|I HAVE IT ON HIGHER AUTHORITY
Dr. Stephen Crosby
I AM REVEALED
Aug 26 2012
Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live
responsibly as a citizen.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained
Of the increase of His government and peace, there shall be no end.
In Romans 13:1-2, Paul admonishes the Christians in Rome to obey their civil authorities. He refers to “higher powers”
(Gr. huperexoúsais, superior authority) as a group or class. In its most literal sense, the word/prefix translated as
higher means “superior in rank.” We must be very careful applying this verse. It contextually speaks of civic authority.
What might suitably describe civic authority structure may or may not be applicable to authority structure in the
kingdom. One thing is certain. Any application of this verse that imposes cultural presuppositions or biases is
illegitimate. In American culture, higher authority invariably conjures vertical, top-down, boss-and-subordinate ideas in
our minds. Jesus clearly said that the ethics of vertical layer hierarchy should not apply to His followers.
This being true, the idea of levels of authority seems well attested by other Scripture in both Testaments:
What then does “higher authority” look like in a kingdom model? What exactly does it mean to be subject to them? The
answer to this question is essential as remediation for abuse at either end of the authority spectrum. Authority,
exercised from position rather than Calvary/covenant love is control. It takes more than token lip service to “servant
leadership” to genuinely manifest legitimate authority. The indwelling Spirit enables us to obey. Love without authority
or discipline is license for anarchy. However, unrestrained human psychological sensitivities do not constitute biblical
love. Authority is the empowering arm muscle that calls love into acts of service for the increase of the body and the
care of the world. Love is the water that runs within the banks of discipline and order. Either alone is unacceptable.
Below are eight distinct levels of authority (perhaps there are more) in God’s kingdom listed by rank. They are not
equal. Each believer needs to learn what it means to be subject to the “higher authorities” lest we succumb to false
honor and obeisance to church leaders or the other extreme of subjective independence. Walking in the revelation of
the Calvary Spirit is the only way to safely navigate these extremes.
The authority we are most familiar with in the church is primarily “positional authority.” I refer to it as delegated
authority. This authority is exercised by leaders, pastors, etc. It is the second from the bottom in rank and importance.
I think this is significant. The “higher authorities” are:
2. authority of His Word
3. legal authority
4. authority of conscience
5. authority of family
6. functional authority
7. delegated authority
8. authority of custom
Sovereign authority rests in the person of Christ. It is His imperial, individual, kingly, personal authority over the cosmos
and all that is in it. His sovereign authority is the right Christ possesses as Judge of the living and the dead, King of
kings, and Lord of lords. It is the fruit of His willingness to taste death and resurrection for us. He is the ultimate
authority in every believer’s life to whom all will give answer.
No man, church, organization, leader, mentor, disciple, spiritual father, pastor, wonder worker, apostle, nor prophet has
the right to usurp this authority in an individual believer’s life, nor come between the believer and the Lord in some
misguided semi-mediatory concept of spiritual covering and mentoring. For better or worse, each believer is ultimately
responsible directly to the sovereign King. Too often, God’s leaders, as undershepherds, transgress this authority in
believer’s lives under a misguided sense of what it means to teach or disciple others, especially in circles where
“accountability” is emphasized. The believer belongs to Him, not us. There is only one Judge and His Word. He is the
living Lord over His Book and flock. A leader is, at best, a steward of another man’s inheritance. The sheep belong to
Him. They are kept by His saving grace, mediated by the person of the Holy Spirit, not as a result of our brilliant, cutting-
edge, and revelatory preaching!
The Authority of the Word
Not far below Christ’s sovereign authority is the authority of His Word. God is the Word and the Word is God. The Holy
Spirit inspired the Word. He is the Spirit of Truth. Christ is the incarnate Logos. The Scriptures are literally the
expression of His person. When illumined by the active work of the Spirit, they are just as alive as is His person and
require the same submission. The intellectual understanding and application of His Word has neither life nor authority.
In charismatic circles, subjective impressions are often elevated and taught as more than things personally edifying but
as instruments of instruction for others to conform to or live by. This is heresy.
