Worldly Leadership in the Church

Wade Burleson, one of the sauciest bloggers in the church world, has a post on creeping authoritarianism in the church. I heard from a friend recently that a leader said leadership is “imposing your will on a group,” and that is precisely what Wade is holding up before the searching light of our Lord and the Word in this post. [I'd like to see how Wade defines "leadership" but this post is not about that.]

The church of Jesus Christ was never designed to operate in this manner. Jesus explicitly taught in Matthew 23:8-11 (read it for yourself to see) that the only person who rules Christian communities is the Lord Himself. Under Him, we are all equals. He emphatically rejected the world’s system of top-down governance by declaring, “It shall not be so among you”(Mark 10:43). “The greatest among you shall be your servant (Matthew 23:11). There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any “office” or position. Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an ‘office’ of authority in the church, like that of the office of  ‘President of the United States,’ simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of every believer.

Then he gives ten signs of authoritarian leadership in a local church. What do you think are the major signs?

How does one know if the Christian community or church to which he or she belongs is following Christ’s teachings on leadership or is a reflection of the pagan’s understanding of authority? What are the signs imperial authoritarianism in the church? The following are ten indicators:

(1). There is never any freedom to question the leader.
(2). The leader often makes claims of having special insights from God, insights that the laity are unable to possess.
(3). Disagreement with the leader is deemed a sign of the devil’s influence in one’s life.
(4). Events are designed to bring attention and praise to the leader rather than equipping others to do the work of the ministry.
(5). Any concept of equality is immediately labeled rebellion or the end result of a “liberal” denial of the Bible.
(6) Authoritarian leaders are only comfortable around like-minded leaders; thus, there is an unoffical ‘speaking tour’ where only imperial, authoritarian leaders share the platform with each other.
(7). The measure of success becomes the number of people who follow the leader (“It must be of God! Look at how many come to hear me speak!“)
(8). If a person leaves the community or church, the problem is always in the person who leaves, not the leadership.
(9). Leaders who wrongly perceive themselves as those “with authority” insulate their lives by demanding absolute loyalty through giving large financial benefits to their closest ‘advisors.’
(10). The ultimate end of this kind of Christian leadership is always more; more money, more power, more followers, more publicity, more, more, more…

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://augustiniandemocrat.blogspot.com/ John W Brandkamp

    Yep. Can’t say much more. This is pretty much true as you’ve presented it.

  • Dino

    About a year ago ‘escaped’ from a church which exhibited many of these traits. The worst one however which isn’t on the list is lack of accountability. So many church leaders are guilty of being unaccountable to anyone anywhere. Truly scary!
    On a similar subject may I recommend Jeff Lucas’ book Grace Choices. In chapter 6 he list some questions about healthy leadership. It makes for very interesting reading and a useful checklist against which to measure church leadership to see whether it is toxic or not.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    And where in the church today can we find anything other than this kind of leadership? Where are the servant leaders?

    They’re there. Each of us has servant leaders in our lives. But we don’t think of them in that way, we don’t label them with the word leader.

    They inspire us, encourage us, make us laugh. We see Christ in them, in their attitudes, in their love, in their gentle strength. They may be older than we are, or younger. Some of them may even be children.

    They are more focussed on spiritual fruit than they are on spiritual gifts. They never make demands on us for support or attention or money and they never judge us – ever.

    Identify these people in your life and pay more attention to them and less to those who call themselves ‘leaders’.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I love the stories by J.C. Ryle of faithful servants of the Lord in relatively small places as compared with George Whitefield and John Wesley, two other Christian leaders he sketches in his book, “Christian Leaders of the 18th Century.” They were faithful in their place.

    Of course that faithfulness needs to be seen in a church, emphasis on church, the body of Christ living out its calling, each part as important in its place as any other.

  • phil_style

    This is a great post.

    I recall being told once “church is not a democracy, this is a leader led church” – which basically meant; tow the party line buddy.

  • Diane

    Thank you Chris, # 3, for your response. Other warning flags are insisting that anyone who doesn’t know Hebrew or Greek is unqualified to comment on the Bible-only the pastor, who knows these languages can truly understand the meaning of Scripture. (Ironic for Protestants, but I’ve heard it) and that only the pastor can make a decision because he/she is privy to information that can’t be shared with others–hence, what looks like a questionable or self-serving choice really isn’t–but the congregation must take that “fact” on faith. Another flag is that only certain types of people can be “leaders,” which runs against the Biblical witness that God often calls the lowly and unexpected to lead his flock.
    The more people are encouraged to run from these kinds of churches, the better off the Christian world will be.

