the weblog of Alan Knox

Exercising authority…

Posted by on Jun 10, 2007 in elders, office, service | 26 comments

Three months ago, in a post called “Leadership, Obedience, and Authority…” I discussed several questions that I had concerning leadership among believers in the church. I said then that I planned to continue studying various passages of Scripture that deal with leadership and authority. I’ve blogged about some of this study in “What does a non-bishop oversee?” and “1 Corinthians 14 and Leadership“. In this post, I want to continue discussing issues related to leadership.

There are several Greek verbs used to refer to the act of exercising authority:

εξουσιάζω (exousiazo) – “have power over”
κατεξουσιάζω (katexousiazo) – “exercise authority over”
κυριεύω (kurieuo) – “be lord or master over”
κατακυριεύω (katakurieuo) – “become master; gain dominion over”

These verbs each have one of two noun roots: κύριος (kurios – “lord or master”) and εξουσία (exousia – “authority or right”).

It is interesting to see how these verbs are used in context in Scripture. For example, consider these passages from the gospels:

[After the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus asking if her sons could sit on his right hand and left hand in his kingdom] But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over [κατακυριεύω (katakurieuo)] them, and their great ones exercise authority over [κατεξουσιάζω (katexousiazo)] them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV; c.f. Mark 10:42-45)

[Immediately following the cup of the last supper:] A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over [κυριεύω (kurieuo)] them, and those in authority over [εξουσιάζω (exousiazo)] them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:24-26 ESV)

In each of these passages, Jesus tells his followers that “exercising authority” will not be part of their relationship with one another. Instead, Jesus replaces “exercising authority” with serving. Peter follows up on this teaching by telling elders that they should not attempt to care for (“shepherd”) God’s people by “domineering over” [κατακυριεύω (katakurieuo)] the people, instead they should live as an example for the people. (1 Peter 5:3) Similarly, in spite of his teaching and admonishment and exhortation, Paul says that he did not exercise authority over the faith of the believers in Corinth. (2 Cor. 1:24)

So, who or what does “rule over” or “domineer”? A man possessed by a demon exercised authority over (“subdued”) some Jewish exorcists. (Acts 19:16) Death does not exercise authority over Christ. (Rom. 6:9) Sin does not exercise authority over Christ’s people. (Rom. 6:14) The law exercises authority over living people. (Rom. 7:1) Christ exercises authority over the living and the dead. (Rom. 14:9) Paul will not be brought under the authority of any “thing”. (1 Cor. 6:12) The husband exercises authority over the wife’s body, and the wife exercises authority over the husband’s body. (1 Cor. 7:4) Jesus is Lord of all that exercise authority. (1 Tim. 6:15)

So far, in these passages, there is no indication that one person should exercise authority over another person in a spiritual sense. In fact, it seems like just the opposite is indicated. But, if the apostles were not to exercise authority, and Paul did not exercise authority, and Peter told elders not to exercise authority, then I’m not sure where the command for leaders to exercise authority over other people is coming from. However, I’m still searching Scripture. It is possible that I’ve missed something, or that there are other passages of Scripture where leaders are instructed to exercise authority.


26 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-11-2007

    Hi Alan:

    Could Hebrews 13:17 be a verse where people see leaders exercising authority? I’m not saying this is a right interpretation, only that this might be one place where people get this idea.

    What do you think?

  2. 6-11-2007

    Scott,

    Welcome to my blog! Yes, I think some people do interpret Hebrews 13:17 as giving leaders authority. I think the verse lends itself to a different interpretation. I’ll look into this verse a little later. But first, I hope to lay a general foundation to help in interpreting individual verses. I hope you will continue to interact with us here as we discuss these issues.

    -Alan

  3. 6-11-2007

    Alan,

    It seems that in most evangelical churches the battle for the bible is over; nearly everyone at least says the scriptures are infallible.

    However, we seem to be dealing with another very problematic issue – method of interpretation. Because there are so many differing ways of interpreting the bible, people come away with almost any conclusion they want to.

    I bring this up because it seems that improper interpretation has led us to pastors who, at least in some cases, rule much more than they serve. I wonder if this is an honest mistake, or if many in the “senior pastor” position would just rather rule.

    I look forward to more posts from you on this subject.

  4. 6-11-2007

    Alan,

    Thank you for diving into this topic. I am looking forward to reading about your discoveries.

  5. 6-11-2007

    Alan:

    Here are a few comments.

    Heb 13:17 seems to be saying that the lay person should follow the leading of the leader. (leader not to force people to follow) You can’t force people to follow in the long term anyway.

