We’ve been joined to the Lord, have become one spirit with him, and have now basically become the fourth person of the Trinity. Jesus said in John 17 that we would be one with him and with his Father as he and the Father are one. I didn’t make that up. It’s straight outta the Bible. This applies to all those who believe the gospel.
So… who’s spiritual authoritah should we submit to? If we are joint heirs with Christ, if all things belong to us, if we carry his literal authority on earth, what authority do we not have?
If you’ve ever spent time around the Charismatic world, you’ve surely heard the demand that, to be really right with God, to be really walking in his purposes, you need to “submit to authority.” You may have heard things like, “You need a spiritual covering,” or, “To have authority, you must be under authority!” I agree with those statements, but that’s because I understand their meaning way differently than those people do.
Some talk about five fold ministers as God’s designated authoritah which everybody needs to submit to. Okay… but what does that mean? We’ve gotten the Lord’s model of authority completely mixed up with the world’s model. The Lord’s model looks like Jesus… who humbled himself, taking on a form with “no beauty that we should desire him,” identifying with us at our lowest level, taking our guilt and shame upon himself, becoming the one who was wrong so we could be right when we were actually wrong, serving, washing feet, laying down his life for us.
The world’s model of authority looks more like a bossy corporate executive, like say… the Donald on The Apprentice screaming “You’re FIRED!” Our typical model of authority stands head and shoulders above us (or at least maintains that image), and if any of us start growing, it pushes us back down to keep us in order. Our standard idea of authoritah is something “over us,” holding us down, keeping us in check from stepping outside the lines it has determined for us.
It’s the loudest, rudest guy in the room, whose might makes right and who probably got where he is by stepping on someone. The traditional church’s model is based on a belief that people are untrustworthy by nature and need their freedoms restricted, that they need someone to control them so they won’t get out of line. Cartman (of South Park fame) shows us what this may look like.
Jesus turned that whole model on it’s head. Rather than dominating people with an organization’s visions and agendas, he laid down his own agenda and his own ministry for the people, to help them follow the dreams and desires of their hearts. He gave us the ultimate endorsement of belief in what is in our own hearts, freeing us from the laws and restrictions meant to control our behavior. (You have been released from the Law through the death of Christ -Romans 7:6.)
The ultimate spiritual authoritah thought it was better for us to just be ourselves from our hearts rather than to have an outside structure telling us what to do. Rather than demanding conformity to a cookie cutter image, he freed us to blossom into our uniqueness.
Jesus contrasted his model of authority with the world’s in Matthew 20:25-26, “The rulers of the heathen lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you. Instead, whoever would become great among you must become your servant.”
What many seem to miss is that Jesus said plainly here that we are not to exercise authoritah over one another. Jesus did not say that we are to have a “servant’s heart” while we exercise authoritah over one another. He said that we are not to do it at all.
Authority in Christ is exercised over the kingdom of darkness, not exercised over people. It serves people. It is exercised under people for the sake of supporting them rather than being exercised over them to control them.
In Matthew 23:6-10, Jesus once again warns against hierarchical, authoritarian relationships in spiritual communities, speaking of the pharisees, “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”
We’ve tried gathering around fathers before. It was called “the papacy,” and it didn’t work. (Pope means “father.”) Instead, we are meant to gather around the Father.
What Real Authority Does:
Real spiritual authority doesn’t boss you around, but comes underneath you and sacrificially serves you.
Real spiritual authority doesn’t demand that you think or believe in a certain predetermined theology, but helps you walk out your own process of discovering truth.
Real spiritual authority doesn’t try to convince you that they know best what God is really saying to you, but tries to convince you to depend on hearing the Lord for yourself.
Real spiritual authority doesn’t boast in how spiritual they are to try and convince you that you need them to teach you, but tries to convince you of how spiritual you are and that “you have an anointing from the Holy One and… have no need that anyone teach you.” -1 John 2:20-27.
Real spiritual authority doesn’t try to impose a parent-child relationship upon you, trying to impose a hierarchical system of command and obey where you need their permission before stepping out, but encourages you to walk in your own authority and to step out in your own authority.
Real spiritual authority doesn’t forbid people from ministering who aren’t under their umbrella, but like Jesus in Mark 9:48, in the case of the man found casting out demons outside their group, says, “Do not forbid him.”
Real spiritual authority doesn’t try to be the center of God’s purposes in a town or region, but tries to help everyone else be the center of God’s purposes in a town or region.
Real spiritual authority liberates you from outside controls rather than putting you in bondage again.
So, yes, we do need to submit to spiritual authority… but this means something opposite from what the Charismatics meant when they said it.
Some talk about an apostolic model of authoritah. Was Paul a good example of apostolic authority? When his authority was questioned by “super apostles” among the Corinthians, he pointed to his weaknesses as the best evidence of his apostleship. He didn’t claim to be an apostle based upon his popularity, his wealth, or his public speaking skills. Instead, he pointed to his often earthly poverty, his poor reputation as “the off-scouring of all things,” his suffering, and his reliance upon the power of Holy Spirit despite his poor presentation skills.
