One of the delights of Internet writing is making new friends who have so much to contribute to the people of Christ. One such new friend is Fob James. Fob is a semi-retired lawyer from Alabama. He wrote to me after my last post on the problem of authoritarianism in the church and told how he had become interested some years ago in how theologians routinely change the vernacular of scripture, creating theologies based on personal inferences. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:13 writes, "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." Fob pointed out to me that attorneys change legal vernacular all the time to promote personal agendas and he believes theologians are no more prone to be honest with scriptural language than lawyers are with legal language. Fob is the son of a two-term Alabama Governor and has written various "pro bono" briefs for his father in the seventies and then again in the nineties, concentrating on church-state cases. You may reach Fob at email@example.com if you have questions about the following guest article. Fob has written for my readers a few of the things Fob and his wife have discovered about so called Christian "authority" over the last few years. For those of you who emailed me and said that you are facing difficult struggles in churches where men are alleging to have "authority" over you, I urge you to read the following article by Fob James and if you have further questions, drop him an email. He has done some excellent work on the subject of authority, showing how real authority flows from the gospel, and how the unbliblical and worldly concept of authority as "power and control" has come to dominate Christian leadership. Read on..._______________
"In the New Covenant scriptures, only the apostle Paul speaks of "authority" (exousia) in the context of leadership in the churches. The most descriptive words he uses to describe that "authority," which he (and others) exercise with tenderness and tears and sometimes toughness, are "authority in the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:18) and "authority given... [by the Lord]...for edification and not destruction." (2 Cor. 10:8, 13:10) The words "authority in the church" or their equivalent cannot be found in scripture.
In fact, "church" (ekklesia) and "authority" (exousia) never even appear in juxtaposition in the scriptures. The word "authority" (exousia) is never mentioned in regard to elders, pastors, deacons, prophets, local churches, or even any apostles, except for Paul himself and those who labored with him in the gospel. Not even Peter is said to have had "authority," even though Peter clearly had authority in the gospel in fact. "Keys" and "Open Doors" for instance signify authority.
The word "authority" (exousia) is mentioned in the Revelation of John, when "overcomers" in the church of Thyatira will be given "authority over the nations," at the judgment of the world, to rule them with a "rod of iron." (Rev. 2:26) Evidently a lot of people for a long time have wanted to get a head start on their potential reward at the end of days, and rule not the world, but the church, with a" rod of iron" until the end comes.
The common lingo of today (and almost the last 2000 years) such as "church authority" or "church government" would sound weird to the writers of the New Testament. I think this lingo also grieves the Holy Spirit, because it isn't His words. It is clear that the Holy Spirit backs up those who have authority "in the gospel." No church membership covenant or the like can substitute for the real authority that comes from the Holy Spirit. Many who actually do the work of the Lord today do not have titles. But they do have authority in the gospel. And by the way, we all have been given a gospel commission - it can be found it in Matthew 28. Another one, especially meaningful, is found in 1 Cor. 15:58, which reads, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
The biggest eye-opener to me on "authority" came when I was noticing Paul's constant language about things "in the Lord." "In the Lord?" I went to a bible website called "Blue Letter Bible" and read every occurrence of the words "In the Lord" (or equivalents such as In Him, In Christ, In Whom, In God, In Jesus, etc.) in scripture. There are over 250 instances of these terms. In contrast, there are about a dozen instances of "in the church." I do not detract from the importance of "in the church," but point out that "in the church" has been extensively used by American "theologians" (of almost every evangelical stripe) to the exclusion of the words actually chosen by the Holy Spirit for a lot of things believers should do. For instance, do the scriptures talk about "receiving one another," that is, other believers, "in the church" or "in the Lord?" Look it up. Go further and read all 250+ occurrences of "in the Lord" and its equivalents (In Him, In Christ, In Whom, In God, In Jesus), and see what it does in your heart. See what it does to your fear of man. See what it does for your understanding of "authority" and every group out there that requires you to promise to submit to their "authority" in order to be allowed into the "group."
The scriptures teach mutual submission among believers, and a proper respect, indeed an esteem, for true leadership/eldership as exemplified by Paul and the other writers of the scriptures. The scriptures do not teach a "covenant of submission" to anyone. You submit as warranted by scripture, you do not make a vow or covenant to submit to man.
There is a lot more to say on this. Suffice it for now: the Galatian error remains with us. Supplemental covenants to recognize "church authority" or "make a radical commitment to the local church," etc., are everywhere in America, among just about every group. These supplemental covenants are the true "foundations" of many turf-driven works of the flesh. The end result is that they substitute a work of the flesh for that of the Spirit. The ecclesiological "commitment" (paratithemi) that scripture actually teaches is a commitment to the scriptures themselves, which is a commitment to the gospel. The gospel is essentially that Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose from the dead on the third day according to the scriptures. It is the New Covenant in His body and blood alone that the Holy Spirit honors. This is the Covenant the Lord told us to remember and proclaim until He comes again. So, next time someone says that you need an extra authority-covenant, or extra unity-commitment, or the like, to be fully admitted to "their" fellowship, don't fall for it. If they press you, you might also consider telling them this. IT IS FINISHED."