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The body of Christ has continuous problems related to authority in the Church. It seems many use certain scriptures that support their chosen points of view while completely ignoring others presenting a more complete picture of true authority of Christ.
For example, 1 John 2:6 says “whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” He said “If anyone would come after Me he must take up his cross and follow Me” and “Anyone who does not take up the cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 16:24; 10:38). And Colossians 2:15 speaks of the authority that comes through the cross as something that cancels every other ruler, power and authority. It was after He rose from the dead that He said “All authority in heaven and earth is given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28).
This tells us that anyone who heeds the call to walk with Jesus the way of the cross comes into this authority over all of heaven and earth, by doing things His way. It also suggests we can choose not to do things His way but come up with our own versions of what the true gospel looks like, while shrinking back from the cross. That’s when the issue of authority in the Church begins to become quite confusing.
Some apparently think of godly authority as rulership over other people, rather than a position of servanthood on their behalf. They speak of some needing to ‘come under’ others as if there’s supposed to be a hierarchy of religious power in which only a few are appointed and anointed, and the rest must stay in their place of subservience. The truth is God will anoint and appoint anyone as He sees fit. If we believe we have a certain idea of how the balance of power should work in a church and it’s not scriptural, then we’ll risk rejecting God’s anointing on people we don’t deem as leadership material.
We sometimes hear a person say “Touch not the anointing” or “Don’t touch God’s anointed” as if to imply that a certain person who is anointed of God is infallible. He or she is the leader, beyond reproach, and the little people are not to question anything they do or say. Hand them over money when they ask for it (or in some cases demand it), heed their teachings without thinking for ourselves or hearing God’s voice for ourselves first and foremost, and suffer along with them when they make mistakes.
It’s understood that some who take leadership roles are hard-pressed on every side as they spend full-time serving God. But maybe it’s not so well understood that God also anoints others to come alongside them, not only to bear the burdens but to have space to use the spiritual gifts He gives to them as well. Instead we seem to need to do Church in a specific way, in which a select few are seen as leaders who require our money, but not our input – not even if we know for certain it’s from God.
Much of what God has to give to a church by the power of the Holy Spirit gets ruled out because of how we perceive authority in our religious gatherings. Ephesians 5 explains how the relationship between a husband and wife is a living symbol and manifestation of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The implication is that the Church represents the Bride and the wife of Christ Himself. Many take this passage out of context and read no further than ‘wives submit to your husbands’ which then gives the impression this is about a husband ruling over a wife.
In fact, to think this way is to virtually enshrine the sinful nature of a man in the body of Christ. It was part of the sinful human nature, as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,that the wife’s desire would be for her husband and he would rule over her. It wasn’t that way in the beginning, before the fall, and it’s not supposed to be that way in the redeemed body of Christ. The husband is called to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, washing her with the water of the Word (Ephesians 5). In other words, he’s called to take up the cross and walk as Jesus did on her behalf. Then she gladly submits to him out of reverence for Christ. Instead of a power struggle it becomes a river of life-giving love straight from the heart of God.
If this passage is symbolic of Christ’s relationship with the Church what does it say about a church where the women are expected to be in full submission while the husbands behave however they want? Combine this with scriptures taken out of context – such as the one saying women should be silent in church – and it gives the idea that a Spirit-led woman who insists on exercising her God-given spiritual gifts is functioning from a place of rebellion. When the concept of authority is presented as rulership rather than servanthood, there’s a grave risk of grieving the Holy Spirit.
The Bible talks about the five-fold ministry where some are given to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, pastors, some teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12). Further, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 teach that the local church should be led by pastors, elders and deacons, and describes the desirable qualities for them. They should be held in highest esteem and treated with great respect. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the congregation cannot also be Spirit-led and used of God however He sees fit, for whatever purpose.
The Bible also speaks of how the Kingdom of God belongs to little children (Luke 18:16). Jesus said “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Sometimes God will use a small child to speak something that the adults wouldn’t dream of saying, to make His will clear to the entire assembly.
Parents of those children are right to stand with them in support of whatever God would do through them. But it might clash with what the ‘authorities’ have decided is right based on their own personal understanding. Unless we understand true authority from God is about being a servant, then the carnal human nature comes out to exercise control and keep others in their place. Because there is so little teaching about a personal experience of meeting Jesus at the cross, and hardly any overcoming testimony about the results, we’re left thinking we need this hierarchy of power and control in the Church instead of complete surrender to the sovereign will of God however He chooses to express it.
This becomes a problem if or when ‘the anointed one’ starts going astray. If we believe only one person in the entire assembly is anointed to be the leader and treat him or her as if they can do no wrong, we won’t have the tools we need to bring correction in a loving way, that honours God. When everyone else is told ‘don’t touch the anointing’ and instead made to feel like they must go along with false doctrine, or excessive demands for finances so a select few can live like royalty in our faces, it leads to situations where the words they need to say in love to a person’s face, ends up being expressed behind their backs instead.
Eventually it creates more division than if provision is made for everyone in the body of believers to have their say, and their opportunity to express themselves however God leads. The more this comes across as a threat to the power held by a select few over everyone else, the more it tells us how much they need to learn about the way of the cross, and about being a servant instead of a ruler.
At the heart of the power struggles is the uncrucified sinful human nature, insisting on looking out for the self first. It comes from a place of fear and uncertainty, like that of a child of God expected to uphold far more responsibility that they think they can manage. It’s like putting a child behind the wheel of a car and expecting them to drive it while also ensuring the safety of other passengers. If they don’t do it perfectly then they’ll let God down and others will disapprove.
Sometimes leaders have the best intentions as they plan to give their all to serving God. They can become so driven in their zeal that they fail to leave room for others to find their place. They want to do it all, for the glory of God. Then He sends someone they’d never expect to also have a role; maybe someone who feels like a thorn in the side rather than any source of blessing or comfort. It’s because God never intended for just one or two people to do it all. He wants everyone to have a share of the ministry, to have opportunity to let the Holy Spirit work through them, and to also be blessed by it spiritually and tangibly.
In the fullness of God’s Kingdom we are all children at heart and our heavenly Father is the one behind the wheel. We find this place of complete surrender to His will by taking up the cross and walking as Jesus did, which opens the way for His love to flush out all fear. The greatest power and authority comes through when we take the role of servant before God, and avoid the temptation to achieve self-serving power. One of the greatest challenges for the anointed ones is to realize His new covenant anointing is not just for a select few, but for everyone who is born again in His Holy Spirit from the greatest to the least.