What is the Authority of the Church?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls 

–Hebrews 13:17

It’s sad how this verse has been the go-to for so-called pastors and elders. I had a man tell me, “I’m your spiritual authority!” And the crazy thing is that he actually believed it. He believed that he “watched over my soul!”

I told him that, contrary to his ego-induced madness, he was not entrusted with my soul and would never steal the authority from Jesus Christ.

While this might be considered an extreme of what I see all over the place in so-called Christianity, it’s just a festering infection as opposed to the unseen cancer that has infected Christ’s congregation since the tares were planted early on.

Consider those who wanted to tack Christianity into Judaism. They insisted that converts had to be circumcised. That was a big battle. Then they swooped in and tried to lead the Galatians away from their freedom from dead rituals.

Others brought heresy of gnosticism, claiming that the body was the flesh and the true person was the spiritual person and not affected by what went on in the body. Basically, a creative way of saying, do all the sin you want, because this body isn’t the true reality.

Some taught that the resurrection already took place. I don’t doubt there were what we’d call universalists back then.

There were those who sought to bring others under control by their ego and personality. They saw the Gospel as a means of gain.

These are all things Paul, Peter and Jude address in their letters. None of this is new.

The first century congregations struggled against all the same temptations as we do. But one was perhaps the most detrimental: Acceptance by the world.

While Augustine and other theologians came to repentance and experienced the grace of God’s salvation, Constantine and his mother-in-law did great violence to centuries of God’s people. They established what we call “church” today. This includes the perversion of the “authority” of the church.

When I was young, I learned that the “church” was the people, not the building. That’s true. Although, a better translation for ecclesia is congregation, not church. Church actually comes from a root word from which we get circus. Interestingly, the two things today are very similar.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus and I know there are congregations of humble, repentant believers who are groaning inwardly at the hell-bent condition of the world around them (and of popular Christianity). But many of those remnant people of God are also held captive in the Babylons of the churches that dot the countryside. They keep quiet under the dubious rule of the Herods and Pilates, Caiaphases and Annases.

But it is interesting how the “church” is the people, but when it comes to so-called authority, the “church” is the pastor and elders.

The truth is that Jesus didn’t leave us authority to use of our own accord. Rather, He is the only authority in His congregation. His Word is left with which we can study and share and encourage and reprove. And when I say “reprove,” I mean to warn our friends from something that is harmful to our glory of God. It certainly is not to re-prove how wrong someone is and how right we are.

Paul, Peter, John, Luke, Jude, etc. wrote letters and accounts under the inspiration of Jesus’ spirit. But, when they weren’t under that inspiration, they disagreed and confronted one another.

What I see in America is what I call Corporate Church. A church is big business (or it wants to be). It masquerades as a ministry, but it is really just designed to bring in paying customers. It does this by providing programs and promises. The programs entertain while the promises imply that people’s lives will be changed and improved.

The Roman church did this without the entertainment because they developed the authority to absurd levels. They held the power of heaven and Hell, having wrested it from Christ’s hands, apparently. Nobody wants to go to Hell, so they will listen to the glittering, pontificating priests in hopes of being granted access to Heaven.

The Reformation shook those foundations … to an extent. While Luther and Calvin stole the issue of personal salvation from the Roman Church, they left the blasphemous ritual of infant baptism alone, allowing the anti-christs to pretend they could ensure children’s entrance to heaven (should anything happen to them).

This is still used in politics today: It’s for the kids!

The true reformation was that of the Anabaptists. These brave, sanctified souls broke from the horrendous, gaudy buildings and blasphemous formalism. They met at lakesides and near rivers. They baptised believers in obedience to Christ. For this they were hunted, driven from their home and land, drowned, burned at the stake or impaled.

Oh, and all these horrors were done by the church.

This is still done. If someone brings up a doctrinal issue to a self-proclaimed shepherd of God’s flock, they castigate the person, the railroad them out of relevance within the congregation. Their e-mails will be deleted, their questioned ignored and their character assassinated. And they’ll do this in the name of peace and unity.

Same as the Roman Church.

So, what is the authority of the people of God, His congregation? Our authority is to exercise clear obedience to His Word through humble faith and meekness. We show this when we share the hope we have for the life to come (not this life). We demonstrate our obedience when we turn the other cheek when we’re struck by the world. We allow the power of God to flow when we boast in our weakness.

God’s people–the true people–will be seen as last in this world. But that’s where Jesus was, too. And yet, through this dark valley of death’s shadow, we’re accompanied by One who has trod these stony paths and come through victoriously.