  • http://livesurreality.blogspot.com Doug

    Another major sign is that of dictating what literature can or can’t be read (either privately or publicly), and of course the associated author and organization receive a ‘blacklisting’.

  • Kim

    #8 – churches that claim there is a “first among equals” status on the elder board and among the staff.
    I’ve seen this play out in less-than positive ways. How have others seen this philosophy play out in a church?

    Re:comment #7 In one such church I was literally shunned by the elders for reading a privately blacklisted book. The spiritual fall-out was painful and such will result from other of the actions and attitudes listed here.

    When a love for the flock is replaced with love for the influence and the sound of ones own voice, watch out.

  • Fred

    Chris@3

    Great points. Kind of reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ description in Mere Christianity of a humble person: “Probably all you will think about him is that he semed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.”

    Another thing not mentioned in the list is the willingness to simply listen to people. I have had two pastors in the last year say to me: “Oops, sorry, I’ve done all the talking. I should let you say something.” So I would make a comment and off they would go again. They can’t figure out why I find it so hard to come back to visit.

  • T

    I’ve been involved in a few newly forming boards for church plants, both as a lawyer and as a would-be elder. So I’ve been involved in the nitty gritty details of not only board selection but also drafting the articles and bylaws that govern the official and legal organizational structure. In that role, I’ve seen it all, both humble servants and fearful controllers. I’ve seen pastors whose main objective for the board (and the bylaws) is to insulate and secure his own power and position of authority vis a vis the organization. The typical strategy is to create a board that is solely or by majority made up of like-minded friends or supporters of the pastor who are not part of the church. This practically insures that any resistance from within the church on any decision isn’t likely to find any allies on the board. Several such board members are fully aware of and embrace their role as defenders and supporters of the pastor. Such folks have often seen successful or attempted mutinies at other churches. In such a system, there can be a separate board of “elders” made up of folks from within the church, but this body exists at the board’s (the pastor’s) pleasure.

    Having said all that, my “mark” would be fear, which may only surface in certain contexts and ways. But fear of the people, of losing control, of being vulnerable with the congregation, of other leaders within the church, of “competing” pastors or churches, etc. Fear is the mark of the authoritarian leader.

  • http://www.wadeburleson.org Wade Burleson

    Scot,

    I will give you my definition of leadership when you give me your definition of ‘saucy.’ Laughing.

    Keep up the good work. I appreciate your ministry.

    wade

  • MatthewS

    I was raised in just such a system and have the scars to prove it. Insightful points. Too much fear and control, not enough love and respect.

    I find myself now in church leadership and I often have a tendency to hold myself back and sometimes to speak too timidly, for fear of repeating this overbearing cycle. It can become a popular meme that all church leadership today is ego- and caffeine-driven men (and women) who are in it for selfish reasons. I would say that I truly do see a need for clear and bold leadership that is also warm, open, and approachable. There is a difference between stepping on people’s toes and suffocating them. A leader who is committed to never stepping on toes will leave people without clear direction, leading to anxiety loss of purpose. The good news is that providing clear leadership does not require any of these 10 disasters.

    A leader can engage dissenting opinions, respect them in good faith, and still find ways to effectively press toward the goal he/she and the coleaders (and hopefully the group at large) have determined is best, even though some toes will be stubbed. It’s critical that the leader be committed to the good of others over his/her own good.

  • http://people.eku.edu/austinm/ Mike Austin

    I just wrote something about this today, as I think this understanding of leadership and authority is at work when we deal with other passages dealing with authority in the family and work, as well as the church.

    michaelwaustin.blogspot.com/2012/01/understanding-authority-in-bible.html

  • http://www.sacredmisfit.com Sarah

    Ok…so yeah. This list looks familiar. Now what???? Help!

  • Fred

    T

    Spot on. In my mind, there is a reason why John said: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…We love because he first loved us.” But what baffles me is why authoritarianism seems to be so prevalent, or is it just me? These things seem to be almost the norm in the evangelical church. Maybe I need to get out more.

  • http://www.ccada.org Kate Johnson

    Great points (but then Wade is usually profound!)

    I would add they have a reserved parking spot… a pet peave of mine. Seriously, when the pastors surround themselves with like minded people, or their friends get appointed to positions of authority (elder, deacon), or their friends relatives are appointed staff positions… that is someone who is acting like the world, not Christ.

