Home Pastors Pastor How To's "Authority" in God's Kingdom Is Radically Different. Here's Why

"Authority" in God's Kingdom Is Radically Different. Here's Why

Often, we institutionalize authority in the church apart from the manifestation of it in the gifts of the Spirit. We give authority via the institution separate from the charisma (we rationalize it via Max Weber’s old categories). Office, or structure, is good when it follows the authority of the Spirit in the community (and in the world when we cooperate with God). But this structure can never become a structure unto itself. Because once the authority becomes ensconced in structure, separate from the Spirit, once it becomes coercive, autonomous from God, all power and authority of Christ is lost. In other words, when authority is preserved in structures via hierachical offices, we in essence have made a step away from the Kingdom. The rudiments of power may continue. Out of sociological habit, people may still obey, but it loses the power and authority of God, the inbreaking Kingdom. We often then enter maintenance mode as an organization. Worse, coercion and antagonism rules our lives. And the organization loses its force for the Kingdom and becomes grounded in other purposes (money, ego aggrandizement, etc.).

How many of us have seen churches self-destruct in these ways? How many businesses, if we ran them according to the ‘new dynamic of authority of the Kingdom’ would flourish in ways unimagined? …

Ephesians 4 as an Example of This Authority Dynamic

Ephesians 4:7-16 is a fine picture of this dynamic of Kingdom authority in Christ fleshing itself out in the church. In this text, we notice that this authority granted in the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is given from the seat of Christ’s Lordship as ascended (vs. 8-10). This authority is an extension of Christ’s rule into the community. But this authority is not exercised over the community by one office holder over the others, but in mutual relationship. Notice how each gifted person is to stay within his or her gifted place (vs. 7, vs. 11, according to the measure—within the boundaries of his or her said gift.) These are gifts received by ‘grace’ (vs. 7), exercised in mutual submission. They can only be exercised out of dependence upon that activity of God for the church and world. In Rom 12:6,7 Paul says these same thing. The gifts are limited by faith, dependence upon God. When we exercise this authority in mutuality, submission one to another, the fullness of Christ becomes manifest among us (vs. 13). As opposed to one superman pastor, the fullness of Christ, the ‘mature person’ comes only out of a plurality of gifted leaders submitting to each other.

I see Ephesians 4 as a marvelous exposition of the ‘new’ authority dynamic inaugurated in Jesus Christ for the world. I contend we have lost this sense of God’s rule and authority in and through Jesus Christ. We have institutionalized and hierarchicalized this inbreaking authority out of existence in many of our practices of church leadership. We need to return to this simple practice of authority in the church and also in the world. We need to bring these practices of leadership under His authority as members of His reign in the neighborhood. Out of mutual submission, exercising our gifts in relationship to one another with no coercion, the Kingdom, God’s reconciling power, can restore and bring new life.

The five-fold gifting practice is meant for neighborhood fellowships, Bible studies and the way we discern the Kingdom on the streets.

OK, what do you think?  

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.