© 2007 Ron Schwartz
1. Understanding Spiritual Authority
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is a great deal of confusion over the subject of Spiritual
Authority because people tend to confuse natural
authority and spiritual authority.
This confusion is pervasive in the teachings of well-known Christian
teachers like Bill Gothard and Watchman Nee.
the power (or authority) people have over others.
People tend to exploit the areas of their lives that contribute to their
sense of power. For instance, it is
not unusual for influential men to spend in excess of $1,000 on a name brand
suit, $150 on a silk tie, $200 on leather shoes, thousands on a Rolex watch, and
tens of thousands on classy cars. To
them, generic and inexpensive do not convey a sense power.
are not alone in their pursuit of power. Women
live in what they consider “a man’s world.”
Therefore, in order to feel significant, women feel they need to have
some sort power over men. But since
they are far less physically intimidating than most men, women have had to learn
other ways to achieve power and control. One
especially effective tool is there sex appeal.
The most common way to do this is by accentuating their physically
sensual characteristics. They tend
to wear clothes that accent their physical shape, stockings and shoes that show
off their legs, make-up and hairstyles that accent their faces, jewelry and nail
polish to show off their hands, etc. Women
have come to understand that a man’s sexual drive is his weakness, and so when
they successfully exploit this weakness, they gain power over him.
Other women go to the opposite extreme and attempt to act and dress like
their male counterparts trying to fit in with them.
None of this has anything to do with spiritual
authority. It is merely
people using natural authority to
have power and control.
to do with intimidation, which then translates into power and control over
others. You will find this true
throughout all nature. Packs of
animals have dominant leaders. They
are usually the ones that are the most intimidating.
Phrases like “the pecking order” or “the king of the jungle” come
from the idea of natural authority.
Likewise, men of stature, with deep voices and strong personalities,
convey a sense of power. People who
have large expensive homes and cars, and toys like yachts and planes naturally
intimidate those who do not own such things.
People with jobs in politics, upper management, the IRS, police
departments, and pastoral ministries carry a sense of intimidation.
Natural authority is all
about the exertion of power and control over others.
of the Christian teaching on the subject of spiritual
authority attempts to reconcile natural
authority to the spiritual realm.
But it just doesn’t work. It
tends to create totalitarianism. It
is responsible for the traditional thinking that spiritual
authority is 1) a position
held that is governing and controlling others and 2) measured by quantity
(i.e., the number of people over whom they have power, the size of the
corporation they manage, their income level, etc.).
But this is nothing more than natural
authority renamed. It is
not true spiritual authority.
mixing of natural authority into spiritual
authority has made unclear the true nature of spiritual
authority. It causes men
to feel the need to be the pastor a church in order to be “significant,”
because having a church fulfills their need for authority.
As a result, there is no end in sight to the startup of more and more
small churches as men struggle to realize their twisted view of spiritual
authority. And because quantity
is the measure of such authority, there is no hope of unity, because pastors
must then compete with each other for members in order to increase the size of
their own church, which, in turn, increases his own authority.
With natural authority,
the winner is the one with the biggest piece of pie.
this really be what God intended spiritual
authority to become? Of
course not. This is actually the
result of the lack of understanding of true spiritual
authority is not about power or rule.
It is about serving. It is
measured not in the quantity it controls but in the extent of personal
authority is the opposite of natural
authority in almost every respect.
the Old Testament, there was no direct access to God.
God did not speak directly to His people but through the law and
prophets. Men were appointed as
priests to represent the needs of God’s people.
In addition, God did not work directly in the lives of His people, so
they were incapable of transformation. They
would never be anything more than what they were at birth.
In the Old Testament, spiritual
authority came through men who spoke for God as prophets or who
represented the people to God as priests. It
was a pyramid of authority that had God at the top followed by His governmental
and religious leaders. The people
of God were at the bottom.
the New Testament, people no longer need to go through men to have direct access
to God (And,
behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
In the New Testament, God does
speak directly to His people. Under
this testament, God’s people no longer need men to represent their needs to
God. They are able to “come
boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to
help in time of need (Heb 4:16).”
