Authority: Original Authority in the Covenantal Institutions

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


The fact that God the Father gave all authority in heaven and on earth to His Son Jesus has been established.  The fact that Jesus delegates His authority to His representatives in covenantal institutions on earth has been established.  Now it is important to make some finer distinctions with respect to the level and direction of the authority that is being delegated.

I Corinthians 11 talks about authority in the family:

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ…For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is in the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.  Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head…

This part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is dealing with a problem that existed in the church in Corinth.  Adopting a contractual view of the representative institution of the local church, some of the members in the church had decided to rewrite the principles on the chain of authority in the church and they elevated women to a position of prominence.  In dealing with that problem Paul clearly sets out the proper chain of authority:  God the Father to God the Son to Man to Woman.  Each person higher in the chain is described as the “head” of those below him.  Each person lower in the chain is ordered to submit to the delegated authority of the Father.  In the family, original authority, is vested in the man/husband/father and it flows from God down through the man to the woman.

Ephesians 5: 23 says, “For the husband is head of the wife, as Christ also is head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.”

I Corinthians 12: 27-28 says, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”  (See also Ephesians 4, I Timothy 3, and Titus 1)

Hebrews 13: 17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”

The chain of authority in the church is clearly established in the things that have been discussed above and in the passages just quoted.  It goes:  God the Father to God the Son to Pastors/Teachers/Bishops/Presbyters/Elders to Individual Members.  All of the terms used above for the leaders in the church are used interchangeably in the Bible.  The different terms do recognize specific areas in the division of labor among those who are gifted and called to the leadership of the church but they do not confer any greater honor on one over another.  Just like in the family, each person higher in the chain is recognized as  “head” over those below him.  Also just like in the family, those lower in the chain are expected to submit to those above them.  In the church, original authority is vested in the elders (I will use that term for all of the other terms in the list) and it flows from God down through the elders to the individual members.

Romans 13: 1-7 needs to be quoted more fully to get the full gist of what is being said:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves….for it is a minister of God to you for good…for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.  Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

This passage dramatically reinforces everything that has been said about the covenantal nature of the representative authority  of the State.  “There is no authority except from God” boldly asserts that all authority in heaven and on earth is found in God the Father.  “Those which exist are established by God” strongly asserts that all institutions of civil government are ordained to exist because of the eternal decree of God.  If a particular state exists, it is because God has ordained it.  “He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God”.  Interestingly enough, the word translated ‘ordinance’ is also the word that can be translated ‘institution’.  Paul is clearly asserting that the State is the institution of God and its authority is not to be resisted or subverted.

The function of the State, in broad, general terms, is also set forth in this passage.  The State is “a minister for good”, “an avenger that brings wrath upon those who practice evil”,  and a “minister of God”.  The chain of authority in the institution of the state is:  God the Father to God the Son to the King to the Governor to the Citizen.  For our purposes we are free to interject our own “state chain of command” and make it look something like this:  God the Father to God the Son to the Federal Government to the State Government to the Local Government to the Citizen.

Just like in the family and the church, original authority is vested in the magistrate and it flows from God down through the magistrate to the citizens.  Those higher in the chain are the “heads” of those beneath them.  Those lower in the chain are commanded to be subject to those above them.

All three of the representative/covenantal institutions ordained and established by God have original authority vested in men to whom the authority of Jesus has been delegated.  All three institutions have been given instructions on how they are to operate.  All three institutions have clear statements about the necessity of submission on the part of those who are lower in the chain to their heads.  Authority always flows from the top down.  These are important points that will have a tremendous impact upon the numerous real world applications of the doctrine of authority.

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