Examining Biblical Authority

March 12, 2010
by Steven Lambert

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There is no matter more central and critical to spiritual knowledge and understand­ing than the matter of authority. That fact becomes even more apparent when one considers that the very term “Kingdom of God” actually connotes the Domain, Authority, or Government of God (cf., Rev. 12:10). The word, “kingdom,” in fact, is a compound word composed of two derivatives, king and domain, thus it connotes the domain of a king—in this case, the Kingdom of God or Christ. One cannot even begin to have a proper understanding of the realm of the Kingdom of God as well as the genuine Gospel of the Kingdom, which the Gospel writers expressly indicated Jesus preached during His fleshly ministry, without having an understanding of the matter of authority.

Moreover, all true knowledge and understanding concerning authority begins with the most vital and fundamental Truth that God Himself IS Authority—the ultimate authority—and the essence and embodiment of authority, and therefore that all legitimate authority emanates from Him and Him alone. Hence, all authority truly established by God, that is to say, legitimate authority, is authorized by God, and therefore is to be respected and observed.

We live today in an age of virtually ubiquitous iconoclasm. Increasingly, cultures and subcultures of the world are predicated on concepts and attitudes of “dissing” or disrespecting all that is decent, all that is honorable, all that has been traditionally held in high regard, whether it be precepts, principles, or people. Rendering “honor to whom (and what) honor is due” is not only a less and less practiced concept but one that is frequently ridiculed and scorned today. From the interpersonal and societal degradation of the “gangsta” and gang cultures to the personal degradation and mutilation of the tattoo and body-piercings culture, iconoclasm is the new “sport” of the times.

If this wholesale disrespect for the respect-worthy were restricted to the secular world, perhaps this vogue would not be quite so disturbing, but the current vogue practiced by those claiming to be part of Jesus’ Church is that whatever the world is doing, they emulate, in the name of being “relevant” and “reaching out” evangelistically to those of the world. Never mind that the Word of God clearly indicates that the strategy and methodology inspired and approved by the Holy Spirit is precisely the opposite and nowhere advocates an evangelistic strategy predicated on “becoming like ‘em to win ‘em.”

The fact is that the genuine Gospel is still the one modeled by Jesus, who commenced His evangelistic outreach by saying to His first follower, “Come, and follow Me.” He did not say, “I’ll come, and follow you.” When He said, “Come, and follow Me,” He meant, “Come, and become like Me.” As He later explained to the disciples, He came actually to show us the Way to the Father, because, He said, “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father.” In fact, He said, “I AM the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me!” It doesn’t take much extrapolation to see that Jesus and the Word of God is advocating calling people into the “Kingdom Culture”—and there is a culture of the Kingdom of God—out of the cultures or “ways” of the world. That is part of what God is saying wherein He says, “My WAYS are not your ways…as high as the Heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts and My WAYS above your ways.” He means your “ways” of living, that is, your “life-styles” or “cultures.”

In so many of these cultures of the world, a virtually complete absence of self-control and self-discipline prevails, which produces an essentially hedonistic life-style. And, without question that void of self-governance is due primarily to the lack of parental authority that prevails in secular societies today. The unfortunate fact is that the vast majority of those of reproductive age today no next to nothing about this topic we are examining here—authority. And people simply cannot comport with something they know nothing about.

Yet, at the opposite end of the spectrum we have had in the ecclesiastical realm essentially as long as it has existed a leadership paradigm rooted in ascendency, ambition, and aggrandizement that seeks to subjugate, dominate, and control its adherents. Four decades ago, a movement emerged that propagated seeds of error of this genus that were infused into the fabric, foundation, and functions of the Post-Pentecostal church realm in particular. The genus of these seeds was hyper-authoritarianism, the fruit of which was a leadership model that employed mechanisms of psychological enslavement of followers. These erroneous concepts that are still espoused and employed in many Neo-Pentecostal churches today result from a combination of ignorance, misconception, misinforma­tion, disinformation, misapplication, distortion, and in some cases outright perversion of Divine Truth.

