Last January my father, Paul Burleson, wrote a very thought provoking blog post on 'authority' in the local church. Due to a few statements on 'authority' in the comment stream of my last post, I felt his article on authority, reproduced below in full, was beneficial to the conversation.
"Authority in a local church is a much debated and, as I've discovered of late, a much misunderstood concept I want to make several personal observations about the biblical understanding of authority in a local fellowship as I see it.
A. There is only one head of the Church/churches and all authority has been given to Him. If anyone ever assumes authority because of their person or position they are usurping the authority of the Head. [Eph. 4:5,15]
B. The Head of the Body has given an authoritative Word to the members of the Body [universal or local]. The Old and New Testaments are that inspired Word with New Covenant people inparticularly bound to the New Testament writings. [Heb. 1:2, Acts 18:28]
C. All believers are responsible to the Head individually and have a responsibility to each other. [Rom. 14:4, Eph. 5:21]
D. All believers are priests and are gifted. Therefore all must take their place among the body members to minister for the good of all. [1 Corinth. 12-14]
E. There are certain ones [both men and women] who are gifted as all members are, but, then become a gift to the body in a unique way. The purpose of these people/gifts is to equip all for ministry. [Eph. 4:11-12]
F. There is no emphasis in the New Testament on "authority" that is derived from an "office." The King James version translates the word "office" in Rom. 11:13, 12:4, and 1Tim 3:1. But in Rom. 11:13 it is the word "diakonia" or "service." In 12:4 it is "praxis" or "action/function." While in 1 Tim. 3:1 "office" is not in the text at all. The verse simply says in the original "if anyone aspires to oversight[episkope]"
Authority is to be experienced in the assembly because of the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit obvious through people. In one sense, the entire body shares authority. [Eph. 5:21, 1Peter 5:5] This means we recognize one another's gifts, knowledge, or experience in the Lord and we choose to serve/submit because the Holy Spirit has placed some as gifts and has annointed the ministries of those gifts. That is the key to understanding Pastors/Elders and their function. No one has authority BECAUSE they have a stronger personality, knows more Bible, or they hold an office. That is foreign to the New Testament. Paul the Apostle had to defend his Apostleship by virtue of it being the work of the Spirit setting him aside for it. 1 Tim. 5:17 speaks of those Elders that "give oversight well"...."are worthy of double honor." It is that "give oversight well" that is the source of authority. They defined it as Holy Spirit annointing. In other words, the annointing of the Spirit makes clear the authority that rests on a ministry done well, not the office holder.
(1). I think we can conclude in all of this that a "one man show" is foreign to the New Testament.
2). Further, submission to authority is to be given to those who "serve" the body well, whatever area of "service" that might be and regardless of "gender." Some people believe that the Spirit will never place a woman in the ministry of Pastor/Elder and the BF@M concurs with that. But whether that is true or not, and I have my own views about it, "authority" and "submission" are not "gender based" in the New covenant but "Holy Spirit ministry" based. No one is to be a leader by saying "I'm the Pastor/Elder" or "I have a Seminary degree" or "I'm a man."
(3). Servanthood is the "badge" of christian living and is to be the overriding characterstic of body-life. If God's people are to ever reflect the biblical relationship of Body/local body to Head and members to members servanthood is essential.
(4). Finally, the rule of church life is really to be the Headship of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, and each member contributing with giftedness and edifying each other in the process. Set up any system, any format, any procedure to carry out business, but function under the annointing of the Spirit. and serve one another. This must not be theory but practice if we are to reflect the reality of Christ to a lost world in need of the gospel. Check any leadership by this standard if you want to be biblical in church life."