    #6 “Authoritarian leaders are only comfortable around like-minded leaders; thus, there is an unoffical ‘speaking tour’ where only imperial, authoritarian leaders share the platform with each other.”

    I see this more and more, and its scary. Why not inform your congregation from a wide spectrum of folks (as long as they are Biblical) rather than your select few? I just was in a church bookstore that used to sell all kinds of books to find they now only sell the pastors books and those he approves of – his “friends” of like mind.

    My doctorate that I am pursuing is in Redemptive Leadership – what a difference… may that be me!

  • phil_style

    I had an excellent experience of authoritarian church leadership. What happened was the sort of thing (if it occurred in the business world) would very quickly lead to disciplinary actions and or dismissals.

    I was invited to a one-on-one meeting with a pastor, at a public venue (he invited me for coffee). At the last minute the venue was changed to his house. When I arrived another senior church member was also present… taking notes!
    I was questioned about my commitments and some statements I had made disagreeing with the content of a sermon. The pastor then proceeded to provide me with an analysis of my character.. The whole thing was incredibly intimidating, an undoubtedly a power play, orchestrated quite carefully. I was thrown off guard right from the start and unable to provide much in the way of coherent discussion. I was never told what “notes” were written about me, or this “meeting”. Had I my wits about me I would have requested a copy right there and then.

    Suffice to say, after a couple of similar (and other manipulative) experiences with that crowd, I was soon out of there.

  • Andrew

    Sounds like the same issues that Jim Jones had?!?

  • Rob

    Scot (and others),
    I do hesitate to fully affirm this description only because I think it lacks self-reflectiveness. This post lacks the ability to reflect on power and authority. I am about to misquote a seminary professor (Jim Bruckner), but he reminded a class that authority is a gift of God to be used or misused. We don’t want powerless leaders, we want leaders who use their authority to empower others. I think there is a significant difference between the two, one requires a leader to cease speaking for their own benefit, the other requires leaders to begin to speak for the benefit of those who are oppressed. By the way, Paul did not seem to shy away from evoking authority in his letters to the Corinthians, did he?
    Thank you for your thoughts,
    Rob

  • Richard

    I would add “coercion” and “guilting” to the list.

    Timely, I just began teaching a course on ministry leadership last night at our local universities adult ed program. We spent a lot of time in the first session focussing on submission to Christ and humbly serving the ones we’re influencing toward Christ and His agenda. One of the things we explored was when we’re trying to “get people on God’s agenda” (Henry Blackaby’s def. of “spiritual leadership”), we have to be listening to the Holy Spirit speak through all those present and all those voices to shape the vision.

    Good stuff.

  • http://www.ccada.org Kate Johnson

    Phil, I had a similar experience. I was asked to “lunch” with one of the pastors and his assistant to discuss our schedule of running groups for the coming year (it’s part of our ministry to run these healing groups.) When I got there, it was an inquisition about my book that I wrote and use in one of the groups and some of the items I addressed (like why did I discuss boundaries and where was the bibical support for them). MInd you, I run these groups for free! The meeting lasted two hours, I was so caught off guard. I was able to answer all his questions and support my views, but left feeling like I had been ambushed. In all my years working in the secular world, I had never had that happen before. Thank God for my husband who listened to me vent!

  • T

    Fred,

    I’ve heard it argued vigorously, even one pastor urging another to adopt this approach, and these were the explicit reasons given:

    - God gave the pastor the vision for this church (so his leadership must be protected)
    - This is the pastor’s livelihood (and must be protected)
    - No one in the church should know the pastor’s or any other staff’s salary, other than the pastor, to avoid multitudes of problems.
    - God has called the pastor to this church (meaning such call or such call to leadership is exclusive and it must be protected and priortized)

    But the driving force seemed to be fear of losing control and the particular church and/or denominational culture and practice. For instance, I love the Vineyard, and they don’t have a requirement that churches be more pastor-centric than elder led, but that is the predominant model in my experience. Thankfully, the Vineyard culture of vulnerability, servant leadership and leadership reproduction works against toxicity, but the structure is largely pastor centric, which is also born out of typical church planting dynamics. Same with Calvary Chapel, in my experience, but with a slightly more authoritarian bent.