No subjective dream, vision, prophecy, insight, etc. is of the same stature of the revealed will of God in the Scriptures. It
is there that we should place our emphasis, not on subjective feelings and impressions. God already has spoken in,
through, and by the Son (Hebrews 1:2), literally, in a “sonly” way. He, the Son, is the more sure word of prophecy. His
person and His written Word deserve responsive obedience. The novel musings of what may or may not pop into an
apostle or prophet’s head deserve scrutiny and evaluation, not obedience. Subjective musings may be edifying, but
they are not binding in any dimension.
After thirty years in the church (half of it in formal ministry), I am convinced that, in spite of all our teaching efforts, the
overall biblical literacy of the average American Christian is woefully low. Some of Mr. Barna’s statistics indicate that this
is the case. The little the saints do seem to possess tends to have no worldview mooring and to be very “prooftexty.”
After getting past the threshold of a few chain-linked memorized verses, for many, there is nobody home. Unhealthy
dependency on pulpit ministry promotes passivity in the hearer. Our job as leaders is to equip others to handle
the Word of God accurately for themselves, not keep them dependent on our exegetical and pulpit abilities. Insecure
leaders and lazy saints, frankly, are content with the arrangement.
The leader’s role is to work him or herself out of a job. We begin by interpreting the Word to new converts until we
equip them with the tools to do it themselves. Then we need to get out of the way! So much Sunday morning activity is
nothing more than the carnal thrill a pulpit minister gets from having a regularly captive audience in awe of his great
revelation and oratorical skills. The spoon-fed congregation comes to be impressed by the latest cutting-edge
revelation rather than being practically equipped to handle the Word of God themselves.
The highest function of the prophetic ministry is not to broker divine thought and understanding to others. The highest
prophetic function is not telling others what you see. It is the ability to give (impart) to others the faculty of divine sight!
Our call as leaders is to put the believer and the Lord into a hand-to-hand and face-to-face relationship, not keep them
lapping at the trough of our biblical insights. If we are standing by, trying to arrange the fingers in the divine
handshake, we are meddlesome controllers, transgressing this second tier of authority. Our authority as leaders does
not extend to the eternal brokering of the Word of God to the believer.
First-generation, resurrection-witnessing, dead-raising, miracle-working apostles taught the Bereans, and they were
commended for checking things out! If the first-century saints are thus commended, how much more should we, two
thousand years later, do likewise? For some reason, professional ministry attracts insecure people like bees to honey.
They mistakenly expect personal validation through the acclaim that can accompany pulpit ministry – the perceived
admiration of others. However, their personal insecurity is threatened when instead of doe-eyed awe and admiration
they are met with honest inquiry, examination, and questions presented in a right spirit.
When emphasis on honoring leadership (and it frequently is overemphasized) combines with a celebrity spirit that
accompanies any form of success in an American paradigm, leaders begin to believe their own press reports about how
wonderful they are. A subtle spirit of “immunity” creeps in. Woe to the leader who dismisses every honest inquiry as
either beneath his dignity to address or who attributes it to disloyal, dishonoring, rebellious, deceived saints who just
need to submit. Leaders owe it to God’s flock to fully equip them to handle the Word accurately for themselves and to
honestly answer any question given in a right spirit. Insecure leaders are intimidated by inquiring minds larger than
their own. Inquiry is not subversion.
Legal (Contractual) Authority
This level of authority is the level of civic affairs, legal matters, contracts, etc. Paul was not one to flout civil authority.
Nor was Jesus, as demonstrated in the famous “render unto Caesar passage.” Paul’s handling (or non-handling!) of
the slavery issue displays his sensitivity to prevailing legal authority as well as cultural authority. Contrary to some
popular images in the quasi-religious or secular media, neither Jesus nor Paul were populist anarchists. They were not
there to overturn social orders. They preached a kingdom that transcended the social structures of the time and still
As believers we are obliged to submit to those legal contracts, compacts, decrees, and laws that are enacted by civil
and legal authorities. Our status in the kingdom does not make us immune from the laws of the land. I have known too
many Christians who use their faith to cheat (such as working under the table for cash), because they feel they are
above complying with the “illegitimate “ laws of the land. In a representative republic, we get the laws we deserve. We
cannot appeal to the authority of conscience in the presence of injustice. There would be no end to that. If injustice
prevails, it is because we have facilitated it. Corruption requires flow: benefactor and beneficiary. Institutional
corruption is just self-interest magnified into a corporate expression in the fabric of a society. Short of causing us to
deny our faith or curse God, the believer is to comply with civil authorities, and, if he or she must, because of deep
conviction on a moral issue, live with the consequences and comfort of being morally right and legally wrong.