Legitimate Authority vs. Illegitimate Authority

As I have already indicated, the Kingdom of God is all about authority—the Authority of God (cf., Rev. 12:10). Therefore, if the Kingdom of God is all about authority, and the Church Jesus is building is all about the Gospel of the Kingdom, then it is unequivocal that the seminal and foundational issue of the Church is—authority.

So, as we move forward in this discussion, the first thing I want to make abundantly clear is that in no way am I saying that there is no valid or effectual authority operable in the Body of Christ and by believers. On the contrary, there is a valid and effectual authority that has been given by God for government in the Church, but the problem is that people misconstrue, distort, pervert, and misapply the principles of authority established by God, and thereby exceed the intents and purposes of valid authority. No other spiritual matter has been so contorted and misapplied as has this matter of authority. Under the auspices of the doctrines that were disseminated during the Discipleship Movement, both leaders and laymen alike have been duped into contravention of the intents of true God‑established authority, and consequently have been both propagators of and participants in various kinds and degrees of perversion of authority, which, due to that perversion, produce—whether deliberately or inadvertently—various forms of “illegitimate authority.”

Some of the most vital and instructive statements contained in the Word of God with regard to legitimate authority juxtaposed to illegitimate authority are found in the Thirteenth Chapter of the Book of Romans. The second part of the first verse states: “…For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1b). Implicit in this one statement is four important instructive declarations regarding authority: 1) that there are legitimate governing authorities and authority structures in existence that have been established by God; 2) that the only legitimate authority is the governing bodies and authority structures that have been established by God; 3) that all the legitimate authority structures that do exist are those that have been established by God; and, 4) any governing authorities or authority structures that have been appointed solely by man without a mandate or sanction from God are illegitimate.

Based on this Scripture, it is important, I believe, to identify the different types and levels of authority that exist. Though I don’t purport to be an expert on the matter, and certainly don’t want to come off as if I believe I have the “definitive word” on the matter, after years of study and meditation concerning this vital issue, including of the commentaries of others on the subject, I’ve concluded, and I believe it’s a reasonable conclusion, that there are essentially twelve types and levels of authority that have been established by God. While I would shun dogmatism about this particular conclusion, especially in regard to the number of types of authority, it is, however, interesting that the number twelve is emblematic of government or authority in Scripture. The following is a list of these twelve types and levels of authority established by God, along with a brief explanation of each. These levels of authority are ascend­ingly transcendent, that is to say, they rank in preeminence in ascending order. This means that the higher levels outrank and supersede the lower levels. I’ve listed them in the order of their rank of preeminence. Bear in mind it is not my intent to elaborate on each of them here in this context, but rather only to describe each of them sufficiently to be recognizable in application. Neither do I provide Biblical support for each one in this context, though an abundance of Scripture could be cited validating each one.

1. Sovereign Authority.
The absolute supremacy and sovereignty of the God‑Head over the entire universe; “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth” (Eph. 1:10); the sovereignty of the Creator over the Creation, inherent in every set and inviolable law and principle in the Creation; e.g., the law of gravity, the law of spe­cie‑after‑specie procreation, the law of sowing and reaping, the law of reciprocity (Gen. 1, Jn. 1).

2. Veracious Authority.
The absolute authority of The Truth—The Word of God—codified, contained, canonized, and explicitly expressed in Holy Writ (Scripture) [eg., Jn. 1; 17:17; 1 Tim. 3:16].

3. Volitional Authority.
The human will; the free moral agency of every human; given by God to every human‑being, inherent with the sovereign and inviolable right to self‑government (the right to rule one’s own life), inviolable, that is, as long as the free personal choices of one person do not violate or infringe upon those of another person. God has created every person as an individual, a free moral agent,and given them the right to sovereignty over their own life; i.e., a free will. God Himself will not violate a person’s will or volition (right to choose); thus, He certainly has not consigned such a right to any mere mortal human over another, save in the case of lawlessness.

This type of authority could also be called “personal authority.” It is the inherent authority of every person to govern himself, especially with regard to one’s personal affairs and (lawful) choices according to his own conscience. (It must be understood, however, that in the case of a person who has been Born Again, that person enters into a process of sanctification in which he voluntarily and gradually surrenders His own will unto the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of his life, subjecting his will and life unto the Will and Life of the Lord. The believer’s will is by no means taken away or usurped, but rather, on the contrary, the believer exercises his free will in willingly subjecting himself unto the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ.)