    It seems like the “lower” the church, the more they are dependent on the head pastor’s charisma. This creates a two edged sword: the pastor feels they must give more and more of themselves, generally well beyond what any one person should bear, so they feel much more vulnerable in general, and are highly invested and not very diversified at all in their life’s investment. So this elevates the sense of risk. At the same time, because the pastor is the center of the church’s core work, he is subject to greater scrutiny. The church believes that it rises and falls on him, so they also sense the risk to their church on his performance. It’s basically a pressure cooker situation created and sustained by evangelical ecclesiology that puts so many of its eggs in the “head pastor” basket.

  • scotmcknight

    Rob I agree, and that is why I said what I did about leaders in my brief opening.

  • scotmcknight

    Wade

    “Saucy” as in BBQ sauce. Makes things taste better but sometimes with a little bite, and now and then you need a good glass of cold water after.

    So, now, your turn. “Leadership” is…

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    This is a really interesting discussion. Several people have used the term ‘authority’ and it would help to understand what people mean by it because it’s close to the root of the issues being discussed.

    As I see it, authority has at least two senses.

    1 – Positional, hierarchical authority. This is the sense in which worldly leaders ‘lord it over’ people. A policeman, a headmaster, a president, a CEO, the Sanhedrin – these have this kind of authority. The power to command.

    2 – The authority that comes from knowing the author. A person who spends a lot of time in Jesus’ company and is drenched in his character and nature has the authority to be both salt and light.

    You listen to them because they’re interesting and what they say makes perfect sense and is encouraging.

    These two ‘authorities’ are plainly different. We know there should be authority in this thing we call church, but it had better be the right kind!

    Sarah (comment 14) – Now what? Help?

    You have the authority to walk away. If necessary use it. Abandoning the wrong sort of authority is OK, it’s not a crime. Look in your heart to see where peace lies, then follow your heart. But do it prayerfully, graciously and in love. Don’t feel guilty, don’t blame, and don’t look back.

    Of course, I understand it may not be as simple as that.

  • http://glennshores.com Charles Fines

    I once had occasion to consult with an Episcopal priest about a business agreement with another Episcopal priest involving property. I was not seeking religious guidance but practical advice from the closest person I knew of that would know how things worked within the denomination. I understood that this priest had entered the ministry later in life after a successful career in the world. He was a large man, probably in his fifties.

    At the end of the discussion he said, “Let me pray for you in this matter.” He was seated sprawled in a chair as he said this and made no move to stand but with a subtle gesture indicated that I was supposed to kneel before him. My instant reaction was that I would have gone to the lions first.

    It would have been awkward to stand before him while he remained seated and I solved it as best possible by squatting down. After all these years I can’t think of a better solution. The business deal turned out totally sour.

  • EricW

    Author Christopher J. H. Wright had some good things to say about this in a video clip I linked to in a blogpost from last year:

    http://theoblogoumena.blogspot.com/2011/06/rabbis-and-fathers-and-teachers-oh-my.html

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies
  • nathan

    the way evangelicalism consistently talks about this issue is incredibly discouraging to me as a pastor.

    Are there control freak pastors out there? Yes.

    But I wish we would talk more about mutuality, clearly defining the role of the pastor and equal time given to the fact that while there are some sinfully authoritarian pastors, there are also some congregation members who choose an equally destructive and equally sinful stance of opposition, criticism and, yes, rebelliousness.

    We constantly only talk about the leaders of the church and forget that the desire for power is in everyone…AND i’ve yet to see the destructiveness of a congregation member who is willful and controlling over everyone (not just the pastor) EVER be handled by the collective abilities of a congregation.

    All I ever witnessed growing up in congregational churches my whole life was the handful of powerful members assert their will and whenever a pastor simply disagreed they would be accused of “lording over”.

    I know our vaunted populism may make some people bristle at my words, but as a person who for almost 15 years has served alongside others and values ministry collaboration and mutuality the way we frame this discussion is always one-sided and not encouraging to me.

  • http://wwwburleson@gmail.com Wade Burleson

    Christian Leadership – “The ability to influence and guide people to find their source in Jesus Christ alone through loving them in the same manner Christ has loved me and through revealing the sufficiency of Christ’s work on their behalf.”

    Scot, I recognize my definition is more descriptive than most, but there is a reason. Most people define leadership as “the ability to influence a group.” I think that is true, but the question then becomes “influence the group to do what?” Leadership is a relative term in that Hitler was by all accounts an outstanding leader, but he influenced his group toward the wrong goals. What is the goal of Christianity? Unfortunately, churches and pastors often have goals that are not Christ’s goals for us. Therefore, in defining Christian leadership I think we must ask, “Does the leader point the group toward Christ and His finished work?” I believe the Holy Spirit gifts His people to help the body as a whole find their source in Christ, and good leaders arise through their love of and service to the body as a whole!