Authority of Conscience
Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
…their conscience bearing them witness. (Romans 2:15)
This is a bit tricky. I debated where to place the authority of conscience, before or after legal authority. Within the
arena of the church, I believe the placement is correct. Conscience is higher than the realms in the following sections.
However, engaged in the civic arena, civil law supersedes conscience, unless it is a Daniel-type situation where our faith
in God is being directly assaulted – then conscience rules. There is no basis for Christians to cavalierly flout civic
There are many areas of life in which the Scriptures are silent, vague, unclear, or in tension. In those areas, our
conscience is the higher authority to which we must yield. The authority of conscience is higher than pastoral or
apostolic opinions in these matters. For example, some areas where the authority of conscience might apply in a local
church setting are
New Covenant Scripture is not explicit on these themes. We must preach and require what is sure, core, and clear; not
the marginal issues of life that change, ebb, and flow with the passing of time and culture. It is a mistake to preach
personal preference and conviction as binding doctrine. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.
The Westminster Confession of Faith is, as a whole, a very well thought out document of the church. In it, the
Westminster divines succinctly address the issue of silence of Scripture and our interactions as believers and leaders.
They wrote the following as self-evident truth:
Now, others may advise and entreat us and perhaps provide helpful wisdom and insight on unclear or marginal issues.
But they may not legitimately exercise rank and position to enforce conformity in areas where conscience is the higher
authority. God’s leaders regularly violate the authority of conscience in the lives of those under their charge. Topical
preaches whose emphasis is on “things” and “isms,” “themes and trends” rather than Christ and Him crucified are
particularly vulnerable to violate another’s conscience because they cannot allow others freedom in marginal areas.
Today’s secular fad becomes the obsessive topic of “touch not the unclean thing” preaching. Likewise, overly
compassionate leaders, who are more enablers than nurturers, frequently will not yield to the authority of conscience,
as they are afraid an individual may make a wrong decision and somehow be hurt.
If an overly sentimental spirit gets a hold of discipleship, it will turn into the eternal nursery of fear and control. Spiritual
growth does not happen in the warm womb of maternal paranoia. It happens on the dangerous edge of real life. If you
want your children to learn to ride a bicycle, you must take the training wheels off sooner or later. They will fall over.
They will get hurt. I have learned that my education and spiritual growth occurs the most through what I do wrong, not
what I do right. Inordinate concern over believers making a mistake is not mentoring or biblical discipleship.
The Scriptures do not tell you who to marry, what job to take, where to move, etc. We can get advice and counsel in
these situations in life, but no apostle or minister has the right to tell you what you should do and demand compliance
with his decree, nor treat you as rebellious if you do not follow the advice. To do so violates the authority of
conscience. If individuals reject your counsel and advice, so be it. Do not insist on others listening to you. If they err,
Often an individual’s actions based on conscience will be wrong, lead them to a mistake or even personal pain. This
does not give the apostle or minister the right to enforce his perceptions nor play “I-told-you-so” games. The nature of
growth in a free atmosphere of the Spirit is the freedom to be wrong. We are not free to sin. But we must be free to
make big mistakes. We must speak boldly and directly concerning paths that are explicitly sin, but in gray areas, or
where the issue is a “cultural conviction” rather than an explicit biblical one, we must not require conformity or withdraw
from the community because of a lack of perceived compliance. The more God entrusts to us personally, the more
liberty we are likely to grant others. Freedom requires risk.