I’ve heard people teach about apostles today, and what I’ve typically heard has made it sound like apostolic authoritah needs to look like Bill Johnson, Che Ahn, or Randy Clark (or… the Donald?). I’m sure most of those guys are probably apostles and/or pastors, but I tend to think their highly visible corporate position and widespread prestige is the exception rather than the norm.
Is kingdom authority really based on how big your church network is, how big your name is, and how many book deals you get? If so, Paul himself would have been disqualified at times. He began as one whom the Christians kept their distance from, then became more recognized, then went back into obscurity later in his ministry, writing that all had forsaken him except just a few, and that even the very churches he started had left him. Jesus himself ended his life with no organization or network and with very few supporters.
Some say the apostolic is about networking among the who’s who… and that’s probably the emphasis for you if you are an administrator. If you’re more of a service motivation, then it’s more about moving in the miraculous and in authority over the demonic without grasping for attention, since the service motivation is the one which emphasizes those things the most. If you’re a teaching motivation, it’s more about producing life changing teachings. A prophetic/perceiver motivation will likely make it more about having cutting edge revelation, and a mercy motivation will likely see it as stewarding the atmosphere of heaven and making people feel loved. An exhorter motivation will likely see it as being about reaching and influencing large numbers of people, and so on. We tend to see these things through our own narrow perspectives.
A fivefold pastor, for instance, is not a pastor because they are a professional “pastor” of a church, but because they are gifted in such a way as to shepherd and nurture people, to equip them into maturity by doing so, and are walking in that gifting. “Submitting to their authority” is merely a matter of recognizing what God is doing in them and receiving it. It’s just allowing them to love you.
If real spiritual authority looks like Jesus, then real authority looks like someone born in a barn, who grew up in the ghetto and spoke ebonics, who was violently opposed and cast out by the religious systems of his day. He carried not only a stigma of heresy over his ministry, but a stigma of sexual perversion.
A bastard birth was taken very seriously in those days, and the Pharisees brought this up to Jesus repeatedly, such as with the woman caught in adultery. It says they came to tempt him when they asked him, “Moses says such should be stoned… but what do you say?” Later, after he told them their father was the Devil, they retorted back, “We know who our father is, we were not born of fornication.” He would have been considered unfit to enter into the presence of God for multiple generations to come due to the defilement of what were believed to be his birth circumstances.
If real spiritual authority looks like the people Jesus sent, then it looks like the unknowns and unlikelies, the prostitutes, the anarchists, the foul mouthed blue collar workers who had failed morally under stress in the past (aka Peter), and the tax collectors/liberal ACLU lawyers.
For some reason he seemed to pass over the upstanding rich young rulers and the prestigious, whitewashed scribes and pharisees for the sake of sending out the scandalous ones. He favored the poor above the rich, and in Luke 16:15 he said, “That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
In Jesus’ day, submitting to true spiritual authority meant that you would be blacklisted by the widely recognized leaders and banned from the synagogues.
What about the Bible verses so often used to club people into submission? Let’s look at a couple:
Let’s start with the ol’ standard, Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Case closed right? Obey your leaders who watch over your souls. Command and obey relationships in church are endorsed by scripture… until you look at the original language a bit.
The root of the word translated “obey” there (“peitho,” Strongs# G3982) is much more often translated as, “be persuadable.” “Be persuadable,” is different than, “obey,” although “obey” fits much better with the theologies of the institutions behind most translations (Church of England, etc.).
Another verse I’ve heard used to club people who don’t “respect authoritah” right in the groin is Jude 7-8, “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.” (NASB).
I’ve heard this one used to say that people who “reject authority” (supposedly meaning hierarchical church systems) are totally out of control morally, sexually perverse, under wrath like Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.
This even goes on in the next verse to appear to be associated with spiritual warfare, that these people take authority over the Devil inappropriately when they should only ever say, “the Lord rebuke you.” This is really what I’ve heard people teach.
The word translated there as “angelic majesties” however, is “doxas,” meaning “glories” (Strongs# G1391). Nowhere else is this word translated “angelic majesties” as if it spoke of some sort of high spiritual being, but speaks of the nature of God, or of the act of worshiping or exalting God. This verse is talking about those who revile the nature of God, who revile “glory.” In no way is this saying that it is rebellious to know your authority in Christ and to exercise it over any and all levels of the demonic.
It seems though, that there is a common perspective taught in the church world, one which would like us to believe that we should respect the Devil’s authoritah over us, that we should submit to demonic authoritah, that we generally need to submit to religious control, oppression, and judgment, that to do otherwise is to be rebellious, and next to being grossly immoral.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given unto me.” That doesn’t leave any authority for the Devil, any of his principalities or powers, or any of his religious systems. In Luke 10:19, he says, “Behold, I give you authority over all the power of the enemy.” That doesn’t just mean some. The real authoritah in heaven and earth belongs to those who believe. Jesus has given it to us. It doesn’t belong to something which would like to oppress us and hold us down.