"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Problem of Centralized Authority and Control

Matt Drudge recently linked to an article on Premier Putin's 'democracy' in Russia.

Within the article is the following paragraph which describes the problem of modern Russia:

"Behind a facade of democracy lies a centralized authority that has deployed a nationwide cadre of loyalists that is not reluctant to swat down those who challenge the ruling party. Fearing such retribution, many of the people interviewed for this article asked not to be identified."

We who have leadership within our churches or the Southern Baptist Convention would do well to remember Russia as the example of how to cause a democracy to ultimately fail.


Bryan Riley said...

Yet how does this work within the Kingdom of God? Clearly, for humanity alone, centralized authority will be rife with abuse; however, in God's Kingdom we will serve One authority. If the Kingdom is here and now, what does that mean? What does that look like?

Bob Cleveland said...

Jesus showed us how such a Kingdom can work, here, but we've got to be willing to act like Jesus did when He was here. Just ask yourself how much authority Jesus had and what He could have done about it when someone crossed Him or disagreed with Him, and then what He actually did about it when someone rebelled against Him.

Not that our behavior stops God at work, but this kingdom will look like His when our actions and attitudes do, too.

Arthur Sido said...

Look at the difference between the SBC and more authoritarian denominations. Groups like the PC-USA and CRC have gone way off the theological deepend, but because the laity is essentially powerless the entrenched liberal leadership cannot be removed and those denominations will eventually wither and die.

Rex Ray said...

Now you’ve done it. You’ve broadcasted the age old argument is a church to be run by a democracy or by a ruling party?

We all agree that Christ is the head of the church, but who’s to say what Christ wants the church to do?

Is it the pastor, the deacons, the pastor and the deacons, or the vote of the congregation? Some say the pastor and have the attitude of the second bishop at Antioch, Ignatius, who said:

“We ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would the Lord Himself.”

I’m on your side of wanting democracy not to fail, but our democracy is already like that of Russia as shown by the actions of the SBC, and the situation you’re in.

DT Boy said...

I think ultimately the pastor should be the final human authority on something. I see this only in the sense of breaking a deadlock much like the Vice-President of the United States is 101st vote in the senate.

Authority and leadership within a church works best when it is distributed. The more people believe they have control over something the more likely they are to support and take part in it. At the same time the role of the pastor (and other staff if present) is to help lead those other leaders in the same overall direction.

Lastly, congregations should be willing to fully submit themselves to the leadership that God has called their Pastors to have. Yes, we are to be on the look out for those things which go against Scripture.

Ultimately the pastor is to lead this has less to do with having Authority over people than it does with showing them the direction they should go and helping them get there.

Well that is my 2 cents worth. Hope it makes some sense.

traveller said...

bryan riley, you are raising the critical issue. Baptists have traditionally said that God's will is expressed by a congregational vote since each believer is a priest listening to God's will. So that the One authority's will was expressed by the vote.

Without arguing with this thought one way or the other it was obviously always easier to come to consensus when Baptist churches were much smaller than many are today. Also, there has been a shift from congregational decision making to more delegation to staff in conformity with many business practices today.

Your question also raises the whole issue of whether pastors are an "authority" over their church, as some others have suggested in these comments. While scripture is subject to interpretation on this point, it would appear that the better interpretation, particularly in light of Jesus' teachings, is that the only one given authority in heaven and earth is Jesus himself and he did not delegate that authority to any other person, including pastors.

While it may appear to be weak leadership to look only to Jesus as our authority, it is actually the reflection of a very strong leader to be able to do this waiting for consensus among God's people, which the Holy Spirit can bring.

We look for efficiency and effectiveness, God looks for restored, renewed and redeemed relationships.

Darby Livingston said...

I think we need to be careful we don't shoot ourselves in the foot here. On the one hand, we lament the lack of biblical church discipline rampant in our churches; and on the other hand, some of us seem terrified that God's authority structures might actually be able to produce more than just victims of spiritual abuse. We can't through out the baby with the bathwater. Just because sinful humans misuse authority at times, doesn't mean there's no such thing as human authority at all. We all know that leaders should lead in love, and only to the extent to which Scripture allows (That's curical!). But they should lead. Otherwise, they're not leaders.

Darby Livingston said...

that's throw, not through. sorry

Bryan Riley said...

Darby, but what is leadership? Is it what we see in our culture or biblically is it something quite different? I'd argue that the biblical and Kingdom portrait of leadership looks quite different than what the average Westerner (especially American or Australian) pictures when they use the word leadership. Alan Knox at his Assembling blog has discussed this extensively (and excellently) in the past.