    Have a great day!

    Wade

    P.S. And, like you, I think true leadership cannot be defined by gender.

  • Rob

    One other quick thought that connected in my mind as I was reading Aaron Spencer Fogleman of NIU who writes “Religion plays a crucial role in shaping understandings and practice concerning gender and power… religious symbols have practical consequences for believers, gender plays a role in understanding the meaning and function of those symbols, and practical consequences follow… Christians who reject the complete subjugation of women to men have developed [I would say recognized] feminine language for the deity and then used this understanding of the Trinity as a model for their society” (Jesus is Female: Moravians and Radical Religion in Early America, 37).
    I think these reflections by a historian of religion in America are particularly applicable to the conversation, mostly because they expose the importance of power.

  • Fred

    T

    Thanks, your comment about “lower” church makes sense to me. I tend to be cynical when it comes to the way we do church leadership. Frankly, I am angry. At the same, my son-in-law is the pastor of a church plant (EFree). I have sat and listened as my daughter has described (through tears) how they have been treated. I guess I don’t know what the answer is except to listen, pray and keep my eyes focused on Jesus.

    Nathan is correct. It works both ways.

  • Marc B.

    Nathan,

    In a general sense, I agree with you. It does work both ways and hopefully the ultimate goal is to arrive at and practice the truths evident in Scripture. I think the reason why we “constantly only talk about the leaders of the church” is because of what many of us are experiencing and it seems that is what led to Wade’s blog post. I believe that when there are such trends in Christendom, they should be discussed and brought to light, not in a spirit of rebellion, but a spirit of accountability. Many of us live our Christian lives within the bubble of our own church. Whatever church we attend becomes our “kingdom”. And when we see problems in our leadership, if leadership won’t listen or believes it is right by virtue of their position, where should we go? The end result often puts the burden on the congregant to either stay and suffer or go find another church, while the leadership continues on. I cannot emphasize enough how discouraging it is to have to leave a body of believers when you’ve invested so much into their lives. That said, I think it helps to discuss these issues on blogs with other Christians not only for support, but to hear other perspectives, and to be sharpened and rebuked (even as you are doing) and affirmed. With regards to authority in the church, if others are experiencing the contrary, hopefully they would write about it. As for myself, I am currently attending a church which I believe has a vague understanding of what it should mean for us to “submit” to authority. People who do not submit to authority, as discerned by leadership, are removed from their positions of ministry and asked to leave the church. We’ve had the “senior” pastor model for 30 years and never questioned it Biblically. And now many at our church simply accept the fact that a senior pastor has a special calling and authority above that of the congregation. I see no evidence for this in Scripture.

  • nathan

    @Marc B.

    Thank you for your response. And I know my comment is def. “meta” and steps back from the basic content of Wade’s post.

    I do think his markers are spot on and describe pretty clearly what authoritarian (and abusive) leadership looks like.

    It seems to me that we need to clearly define roles and what they mean in any given church context. That would head off a lot of conflict.

    Growing up my family left a few churches and it was always very painful, damaging and discouraging. It’s a miracle I ever went into ministry much less remained a Christian.

    However, in our experience, we were hurt by a combination of bad leaders who were too weak to stand up to toxic, domineering power families and long time members and people who just thought that if they talked the loudest they would get to direct the church.

    The pastors we saw that were truly authoritarian were summarily thrown out on their ears by their congregations either by the procedures of their polity or by people making their lives a living hell.

    And, if you’ll indulge me going more meta… ;) This stuff is driven by the typically thin ecclesiology of evangelicals AND the simple fact that we’ve framed up all discussions of leadership in terms of control from the very start.

  • http://www.michellevanloon.com Michelle Van Loon

    True, true, true. Accurate (and depressing) list.

    Regarding point #8 (If a person leaves the community or church, the problem is always in the person who leaves, not the leadership): Of all the lingering effects of being in a controlling church environment, this is the one that has been most sorrowful to me. When we’ve left a dysfunctional church, we’ve also lost entire support systems and networks of what we thought were friends. Those who stay don’t want to risk dirtying themselves with the problem person who left.

    Leaving a church – even a hurtful one – is a loss. And the informal “shunning” left us no one with whom to grieve it.

  • Mick Porter

    We spent over a decade in the heyday of the International Church of Christ (Boston Movement) so I’ve seen all those traits and then some. How about if your wife is sick on Sunday she had to phone the women’s leader to discuss just how sick she is and get permission to skip church?

