Matthew recently provided his full PhD dissertation on his website. The title of his dissertation is “The Authority of Church Elders in the New Testament.” I’m still reading through the dissertation, hoping to better understand Matthew’s position on elders and authority. But, I came across this very exciting conclusion from Hebrews 13:17:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)
(By the way, Matthew also thinks that “Follow” is a better translation than “Obey.”)
That the recipients of this letter were to choose to follow their leaders with understanding and conviction, having been persuaded, is confirmed by the exhortation itself. The author did not urge the leaders to bring the congregation into submission, which would imply they had some power to do so. These instructions were given to the congregation; they had the freedom and responsibility to follow their leaders. The author provided several reasons to persuade them to follow their leaders. (157-58)
Yes! Exactly! There is no passage of Scripture in which leaders are told to exercise authority over others. None. Every passage that is usually used to teach elders and other leaders to “exercise authority” are actually directed toward others in order to encourage them to respect or give honor to or submit to their leaders. (see also 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and 1 Timothy 5:17)
In other words, submitting is not the same as being subjected. We are to offer our respect and follow our leaders. Leaders are never to exert authority or force others into submission.