Anonymous said...

Don't you get tired of being critical of everything? Why not enjoy being a part of the largest and most productive protestant missions endeavor in church history?

Oklahoma Joe

Darby Livingston said...

That's my point, our thoughts on leadership must flow from Scripture. The same Scripture that tells elders to not domineer over those in their charge (1 Pet. 5:3) also tells those in their charge to be subject to them (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:17). In addition, Paul clearly thinks there are those over others in the Lord (1 Thess. 5:12). I just think it's silly to try to redefine what seems quite clear, in order to achieve some higher level of spiritual freedom. It seems to me that some are uncomfortable with the idea that elders are anything more than grandpa's - heavy on advice and sweets, but lacking teeth. :) If one is tempted to translate my comments as a fundamentalist tirade, the congregation I serve would happily dispel such a notion. I just happen to think an elder is an office ordained by Christ for oversight during this overlap of the two ages until we all see Christ face to face. An elder is more than a sage or a church's professor. He is an authority over the flock in his charge. If this wasn't the case, his office would be entirely superfluous.

Bryan Riley said...

Darby, I definitely agree we must look at the bible and at Jesus' example. But I guess I'd like to know what you think leading (biblically) is. I find that my picture of leadership, and the one often portrayed in the church, is tainted by my cultural upbringing and the result of rampant capitalism.

If it is telling others what to do, I'm not sure that is the biblical picture. A good discussion of this takes place here: Alan Knox's blog

From that post you can link to others where he and others have questioned to what leadership Jesus calls us.

Wayne Smith said...


Why should a Good Shepherd/Pastor take the authority away from the Master Shepherd Jesus Christ? All should be led by the Helper/Holy Spirit Jesus gave us.

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Darby Livingston said...

Bryan, my comments weren't directed at you particularly. I read the article you linked to, and have no problem with the main point. However, I do see somewhat of a slight of hand on semantics. I'm happy with obey or follow because in practice, both words are calling for the same thing - listening to the guidance of someone over you. I'm not arguing that loving service is what puts one over another in the Lord. I'm arguing one can't do away with the notion that some are, in fact, over others. The question isn't whether some are over others. The question is how those who are over others are supposed to behave toward those under them. I don't wish to continue talking around one another.

Darby Livingston said...


Have you put words in my mouth? I never said that anyone should take authority away from Jesus, as though that is even possible. I'm simply saying Jesus is a God of authority and isn't embarrassed by it in man (when it is functioning properly). In addition, are you placing the direction of the Holy Spirit over against human leadership, as though the Spirit doesn't work through means, like elders?

Debbie Kaufman said...

Darby: The question may be how much should one be over one another. Through every jot and tittle of their lives? How far should the authority go?

traveller said...

The question is whether pastor/elder is a position with authority or a person with a gift from the Holy Spirit to be exercised without authority but in love.

The verses that are often used to support the authority issue are mistranslations from the Greek because when the KJV was first translated there was great concern that anyone other than clergy reading the Bible would undermine the authority of the church leaders and ultimately the king. These mistranslations have persisted in subsequent translations.

The stronger case is that "leaders" have not authority over others.

Darby Livingston said...


Thank you. In my opinion your question bridges the gap between what I'm saying, and the responses to what I'm saying. My theology is solidly based on a New Covenant Theology (John Reisinger)view of law, so I'm not comfortable holding anything over the conscience of another believer, except that which is clear from Scripture. That means I don't preach against alcohol consumption, but drunkenness. I don't preach against movies, but lust. I don't preach for tithing, but cheerful giving from a loving heart. I don't preach against smoking or drugs or eating certain foods in varying amounts, but try to show what idolatry looks like so folks can make their own informed decision if they're committing it. I don't preach against women wearing makeup, in fact, I prefer my wife to, though she's fine without it. :) In short, authority should go no farther than Scripture. And due to the noetic effects of sin, we may have varying interpretations in things other than the Gospel that will require longsuffering and toleration among believers. So my view that authority shouldn't be thrown on the trash heap of history, mustn't be mistaken for cult-like fundamentalism, which I loathe.

Alan Stoddard said...

The Pastor of the church is the final authority in the church. The nouns, "episkopos" and "presbuteros" deal with ruling by mature Elders. Baptists have it all backwards. We can work within a deacon or congregational system, but Acts reveals the Apostles were replaced by Elders. One Elder usually was a primary leader: The Pastor.