There is no single area that Christians routinely violate more than the authority of conscience. When we think it is our
business to get others to conform to what we think is important, we are not of God’s Spirit, but rather, a spirit of
coercion, a crusading spirit not unlike militant Islam. We do not kill with bomb and gun, but with our tongue in slander
and gossip, separating from one another based on what we think is righteous. Often what appears on the surface as a
commitment to biblicity on an issue, a commitment to a standard, is really about power, authority, and control. If we
examine others in such a scrutinizing way, who examines us in like fashion?
There may be many paths of wisdom and prudence to which the Scriptures say nothing. Everything may be lawful, but
not all things are profitable. It is in these areas that the law of liberty and the authority of conscience prevails. In it, we
have the right to be wrong, mistaken, and even stupid. It is the price of liberty. Making others come to our point of view
on marginal issues is not our calling. Our call is to lay down our lives for one another, not coerce each other into
ideological and behavioral conformity.
Authority of Family
God established the family as an institution before the church, its offices, and ordinances. The family is the smallest
church unit, and how badly things are broken in this regard in our culture needs no amplification! Church may not
override family authority. The two realms, family and church, though integrated, must remain separate. The church
and its leaders have no authority to tell you how to run your family except in those matters that are explicitly sin. The
church has authority to demand and require that sin cease. However, there are many other areas of life that are less
than optimal that are not overt sin. Church leaders can entreat, implore, offer wisdom and advice, but they may not
Routine violation of the authority of family occurred in three different church scenarios with which I am personally
acquainted. In these environments, the church authority structure got so out of hand that the leaders told people who
they could or could not marry and what job they could take. Parents often played no role in these decisions in the case
of minors or young adults. To have the local leadership “bless” or “sanction” a marriage, the individuals had to appear
before a “court,” or tribunal, of hand-picked elders and get permission from the court to marry or not marry an
individual. Church leadership often disallowed parents from being on the review court as not being spiritual enough to
make sound judgments. The rationale for this behavior was “courtship instead of dating,” “being submitted,” “staying
under covering,” “keeping covenant,” etc. This is, of course, legal, cultic abuse. However, the fundamental problem is
recognizing appropriate liens of authority. Conscience and family are higher authorities than ministry office and
On the converse side of things, families do not have the right to rule the church. You may not project
personal family values for your children on the church as a whole and expect the church to come around to seeing it
your way. As an example, I have seen circumstances where a particular family will develop a “conviction” that they don’t
want their sons playing with toy guns because it allegedly promotes violence and aggression. While I don’t agree with
that, a family is certainly within its rights to raise its children with that value system. However, that family does not have
the right to march into a leader’s office and demand the church take a stand for righteousness on that issue,
demanding corporate conformity to their conviction. The family may, if they so desire, not participate in events or
activities in which they deem their family convictions compromised. They are not justified in socially or psychologically
marginalizing other families who do not share the conviction.
Unfortunately, in the American church experience, the family with the conviction will likely leave and attend a church that
agrees with them on the marginal conviction and thus endless church fragmentations and the spawning of myriad sects
whose rallying and unifying center is no longer Christ and Him crucified.
Your authority of family does not outrank the other’s authority of conscience.
Too often our church motto seems to be, “I may not know what I am doing, but bless God, I am in charge!” We structure
our organizations around those who are faithful and loyal, not necessarily the best equipped. A simple lack of human
resources frequently forces small churches to this place: “Please…help us…any warm and willing body will do!”
Authority is based on ministry, and ministry is based on death and resurrection. There is no ministry without
authority and no authority without death and resurrection. When authority exceeds ministry, it is positional and has no
spiritual substance. Functional authority originates in the area of my expertise. It is the place of effective service,
activated by the Spirit.
Three areas serve as the source of individual functional authority: 1) birth (natural talents: general grace given to all
humanity), 2) training, and 3) supernatural gifting. Within the church, there is often unnecessary reaction to the first
two. Common grace has touched all humanity in the Creation. Even if we are not serving God, we are gifted and
talented at birth. Second, authority comes from skills we gain through education and life experience. Functional
authority comes from serving others not just in the area of natural giftedness or talent, but also through those gifts that
are charismatic endowments or Spirit – energizings – part of the grace package we receive at conversion. It is so
critical to recognize each of these three graces.
