About Authority

I have felt the need to respond to a lot of strange messages I have seen lately on Facebook and on various blogs, and I see a theme developing here. The subject is inevitably authority. We live in a society which claims all sorts of authority over our lives, Educational institutions claim to have all kinds of expertise, Science claims to be the source of truth, and of course the government claims authority over life, death, the legal forms of justice, and taxes. And over the last 1800 years we have been faced with another form of authority. A form of government which would have us believe that our very souls are at stake if we do not submit to it. I speak of the “church” in it’s many bewildering forms.

Now come back with me, if you will, 2000 years to the situations Paul faced, for it is Paul’s nomenclature which all “churches” mimic. Paul uses the word πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros) to indicate a sort of special level among the people who know Jesus. The word is usually translated as elder. Indeed in other places in the New Testament it is used to indicate some one who is actually older, i.e. the older brother of the prodigal son is identified in this way. But if we are to understand what Paul is saying we must think of what he was dealing with. Each assembly of believers was constantly welcoming newcomers, babies in the faith, so if Paul wanted to indicate those who had known the Lord longer and were more mature, he would have naturally chosen the word elder, as in older in Christ, or mature in the faith.

Elder in this sense does not always indicate advanced age, for Paul tells Timothy to not allow people to despise his youth, yet Timothy was an elder, of course it is because he had known Jesus all of his life. Therefore the term often seems to indicate Spiritual maturity rather than simply advanced age.
There is also a situation Paul experienced which very few of us see now days and that is that these assemblies which Paul addressed in his letters were comprised of many, perhaps a majority of believers who were mature and knew Jesus intimately. Paul does not divide the assembly into clergy and laity, to him they are all believers, all possessing gifts from the Holy Spirit and the mature, Spiritual ones in the group are the elders.
There is also today a great deal of confusion about the role of men who serve God. Much of what we see today is based on the Old Testament idea of “priesthood”.

In the Old Testament priests had various daily chores to do around the temple, but once a year on Yom Kippur the high priest would stand in God’s presence in the Holy of Holies to represent the people before God, he would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, and then he would come out of the Holy of Holies, and stand before the people representing God to the people, to pronounce God’s forgiveness. This is the duty of the High Priest, it is all part and parcel of the sacrificial system which God put in place to assure Israel of His favor.

When the Messiah came He did away with the slaughter of lambs and goats, with His own sacrifice and guess what else? He did away with the need for a another person to stand before God in the place of the mature believer. He did away with this human role because He Himself is the fulfillment of that role. He is our Great High Priest. He stands before the Father interceding for us constantly. We are standing before the Father in this way also, for those of us who know Him are a part of Him, we are present in Christ. And what was that other function of the High Priest? To speak to the people for God. Do you remember “My sheep hear My voice?” It is to be expected in the life of the mature believer that they hear Jesus, that they know Him as their Shepherd, their guide, and their friend. Jesus told us that it would be a normal thing for us to hear Him (John 10), and it makes perfect sense when you understand that as our High Priest He will speak to us for God.
In the New Testament whenever the term priest is used it is in reference to the Old Testament style office of priest and the Greek word used to indicate this is ἱερεύς (hiereus) this term is used to refer to the priests in Jerusalem and the word ἀρχιερεύς (arch-iereus) is used to refer to the Judaic high priest or to Jesus as our high priest. The word ἱερεύς (hiereus) is also used to refer to our priesthood under Jesus in the book of Revelation.

Throughout church history there has been a struggle going on, it is the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. So when you are involved in the fleshly tradition, instead of being encouraged to look to Jesus alone and live in His Spirit, you are told that living in the Spirit requires a human agency an “elder” and although it is more obvious in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, this fleshly idea has gained traction among every branch of the Protestants. We are taught that we must be under the proper authority. That we are somehow second class citizens of the kingdom if we are not under some sort of “elder”. The modern interpretation of the “proper authority” usually involves a graduate degree from seminary. I might take this opportunity to point out that none of the apostles save for Paul had any extensive education, it cannot be stated with any certainty that very many of them could even read, but what they all most certainly did have was the Holy Spirit.

So who are these “elders”? Is it not as plain as the nose on your face that they are the people who knew Jesus the longest and the best. The elders are the people who were mature in the Spirit of God who lived day by day in His presence.
It has become quite clear to me and I hope to you as well that if we are to mature, we must come to understand that in Jesus’ economy we are all to become “elders” we are all to become kings and priests before Him (Rev 1:5-6).
So you say yes, what about that “kings and priests” thing. How are we to be like priests?

We are, each of us, priests in the Old Testament fashion when we share our relationship with God with other people, we are speaking to people for God, to people who do not know the Holy Spirit. Then in the peculiar symmetry of the Old Testament, we turn around and speak to God for them when we pray for them. We are therefore “priests” under our Great High Priest.