1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 give 23 non-duplicating traits for an Elder/Pastor. They are mostly character traits. The only skill related traits are "teaching" and "hospitality." A couple of others relate to the home. A Pastor's character was the most important requirement/asset he could have. The more character you have, the more authority you could have.

And that everyone is the problem. We have too many Pastors whose character is less than biblical.

Benji Ramsaur said...


You said "My theology is solidly based on a New Covenant Theology (John Reisinger)view of law, so I'm not comfortable holding anything over the conscience of another believer, except that which is clear from Scripture."

Amen and Amen again. And I like the examples you cite as far as what you will and will not preach against.

We should not only seek to "conserve" God's word, we should also seek to not go "beyond" God's word in imposing things upon the consciences of others.

If everybody in the SBC read John Reisinger for a year, I think we would see a dramatic change for the better.

Here are a few thoughts.

While I do think the Bible teaches both the position and function of pastors/elders, I think the emphasis is on their function and not their position.

Notice that in 1 Thess. 5:13 the reason why they are to be esteemed is NOT their position but their "work".

And I think pastors get off on the wrong foot when they think the esteem they should receive should come primarily because of their position.

Following the teaching of Christ, I think the overall big picture/tone of the church (including pastor[s]) should be about serving, not authority.

And I think many problems in the church would work themselves out [and a genuine joy can come in] if a church (including pastor[s])would adopt the mindset of "how can I serve you?"

While I think understanding the context of Scripture is more important than understanding the fineries of the original languages, I think the Hebrews passage you cited is one passage that people need to get into the Greek on.

And I think Debbie is hitting on something important. If a pastor believes that the congregation must submit to every jot and tittle of his theology, then I do not see how he will escape being a tyrant over the church--and a "sincere" one at that.

Anyway, these thoughts reflect where I am at now on this issue.

Grace my brother and may the thought of John R. spread.


Anonymous said...

I think being "swat down" means something different in Russia with the SBC.

Darby Livingston said...


Well said. I hope I haven't come across as thinking there is an inherent authority in being an elder. The elder must daily earn the privilege to lead by loving the flock. I'm saying the authority of an elder is because of his labors of love. That's why I think it's best to know very well where the men we trust with our souls come from. So much of the damage done to our churches and denomination is because we're quick in accepting someone as "pastor" simply because they went to seminary and say they are one.

Lin said...

"..but what is leadership? Is it what we see in our culture or biblically is it something quite different? I'd argue that the biblical and Kingdom portrait of leadership looks quite different than what the average Westerner (especially American or Australian) pictures when they use the word leadership."

You ask some great questions. Jesus Christ turned the whole concept of 'authority' on its head. And many did not like it as they do not now.

When Constantine married the church with the state, we took on the worldly paradigm of leadership and authority and we still have it. We have a mindset that SOMEONE has to be in charge of us. SOMEONE has to lead. SOMEONE has to make a 'final' decision. (As if the Holy Spirit cannot convicts hearts who seek Him in unity)

That only takes us away from being mature in the faith and seeking the Holy Spirit as a Body. We act as if the 'leader' only is taught by the Holy Spirit.

Every true believer in the Body is gifted by the Holy Spirit to edify the Body. Elders are 'mature' believers. We joyfully 'yield' to a mature believer who cares for our soul if we are in the Lord. Problem is, we rarely see one who has not been corrupted by the worldly thinking of authority.

There are many references in scripture to not lording it over, the first will be last, etc. Someone asked Jesus, who will be the greatest in the Kingdom? He put a lowly child on his lap. A child in the 1st Century had NO social standing. Lowly, debased...a nobody. He used this child to illustrate who is the greatest.

No one has to 'lead'. We are all to be lead by the Holy Spirit.

The reason we never hear this is because those who want to be the 'leader' are doing all the teaching and people are not studying scripture for themselves.

We all have MORE responsibility than we think in the Body.

Wayne Smith said...


I agree with the comment by Benji Ramsaur and wish all Churchs were led by Elders.

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Lin said...

One last thing. If I believe that I must 'follow' and 'obey' a title such as elder or pastor, and believe what they teach, then how would I be able to discern that a Jim Jones is not of Christ?

I couldn't. I must be in the Word, being led by the Holy Spirit.

greg.w.h said...