    There seems to be a place for exercising authority in 1 Tim. 1:5-11 If people have a pure heart, good conscience and a sincere faith they don’t need anyone to exercise authority over them they will gladly follow in unity.

    But if they are not walking with God v. 9, 10 then there is a place for exercising authority in correction.

    Hope this helps.

  6. 6-11-2007

    Eric,

    While I don’t understand the desire to exercise authority over others (I think that is reserved for Christ himself), I’m trying not to judge the motives of those who do desire to exercise authority. I know some very godly senior pastors – people who want to see other grow in maturity in Christ. Though I disagree with some of their methods and teachings, I respect who they are in Christ. I do think that tradition plays a large role in this.

    Mary,

    Thank you for the encouragement. Unfortunately (?) I’m interested in too many things, so my study of these topics is going much slower than I would like.

    Scott M,

    Thank you for the comment! I taught on 1 Timothy 1 a few months ago. I remember Paul emphasizing the need to teach and live in a manner consistent with the gospel. But, I don’t remember an emphasis on exercising authority over someone else – even over those who disagree. But, I’ll try to look into it again.

    -Alan

  7. 6-12-2007

    Alan,

    I guess what I am trying to get at here is that saying that the bible is true and authoritative is often not enough. It seems that we need to have a change in how we interpret the bible also. We really need to let the text speak, as you have done in this post.

  8. 6-12-2007

    Eric,

    I agree. Thanks for the confidence in my interpretation. I trust that where I am wrong, God will show that to me.

    -Alan

  9. 6-13-2007

    Using Scripture and teaching it to others, relies on our love for God and others.

    I don’t want to be argumentative, but show Christ’s love in all that I do and say. So I would give it to the Lord if there is a disagreement in understanding a passage of scripture.

  10. 6-13-2007

    Scott M,

    I would agree completely! And, I would not call this exercising authority. Some prefer to attempt to dominate those who disagree – pull rank, so to speak. I think your method is more scriptural.

    -Alan

  11. 6-15-2007

    I have been pondering this topic prior to reading your blog – Does the term “overseer” imply some degree of authority? Without authority of some sort, how do we guard against false teaching and false teachers? Do elders not “rule” in some sense (I Tim 5:17)?

  12. 6-16-2007

    Keith,

    Welcome to my blog! 1 Tim 5:17 is an interesting passage, and one that I am studying, along with a similar passage in 1 Thess and another in Galatians. The question is, do elders “rule” or “lead”?

    -Alan

  13. 6-18-2007

    Alan, here’s my question – who decides what doctrine is true and what is false? Who should tell one that he/she can or cannot teach? If one or a group can make those decisions for the good of the body then they exercise authority. If they have any power (and I believe that some should) to say we will not allow you to teach because you are teaching a false gospel – then they have some authority to do so. Those in authority should act in love, with compassion, for the good of the body and for the glory of God. Yes, they should be servant leaders as Christ was, but I also believe there are times when authority must be exercised as well – for the good of the body and the glory of God. I hope that makes sense. Study on.

  14. 6-18-2007

    Keith,

    The way I see it, God determines what one should or should not teach or do. If someone – or a group of people – act according to God’s will, then that person (those people) are acting under God’s authority, not their own. If someone – or a group of people – act contrary to God’s will, then that person (those people) are acting under their own authority. All believers should act in love and compassion toward others. This love and compassion may include helping someone recognize that they are living contrary to God’s will as he has revealed in Scripture. This does not mean that that person has authority. The authority still rests with God.

    -Alan

  15. 6-19-2007

    Here’s my point:
    Someone must have some authority to “silence” the rebellious men and empty talkers of Titus 1. The context seems to indicate that Elders are the guys to do so. Silencing false teachers is exercising authority. Practically speaking – without someone in a position of authority, there is chaos – any man’s interpretation / doctrine/ belief/ teaching is just as “right” and “godly” and valid as anyone else’s. It is not the authority of a king – it is as Mark Dever wrote, “…the elder’s authority is directly related to his task of teaching.” None the less, there seems to be some authority.

  16. 6-19-2007

    keith, I would respectfully disagree. You say that someone must be in a “position of authority”.

    All authority resides in Jesus Christ, and any influence that is exerted in the body of Christ must be done in the spirit of, and under the direction of, Christ himself.

    Elders in the body of Christ do not have authority by nature of their position. They have influence in the body because they have demonstrated with their lives that they are worthy of that honor.

    It does not come with a position. It comes with a life lived in submission to Christ. And even though Mark Dever’s statement sounds noble, I do not see any Scriptural foundation for that assertion. (I’m open to correction on this.)

