Influence and Authority

In the coming weeks (at least I hope), I will spend some time putting together a paper on the nature of apostolic authority today. Yes, I believe apostles (and prophets) still exist today. Jesus was the greatest apostle (not Paul), he sent the Spirit to continue the same apostolic work, that Spirit empowers the whole body to walk out their apostolic calling in Christ, and, thus, it only makes sense that Jesus would continue to gift people as apostles to help equip and prepare the church (ala Eph 4:11-16).

Of course, they aren’t called to write canonical Scripture. And they are called in line with the original apostolic gospel-foundation laid by the first apostles. But such a ministry is very much needed, since we very much need the whole of Christ’s ministries in our world today. I share more about what an apostle is here.

Over the past weeks, as I’ve pondered some things that I want to share in this paper, I also had a brief discussion with a recent church leader about the nature of apostolic authority. I mentioned the paper to him, as he works with a network of churches similar to the one I work with, also believing apostles are needed today. And he made an interesting comment, one where he was recognising a fault. It went something like this.

In today’s world, authority is more about influence.

In all of this, it has got me thinking a lot about the difference between these 2 words: authority and influence.

I definitely believe there are connections between the two, but also dissimilarities.

To be honest, I’m not sure of a good and proper definition of authority, in the sense of a one-sentence statement. But I am well aware that this word is a not-so-popular term today. It leaves us thinking, at least in the church, of hierarchical structures sending out orders of what everyone must do, or else there are consequences. We think of high-strucutred clergy lording things over the weak and defenseless. For some who were part of the shepherding movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s, such a word like authority fills one with strong emotions and even worse.

Authority.

On my little dictionary widget on my laptop, the first definition given begins with these words: the power or right to give orders. Hmmm. Yeah, people don’t like that today.

But maybe that isn’t the best definition.

Let me come back to authority in just a moment.

Influence.

As I have suggested, it can be (and must be) distinguished from authority. Of course, those who have been given authority might influence us. But those who influence us might not have authority.

For example, Batman might influence a young kid (or adult!), but the parents of the child have the authority in that child’s life. Of course, authority could be granted by the child to Batman (in some manner, at least). But, normally, Batman simply influences a child in the way he/she might play, interact, etc. Batman does not become the child’s authority figure.

What is interesting to realise is that both influence and authority have to be granted (you might say, even earned). No one can force influence or authority. I don’t want to walk down the well-worn path of Calvinism vs Arminianism, but I don’t believe God even forces His own authority, lest we become simple robots. He is sovereign and He will ultimately show His authority to right all wrongs one day. But God draws people to submit to His authority. This is because they have seen how good and compassionate and gracious and strong and amazing He is. And even when He exerts His sovereignty in the end over all things, there will still be those who have not submitted, thus receiving the justice deserved as God rights all injustice.

I’ll give you an example in my life.

There are people who have influenced me theologically – N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight might be two of the foremost. When I read their works, I find myself being influenced by their teaching and, thus, agreeing with them. Whether one agrees with their theological take on things, at least recognise that they influence people, like me. Such could be said for others around the writings of a C.S. Lewis or John Piper or Wayne Grudem or F.F. Bruce or Darrell Bock, etc al.

But neither of these two guys, Wright or McKnight, have authority in my life. None whatsoever. And I don’t think they would be bothered to know that. They don’t want such.

Rather, the God-given authority in my life are the leaders around me, the local elders in my congregation and, even more, the apostolic team within our network of churches (this is a term we use to describe those who have apostolic and prophetic ministries who work amongst our churches, those people practically functioning like a Paul & Barnabas as we read the book of Acts).

So I might agree with and appreciate a particular teaching of N.T. Wright, such as the new perspective on justification. Yet I still have to keep this submitted to those in authority in my life. And this is true whether I like it or not. I could feed on N.T. Wright all day long, talking with Wright-arians around the world, and build up a whole club (and some do so). But, in the end, Wright has no authority in my life. It’s just as plain and simple as that.

Of course, this could create all kinds of problems in certain situations. But it a) doesn’t have to and b) really isn’t supposed to. I know it’s not as simple as that, and we have been good at splintering the church over issues ever since things were set in motion some 494 years ago with the Reformation. But I hope you can at least see there is a difference between influence and authority.

Of course, those in our lives with authority will have influence, maybe the greatest of influence overall. Or I believe they should. But those who influence us do not necessarily have authority in our lives. And we need to guard against opening such doors to whomever.

You see, on the one hand, some hate the idea of authority because a) we have incredibly bad concepts about authority and b) those in authority have abused it. But on the other, some will allow people to have authority in their lives that they shouldn’t allow for. These people could have positive influence, but should have never been granted an avenue of authority. For example, if I want Scot McKnight to have authority in my life, then some things will need to drastically change in my life, my church’s life, and in McKnight’s life. But that is not going to happen. It’s not what God has set up.