The roles that men once filled and the spiritual
authority they once provided now belong to God who works in the heart
of every believer.
reasons for removing men as His people’s spiritual
authority goes far beyond providing a way to allow His people direct
access to Him. He wanted direct
access to them. Having direct
access to His people would have accomplished very little if His people were to
remain in the same state of sin and rebellion (and thus condemnation) in which
they were born. Through His New
Testament, God is able to do something that never could have happened as long as
men exercised spiritual authority:
to change the hearts of men.
Corinthians 3:17-18 KJV
Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are
changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the
when we submit our lives to the spiritual
authority of the Holy Spirit can we realize the transformation God
wants for us. Paul described the
difference between the two testaments when he wrote:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from
the law of sin and death.
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God
sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin
in the flesh:
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not
after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Christians want to revert back to the spiritual
authority of the Old Testament.
They liked having men represent them to God as their priests.
But men cannot change hearts. It
is the work of the Holy Spirit. When
men stand between us and God, the transformational power of God’s Spirit is
either lost or limited. That model
was a failure in the Old Testament, and it is a failure today.
Consider the lack of spiritual maturity in contemporary Christianity.
What profit has come from nearly two thousand years of men providing spiritual
authority? God does not
want His people submitting to the spiritual
authority of anyone or anything other than Him.
Men cannot change you, but God can.
Christian who has ever experienced transformation knows that it was a sovereign
act of God. They experienced
something that is indescribable and is, without question, from God’s Spirit.
Knowing that, why allow men to tell you that this power from God must
come through them? Jesus instructed
behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of
Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
from on high”
was the sovereign work of God. When
it came, it was not ushered in through a prophet or a sermon.
The transformational power was their spiritual
authority given directly to them from God,
not through priests or prophets, and it changed the world.
If the world is to be changed again, we must once again submit to God’s
Spirit alone as our spiritual authority.
Authority or Sovereignty
is the authority of the Holy Spirit that He brings into our lives.
It is spiritual
answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world,
then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews:
but now is my kingdom not from hence.
explains that His kingdom – that over which He reigns – is not part of the
kingdoms of this world. He told His
shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within
you (Luke 17:21).”
Christ’s kingdom, to which He brought His authority, is in our hearts.
We Christians have the unique power to lay down our lives.
We have power to overcome temptation and to deny ourselves of sin.
We have the power to love one another as He has loved us.
This is the greatest power that anyone can possess.
It is NOT the power to rule over others (as if His “kingdom
were of this world”)
but to rule one’s self. True spiritual
authority is the authority over self.
The best description of spiritual
authority comes from none other than the Lord:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite
thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have
thy cloke also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do
good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you,
and persecute you.
is the greatest power! No conqueror
who ever lived, no warrior who ever fought, and no king who ever reigned has had
the power to rule the heart. Natural
authority may have power to control others, but only the spiritual
authority of God’s Spirit can control our hearts.
Spiritual authority grows, not in having a church, but in laying down
your life for others. In this
context, an elderly widow who seeks only to serve others may have more spiritual
authority than any other person in her church.
spiritual authority is
foundational. Consider the following scripture:
Corinthians 3:10 KJV
to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid
the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed
how he buildeth thereupon.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with
the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus
Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the
twelve apostles of the Lamb.
we find ministry as supporting, or foundational to, believers.
Most ministers have confused spiritual
authority with natural authority
and have come to see their ministries at the top of their churches.
When ministry is at the top of the church, it becomes sovereign.
is foundational rather than sovereign.
church leaders describe church leadership as an upside down triangle with the
people on top and the leaders at the bottom.
It is remarkable how they can say the right things but then not practice
it. They are no more at the bottom
than the President of the U.S. is at the bottom of our government.
understand the quagmire that results from the contemporary spin on spiritual
the rule that men have over others in their church), look no further than
tragedies like Jim Jones and David Koresh.
These may be extreme examples of spiritual abuse, but left on their
own, every group that allows a person (man or woman) to be the spiritual
authority will eventually face the temptation of becoming a cult.