    So, when there are people who need to be “silenced” (which I believe happens a lot less than many believe), the ones who have demonstrated a life of faithfulness and holiness can influence others not to listen to the troublemakers. But they are exhorting others based on the authority of Jesus Christ, not their own position.

    Does that make sense?

    When I see things prefaced with “practically speaking”, I get a bit nervous. Let’s start with what Scripture actually says. Jesus tells us not to exert authority or power over each other (and Peter later echoed this same concept). We must deal with that before we start speaking about practical needs for someone to be in charge.

  17. 6-19-2007

    Keith,

    I understand your concern about “rebellious men and empty talkers”. I agree that elders should be concerned about false teachers, as should everyone in the church – thus the end of Titus 1 is directly connected to Titus 2.

    I have a question for you. If Person A disagrees with Person B, how do they decide if one is rebellious or a false teacher? I suggest that it has nothing to do with the position of either individual, nor their age, nor their gender, nor their spiritual maturity. Instead, we must look at who is aligned with the will of God. Thus, the authority lies with God himself. Very few would follow an elder who attempts to lead them in ways that contradict Scripture. Why? Because the elder does not have authority; God does.

    And, “practically speaking”, Jesus is the living, breathing, capable leader of his church. He is the one with authority and he is the one who should exercise authority. Any person who attempts to exercise authority is disobeying Jesus’ words in Matt. 20, Mark 10, and Luke 22.

    Steve,

    In spite of the fact that I have heard many different believers speak over the last few years, both elders and non-elders, men and women, I have seen very, very few instances where someone needed to be “silenced”. If that happens, I think the correct procedure would be gentleness and humility, as Paul says.

    -Alan

  18. 6-19-2007

    OK, here is real and practical. I am a pastor in a church. I am responsible for overseeing the church’s discipleship. In our church of around 1,000 we have a man who is teaching that salvation/saved/save/saving… in the NT almost never refers to eternal salvation as we use it, but rather is about temporal matters – salvation from sickness, from danger… He also teaches that when a person grieves the Holy Spirit, the Spirit departs that believer just as He did Saul in the OT and He will only return after a person repents and with time. I could go on. I asked him to teach a study last fall from a book – I did so because I like him, and many in the church follow his teaching and attend all of his classes. Choosing a particular pre-written study seemed safe. After week 1 he tossed the book to teach what he wanted. I didn’t ask him to teach again. So, he and his followers found a room and met as their own group and encouraged others to join them. I very gently and with humility approached him – he ignored. I asked him to provide me with a list of topics he would be teaching on each week – he refused. He still has his following. Outside of his following some have asked that he not be allowed to teach as a substitute in sunday School. There are others besides myself concerned. Now – I have been gentle. I have been humble. We have a teacher who is a poor exegete and who is teaching doctrine contrary to what seems biblically clear. Do we let it go on as he misleads people? Do we figure that, as you see it – God has appointed him to teach? So, Steve – practical may make you uncomfortable – but I am not wrestling simply with theory. I do not believe that anyone should “Lord over” as is the context of the cited passages by Steve – I do believe that protecting the flock from wolves, and false teachers may be in order – and in order to do so requires that some authority be exercised. It is also interesting to me that Timothy was not an Apostle and yet he was instructed to appoint elders – by what authority did he do so? especially if he had no authority. This, will be my last post on the subject – Thanks for the dialogue!

  19. 6-20-2007

    Well, since you said it would be your last post on the topic, I’m not sure if it’s worth taking the time to respond, but here goes…

    The type of situation you’ve mentioned, Keith, is not something that happened in a vacuum. You are looking at a particular situation and then seeing “authority” as the only possible solution for it.

    And you know what? You’re right. In the situation you find yourself, the only practical response is to shut this guy up. Prevent him from teaching, and eventually he’ll get so frustrated and angry that he’ll leave and take some of his following with him and you’ll eventually be free of him.

    But to what effect? You will have exercised your “authority”, and the immediate problem will have been dealt with.

    But eventually, someone else will come along with teaching that seems contrary to “clear biblical teaching” and you’ll have to draw the line again and exercise your “authority”.

    I would submit that this illustrates not a need for “authority”, but perhaps a need to step back and re-examine the whole system.

    That’s obviously bigger than a comment on a blog post, and I won’t hijack Alan’s blog with that. But I do believe it is a necessary thing to look at.

  20. 6-20-2007

    Steve,
    It is indeed a fallen and failed system and will remain so until Christ’s return. I will send you an e-mail rather than hijack the post as well – that is the reason I was not going to post again.