4. Domestic Authority.
Authority within the home; i.e., the husband is the surrogate governmental head under the Headship of Christ over the family. This means the husband is responsible to God for providing spiritual leadership ­ in respect to all familial affairs; he is to provide spiritual leadership unto the wife; and, the parents (husband and wife) together as a unit are responsible for the government (plus, the care and training) of the children.

5. Ecclesiastical Governmental Authority.
Authority delegated by Christ to certain individual believers He has anointed and appointed as Fivefold Ministers, who have the responsibility of providing intermediary government (pilotage, steerage) in local churches and ad hoc judicature with regard to matters universally affecting the Church‑At‑Large.

6. Spiritual Ministerial Authority.
Delegated spiritual authority from Christ to minister His supernatural power in His stead and on His behalf. This authority could also be called “surrogate spiritual power.” This is God‑given authority of believers over Satan and his temptations and devices: sickness, disease, temptation, malevolence, disorder, lawlessness, sin, etc. It is the authority (“exousia”) given by God to believers to operate the gifts of the Spirit. It is also the enable­ment and sanction of God to function in a God‑anointed and God‑appointed spiritual calling or spiritual function.

This also is the “power” (“dunamis”) that Jesus said would inure to the Spirit‑baptized believer after that the Holy Ghost came upon him, by which to operate works of power that give witness of a risen and living Savior (Ac. 1:8), the same power that Jesus Himself had demonstrated in works of power during His fleshly ministry, which He said would be delegated to believers: “he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (Jn. 14:12). Having triumphed over sin, death, Hell, and the grave, all power and authority over all things was given unto Jesus; which power, prior to ascending into Heaven and sitting down at the right hand of the Father, He in turn delegated to believers:

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Mat. 28:18);
…therefore, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation….And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will cast off (lit.) serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mk. 16: 15‑18).

7. Civil Authority.
Civil authorities; i.e., secular governments, to include all laws and agencies of same; e.g.: civil laws, courts, Heads‑of‑State, government agencies and officials, law enforce­ment agencies and officers (eg., Rom. 12).

8. Stipulative Authority.
Authority established by means of legally binding contracts and agreements into which separate parties have voluntarily entered, wherein they have agreed to abide by certain specific stipulations governing their relationship.

9. Entrepreneurial Authority.
Authority of entrepreneurs (business owners) to govern the affairs of the business of which they are the owner, or in which they have a vested, majoritive interest; also includes the spectrum of employer‑employee authority.

10. Delegated Authority.
Authority that has been delegated by one person with legitimate authority to another person, with the effect that the latter represents the former. This is a kind of surrogate authority in which one person in authority invests his authority in a subordinate to authorize the latter to effect (operate) the authority of his superior. This kind of authority is usually parochial, or limited to a certain scope and parameters, and ad hoc, in the respect that its jurisdiction is limited to a specified purpose and realm of function. This kind of authority is operable and found in virtually every realm of human endeavor.

11. Functional or Motivational Authority.
Authority inuring to a person by virtue of a particular ability, sphere of function, or talent, whether God‑given (Motivation or Function Gifts [Rom. 12:6‑8]), or acquired through education or training. At times, this type of authority is impromptu and situational, coming into play to meet an arisen need of the moment (e.g., functional authority of a physician happening upon the scene of an auto accident).

12. Customarial Authority.
Customs; societal traditions; cultural ways, methods, manners, practices. This is the lowest level of authority, and is to be honored when it is not contravening of dictates of the preeminent levels of authority.

Narrowing the Focus
As I indicated previously, it is not within the scope of this article to elaborate on each of these twelve types of authority, however, we will direct our focus on three of these types of authority, directly—Delegated Authority, Spiritual Ministerial Authority, and Ecclesiastical Governmental Authority—as well as one other type of authority, tangentially—Civil Authority.

To reiterate something I expressed earlier, all true knowledge and understanding concerning authority begins with the most vital and fundamental Truth that God Himself is Authority, that He is the ultimate authority, and the essence and embodiment of authority, and therefore that all legitimate authority emanates from Him and Him alone. Hence, all authority truly established by God, that is to say, legitimate authority, is sanctioned by God, and therefore is to be honored and observed.