From a local church perspective, God occasionally administers His grace to us directly, but usually it comes through
another body member. God designed functional authority in another member to replenish or fill our own lack. We miss
functional authority at our own peril. Missing it causes us to associate people with tasks, or demand of them services,
for which they are not suited, simply because they are faithful and available! Don’t ask the accountant to do the inner
healing ministry team (unless supernaturally endowed). Don’t ask a prophet to be the door greeter! We need to pay
attention to people and equip and release them into areas of functional authority for which they are suited! We need to
teach others to submit when in the arena of another’s functional authority!
The concept of functional authority can be hard to grasp because of our long-standing traditions of positional and
hierarchical authority structures. Let’s take a look at several examples of how functional authority might work.
You are in a tragic car accident. Your arm is lying ten feet away from where it should be, and there is blood
everywhere. Three people are bystanders: a person who by birth is very caring, a Hindu female doctor, and an
apostle/prophet from your network or association with the gift of discerning of spirits. If you were the victim in the
accident, whom would you want giving immediate instructions in that situation? The prophet? Because he is a Christian
and can “discern” (supposedly) the angel of death over you? The apostle? Because men are supposed to have
“authority” and be in charge? How absurd. Of course you would want the doctor (regardless of gender, religion, or
rank) in charge and making decisions because she has functional authority in that situation to do so.
Now let’s say you are at home recuperating from the same accident. Who would you like to have come and bring you
comfort? The doctor because she is a medical professional? Of course not. The apostle/prophet? Not if it is
supernatural comfort you are looking for. If you want insight into the life and spiritual implications of the event, the
apostle/prophet is the one. But that is not what you are looking for. You would want the person endowed with the
caring gift! The circumstance determines whose functional authority rules.
Let’s say a married couple is having a dispute over who should control the family checkbook, the man or the woman.
The husband says he should because he is the man, the head of the woman and the supposed head of the family and
that is a man’s job. Do you believe that is God’s order for the family? Not necessarily. Let’s say the husband barely
passed eighth grade math and the wife works as a CPA. Who has authority to handle the checkbook? The wife! Her
giftedness and training empowers her and has given her authority. Her functional authority takes precedence over any
other perceived authority structures. Her training determines her sphere of authority, not some preconceived notions
about gender “roles” that are “God-ordained.” The Bible says nothing about which gender should handle the finances
in the family. It is only prejudicial cultural bias that thinks it is the domain of men.
Once there was a senator flying first class across the country. On the same flight was a petite, 120-pound stewardess
who was on her first day on the job. The plane was about to take off and she noticed the senator’s seat belt was
unbuckled. The bulky senator was engaged in an intense conversation with his seatmate and was ignoring the
stewardess’s instructions to buckle the belt. The stewardess politely and firmly approached the senator and asked him
to buckle up. He responded. “Don’t you know who I am?” She responded back: “Don’t you know who I am? I have
authority to keep this plane on the ground until you comply with my instruction!” That petite stewardess had the destiny
of the whole plane in her hand! In that arena, her functional authority superseded the senator’s positional authority.
A husband works as an electrical engineer. The wife grew up on a farm, working around heavy equipment all her life.
The husband has never lifted anything heavier than a pencil and a calculator his entire life. The wife literally ran the
farm during her father’s prolonged illness. Let’s say the family car breaks down or needs maintenance. Who has
“authority” to do the job? The male because mechanical things are “divinely ordered” by God in the domain of the
man? How absurd. Of course, the woman has authority because her experience and training qualify her for it!
The children’s professionally-trained and gifted children’s ministry worker is in conflict with a family in your church
concerning children’s curriculum. The family believes publisher A’s material should be used as being far superior in
their mind. The children’s supervisor is using publisher B’s material. You are the pastor who does not have a lick of
children’s ministry grace in your bones. Who should have “authority” over the children’s ministry curriculum? The one
who is functionally responsible and gifted. Because I may be the pastor does not give me the right to make policy
decisions in areas for which I am not suited merely by reason of holding my office. Now, every analogy is limited, and a
pastor might want to review for doctrinal accuracy, etc., but if pushed into a conflict, assuming other issues are where
they should be, it is the pastor who should be ready to yield to the functional authority of the person with the gift for it. If
the pastor cannot trust the judgment of the ministry supervisor, other issues need to be addressed.
