A Time to Define “Authority” in Christianity

Some call it “spiritual authority” and others simply call it “authority.” But within Christianity, many Christians view heirarchy as an integral part of their faith. It’s a big deal.

There appear to be different interpretations of what this actually is. I haven’t figured out what the mainstream definition is. I’m not sure there even is one. But the general consensus seems to be that it’s something given by God to some people and not to others. After that, thoughts about it are mixed.

But it’s important. And it’s said to exist. Because God gives it… Right?

I still don’t see it.

A Time To Question Authority was not generally received well. I can almost feel some people stiffening up at the horror of it all. But these are important questions, and I have yet to hear answers.

Since it appears that I’m vehemently railing against this thing that people view as so dear to their hearts, it’s understandable that people might dismiss me, or be super annoyed with me, or think of me as “deceived.” 

I get it.

Let’s talk about this more. We need to. Let’s ask MORE questions. Let’s love each other and treat each other with dignity, even if we disagree.

While it’s true that I don’t think spiritual authority exists, it also seems that I haven’t defined what I’m talking about. So, I would like to explain what I mean when I say “authority” in the context of the church.

At least then if we disagree, there’s clarity on WHAT we disagree about.

Authority, by definition, is the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

There is a difference between having authority over a program, being an authority on a subject, and having authority over a PERSON.

1. Having authority over a program

This kind of authority is operational, and looks like being in charge of church functions.

It looks like someone deciding which songs to sing on Sunday morning.  

It looks like a committee that makes final decision about whether or not to buy new carpet, what kind of carpet, what colour, using the church funds. 

It looks like a person making a final call as to which movie will be shown on Friday Family Fun night at church.

These are decisions about programs. In our modern world, in our culture, this is how the church is run.

This is good thing. It helps to keep organizations running smoothly. When we utilize God-given gifts, such as leadership or hospitality or administrative strengths, that’s a smart way to do things.

2. Being an authority on a subject

Paul had the authority to state and define the Gospel message. What he wrote was scripture. Paul even referred to himself as “keeping with the authority the Lord gave me, for building up and not for tearing down.” (1 Cor 13:10)

The REST of us, ALL of us, are able to pull from what has already been written and to study it. We are able draw on it and apply it to our lives. We are able to seek God’s character and His heart. We are able to look to the Holy Spirit as our helper and teacher in discerning scripture and in leading us.

We choose others who we trust, to teach us more about scripture. There are a few people in my life who I view as an authority on one subject or another when it comes to scriptures. Pastors are a good example of this.

Even in the early Church, leaders were people who were well known within the community, who were good examples of how to live a life of faith. They were wise in their dealings with others, and they were knowledgeable about the scriptures. They garnered respect.

Our pastors and leaders have a gifting to do what they do. They bear great burdens on behalf of those they care for. Many of them serve others, and it’s important that we honour this. We honour because it’s a heart position we choose to adopt.

This is a good thing. People each carry their own levels of knowledge and wisdom in certain areas. We choose who we listen to in this regard. We place weight on their words based on our own free will. We can learn a lot from each other.

3. Having authority over a person

The church is a voluntary organization. We choose to participate or not.

We are allowed to choose whether we want to sit down or stand up or kneel or sing at all during Sunday morning worship.

Does the one who chose the songs have the authority to cause others to worship using those songs?


Does the one who chose the Friday Family Fun Night movie have the ability to force people to show up and watch it?

Of course not.

Being on a committee or a board, or a leader in charge of systems and programs does not give anyone authority over another person. Even those who are in these positions choose to be out of their own free will.

Standing behind a pulpit and preaching a sermon makes someone an authority on a subject. We listen and we discern. But how does being a pastor of a church give someone authority over another person? In what way does standing behind a pulpit and preaching a sermon give someone authority? What do they have authority to do?

Can a pastor encourage or suggest that a person to take on a certain role or duty within the church?

Yes they can.

But can that pastor then turn around and force that person to take on this role or duty?

What about how and when we choose to learn? How and where we choose to share our faith, and with whom? 

What about the convictions of our hearts?

Can ANYONE determine these things for us?

In order for authority of one person over another to exist, there needs to be something to enforce, and a righteous mechanism to enforce it. Authority, by definition, demands and enforces obedience.

This type of authority does not exist in God’s upside down Kingdom. It does not exist in churches and it does not exist in marriage. We each have the ability and responsibility to discern what we hear, read, experience, etc. before God. And we are are each individually accountable for our choices.

Spiritual abuse happens when someone within the church attempts to enforce authority of one person over another.

Domestic abuse happens when a husband attempts to enforce authority over his wife.

The truth is that ultimately, it is up to each person to decide the direction of their lives, how God is leading them. It is up to each person to choose how they manage their time, and how many responsibilities they would like to take on at any given moment in their lives.

We are allowed to choose whether or not we go to church on Sunday. We have the choice to agree and to disagree with what is being preached behind the pulpit. We are allowed to have questions about this. We SHOULD BE taking any sermon we hear (in person OR online) and article we read, and discerning it before God.

If we as Christians are bowing our entire beings to God at any given time, we will come together and create a harmonious balance. Because that’s what the fruit of the spirit does; that’s where mutual submission grows.

Why is it that we think there’s a need for extra “just to be sure” authority on earth to make sure that happens?

7 thoughts on “A Time to Define “Authority” in Christianity

Add yours

  1. Jesus was pretty clear on that thought – “you are all brothers” (same level). “the one who wants to be the leader has to be the servant who takes orders.” He even used himself as the example, though being in nature, God, he came as servant who traveled from town to town, healing the sick and putting the needs of others first. He wouldn’t recognize “authority” as it’s taught today. It’s certainly not the genuine article. The rule seems to be that we ought to lay down any power we might have over others – not pull rank.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “The rule seems to be that we ought to lay down any power we might have over others – not pull rank.”

      I love how you put that!

      When human beings walk around damaged, it often seems to stem from someone forcing their will onto somebody else. It goes against creation. We are made to be free.


    1. Thank you! Are you referring to having mentors? Perhaps those who bring someone to the Lord?

      I think that having influencers in our lives is important. We can learn a lot from those who have wisdom, experience, and a heart for God.

      People sometimes attach the idea of submission to the idea of authority. But submission is a heart stance and attitude we choose to adopt towards others – all the others. We are meant to live in community, and that’s a part of it. And we can choose to be yielding people without subscribing to the idea of heirarchy.

      Liked by 1 person

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