This is the fifth post in my series on “Authority among the church.” In the “Introduction” post, I simply laid out the series of questions and issues that I plan to cover in this series. In the second post, I pointed out that Jesus responded negatively when asked about “positions of authority under his own authority.” In the third post, I answered the question, “How does someone lead without exercising authority,” by stating that among the church people lead from the influence of the life as an example to others, not by positional authority. In the fourth post, I ask the question, “Does the existence and recognition of elders indicate that they have positional authority?”
To begin with, elders are instruct to shepherd (“pastor”) and oversee. We see this in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5:
[To the elders from Ephesus] Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight… (1 Peter 5:1-2 ESV)
“Shepherding” and “overseeing” including watching and caring, but these are not the functions that typically bring out the big authority guns. Instead, as is often pointed out, “shepherding” and “overseeing” also include the ideas of correcting, admonishing, and rebuking. The idea is that if someone can point out that someone else is wrong and then correct that person, then authority is exercised.
But, there is a basic problem with this idea: as we’ve seen many times, ALL believers are instructed to correct, rebuke, and admonish others. These types of functions are not limited to elders or other leaders.
I’ve already pointed out 1 Thessalonians 5:12, so I’m not going to list it here again (mouse over the reference to see the verse). But, there are other similar instruction given to all believers:
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct [admonish] one another. (Romans 15:14 ESV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom… (Colossians 3:16 ESV)
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct [admonish] one another. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 ESV)
The Book of Hebrews is filled with exhortations for all believers to look deeply into each others lives and to help and correct where needed. Here are a few examples:
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)
And let us consider [one another] how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it [this is actually the verb “oversee”] that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy… (Hebrews 12:12-16 ESV)
Remember that the Book of Hebrews includes two passages that are usually presented as indicative of the authority of leaders: Hebrews 13:7 and Hebrews 13:17. But these passages MUST be interpret within the context of what the author has already said to the whole church.
In fact, this is the point of this whole post. While elders/leaders are told to admonish others, all believers are told to admonish others. While elders/leaders are instructed to look into the lives of others, all believers are instructed to look into the lives of others. While elders/leaders are urged to correct sinning believers, all believers are urged to correct sinning believers.
Thus, the functions of admonishing, correcting, and rebuking (as part of shepherding and overseeing) cannot give special authority to elders/leaders, since ALL believers are supposed to carry out these same functions.
(As an addendum, Hebrews 13:17 says that leaders will give an account for the way they care for others. Of course, this is true for ALL believers as well. In other words, the answer to God’s question to Cain in Genesis 4:9 is, “Yes! You are your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper!” All believers, including leaders, will give an account to God for how we care for our brothers and sisters, which includes teaching, correcting, rebuking, and admonishing.)
“Authority Among the Church” Series
- Authority among the church? Starting a new series.
- What did Jesus say about positions of authority under his own authority?
- In the church, how does someone lead without exercising authority?
- Does the existence and recognition of elders indicate that they have positional authority?
- Does shepherding and overseeing suggest exercising authority?