Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Authority of Theologians

When it comes to the matter of authority, there are as many opinions as there are people. In fact in the world we live in, absolute authority is often despised and scorned. We have been led to believe that as the general public we have the ability to choose our leaders and decide what laws we will make and adhere to. But when we begin to discuss Biblical authority and the role of leadership in the Church we soon realize that God has given specific instructions on how we are to relate to Him and and His Body, the Church.

First of all let me emphasize clearly that when we use the word Church we are primarily referring to the spiritual union of God with His called out ones, who have been washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and are now indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. All persons that have been born again by the living and abiding word of God are members of the body of Christ which is His bride. The basis for this membership is a spiritual union with Christ. That being said, there is obviously a physical and earthly aspect to the Church. When God's people gather together to worship, pray, and fellowship, we define this as the Church getting together. We do not “go to church”, “meet at a church”, or “join a church”. Rather we meet with the Church and as the Church. Our corporate gatherings are the gatherings of the Church.

What The Church Is Not

Contrary to much of our popular terminology today, the Church is not a building. Neither is it a denomination, nor an institutionalized collection of localities or assemblies. Christ has one body, and members worldwide belong to that one body, His Church. In this aspect the word catholic (universal) is accurate. The expression of Christ's body is that of the local Church, or local assembly of God's people.

Now the question I want to ask you is this. How does the Church today determine who has authority to define doctrine, practice, and teaching? Is there a basis for hierarchal authority in the Church outside of a locality? What are the limits of the elders authority?


The answer seems fairly clear from scripture. Elders (pastors and teachers) have the charge over their local assembly and beyond that do not carry much authority. As an apostle Paul wrote to many churches with authority, but few in the Church today would admit to any apostolic ministry or office still in existence.

So how do we decide what a Church will belief, teach, and practice. From what I have seen many Christians choose to follow their favorite theologians over the elders and pastors of their local church. Do these theologians really have any grounds for the authority they presume? Of course many of them have been pastors and teachers in their respective churches and from those ministries have brought forth many writings that edify, encourage, and exhort the larger body of Christ. Still, do these theologians at large have the right to dictate doctrine for us today?

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you". Heb 13:17

From this verse we see the importance of understanding who it is we must submit to. Who is it that has the rule over us in the Church? I submit to you that there is no authority in the Church above the local rule of the elders, and this only in accordance with the truth of God's Word and the Spirit of God.

5 comments:

bobby grow said...

Jim,

you have forgotten Eph. 4:11-12 in your consideration. Have you sat under elders who have not spent the proper time in studying the scriptures and its implications? I have. Are you saying that I need to "chuck" my mind/heart, and follow and "elder" just because they are an elder?

I think you have created a false dichotomy between elders and theologians--unfortunately, in the West, most elders today aren't "theologians"--I guess this explains the famine for the teaching of God's Word today.

In fact, Jim, your argument makes a good case for an Episcopelian model of church gvt.--which fits much better with the Roman Catholic scheme of things . . . or at least a "high church" model (i.e. Lutheran, Presb., etc.) than the "Free Church" style that I think you are calling for.

Btw, I'm not interested in denominations that are "anti-intellectual" or "a-intellectual" in orientation . . . and that is what most "Fundy-Evangelical" churches represent today.

Do you think its possible to have "elders" who do not follow the heart of God? Do you think we should follow such elders?

bobby grow said...

Also, consider Gal. 1:6-9; the "Gospel" itself (which Christ personifies) is the ultimate authority. If an "elder-bishop-pastor" misrepresents the "Gospel"--then it behooves the "priesthood of all believers" (cf. I Pet. 2:9)to call this "elder" into account, i.e. back to the gospel. Isn't this what all Christians, who should be theologians, be doing. I'm not questioning the "authority" of the elder, but underscoring his derivative authority relative to the Gospel itself. So there is a "tension" here (i.e. like "marriage"--submission out of respect and mutual union with Christ).

Your post makes it sound like you are giving carte blanche authority to the elders, in order to undercut the "authority" that all believers have, as priests, namely "theologians."

Why the spite for "theologians", Jim?

Jim said...

Bobby, with regards to your first post; you are absolutely correct. I should have added a huge caveat.

I have been under the teaching of "elders" who were poorly prepared in their study and application of God's word. It was almost unbearable. What I found interesting however was that they did not command the respect of the other believers. They were simply tolerated, which was probably partly the blame of the whole body.

I wholeheartedly believe in the priesthood of the believer and firmly agree that each one has been gifted for service. We all have the ability to prophecy of the grace of Christ in our lives. Unfortunately the average christian has capitulated this responsibility to the leaders.

Elders definitely do not have a carte blanche ticket to be obeyed. Neither however are they to be voted on as if the Church is a democracy. Their rule is limited to the conduct of those in the fellowship of the body and the protection of correct teaching and doctrine. They are definitely not above the Matt 18 principle in dealing with sinning members.

I will need to be more careful in future writings. I appreciate your wise counsel.

You ask:

"Why the spite for "theologians"

I believe that first of many believers tend to hold the teachings of theologians, et al, in too high esteem. So much that they become blinded to the errors and faults contained within.

Secondly, as you have pointed out, we all come to the table with presuppositions and probably no one more than those who hold to be teachers of theology. They use their expertise of language and culture to couch doctrines in phrases and terminology that the common layman often fails to grasp adequately. Further they are adept at manipulating passages in their favour instead of the plain readings of the text.

Now that is a generalization of course, and I highly respect many godly Bible teachers. But I do believe we would be much healthier spiritually if we tempered our love for "theology" with much prayer and meditation in the Bible.

bobby grow said...

Jim,

thanks for the clarification . . . I certainly agree with your last paragraph.

Don't you find it strange that everyone of us is ok with Medical Doctors, or "Techies" usage of technical jargon in their fields? But when it comes to "Theology" or "Biblical Studies" many of us shrink back when we hear the term "hypostases", etc.

I agree "prestige jargon" can be misused . . . but I don't think "misusage" should be used as an occasion for spite, or throwing out the whole discipline of theology, "God forbid," rather it should prompt all of us to continue to study deeply---the things of God (no matter what language this causes us to learn).

I think the trend, Jim, is that the Gospel has been "dumbed-down" in the West . . . which is driven by elders and theologians knuckling under to societal standards of "entertainment", apathy, laziness, fatness, etc. No! Christians are lazy, in general, we don't even read our Bibles, it might as well have stayed in the Latin . . . excuse my frustration, Jim.

I think the real problem is that we don't have enough "true theologians" in the church. I.e. people who truly love God, expressed in study, fellowship, worship, etc.

Jim said...

Bobby, I had a longer comment but it ended up being subject to the whim some technical glitch.

Anyways, yes we need more men of God who are passionate for Christ and His Word.

Thanks for your insightful comments.