Two incompetents (lets name them Burt & Earl) are standing before the Pearly Gates. The Saint Peter, holding the keys, is scowling at Earl. Burt whispers to Earl, “If I were you I’d change my shirt, Earl.” Earl’s T-shirt reads, “Question Authority.”
Americans think that questioning or defying authority is our inalienable constitutional right. If our President begins to act as if he were the king, we rally to throw him out of office. It carries down through our society, all the way to rebellion on the family level. We resist the concept of authority. We don’t like submitting to anyone.
When it comes to the church, most American evangelicals do not view it as a place where you submit to the leadership for the purpose of growth and accountability, but rather as a store where you shop as a consumer. If you like the place and it services your needs, you come back. If another place down the road offers a more pleasant experience, you move your business there. Thus pastors who are trying to market their churches don’t dare say anything that might offend or upset the customers. The customer is king. You want to please your customers. With this consumer view about the church, the idea of spiritual authority, of proclaiming, “Thus says the Lord,” seems odd and out of place.
As we approach Titus 2:15, we must avoid extremes such as Jim Jones, the cult leader who killed over 900 followers back in the 70’s! Even in less extreme situations, many Christians have had bad experiences with authoritarian pastors who wrongly lord it over the flock. Often these men mistakenly claim that you can’t “touch the Lord’s anointed,” meaning that the pastor is beyond criticism or correction, even if he is engaging in sinful or unbiblical practices. They misunderstand true biblical authority! People of God must teach God’s Word and lead the church with true biblical authority, and the church must submit to such authority.
Paul, the Apostle brings out the fact that people who reject the Word seem to assume that they can nonetheless dodge the pointed application of the Word to their lives by disregarding the man who teaches the Word. If he exhorts or reproves them from the Word, they can say, “Who does he think he is to say such things? He probably doesn’t practice what he preaches!” And so, by disregarding the preacher, they disregard the Word. In reality, they are not in submission to God, but they dodge the serious implications of that by attacking God’s messenger.
Statements about biblical authority, based upon Titus 2:15 will to help you understand this important concept so that you will submit all of your life to God, who is the ultimate authority, and reap the blessings that come from a life of submission to Him
1. All authority on the human plane is delegated authority.
Romans 13:1-2: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”
In the book of Daniel, chapter 4:17, 25-God humbles the proud Nebuchadnezzar. The emphasis: “that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes.” All authority is delegated from God and those in authority are accountable to God.
This means that no person, no matter what office he holds, is above rebuke if he strays from the ultimate authority of God’s Word. Daniel had to tactfully, but directly, confront the proud Nebuchadnezzar about his sin.
In the local church, the Bible states that elders are not to lord it over those allotted to their charge, but rather to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). Therefore, if a pastor or a group of elders, disregard God’s Word and lord it over the church, they need to be confronted in line with biblical guidelines (1 Tim. 5:19-20). If they do not repent, they should be removed from office and put under church discipline. Only obedient men, who acknowledge that they are under God’s sovereign authority, are in a position to exercise biblical authority in a local church.
- All authority is designed for our blessing and protection.
When authority is abused, it hurts those under authority. In such cases, God ultimately will judge the abuser. But when it is exercised properly, authority blesses and protects those under it.
God has instituted several spheres of authority. Romans 13 establishes the authority of civil government, which is supposed to punish lawbreakers and protect those who obey the laws. The government should protect its citizens by passing and upholding just laws. When the government fails to do its job, the citizens suffer.
- Authority does not imply superiority.
If subjection means inferiority, then it would mean that Jesus Christ is inferior to the Father, which is heresy! The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal as persons in their eternal deity, but to carry out the divine plan of redemption, the Son submitted to the Father and the Spirit submitted to the Son. But the Son and the Spirit are equally God along with the Father.
- Authority does imply responsibility and accountability.
We often see authority as a perk, but not as a serious responsibility. The key concept of delegated authority is not that I’m the boss, but rather that I’m responsible and accountable. The main thing to keep in mind is, it is not your Kingdom, and you must give an account to the owner of the Kingdom! (Jesus/Jehovah God)
To be “in” authority in any sphere means that someday you must give an account to God, who entrusted that position to you. If you use your authority to abuse those under you for your own advantage, you’re going to be in big trouble someday. If you use it to seek to accomplish God’s will by blessing and protecting those under your charge, you will be rewarded (Luke 12:42-48; 20:9-16).
But you can’t blame those under your authority for your own lack of godly leadership. If a church refuses to follow God’s Word, each member will answer to God. But also He will hold the elders accountable.
The way authority works is that if those in authority sins, those under authority will suffer for it. When David sinned with Bathsheba, David’s family and eventually the entire nation suffered the consequences. When he later sinned by numbering the people, thousands died as a result.
Thus the concept that authority implies responsibility and accountability should strike fear and trembling into the hearts of everyone “in” authority. We should be careful to confess and repent of all sin, so that those whom we are supposed to bless and protect do not suffer, and so that we can give a good account when we stand before the Lord.
- Authority concerns character primarily and position secondarily.
In the world and, sadly, often in the church, these get reversed. A man seeks the position of authority, but he lacks the character to lead. Once he secures the position, he doesn’t command respect, so he asserts his authority by lording it over others (Mark 10:42-45). They finally get fed up and rebel. So, rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
Thus character is the primary thing in authority, because godly character commands respect and a man with respect has authority. But, there is also a secondary aspect of authority, namely, the “authority of position or office.” Hopefully, the man who fills the office graces the position with godly character. But even if he falls short, we need to maintain a certain respect for the office.
I once heard a Pastor tell how when he had just become the pastor of a church; a little old lady came up and started reprimanding him over something that she didn’t like. He shocked her by saying, “Wait a minute! You can’t talk to me like that! I am your pastor and God put me here to lead you spiritually. You can’t talk to me with that tone of voice!” She meekly said, “I’m sorry.” The pastor said he felt like slapping her on the backside and saying, “Now, get back into the game!”
- Authority is exercised in the local church through teaching and correcting with God’s Word.
Sometimes (hopefully, rarely) the elders must take correction to the level of public church discipline When that happens, the church must submit to the discipline by breaking fellowship with the sinning member (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
Note that the man of God must teach the Word of God with all authority. This does not mean beating people over the head with dogmatic views on minor issues. But it does mean that when the Bible clearly commands something, the preacher must not dodge the command or teach it as a “helpful hint for happy living.” It is the Word of the living God, and it must be preached as His mandate, not as an optional opinion that you may want to consider!
Both the preacher and the congregation are under the same authority of the Word. If it steps on your toes, it probably stepped on mine while I was studying the text for the message. We all must obey God’s Word.