Still, there is a whole different side of things to address. Because some people are fearful of authority, they will only allow a certain level of influence from others (church leaders, parents, spouse boss, etc), but they would never grant them the open door to be an authority figure in their lives.

No way, Jose. It doesn’t work that way in the modern-day, 21st century. I need to do what I need to do to do what I need to do. Thank you very much, though. No let me on my merry little way.

So we love influence today, from all over the place. It is part of our current eclectic world. Hey, come live in Brussels where all nations of the world have descended upon one city. And I don’t think there is anything inherently evil to such globalisation of the world. But we obviously must be careful, be willing to guard against an everything-goes mentality.

And one great way to help with this is to recognise authority, God-given authority, and allow for such in our lives. Such is not a bad word. I am very convinced God designed it this way, in that He designed it that certain people have more than some nice influence in our lives through their ideas. He meant actual authority, and with that, along comes submission.

Uh oh, another bad word!

But authority cannot be forced. It simply cannot. It must be won.

How is it won?

Just take a peek at the greatest authority figure that ever walked planet earth. Jesus.

At the last dinner with his closest friends, those of which 11 had already recognised his authority (at least as best they could to that point), we read these words about Jesus:

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)

This is how the imprint of God, the divine Son who came to show the Father, lived out his authority. And it would get even worse for him at the cross, winning his authoritative rule over all heaven and earth, including that of his bride, through his own submission to the Father’s plan. Interesting view into what real authority and submission looks like.

So authority does exist. It just has to be expressed first and foremost through servant-hearted care – like that existing between a true father and son. And we can trust the authoritative Son because we know he loves, cares for and still washes our feet. The same stands true today as he rules over all heaven and earth.

There is no guarantee that, as we pour ourselves out in service of those given to us, we will garner authority in their lives. It can only be given by God as both parties are committed to the purpose of God being worked out. So, as a shepherd-elder in my local church, I cannot force people to submit to me. They are, no doubt, called to such (from a godly and healthy perspective). It’s simply written in the structure of the way God has established His own rule in the local church-ekklesia context. But I cannot make it happen. I can only get on with serving, caring, compassionate wisdom, pouring out my life for the sheep. If they respond to my authority, they are seeing what God has designed.

But most people don’t even realise what authority is all about. It’s influence and that is it. Say nice things that I enjoy hearing. Occasionally you might challenge me, but I don’t really have to listen to it if I don’t feel like it. You are simply an influence in my life, and there it stops. You have no right of authority.

Yet, unfortunately, that’s not how God designed it. At all.

But if we don’t recognise authority, proper authority design, we will miss out on much of the blessings of what God desires for His people. I mean, we will still feel nice tingles as we walk around with the motto of ‘me, Jesus and my Bible’. But Jesus will look at such a mission statement and weep.

In all, just because something has been abused, this does not make the thing wrong in itself. It just means the object was wrongly used and we need to be stirred towards a godly and healthy focus. Authority has been abused. But there is such a thing as God-given authority – yes, starting with Jesus, but also flowing into the gifted people-ministries that God has given to help shape and build up and equip and mature His body.

So we, no doubt, need a fresh perspective on authority today. It’s different from simple influence. It’s more than appreciating a few people’s ideas. It calls for submitting our lives to those God has put around us to speak into our lives. If such doesn’t exist, we are missing out on something very dear to the heart of God. Of course, it’s a challenge. But well worth the journey.

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10 thoughts on “Influence and Authority

  1. Finally found something that I disagree with you on. 🙂

    While I believe that all gifts still are active today, I don’t agree with the concept of apostolic authority, either then or now. We have created this term due to our tendency to vault people with good things to say to places of authority. The apostles of Jesus’ time were servant-teachers, nothing more. It was the CHURCH who made them into authority figures. Peter and Paul did not see themselves as some grand revealers of theology to be followed. They just said what they thought seemed best to them as they “worked out” their own salvation with the Spirit within them, a Spirit no greater or less than the Spirit given to any of us. Did they have good thoughts/ideas? Yes, a majority of the time. Did they have ideas/concepts/comments borne of their own bias/background/training? Yes, of course. They were normal men, with normal tendencies to color the truth with their own particular strokes, based on their own life journey. It is the CHURCH that has taken ALL of their thoughts and cannonized them as “the ultimate truth and doctrine”. I’m sure they would be appalled at how rigidly we follow their suggestions written to struggling churches and hold them as dear as the words of Christ himself — all in the name of apostolic authority. They never claimed to have any authority, and neither should anyone today. We are all attempting to use our gifts/talents/abilities/background/ideas — our very SELVES — to best serve our redeemer by serving each other. We have different giftedness. Those gifts may include some innate ability to “lead” — a particular charisma. But that ability should be viewed as much as a hindrance as a help, for it can easily be a stumbling block to true servanthood, which we are ALL called to. We have mistakenly turned giftedness into authority. A teacher is not an authority — they are a good communicator. A pastor is not an authority — he is a good counselor/protector, loving on the saints around him. Some teachers stink as pastors, and vice versa. But neither should be viewed as an authority. All of us answer to only one authority — Christ, through the Spirit. To give authority to ANY man is to invite disaster both to yourself and to the one you are placing yourself under.

