Authority: Introduction

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

A woeful ignorance of the biblical doctrine of authority has caused the Church to descend into a multitude of behavioral errors. Most Christians never even give a second thought to the concept of authority. In the eyes of the average Christian in the pew, each person is equal in authority to every other person. Any attempt to exercise any type of authority over the local congregation is generally met with howls of protest. Many a pastoral career has been ended by congregations that do not comprehend the nature of biblical authority and the right and responsibility of the Pastor to exercise discipline over the members of the congregation.

Even worse, most Christian leaders have no idea of the basis of their authority and, therefore, end up either exercising tyrannical authority or exercising no authority whatsoever. Many congregations have suffered for years under the tyranny of an oppressive Pastor who always insists that he get his way. On the other hand, many congregations have trained their pastors well that he need be in fear of his job if he ever gets too “uppity”. Neither situation is good for the spiritual health of the local church.

This ignorance of the doctrine of authority also leads to necessarily lower levels of sanctification as individual Christians do not know how to deal with the authorities that they encounter in the world. The Bible speaks about authority both inside and outside of the Church. Unless a Christian understands the doctrine of authority with respect to the world, and especially the State, he will be severely handicapped as he attempts to live a life of obedience to God in the world that surrounds him.

The issue of State authority particularly vexes the Church today. Most evangelical Christians have adopted the view that it is the duty of the individual believer to be politically active. We are told that what we need more of is Christians in public office. Somehow a plethora of elected Christians is seen as the magic pill that will bring about righteousness in the land. To make matters worse, many of the battles that these Evangelical activists are fighting involve them in dubious alliances with immoral State power that inevitably result in failure to accomplish the stated goal.

The purpose of this series is to explore the biblical concept of authority and examine the numerous practical applications of the doctrine to everyday life in the Church and in the world. Throughout this series I will be referring to the State, the Church, and the Family. When I use capitalization I am speaking of the entity as an institution. When I spell the entity in small case, I am speaking of a particular state, church, or family. I make no attempt to be gender sensitive in this series. All references are male. Females, of course, are always subsumed. Passages of Scripture that are quoted and that are short are put between quotation marks. Longer passages of Scripture are in italics. There are no footnotes. Reference works that I deem to be of value are mentioned in the text. If I am knowingly taking an idea from somebody else, I will reference that in the text.

Two Types of Authority

The Bible assumes the existence of two different types of authority. No names are given to the two different types so it is necessary to come up with a label for each type. For the purposes of this series I will entitle the two different types of authority as Service/Contractual Authority and Representative/Covenantal Authority. Most of what will be discussed here pertains to the second type of authority: representative/covenantal authority. Nevertheless, it is important to understand a little bit about the first type of authority: service/contractual authority.

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