I quickly searched up some references on New Covenant Theology. I specifically found The NCT Confession which contained these words:

Thus God's choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

While as someone who agrees with the doctrines of grace (though don't as much care for the TULIP acrostic) I agree with this comment, from an earthly viewpoint we cannot know the following:

1. Which people has God chosen/regenerated.

2. Whether the profession of faith authentic (the emergence of fruit suggests authenticity, but doesn't prove it).

3. What the cause is of carnal behavior (lack of regeneration or choices due to leftover sin nature that are along the lines of Paul's comment that "I do what I shouldn't and don't do what I should.")

As such, while I accept the statement as absolutely true, in reality from a human perspective we see this process:

1. The person is confronted evangelistically with truth.

2. The person wrestles with that truth (presumably under conviction from the Holy Spirit from a semi-Calvinistic viewpoint or due to prior regeneration from a fully Calvinistic viewpoint).

3. The person makes a public confession of faith and is converted.

4. The person receives baptism.

Of course from a Presbyterian standpoint, a child of regenerated parents is baptized first and then follows through with steps 1-3 and we call it confirmation instead of conversion.

I'm not trying to say that both views can be right at the same time. But they both ARE at the same time. Our imperfect access to the knowledge God has leaves us only able to follow the process from a human standpoint which conforms very neatly with traditional Southern Baptist soterology.

This is roughly akin to my continuing comments that lacking certification through miracles of a leader, we're left to human reasoning to confirm the quality of that leader (which is awfully similar to what Alan Stoddard said about the qualification of leaders being based almost ENTIRELY on their character.)

My dad and I discussed this at length last night. He's seen quite a few situations where during the conservative resurgence people used a lot of different mechanisms for making impersonal decisions that seemed to be harsh and perhaps even unloving in nature. In all honesty: if we can't lead (and fire) people with the character of Christ, isn't it possible that we're not acting on Jesus's behalf but in our own interests? Love is not a secondary consideration in these actions if we are in Christ Jesus. It has to be the overwhelming, predominating consideration.

I'm not talking about a touchy, feely emotion. I'm talking about the kind of love that died on the cross for our sins. Jesus expects us to live like that for others. And he taught his leaders to lead like that, too. And they did.

There is a tremendous disconnection between leaders who were willing to die like their Savior and people who insist on having their theological and doctrinal opinions standardized throughout a group of millions of people. The only theological and doctrinal opinions that matter are the ones that precisely and exactly conform to God's Word...and not just our interpretation of it.

Any other attempt to exercise authority or control over others indeed demonstrates more about the character of the leader than of his Lord and Savior. That is precisely antithetical to how Jesus led us to lead.

Greg Harvey

greg.w.h said...

By the way: I did not read Lin's comments before writing my response. So make of it what you will, but it wasn't an explicit decision on my part to echo what she said...though I think it does.

Greg Harvey

Benji Ramsaur said...


Glad you found that confession. Just wanted to encourage you to read beyond it to other NCT sources [like John Reisinger]. It's not a totally uniform theological movement.

To give one example in the light of Wade's post, one of the guys who [I'm almost sure] put together that confession lives near me now and he and I disagree in the area of ecclesiology--he believes the final authority of a local church resides with the elders whereas I would say the congregation [and Reisinger would agree with me as well].



Benji Ramsaur said...


You said "We all have MORE responsibility than we think in the Body"

Think about what you said here in the light of what is going on in the national scene--the Southern Baptist Convention.

Is in not a TRAVESTY that there is such a huge amount of local Baptist church members who are not involved in the SBC?

But I think that is what happens when things become topdown/elitist/authoritarian.

And I think this is what has happened in the SBC.



Benji Ramsaur said...

"If" any Southern Baptist Seminary Presidents are ruling their seminaries with an iron fist, then I don't think they should be surprised if, low and behold, their graduates are acting like them and I don't think they have any business telling their Seminary students/graduates to be "servant" leaders either.

John Fariss said...

On Leadership:

Based on these comments, it looks as though most of the commentators would agree that our understanding of "leadership" is (1) intertwined with the concept of "authority," and (2) there is a frequent danger that our understanding of "authority" is derived more culturally than Biblically. To these, I would add a third: that our understanding of both are also influenced by our individual personalities and experiences. A Christian "leader" who has a God-given, Type A, Driven Personality (the classic commander-style leader) is going to resonate with passages in which he (or she) finds references to pastoral (or elder, deaconate, whatever) AUTHORITY. Those with other personality types or leadership styles--the hermit, the charismatic leader, the catalyst, the consensus builder, etc.--they will resonate with other verses or other definitions of the words used in those verses. What I hear some pastors saying is that authority--as used in the Bible--is defined as saying to those in the congregation, "Do this," and it gets done, not so much by force of personality as by the congregation accepting that the pastor has this authority. I am thinking of a Baptist pastor close to a church I formerly served who had a sign over his office door that simply proclaimed, "THE BOSS." Having served mostly dysfunctional Southern Baptist churches in my 22 years in the pastorate, such churches do NOT accept this definition of pastoral authority; and a pastor who tried to impose that will have problems with the congregation, no matter how well he exegetes passages justifying that understanding. And, keeping in mind that by nature I am somewhat of a consensus builder, and by preference a catalyst, I have to tell you: I don't find that sort of authority typically effective in congregations. Back when I was a police officer, I though that was the way authority worked: that my sargeant, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief, even the chief himself had "authority" because of his rank. But from the perspective of being 55+ years old, I see now that was very short-sighted of me. Yes, those men had rank, and yes, I obeyed (most of) what they told me to do. But the most effective leaders--those for whom myself and othern officers would go the extra mile, give 110%, were those who could inspire us above and beyond the situational authority that their rank carried. I see a lot of pastor, yes perhaps some of you who have commented, basing their understanding of "pastoral authority" on what amounts to rank--that is, text book definitions on what this word meant in the Greek, or what some early church leader claimed for himself. Just beware: technical definitions sometimes mean something other that the "normal" definition of a word used elsewhere, and the servan leadership exhibited by Jesus is often different from what learned Greeks meant by word 100 years before or well-meaning church leaders meant 100 years later.

Dave Miller said...

Isn't it a bit melodramatic to attempt to compare current SBC leaders with Putin?

Steve said...

Of course, in the USA, & in the SBC, you actually get to survive your "swat-down" as contrasted to Putin's empire.

This post just really reminded me of the Hand of Providence in the creation of our nation. We had dozens of men willing to take part in and nurture this representative democracy and federal republic, without any but a kook or two thinking of how he could turn it into money or power for himself.
Is there a single man in Russia as devoted to his nation as the founders of our Constitution were to the United States? Would our nation have survived if even five devoted thugs surrounded a grasper like Putin during the 1780's and 90's?

Greetings from Hoptown, KY
Steve Austin

Ron said...

We must have mostly pastors reading this post because the discussion for the most part quickly became directed at pastoral authority in the local church. I believe Southern Baptists have traditionally been congregational in the area of local church decision making and see no reason to change. I would like to direct my comments to the SBC which I believe is a better comparison to the article on Putin’s Russia.
John Farris had some excellent comments on leadership and authority. I cannot add to what he said.
Oklahoma Joe asked Wade, “Why don't you get tired of being critical of everything? Why not enjoy being a part of the largest and most productive protestant missions endeavor in church history?” My question to Oklahoma Joe is do you realize that we were the largest and most productive protestant mission endeavor in church history before the CR? Did you make that statement to the leaders of the CR then when they were being critical of everything, including our missionaries?
Dave Miller says, “Isn't it a bit melodramatic to attempt to compare current SBC leaders with Putin?” Personally I don’t think so. In my home state of Arkansas in the late 80s, the CR leadership had the state divided into regions with one person overseeing each region. Each region was made up of several associations with one person in each association assigned to the pastors and one to the laypeople. Their job was to promote the CR nominees for state or SBC offices. They were also to report back on those who could be trusted and as well as those who could not. Those that were not loyalists had no chance to serve as a trustee or any leadership role in the SBC since these same people were the ones given the authority by a succession of SBC presidents to decide who could represent our state on trustee boards or get free trips to the SBC each year for serving on some committee. This was a tremendous control factor for pastors who wanted desperately to be trustees. I doubt if Arkansas was the only state with this type of organization. It may not be as rigid today but that is probably because they know people have been trained how to act after 27 years of rule.
Ron West

Anonymous said...

To establish and protect within any human organization Transparency, Freedom of Expression, and Mutual Accountability requires a great deal of maturity and humility from those in leadership. Governments of all types --from countries to denominations to denom. agencies to churches are easily tempted to sideline liberty and respect. It's simply much easier to control and cow people because most followers will keep their heads down and toe the line out of fear.... like the Russian citizens in the quote.

Have we allowed our own authority structures to become over-controlling and in effect beat down folks in the SBC?

If so, then what do we need to do about the way we teach about and wield authority?

Maybe we should be asking ourselves, "What Did Jesus Do?" when it comes to using power.

one of your imb ms