  2. Ken –

    I am not sure if you have had bad experiences with leadership in the past. Maybe not, maybe so. But there are a few points to bring out:

    1. To say authority doesn’t exist is an authoritative statement itself, claiming what is our authority.
    2. I agree that leadership and authority is founded upon servanthood. That was one major point in my article.
    3. I agree that apostolic authority, as is usually spoken of by Christians, does not follow in accordance with what apostolic authority or leadership authority is all about centred in Christ.
    4. I think there is much more fluidity in the role of Scripture, church tradition, current church leadership, current church body, etc, as to the outworking of God’s authority in our lives. They all work together.
    5. I agree that we, at times, forget the setting of which the first apostles spoke into with their letters, into specific situations and they were not necessarily imagining theological propositions and practices to be laid out for each and every situation and the church for all time. The letters were very specific and so we have to be careful of building up this theological treatise of propositions on how to do everything.
    6. Having said that, I don’t think they were simply offering their ideas. Even if a canon of Scripture was beyond what they fully imagined (though maybe 2 Pet 3:15-16 suggests some kind of NT authoritative writings were being formulated at some point), they were still Spirit-empowered apostles helping to lay foundations and establish the church on those sure foundations, being also equippers and shepherds.
    7. To say the apostles never claimed authority in the NT is to miss some vital statements. For example, see 1 Cor 14:37-38; 2 Cor 13:10; 1 Thess 2:6; Tit 2:15; Jude 1:8; etc.
    8. Shepherds tend to carry authority over the life of the sheep they shepherd. It’s simply intrinsic to the calling, both naturally and in the church. Ask Jesus about his shepherding role.
    9. I believe authority is a very much misunderstood word. It starts at a base foundation of serving and caring for those whom God has given to us. We cannot force such authority. It must be granted via permission (maybe not in a formal permission, but still granted between two).
    10. God even says gov’t has authority – Rom 13.

    I very much believe authority is a reality of God’s kingdom, starting with Christ, but also within leadership of the church. I don’t have authority over you because a) God has not given it to me and b) you have granted me such permission. But authority does (or should) exist. Now we just need to start at the base of serving and washing feet, caring wisely and compassionately for those God gives us (whether a few or a few thousand).

    • Yes, I have had some bad experiences with putting too much faith in my pastor, something that many people do. And when that pastor “fails”, their faith is shaken or worse. Eventually, I came to accept him as a fallen man, just as broken and messed up as myself. I should have never put him on the pedestal to begin with.

      I’ll address some of your points.

      1. I didn’t say authority didn’t exist, but that it exists in only one person, the Good Shepherd, Jesus. (More on this later.)

      2. Yes, we agree on this.

      3. Correct. It has been corrupted, and this corruption didn’t start too long after the founding of the church. People will always gravitate to following people (something tangible) rather than Christ (something nebulous). It’s just human nature.

      4. True. We can’t just say “abolish all leadership” and be taken seriously. But I believe we should change people’s focus from people to Christ.

      5. Exactly. Books and books have been written on the great authority of the Pauline letters in matters of just about every life circumstance. I do not think they were intended for this purpose.

      6. Yes, they were considered “the experts” having spent time with Christ or (in Paul’s case) been given “authentication” via Ananias. Therefore, their word was given greater value. Whether this was a good thing or not, I’m not so sure. Maybe other voices of wisdom were shut out. Remember there was a great deal of “I’m from him. Well, I’m from him.” going on. People were already polarizing by leaders into groups. It was something Paul didn’t want them to do, but I don’t think His words were heeded.

      7. The apostles did not claim authority, even if they COULD have. As to each verse:
      1 Cor 13:37-38: If you suggest this verse is Paul claiming his authority, than you also must believe that woman should indeed be silent in church. I think most people agree this edict was driven more from Jewish practice and tradition than from the Spirit. If he WAS claiming authority in this matter, he was clearly wrong to do so. So this would be an example of what NOT to do. This is NOT one of Paul’s finer moments.
      2 Cor 13:10 Here Paul says he doesn’t WANT to take authority and get down on them. In 12:21 he says that if sin remains when he arrives he will be ashamed and saddened for them. That is his true demeaner toward their situation. He’s telling them he doesn’t WANT the job of being their judge, but to be a builder, therefore please shape up before I get there.
      I Thes 2:7: Again he says we DIDN’T impose authority, because that’s not the right way to be a servant teacher. Sure, they COULD HAVE said “Hey, I have the authority of Christ.”, but they DIDN’T, because it’s not right to do so.
      Titus 2:15: Paul tells Titus here to tell the truths of Jesus as a command, with confidence. He’s not telling him to be their “leader”, but to be confident in his teaching, even though he was a young teacher among older congregants who tended to look down on him because of his age.
      Jude 1:8: Authority should really be translated “Lordship”. It’s saying these people reject Jesus as their Lord. They become their own masters, and masters over other weaker minded Christians. If anything, it’s a warning AGAINST authority (except that of Christ).
      Human church leadership is a human contruct. It has no basis in scripture. Please feel free to find me some more examples.

