Why You Want the Church to Possess Authority

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Jun 27, 2016

Why You Want The Church To Possess Authority

Many people today balk at the thought of the church possessing any spiritual authority[1]. This is particularly true among Evangelicals. A church that possesses any level of spiritual authority is, in their minds a dangerous idea. This historically though, was not always true. As a matter of fact, it once was just the opposite. Until the 16th century, the dangerous idea was not spiritual authority in the hands of the church, but rather the individual. Martin Luther, however, changed all of that with his teaching on the “priesthood of all believers” (1516). As a result, people for the first time began to view each individual person, not the church, as the ones possessing spiritual authority – especially in relation to interpreting the Bible. The anarchy which ensued however, caused Luther to rethink his position.

“The outbreak of the Peasants’ War in 1525 brought home to Luther that this new approach was dangerous and ultimately uncontrollable. If every individual was able to interpret the Bible as he pleased, the outcome could only be anarchy and radical religious individualism. Too late, Luther tried to rein in the movement by emphasizing the importance of authorized religious leaders, such as himself, and institutions in the interpretation of the Bible. But who, his critics asked, had ‘authorized’ these so-called institutions? Was not the essence of Luther’s new dangerous idea that there was no such centralized authority? That all Christians had the right to interpret their Bibles as they saw fit? In the end, not even the personal authority of Luther could redirect this religious revolution.” – Alister McGrath (Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, p3-4)

What then is the answer? Who possesses spiritual authority on earth? Is it the individual, or the church? The biblical answer is clear: it is the church (Mat 16:18-19). But not just any church, it is only those churches genuinely under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. To be more specific, those He would identify and claim to be His churches (i.e. Christ’s churches) because of their submission to His criteria for a church as found in places like (Act 11:19-26; Act 2:41-42, 20:7; Mat 18:15-17, 26:26-28, 28:18-20; 1Co 5:1-6:8, 11:2, 17-34; and the principle instruction found in the pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus)[2].

However, enlightenment to this truth (the church does possess spiritual authority), will not likely be enough to comfort those who have become comfortable with an emasculated church. It may also require an approach based on its reasonableness (Phi 4:1).

In this respect then, the following represents why the church possessing such spiritual authority is more than just what the bible teaches, it is also reasonable – considering the unreasonable consequences of that not being the case. In other words, every Christian should want the church to possess spiritual authority since if that is not true then:

  1. We would have no protection against Satanic/demonic possession (Mat 16:18-19).

  2. We would fail to receive Christ’s resurrection power in our lives (Eph 1:16-23).

  3. We would have no ability to establish sound doctrine nor determine what is the sound gospel (1Ti 3:15; Gal 2:1-2).

  4. We would find it impossible to secure (or enforce) justice among God’s people (Mat 18:15-20).

  5. We would end up with a Christianity that cannot offer any true hope of salvation (Joh 20:21-23).

  6. We would become yet another in the multitude of Evangelical (flake – fake?) Christians completely inconsistent and out of touch with the rest of church history.

[1] By spiritual authority it is meant the power or right to judge and enforce all matters related to Christ’s sacred kingdom on earth including its Scriptures, doctrine, polity, liturgy, people, and practice, as well as the realities of forgiveness, salvation, excommunication and apostasy. Since Christ’s Kingship/Lordship is comprehensive in relation to His people, and because every aspect of our person has spiritual purpose, such authority will affect even things considered more preferential by most today (e.g. 1Co 11:1-16).

[2] The criteria/instruction/tradition found in these references can be summarized as follows: 1) at least ten baptized/righteous/justified people (Gen 18:32), 2) at least one qualified and ordained elder, 3) a commitment to: sound teaching of the Scriptures (i.e. sound doctrine), making/baptizing disciples, faithful obedience to all of God’s Laws, the weekly observance of Lord’s Table, corporate prayer, providing for all the needs of the congregation, raising up additional elders, jurisprudence and discipline. This majority – if not all, of this list was viewed by the Reformers as the distinguishing marks of true/legitimate churches. As such, any so-called institutions failing in one of these areas was not recognized and considered false (e.g. see Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, book four).