Authority in Christianity
I remember watching a program where military pilots were sent to the wilderness for survival training. Although the person in charge of the training was outranked by the officers there, everybody knew who was really the one to follow. The survival guide was an expert, and the officers were the inexperienced students. They knew that to defy or pull rank on the guide would be technically within their right, but they also knew that such an act could very well cost them their lives in battle. They had to defer to someone of lower rank because it was the wise thing to do. The guide taught and led them, without rank or power over them. They followed him willingly because their lives would depend on taking his advice. Of course, in other venues the guide would certainly have to follow the commands of the officers. But in both cases, it is the one with the best qualification who leads, regardless of titles or positions.
In the New Testament, not even the apostle Paul pulled rank on anyone but instead always tried to motivate people and urge them to follow his example. His only instances of citing qualifications were in self-defense against false accusations by people who craved rule and control over others. He appealed often to his having “given birth” and thereby being a “father” to many believers, reinforcing his theme of the community of believers being like a family instead of an institution or army. Military analogies were sometimes given for their struggles against evil, but never were such analogies given as a description of how believers relate to each other.
Below are some quotes I’ve collected that I hope shed some light on true “authority” in Christianity, on how we are to relate to each other. I especially recommend you read the excellent material at The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy (GEC).
Richard Halverson, chaplain of the U.S. Senate--
When the Greeks got the gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.
(GEC), ch.2: Twisted Scriptures--
If Jesus, the ultimate example, the one who is altogether lovely, the one who suffered the horrors of Calvary on your behalf, should stand before you right now, you would become like him. You could not do otherwise. For it is in seeing Him that we are transformed. The scriptures say that when He appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (2 Corinthians 3:18). When the power (Ginomai) of example is gone, all you have left is the tyranny of demanded conformity.
William Macdonald, Commentary on 1 Peter 5:3--
Elders should be examples, not dictators. They should be walking out in front of the flock, not driving them from behind. They should not treat the flock as if it belonged to them. This strikes at the very heart of authoritarianism! Many of the abuses in Christendom would be eliminated by simply obeying the three instructions in verses 2, 3. The first would abolish all reluctance. The second would spell the end of commercialism. The third would be the death of officialism in the church.
(GEC ch. 2)--
In the body of Christ you cannot demand that someone submit to your authority. If you do, it proves that you really do not have authority. He is not fit to lead who is not capable of guiding.