However, conversely, any supposed or purported authority that does not emanate from and has not been established by God is illegitimate authority, and as such has no jurisdiction in regards to bearing the sanctioning of God, is not binding, and bears neither the requirement from God to be observed and honored, nor the punitive sword of retribution for violators. Furthermore, any particular body of even God‑appointed authority that specifically contravenes the Law of God, that is, the Word of God, has in so doing exceeded its God‑ordained jurisdiction, and has thereby effectively unsanc­tioned itself and rendered itself ILLEGITIMATE, thus forfeiting any authority to compel observance and obedience as well as any right to preservation. Such is the case with proponents and practitioners of the hyper-authoritarian Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines which are the focus of this series of articles.

During the many years I spent researching and preparing to write this book, in addition to the thousands of hours I spent in reading the various writings (books, papers, notes, handouts, pamphlets, etc.) of many of the leading proponents and practitioners of the pertinent teachings, I also travelled to and visited scores of churches the Lord led me to in order to hear and witness firsthand the teaching coming from their pulpits and the effect those teachings had upon the listeners. One thing I noted as being quite ironic was that one of the passages of Scripture most frequently cited by the Discipleship teaching proponents as a proof-text for their assertions and theories concerning the ilk of authority they purport is delegated to church leaders is the very text I quoted from earlier—the Thirteenth Chapter of Romans. This text—by their interpretation—has become their “Magna Carta,” of sorts, granting them license to subjugate, predominate, and control other believers who they consider subordinate to them. But, what they fail to understand (or choose to ignore, whichever may be the case) when they so adamantly and vehemently postulate their hypotheses is that the realm of authority specifically alluded to in this chapter, without equivocation, is CIVIL authorities and governing bodies, not ecclesiastical governing authority. This is such a vital distinction that it bears restating in slightly different words for emphasis. While there are indeed certain elements of truth regarding authority in general indirectly reflected in these verses, the realm of authority specifically addressed in the Thirteenth Chapter of Romans is that of SECULAR government, NOT authority within the Church (ecclesiastical authority). Though this undeniable fact is perhaps not explicit in the initial verses of the King James Version, most all of the modern versions do explicitly indicate that it is the CIVIL governing authorities being referenced in this chapter; e.g.:

Everyone ought to obey the CIVIL authorities… (v. 1, PME);

Let every person be loyally subject to the governing (CIVIL) authorities… (v. 1, A.B.);

Everyone must obey the STATE authorities… (TEV).

However, incontrovertible proof that civil authority, not ecclesiastical authority, is being alluded to in this text is found in the sixth verse, which, regardless of what version you read, echoes in so many words essentially what the Amplified Bible says: “For this same reason you pay TAXES, for the [civil authorities] are official servants under God, devoting themselves to attending to this very service.” In case you didn’t catch it, the vital word in this sentence is—TAXES! We pay “taxes” to civil governments to remunerate them for their service on our behalf and to fund the programs and benefits governments provide, not to churches. We pay “tithes” to our church for the support of our ministers, not “taxes.” Thus, we know that it is secular government that is being alluded to in these verses, not any supposed authority of ministers over those “under” them as purported by the Discipleship proponents.

Notwithstanding, as I indicated, there are inherent within this very Roman text a number of crucial truths regarding “legitimate authority” as well. Foremostly, there is an implied distinction between legitimate and illegitimate authority in this passage. The Phillips Modern English version especially highlights this differentiation made in the passage:

Everyone ought to obey the civil authorities, for all LEGITIMATE authority is derived from God’s authority, and the existing authority is appointed under God. To oppose [legitimate] authority then is to oppose God, and such opposition is bound to be punished. (Rom. 13:1,2; brackets added)

Indeed, the overriding issue inherent with the heretical Discipleship teachings and practices we are examining is not whether there is authority in the Body of Christ and among believers, for we have already established that there is, but rather the nature and scope of that authority, and the distinguishing of legitimate authority from illegitimate authority.