Properly recognizing functional authority is instrumental in facilitating a quality team atmosphere. Football serves as
another metaphor. How often do teams brutally fight it out in the mud and trenches for four quarters of blood, sweat,
and tears, only to have the game decided by a 150-pound guy with a clean uniform – the field goal kicker – providing
the victory? Do the other teammates resent him? With the game on the line, would you want the captain of your team,
an exhausted three-hundred-pound interior lineman, doing the kicking just because of his rank? Of course not. He
does not have functional authority for the job.
You may laugh at the simplicity of these analogies, but in all earnestness, relationships break down when the emphasis
is on certain authority role prescriptions rather than acknowledging functional authority. I propose that every hour of
every day there is grief, pain, hurt, abuse, and confusion happening in the Lord’s church, caused by people who either
do not understand the principle of functional authority or who are too insecure to acknowledge it.
Flowing in functional authority keeps the issue of honoring and respecting leaders in a “checked and balanced” state.
“Professional” ministerial functions such as pastor, teacher, apostle, prophet, elder, etc. are delegated functions. They
are the King’s delegates, acting under His authority. However these delegated positions do not supersede our
functional authority as fellow members of the brotherhood/body. Therefore, delegated authority must submit to
Sometime, if you are interested, examine the number of references in the New Testament to “brothers/brotherhood/one
another” and compare it to the references to “elder or elders.” It will be self-evident to you that the Scriptures emphasis
is on the mutuality of brotherhood over delegated office. One’s function in the body supersedes one’s delegated
This is the first level at which any mortal has authority in relationship to another mortal on earth. Delegated authority is
not necessarily dependent on age, ability, training, or giftedness but assignment from higher authority. The ideal
situation exists when delegated authority matches functional authority, but it is often not the case and does not have to
It would be unwise for a ninety-pound weakling to stand in the middle of the road facing an oncoming car with his hand
in the air expecting traffic to stop. However, dress the same weakling in a blue uniform and give him a badge and traffic
will stop. Why? It is not just because we know that we are dealing with a police officer. The reason we stop is because,
as a society, we have delegated authority to the officer and the badge is a recognizable symbol of delegated authority.
The officer doesn’t have to be bigger, badder, meaner, or stronger. His receipt of delegated authority qualifies him to
Jesus has all authority in His person and has delegated it to His church. First it is to individual believers as fellow heirs
and partners with Him in His victory over death, hell, and the grave. The believer is the extension of Christ’s life and
ministry in the earth. Many excellent volumes that deal in-depth with the believers’ authority are readily available. I will
not delve in to the matter here. The Ephesians 4:11-13 ministries and presbyters, or elders, are delegated authority.
In addition to each individual believer, the Lord has delegated authority to elders (presbyters/bishops) in the church.
The details of the boundaries and limitations of delegated church authority will be discussed in chapters 6 and 7.
Delegated authority is not about domination and control. It is about assuming the responsibility for guiding into destiny
and fulfillment from a posture of care. Delegated authority never extends beyond the sphere of caring responsibility for
which someone has been endowed by the Spirit to fulfill. Delegated authority is only activated in an area where I
have responsibility, and it also follows responsibility. Authority without responsibility promotes tyranny.
Responsibility without authority promotes frustration and discouragement. How does delegated authority work at a
practical local church level? Let’s consider a few hypothetical scenarios.
Pastor Jones is the senior pastor of the First Church of Anytown, USA, a mega-church of two thousand in attendance on
Sunday. In his fellowship, he has a faithful member, Brother Jimmy. Brother Jimmy only has a fifth-grade education, but
he has the spirit of helps and service. Looking to help Brother Jimmy have a sense of purpose and ministry, Pastor
Jones makes him the overseer of the ushers responsible for the parking lot ministry. Jimmy takes to it like a moth to
light and runs the parking lot like a well-oiled machine.