      8. Yes, Jesus is THE Shepherd. Even when he asked Peter to “feed His lambs”, he didn’t GIVE the lambs to Peter as a shepherd, just told Him to feed (teach) them. Jesus is the ONLY shepherd, he will never “farm out” his sheep to a hireling. If a paster/teacher thinks of the sheep has HIS flock, he is already treading dangerous ground and may do the sheep damage inadvertantly.

      9. It should not be taken OR granted. We should have no master over us accept Christ. In Heaven this is the way it will be in God’s kingdom. If you truly believe the kingdom has already been established (and I know you do), why would you believe the leadership structure is different here on earth than it will be in heaven? Think about it.

      10. The government has authority over our physical bodies, not our hearts. If they try to step over those bounds, we are immediately free of their authority. They are only in authority to protect us physically here on earth. Governmental authority structures are man’s way of acheiving order out of chaos. Certainly you don’t think it’s God’s way, too?

      I’ll finish with what I think is my most compelling argument from above. If we don’t believe there will be human leadership in heaven (and I don’t think anyone does), why would we think it should be that way on earth? Christ’s role as our leader is the same now as it will be then. One God, ONE master, one faith, one birth.

      • Scott,

        I would completely disagree with your whole premise here, and we can see that even in the Godhead, and certainly incarnationally – in the economy of salvation, that there is some aspect to hierarchy and even subordination with Christ on earth, to the Father. Note, within the Godhead even before the Incarnation, the aspect with many about the monarchy of the Father in the Godhead, Athanasius, etc. And we can note that there appears to be hierarchy in the angelic host. I will not press this, but you get the picture.

  3. Scott: We are not gonna get to far here, we both have just different presuppositions, and certainly different theological views. I just wanted to say “nein” on this for the sake of some of the readers, who could at least hear that even within the Godhead, there is an element of hierarchy!

    • And why should the hierarchy of the Godhead (and I could argue that there is very little material to support this — but I’ll let it go for sake of this argument) translate into hierarchy of leadership here on earth? God is over the Father. Christ is over the church, in it’s entirety. Why should there be MORE than that structure? Because MAN likes structure. Likes to be lorded over. That’s why Israel wanted a king when God wanted just judges — people to help explain God’s point of view in disputes. The judges worked well, but they weren’t enough for the people. They wanted to be RULED. And still today, we want someone to look up to, to “idolize”. But it was never intended to be this way. The church was meant to be the ultimate anti-religion, anti-establishment entity. But almost immediately it began to fractionalize, and over what? PEOPLE! “I’m from Paul!”, “I’m from Apollis!”, “I’m from Christ!”. People wanted someone to identify with. Someone they could see and touch, preferably. Today we do the same thing. Just the names are different. It’s leadership in the church that has led to every denomination we have today. Leaders who broke off to form their own ‘brand’ of Christianity. I’m sorry, but leadership hierarchy in the church is just wrong, and leads to nothing but trouble for the flock, and the “leaders”.

      • Ken,

        This really centres around the whole reality of God’s essence or order! Of course we don’t share in his essence, but we can share in His energy. And here God is the God of order and ordering relation, in ontology and being. And here we can see in the great Trinity of God, that God is both one and triune! It is from here, i.e. the Godhead itself, that we can see the great life and love of God: The Father, the first person, the prosopon and persona of the Godhead, the monarchal and regal, the eternal source of the Godhead! From Whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from Whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally! And again it is from God that both order and creation also flow! So God has a will and order in His own being, and also in His creation!

  4. Ken –

    I will look to possibly share more thoughts later, but we cannot let bad experiences veer us away from God’s design. Think of all the people who said, “I don’t want to be a Christian because of Christians.” It is sad, but it is still not an excuse. Abuse and misuse should never lead us to no use.

    In all, Christ-like leadership, true godly leadership after the heart of Christ, will lead properly. Not perfectly, but still properly, because when they are not perfect they will repent and look for reconciliation. Leadership is not to provide concrete, unmovable walls, but rather caring and wise parameters. It’s a very good thing.

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