    I never come across quite those extremes anywhere else I go, but it’s a bit scary how many of those warning signs are quite common in churches that claim to be Christ-centred etc.

  • Peter Lake

    Is it not interesting that in three dozen comments on the topic of authority and leadership in the church, rightly or wrongly expressed, no one has even mentioned the concept of the Office of the Keys? Both Calvin and Luther wrote approvingly of the concept, if I am not mistaken, and the quite formidable authority that inheres in the office is described in the Westminster Confession, chap. 30, I believe. I understand it also to be equally authoritarian–if I may use that word here–in its form as found in Lutheran church doctrine.

    I suppose I should acknowledge that the discussion does not include only the key matters of forgiveness and absolution, or the withholding thereof, but these would nonetheless seem in the center or nearly so of any discussion such as this.

    Are the claims made by Calvin, Luther, and there followers completely non-Biblical? Such a claim would seem to identify them as heretical. And we haven’t even begun to consider the Church of Rome yet.

    I think a serious discussion should have, as prelude or topic, serious contemplation of all things relevant.

  • Marc B.

    Peter,

    Re: the “office of the keys”: you say “these would nonetheless seem in the center or nearly so of any discussion such as this”, but you don’t fully explain why. Scot’s post (which actually cites Wade’s post) is very specific to “abuse” of authority. It sounds more like you’re using the post as an opportunity to promote the WC along with setting up a straw man argument whether Calvin,Luther are heretical. That should be a topic for another discussion. I understand what the WC says, but I also understand what 1 Peter 5:3 says. I’m have no problem with authority in the church as long as I’m confident that the authority is being guided by Scripture. The Berean Jews set the standard for this by checking none other than the Apostle Paul against the Scriptures.

    How does the “office of the keys” speak to the 10 indicators listed in the post?

  • Peter Lake

    Marc–

    I offered my comment not in defense of the WC, which I present not to defend, but only to note its existence and possible relevance, esp. in light of its importance in Protestant church history. I think inclusion of the office of the keys in a discussion of church authority is appropriate, especially in light of the statement quoted in the original post, “There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any “office” or position. Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian.”

    I would agree that one might be able to argue that any legitimate authority inherent in the office of the keys is distinct from general church leadership, but I think that failure to at least discuss why it’s distinct is important, esp. as many would argue that the office of the keys as described in the relevant documents confers a rather strong form of what many would consider moral authority.

    As regards how/whether the office of the keys “speak(s) to the 10 indicators listed”, I don’t see that the question is relevant. Instead, I would suggest that because many Christians take the office of the keys seriously, a discussion of abuse of authority in the church needs carefully to consider whether the statement that there are no situations or positions in which Christians wield moral authority over other Christians is a true one. And such a consideration necessarily should look at the office of the keys as part of the discussion. After all, if it is true that certain church leaders do have the power to withhold forgiveness for sins, it’s obvious that abuse of such a power would be relevant here. Why not discuss it?

    Further contemplation leads us to the realization that there is or may quite possibly be a significant difference in the thought-perspectives of persons considering possible evils manifest in inappropriate church authoritarianism based on their pre-supposed notions of what might constitute legitimate church authority.

    Is this not a very basic question?

  • Peter Lake

    Marc–

    A quick addendum, if I may: I think your mention of 1 Pet. 5:3 might offer a similar, if less formally distinct, opening for discussion of the existence and extent of church leadership authority, coming as it does in the context of an exhortation to church elders who were to “exercise oversight”, but not under compulsion. This should cause us carefully to consider the ideas to hand. Please note that I’m simply encouraging discussion; I share sentiments with those who abhor significant abuses of authority, esp. as we get to weightier and weightier matters. Thus my comments. I apologize if I’ve been clumsy in stating them or have inappropriately muddied the waters.

  • Marc B.

    Peter,

    I think perhaps the reason you’re the first to bring it up is something you mentioned (“I would agree that one might be able to argue that any legitimate authority inherent in the office of the keys is distinct from general church leadership”). Or maybe put in other words, not everyone agrees that these keys were handed down past the original Apostles and indeed they are only briefly mentioned in Scripture. I would agree with that assessment. So that is why I, personally, don’t consider it that relevant, as Scot’s and Wade’s posts have more to do with the authorities in our churches today. However, no need to apologize, I understand where you’re coming from. Obviously, you felt it important to include it here, but others have not.


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