I walk with Him. His authority is all that matters.

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9 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. I do have a question. You explained who the “leaders” (plural) who watch over your soul are not, so then who are they (plural)? You cannot say that these leaders (plural) are Christ Jesus, because He is singular. Thanks for the answer.

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    1. I’m not disputing that “leaders” plural are meant to watch over those whom they lead. As a father, I watch over my children and need to keep their best interest at heart (not my own). The issue I have is when people elevate this to imply that the leaders are actually doing something to guard someone’s soul. Other passages urge believers to watch over their soul, keep themselves from sin, etc.

      Unless we believe that we have the keeping power of Christ, we can’t come to the conclusion that we, by our efforts, secure our souls. And, similarly, a church (or rather, congregation) leader should remember that they cannot keep or secure someone’s soul, either.

      Watching over others–taking their interest and being concerned for what’s best–is the main point. It’s also important that anyone who has been given a position of influence regard that influence with meekness and humility.

      Our only authority comes from Christ and His Word.

      The passage in Hebrews, in my experience, gets interpreted as “you need to find a way to submit to the church leaders,” and then a dangerous statement, “because they’re watching over your souls!”

      This harkens to the Roman Catholic and the Protestant State Church system that held the power of heaven and hell over people. They had to receive sacraments from the priests in order to be protected eternally. They needed to be accepted within the Church (man-made) in order to hope to be accepted by God and admitted to Heaven.

      Today, we don’t have such obvious abuses as in the Middle Ages. But, the subtle is often worse than the overt. I’ve heard prominent preachers say things that implied they were actual rulers, appointed by God to guard people’s souls for heaven and that people needed to “find a way” to obey them.

      That’s dangerous, and I fear for those men when the Lord’s day of Judgment arrives.

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      1. Thank you for clarifying your position. All too often in our society, people want to assert their perceived independence without submission to any human leadership (in the church or otherwise). Christ Jesus is the Head of the church, and the Scriptures the only foundation for both faith and practice, but pastors/elders are commanded to watch over the lives of the flock just as the shepherds in Luke 2:8 watched their sheep. They are called to watch over, not lord authority, because they must give an account of how they’ve fulfilled their position as an overseer (Acts 20:28).

        If someone is looking to a man or an organization to save him or keep him saved, his faith certainly isn’t in Christ alone to save and keep.

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      2. I tend to think that if someone has to tell people they are in charge, they aren’t. Lol. I fear that the rule in popular Christianity is more akin to the Kora rebellion, people asserting they can be the authority on par with Christ. Yet Jesus and Moses both gave us examples of tender, humble, sacrificial leadership that didn’t look for some “extra honor” as I’ve heard ministers talk about (usually to justify big salaries and swanky homes).

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  2. Minor point of fact: The origin of the word “church” derives from the Greek word “kuriakon,” which refers to the house or building where a master / lord of the area lived. But the point and message of your article is well taken.

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    1. Ekklesia is properly translated “congregation.” Kuriakon/kyriakon was used to refer to pagan temples, a building to a “lord.” The etymology of “church” actually is linked to Old English circe, from which we get circus. From what I’ve read, Tyndale originally translated Ekklesia into congregation and had church in the place for referencing a pagan temple. He was forced to change the word choices for the “authorized” version. Other translation errors have perpetuated the Nicolaitan’s doctrine of those who rule over the laity, a doctrine which our Lord says He hates in Revelation.

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  3. This is so true. I read another post today too although the guy is a little eccentric in his writing style and thought he made some good points as well: https://godsleader.com/living-in-la-la-land-the-reasons-for-2000-years-of-ineffective-church/

    I was at some Christians house recently and they would be talking to me and then suddenly cut off the conversation to talk about their church. It was so bizarre. It happened several times almost like they couldn’t be in the moment with their friends because their entire life was wrapped up with their church drama and all the people problems and the business of the church and building. I really think church is an idol for most people. Shouldn’t we be consumed instead with loving others and loving Christ? Is it loving to talk and obsess about church like it’s your God and ignore the people God places in your living room? Maybe it speaks to the heart of some people. They need to be busy and have drama because God isn’t enough. The people he places in our paths, the insignificant routines and interactions, and our day to day jobs and appointments are, I think, put there by God for a reason. The mundane can be interesting because God is there and His Spirit leads us. Yet we think we need to create some sort of ministry or opportunity when in fact, Godalready has! I always found it odd that churches want to bring people in when Jesus commanded us to “go” into the world to preach. I think it’s a natural thing when we can do that where we are planted.

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