© 2007 Ron Schwartz|
All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Part 1. Understanding Spiritual Authority
May 16, 2007
From Ron and Karen Schwartz
There 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.
Natural authority is 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.
Men are not alone in their pursuit of power. Women live in what they consider
"a manís 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
manís 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.
Natural authority has 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.
Much of the Christian teaching on the subject of spiritual authority
attempts to reconcile natural authority to the spiritual realm. But it
just doesnít 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.
The 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.
Could 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. 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 sacrifice. Spiritual authority is the opposite of
natural authority in almost every respect.
Old Testament Influence
Throughout 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 Godís 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.
In 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.
Matthew 27:51). In the New Testament,
God does speak directly to His people. Under this testament, Godís 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.
Godís reasons for removing men as His peopleís 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.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 KJV
17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
18 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
Only 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:
Romans 8:2-4 KJV
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free
from the law of sin and death.
3 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:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk
not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Many 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 Godís 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.
Every 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 Godís Spirit. Knowing that, why allow men to tell you
that this power from God must come through them? Jesus instructed His disciples:
Luke 24:49 KJV
And, 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.
The "power 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 Godís Spirit
alone as our spiritual authority.
Spiritual Authority or Sovereignty
Spiritual authority is the authority of the Holy Spirit that He brings
into our lives. It is spiritual authority.
John 18:36 KJV
Jesus 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.
Jesus explains that His kingdom Ė that over which He reigns Ė is not part of
the kingdoms of this world. He told His disciples, "Neither
shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within
you (Luke 17:21)." Christís 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 oneís
self. True spiritual authority is the authority over self.
The best description of spiritual authority comes from none other than
Matthew 5:38-44 KJV
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
39 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.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let
him have thy cloke also.
41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee
turn not thou away.
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and
hate thine enemy.
44 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.
This 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 Godís 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.
True spiritual authority is foundational. Consider the following
1 Corinthians 3:10 KJV
According 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.
Ephesians 2:19-20 KJV
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens
with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Revelation 21:14 KJV
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names
of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Here 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. True ministry is
foundational rather than sovereign.
Most 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.
To understand the quagmire that results from the contemporary spin on
spiritual authority (i.e., 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.
Most 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 memberís 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.
There 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.
True 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 oneís 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.
There 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.
Accountability 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 personís alcohol or drug problems.
"Accountability" is not about being aware of someoneís problems. True
accountability is invasive. It carries with it the sense of legal
responsibility. Look up the word yourself.
Then 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 otherís
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.
True 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
"Accountability," as defined today, is just another form of contemporary
spiritual authority that usurps Godís 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.
In 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 creature
(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.
Articles by Ron Schwartz