In May of that year, Pastor Jones schedules apostle Smith for a series of special meetings. Apostle Smith has forty-five
years of ministry experience in international spheres. On the Friday night of the first meeting, apostle Smith pulls up to
the church in his new Cadillac with two angels riding shotgun for him on the hood of the car. He parks on the row
reserved for the children’s ministry workers. He gets out of his car, and Brother Jimmy approaches him to move the car
out of the reserved spot. The request puts off apostle Smith. After all, he is an apostle, worthy of honor. Jimmy
persists: the car must be moved. The scene escalates slightly, and Pastor Jones comes running to the scene and tells
Jimmy it is all right for the apostle to park there. Jimmy walks away discouraged.
In this scenario who should have submitted to whom and why? The apostle has superior rank, ministry, calling, abilities,
honor, and status. Jimmy should yield to the greater anointing and honor the man of God! Yes? – No!
Jimmy is functionally suited for the task, and his local ministry delegated the parking ministry to him. Jimmy’s functional
and delegated authority outranks the apostle’s positional and ministerial authority at two levels! The parking lot was the
sphere of the exercise of his authority, and anyone who enters it must submit to Jimmy. The apostle must move his car.
Jimmy is under delegated authority; the apostle is not. Brother Smith’s worldwide apostleship has absolutely no
authority in the sphere of Jimmy’s responsibility and delegated authority. The visiting apostle has no functional or
delegated authority in the assembly other than that given to him by the pastor. Therefore, the apostle must yield to
Jimmy by moving his car.
By failing to support Jimmy in this situation, the pastor has shown that he is a man-pleaser. He is impressed with rank
and position rather than his own delegated authority decisions. Rather than pulling rank and nullifying his previous
delegation, he should have commended Jimmy for having more spiritual acumen than the visiting guest apostle who is
impressed with his rank and title. He has just cut Jimmy off at the knees. At the next local elders meeting, after Jimmy
has taken his family and left the church hurt, the pastor will undoubtedly describe Jimmy as someone who did not
understand authority. When in fact, it is the pastor who did not understand authority.
Sometimes insecure individuals in a church violate the principle of honoring delegated authority by not following chain of
command in crisis or complaint. By doing an “end run” around appropriate delegated authority, the insecure individual
will try to appeal to the pastor instead of the delegated authority to air a grievance or resolve a problem. Often the
insecure individual will appeal to the positional authority of the pastor to avoid dealing with the difficulties of relational
interaction with subordinate delegated authorities. A pastor who wants to help himself will not play into this dynamic out
of a misguided sense of caring, helping, or wanting to be a listening ear.
Authority of Custom
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
In American culture, the above cliché means a person should adapt to one’s surroundings, culture, and customs when
visiting another country. This quote is from patristic literature. It was the advice given by the church fathers to
Christians who asked how they should behave when visiting a church that did not share the same practices as their own.
Every local church has its own distinctives, emphases, and calling. These are the sovereign choices of the Holy Spirit –
wonderful to behold and a participatory joy. However, each local church often has unspoken expectations of how a
Christian should “behave.” They are those values and practices, not biblically explicit, which, for better or worse, are
expected of individuals in the local congregation.
Paul was very sensitive to matters of local culture. He did not expect congregations in different geographic areas to
necessarily have the same sensibilities on all issues. The matter of women’s head coverings in I Corinthians 11 is a
classic example. Many today often ignore the most important part of the entire passage: “We have no such custom,
neither do the churches of God.”
What was Paul saying? He was dealing with the authority of custom in Corinth, trying to navigate the delicate waters of
the freedom of the New Covenant with propriety of local custom. It was a “local” issue that did not apply to other
churches. I once read a “theological paper” from a scholar on the issue of the permanence of women’s head coverings,
arguing that it is a universal and timeless “law of God.” In about fifteen pages of commentary, the author never
mentioned the most important verse! This is the type of biased, prejudicial teaching on authority and covering that
does harm in the church. Our Christian liberty needs to yield to local custom when a potential conflict arises.
God help us to submit to the true higher authorities in His church and in the world.
AUTHORITY, ACCOUNTABILITY, and the APOSTOLIC MOVEMENT, by Dr. Stephen Crosby, Copyright 2006,
Pleasant Word (WINEPRESS PUBLISHING).
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