Now, as I stated earlier, patently false concepts regarding authority is one of the most fundamental flaws in the heretical Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines and practices that remain the “gold standard” in many Neo-Pentecostal churches. My body of study and research has led me to the conclusion that there are five particular aspects of spiritual authority that are greatly misconstrued and misapplied under the auspices of these erroneous teachings: delegated authority, ministerial authority, church‑governmental authority, “positional authority,” and submission to leaders (this portion was addressed in the article, The False Doctrine of Absolute Submission). In this book, Charismatic Captivation, I examine these twisted and tangled webs of delusion and illusion under the luminous rays of Scripture, separating Truth from lies, fact from fiction, and the legitimate from the illegitimate with regard to these matters relative to authority. (In this article I will address only the matter of delegated authority.)

Delegated Authority
One of the most basic elements of the Discipleship teachings that deviates from Biblical Truth is the matter of “delegated authority.” Put another way, error regarding the matter of “delegated authority” is one of the most fundamental elements of error of the Discipleship doctrines. Most assuredly, the principle of the delegated authority of Christ is a valid and vital principle. But, the heart of the issue is: what is the authority that Christ has delegated unto believers? That is to say, what is its nature, composition, scope, and sphere of operation? How is it defined? What is included in this authority, and what is excluded? What are its limitations?

In searching for the answer to these all‑important and pivotal questions, the Word of God, of course, must be our primary and preeminent source. In this regard, as any other, what God says must be the final authority, the definitive statement. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Neither tradition, nor history, nor the philosophies of men can be our source or guiding light in this regard, but only the Light of perfect and pristine Divine Knowledge and Wisdom.

This matter of authority, the cardinal issue of the ages, because of its profundity, is admittedly a complex matter, not so much perhaps in terms of composition, but rather in explanation and application. As with elucidation of so many other spiritually appraised concepts, words seem to fail the most glib and articulate expositors as they attempt to expound upon the matter of authority. That seems to be the nature of true revelation knowledge from God: it is so profound that in many cases it is nearly impossible to express and explain in human terms, for it is the task of translating the infinite into and unto the finite. Notwithstanding, I have attempted to express as succinctly as possible the essence of the matter as it relates to the focus of this volume, reserving a more comprehensive and detailed exposition of the broader issue of authority and government for another, forthcoming book devoted specifically to that subject.

The issue at hand here is the matter of the authority that Christ has delegated unto believers, its composition and application. Essentially the delegated authority of Christ, according to all that Scripture tells us regarding it, can be distilled down to two forms: one, Spiritual Ministerial Authority, or Spiritual Power, and, two, Ecclesiastical Governmental Authority. Both of these are forms of authority that have indeed been delegated unto the Body of Christ by Christ. However, it is there that the similarities of the two end and their diversities begin. (We will examine these two issues in the next article in this series.)

This article is an excerpt from the book, Charismatic Captivation, by Dr. Steven Lambert. The book exposes the prevalent problem of authoritarian abuse in Neo-Pentecostal churches in particular since the “Shepherding Movement” of the 1970s. The volume spotlights the salient signs and symptoms of authoritarian abuse, dissects the fallacious doctrines behind it, and offers victims clear, concise steps for recovery from the psychological trauma and spiritual damage they experience. It has been praised by scholars, ministers, and layman alike as one of the most convincing as well as comprehensive treatises written to date regarding Neo-Pentecostal authoritarian abuse. The book is available from Amazon.Com, Barnes and Noble, bookstores, or from the publisher, Real Truth Publications.

Dr. Steven Lambert was ordained in 1977 and holds several earned graduate/post-graduate degrees. Over more than four decades in ministry, he has served as a pastor, radio/TV host, adjunct-professor, Board Certified Doctoral Diplomate Christian Therapist/Counselor, and a speaker/commentator on a range of social, political, and theological issues, particularly as a recognized authority on the matter of ecclesiastical authoritarian abuse. He is the founder/Overseer of Ephesians Four Network (ephesiansfour.net) and its subsidiary, Ephesians Four Network of Deliverance Counselors (efndc.ephesiansfour.net). Dr. Lambert authored several books (catalog at realtruthpublications.com), many published articles, and is the founder/editor of Spirit Life Magazine (spiritlifemag.com). His bio, extensive blog, and scheduling information are available on his ministry website at: http://www.slm.org. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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