Whenever Paul refers to ministry in his letters it is πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros), διάκονος (diakonos), or ἐπισκοπος (episkopos) or elders, deacons, and overseers. We get the English word “priest” from prester the abbreviated form of presbyter, and “bishop” from the greek word “episcopos”. Even so, there is no indication apart from the general understanding of priestly functions for all of us, (Rev 1:5-6) that there are any hieratic (priestly) functions for specific individuals in the New Testament except for Jesus. In other words no one needs to speak for me to God because I am not able, and on the other hand no one needs to hear God for me because I am not able. Jesus has taken care of all of these things and communicates with those who are found in Him. He may choose to augment what He tells me through other members of His body, perhaps through a prophet, or like the situation where Paul corrected Peter, but the job of speaking to me for God does not belong to one particular individual all of the time. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as a believer and a member of His body, I am to be in communication with God at all times.
Ah, you might remind me of the passage in John, which seems to refer to a priestly function.
23 “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
John 20:23 (NLT)

Yes that is certainly a priestly function, but I would like to point out that this fits quite nicely into the idea that we all speak for God to those who may not know Him yet. I know that the Catholics in particular make a point of saying that Jesus was giving this ability to the disciples/apostles and therefore to the clergy, but I say since they also represented the nascent church that it would be impossible to say that they don’t represent all of us here.

So you see Paul faced a very different situation from that which we see in most “churches” today. It would appear that Paul saw the assemblies as groups of believers, each with a core of mature believers who were called elders. These “elders” were the core of the group and they taught and helped the newbies along into maturity, into becoming “elders” themselves. Today we have a professional priesthood, the “clergy” who over the centuries have wrangled their position from being humble brothers who helped the immature reach maturity in Christ, into rulers who have an unhealthy amount of control over the lives of the “laity” (from Greek, the “others”). They have also in many cases appropriated the idea that God speaks almost exclusively through them. They have stolen the central role in the “church” and the rest of us are only hangers on. In the “church” system of today we have forgotten that very basic lesson from Jesus.

1 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! 2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

6 Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, 7 so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. 9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. 18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
John 10:1-18 NLT

So I would suggest to you that it is time to run away from the robbers, thieves and hired hands. It is time for all of us who wish to follow Jesus to follow Him alone. I would encourage all of you who might be reading this, to seek the Lord on your own, do not look to men to be priests for you, seek Him yourself, through His Spirit. I believe that you will find that this is what we have all been meant to do since the time of Pentecost, for each of us to mature in His Spirit and to be in intimate fellowship with our God.

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5 Comments on “About Authority”

  1. Mike Says:

    As a young Christian, years ago, I spent a fair amount of time reading and studying the Bible. The struggle I had then was reconciling what it said to how older – more mature – Christians actually lived. I’m afraid I let their example sway me. I let the church world sqeeze me into its mold.

    I have never been as committed as now to redefining my Christianity. This time around, I am more determined than ever to align my beliefs and life after Christ’s and the deciple’s teachings. Still though, the struggle is the same; only this time, I am more fixed that the Bible is right. The problem for me is application.

    Without the power and boldness we are supposed to have, I am at a disadvantage. I feel I am waiting in Jerusalem, in fact I am determined to wait in Jerusalem until I get it. It is the missing element, that once possessed will force people to take notice. Not of me but the gospel I believe in.

    Your word is good; hard to do but good. Necessary.

  2. cindyinsd Says:

    Yes, Amen! And amen to the “hard to do,” too. But needed, and more and more brothers and sisters are following this path. Not alone, but not led by authoritarian administrative leadership, either. One of the “hard to do” things is to let go of the filters that make us see the scripture in light of the things we have been (often wrongly) taught. I find it helps to sit down with a question, maybe a scripture or several, quiet my mind, and ask Jesus. I am frequently surprised at the way He interprets scripture–many times in ways I had never imagined.

    It’s not just me and my immediate family and Jesus any more, though. He’s placed us into a small group of believers who meet from house to house with Him as our head. We’re not arrived, but He is showing us the way to be the ekklesia–His body, His bride. He is so good!

    Love, Cindy

  3. Nathan Says:

    Thanks guys,

    I love it when the Lord gives me something that is so different from the junk we’ve all been taught. He really is different from what we’ve been told, and the sad thing is that it is all there in the Bible, staring us right in the face. That is why we must listen to Him.

    Mike, I know it might sound funny, but when I feel like I am getting nowhere, I picture the Lord in my mind’s eye and hand Him whatever I think is in the way as if it is a big rock or a bag of clods. Then as We go along He shows me other stuff to hand over. Yeah, I know, I really needed to clean house anyway, lots of old regrets and stuff, anyway this works for me.

    It also really helps that I am too old to be messing around anymore. It is still not easy, but it is do-able. The thing I have to remind myself of over and over is that He is so much more loving and understanding than anything I had ever been taught. We have His promise “Seek and ye shall find”, ask Him about feeling stuck, I am sure he will break the road block for you. He doesn’t want you to stay frustrated, but if frustration will get you to seek Him more, it will have been worth it.

    Hey Cindy, I like the way you study Scripture, it is very much like the way we (my wife and I) journal, we quiet ourselves down and maybe write out what has been happening, express our joys, sorrows and thanks. Then we write “What would You like to say to me Lord?” and sit quietly and listen, whatever He tells us we write down. And man does He ever have cool things to say. I recommend it!

    Thanks again you guys, I love your great comments!


  4. […] Nathan’s: Jesus is Our Priest and About Authority (I just added this one–it’s excellent, but I’d forgotten where I saw it and now […]


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