    You are right – someone will come along again, and again authority will have to be exercised in some sense. I know this because they have been coming along since the beginning of time. False pophets of the OT misled many, Jesus dealt with the problem as did all of the NT writers. I don’t think that “authority” was the problem – fallen humanity was and is. I think that, in part, that is why authority has been granted by God to some (Romans 13). But – I will e-mail my other thoughts and end with this – great discussion!

  21. 6-20-2007

    Keith,

    I don’t think your question or this discussio is off-subject, nor do I consider this a hijack. I think it is very applicable.

    I have a couple of questions about your comment. You said: “I am responsible for overseeing the church’s discipleship”. Who placed this responsibility on you? I agree that you are responsible for discipling, but then so are all believers.

    My other question is, are you discipling this man that you disagree with? If so, how are you discipling him?

    Thanks,

    -Alan

  22. 6-20-2007

    Alan, your questions go back to what Steve talked about, a system failure. Ours is not the best system. You may have gathered that from my blog. However, I do believer that overseers oversee and part of my responsibility as an overseer at my current church is overseeing discipleship.
    Also, as you probably gathered from my blog, I am in full agreement that each and every believer is responsible for taking part in the discipleship process – their own and that of others.
    As to discipling the man in question – attempts to kindly and patiently do so have been met with little or no response on his part.

  23. 6-20-2007

    Keith,

    I’m honestly not thinking of systems or system failures at all. In fact, when I think of church, I don’t think of systems at all. I think of people.

    You are correct that overseers oversee. Elders are instructed to “oversee” in 1 Peter 5:2. However, all believers are instructed to “oversee” in Hebrews 12:15. So, I’m not disagreeing with your statement that you (as an elder) should oversee (“look after”) people, but that is also the responsibility of all believers. (“What does a non-bishop oversee?“)

    I agree with you about discipleship. We as leaders must continually encourage others to make disiples both with our teaching and by example.

    By the way, you asked about a specific example (the man teaching things that you disagree with). I was hoping for specific examples of how you were discipling him. Can you share some of that with us?

    -Alan

  24. 6-21-2007

    Sure Alan, here are ways I have worked toward leading the man in question over the past 16 months. To begin with he was very receptive to me and to the direction I was trying to lead this body in the arena of discipleship – life process and relationships. This lasted about 5 months. We would dialogue at the church, at dinner, and via e-mail. Last summer I received a couple of e-mails from him – he has a large e-mail data base and uses it for lessons and teaching with people all over the world. The issue of salvation not meaning eternal salvation was addressed in one of his e-mail teachings. In kindness and a gentle tone I responded and verse by verse attempted to guide him to understand context. In essence he was making this statement based on a single definition of the word rather than by its context – ex: if I say you are blue today – it is impossible to define the word apart from its contexc – are you sad, or are you cold? He refused to consider anything that I wrote and was later teaching the same thing to a group in the church. On another occassion the topic came up of the Holy Spirit leaving us when we “grieve him” and then only returning after we have repented and with some time. Again we discussed his view. It is based on OT passages re Saul. Again, discussion, context… again a few months later he is teaching this as truth to a group in the church. I do not believe that he is open to the correction of someone younger and less experienced than he. But – the question was HOW have I tried to disciple him – this has been a summary of the how.

  25. 6-21-2007

    Keith,

    Thank you! I’m always looking for examples in how to disciple. I’m beginning to see how important discipleship is, and how little I’ve been exposed to discipleship.

    -Alan

  26. 6-22-2007

    Over the past several years I have spent a lot of time thinking about discipleship – reading books – and studying the life of Christ and the 1st church. It seems to me that there are layers of discipleship. Jesus had thousands who heard him teach in large gatherings. That is a layer of discipleship. Jesus had a much smaller group – 120 regrouped and gathered in Acts 1. They received more discipleship and more time with the discipler. Within that group was a still smaller group – the 12 (or 11) who spent a great deal of time with Jesus. They lived with him, ate with him, prayed with him, they did life together. Within that group was still another group – the 3. They received additional training and even more time with Jesus.

    Similarly, I think that Paul taught large groups – in the synagogues and town squares. Paul also had smaller groups – churches, perhaps elders. And he had guys like Timothy and Titus.

    There are different layers of dicipleship, but the down and dirty of discipleship happens in close relationships – in small groups where people are “doing life together.”

    The difficulty for me over the past few years is in implementation of such a model into an existing church filled with its traditions and norms – this model, though it should be the norm, is not. Instead we have programs and functions. Our people are programmed for programs! They think programs. They do not think life, small group, and doing life in true community.