”. Those that opposed Moses were swallowed up by the earth and devoured by serpents and given over to their enemies. You cannot find Jesus and the Apostles speaking this way in the context of the New Covenant of grace.
That is not to say that as believers we will not be disciplined by the Lord, or even be corrected by other believers and those who have been in place who care for our souls and our welfare. But we are disciplined for our good rather than punished because we dared to undermine someone else’s supposed position by not agreeing with them when they contradicted the scriptures. Again, consider the freedom that Paul as our pattern exhibited. He was free not as a cloak for the flesh, but free to stand and contend for the truth and know that if the God that justified Him was for him, no one could be against him!