People fail to understand that most cults started out as legitimate
churches. David Koresh and the
Branch Dividians were at one time Seventh Day Adventists, Jim Jones was a
holiness preacher, David/Moses Berg was part of the Missionary Alliance Church,
and Jim Bakker went to Central Bible College in Minnesota, beginning his
career as an itinerant pastor. Each
of these men allowed the popular ideology of spiritual
authority to get out of control.
of us know of churches that we consider cults or that at least act
"cultish." In each case,
spiritual leaders with varying degrees of power exercise control over
these groups. Submission is always
an important part of each member’s spiritual development.
Anyone who questions the power of the leader is viewed as spiritually
underdeveloped (immature) and rebellious. Quite
often, they are compared to Judas. We
all know that this form of power is wrong.
We know intuitively that it is not spiritual
authority but a natural authority
to which misled people submit.
is no difference between these extreme examples of cult control and the power we
attribute to spiritual authority.
None! No one involved in a
cult believes that their group is a cult. No
one submitting to what they consider spiritual
authority believes it to be anything but spiritual.
They submit to what they believe to be their spiritual
authority because they are persuaded that it pleases God.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It does not please God that you submit yourself to men when it is
God alone to whom you should be submitting.
It is for this reason that God does NOT maintain a spiritual hierarchy
among His people.
spiritual authority is the power
to be the servant of all, and being a servant is without question foundational.
Only people who have laid down their lives and who have the active power
of the Holy Spirit in their lives can be true servants.
True spiritual authority
is one of the most difficult things to master because it requires self-sacrifice
and self-denial. Spiritual
authority is the power to take up one’s cross and follow Christ.
Men who submit themselves to the true spiritual
authority of the Holy Spirit will not become the spiritual
authority to others. They
know that to do this would be to supplant God.
is a popular notion among many Christian groups that Christians must be
“accountable” to someone. That
someone provides the spiritual authority
in their lives. They point to the
structure of the institutional church as providing accountability.
We must challenge that notion.
in institutional churches is a myth. It
does not exist. Just how involved
are church leaders in the lives of the average church member?
How much of their day-to-day activities are they even aware?
Most church leaders have a general knowledge of their members but nothing
more. In fact, barring a phone call
from a spouse or reading about an arrest in the newspaper, most church leaders
would never know about a person’s alcohol or drug problems.
is not about being aware of someone’s problems.
True accountability is invasive. It
carries with it the sense of legal responsibility.
Look up the word yourself.
there are the groups like Promise Keepers that encourage men to come together
and to share their inner
weaknesses with one another. They
call this “accountability.” What
men choose to share is voluntary, and so is how they choose to color it.
True accountability is not voluntary.
It is “liable.” Choice
is removed. These “feel
good” groups are not invasive into each other’s lives any more
than church leaders are in the lives of their members.
So we say it again: accountability is a myth.
Christians act independently and freely with only the fear of getting
caught, their actions and motives discovered.
spiritual authority is
transformational. You cannot resist
God once you submit your life to Him. However,
when the “form” of “accountability” replaces true spiritual
authority, the response is no longer to God but to men.
Instead of responding to God and experiencing His transformational power,
people tend to hide who they really are and learn to deceive in order to hide
their sin. When Adam yielded to
Satan for his spiritual authority,
he found himself hiding from God and covering himself with the leaves of
as defined today, is just another form of contemporary spiritual
authority that usurps God’s rightful place.
It breeds hypocrisy and religious form.
The stronger the influence of men, the more hypocrisy and religious form
will exist. Most people really are
not afraid of God finding out what they are like and what they do.
They are afraid that their pastor will.
This should demonstrate to them the extent to which men have come to
replace true spiritual authority
in their lives.
summary, spiritual authority in
the New Testament is the rule of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
It is this rule that has the power to transform us into a “new
(2 Corinthians 5:15).” But men
have patterned the institutional church after the spiritual
authority found in the Old Testament where God did not act directly
in the lives of His people. As a
result, contemporary Christianity does not experience even a fragment of the
transformational power of God.
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