"Authority" of church leadership


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The Catholic and Orthodox tradition have a large history of tracing their roots of each of the bishops and priests back to an apostle or early Church founder. In many denominations there is a sense of hierarchy and accountability in both forming church, pastoring flocks and planting new churches that must filter through the "authority" as to be sanctioned and appropriate.

On the flip side we see sooo many different churches popping up because of the "flavor of the month" trend or because "there isn't a church here that fits my needs" and so anyone can really start up a study-->home church--->buy a building and go for it.

What does God say about this? Is it right to have church hierarchy and order or is it right to do whatever you want? Or both?

I'm personally seen the plus/downs of both in my experience, but I haven't searched thoroughly the Word on this.
Just wanted to acknowledge that I've read this and am giving it some thought. When I have some time, I will also give it some study. Until then, I do not feel "qualified" (as if I ever will be :rolleyes:) or "educated" enough on the subject to comment.

Thanks for posting and look forward to getting some time to dive into this topic.
I honestly hadn't previously given this a great deal of thought, but my initial perception is that there is nothing wrong with people that feel lead to start a church.... starting a church.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20a):

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you

It doesn't sound like he said "Go teach everyone and tell them to stop making churches." Because if you were one of the first Apostles, commanded to go forward and teach me to obey everything you were commanded... that includes repeating the command to teach others to repeat the command of teaching others.

It's supposed to be an unending-cycle, I think.

As for denominational differences, as long as the major tenants are in place... I believe that Jesus said it best when He said, “Do not stop him...for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:50)

Yes, it's difficult when we start debating the differences between pre-/mid-/post-a-millenial tribulations or raptures, or whether you will be damned forever if you are cremated, or whether sprinkling infantile baptism count, etc. Are those differences enough to say that one of us is no longer covered by Jesus' payment of the Blood Covenant? I would think not.

While there is certainly only one "right" answer, I'm not foolish enough to think that there is any denomination that has every single possible stance figured out correctly. There are just too many little "what if" situations/positions/questions that make what I believe slightly different than what anyone else believes.
While not a biblical response in the strict sense, church history is loaded with councils that settled orthodoxy and kept heresy appropriately branded.

Then again, there was the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. That seems to set a precedent for the councils that followed.

Paul seemed to have a bit of command, though not necessarily in a formal sense, with the churches of the age. Same for Peter and John (who straight up called church leaders out in his letter).

On a less biblical/more pragmatic level, I sympathize with the Roman Catholic concern with Luther's work: "Who will make sure that right doctrine is being taught?" I can't help but think that cults would have a harder time gaining any traction (though they would certainly continue to exist) if churches and preachers had to answer to an official and all-governing body.

Then again, I agree with Ser Durruck here: Expansion of the church, starting new fellowships, seems to be the most reasonable cycle. However, I'm very much a proponent of doing so under an existing orthodox banner (be it Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Church of Christ, etc.) for support and accountability.
The difficulty lays in that there are so many existing banners... who approved them? Where did they come from? I'm sure there are a lot of people that would look back and say "that one shouldn't exist...and that one shouldn't exist...." until they're left with only their own denomination.

Although several of those groups (especially the CoC/OCC) leave a lot more "wiggle" room on the issues that don't directly conflict with the statements regarding Jesus' divinity, humanity, sacrifice, resurrection; God's triune nature, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, Creation, and other major positions like that.
What does God say about this? Is it right to have church hierarchy and order or is it right to do whatever you want? Or both?

First, it is always best to establish vocabulary to make sure we're on the same page.

The Church (1577 eÍkklhsiða)
o a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly
* an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating
* the assembly of the Israelites
* any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously
* in a Christian sense​
• an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting
• a company of Christian, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake
• those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body
• the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth
• the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven​

I did some study on "the church," as defined in the Christian sense above, in scripture and here are some things that I have found:

Matthew 18:17 shows that 'the church' has some involvement when a brother or sister in Christ is living in sin. It does not indicate a specific person or office within the church in which to take the matter to, it simply says, 'the church'. Therefore, the church as a whole does have some authority,

Acts 14:23 indicates that men can appoint men within a local church. In addition, it would show that the disciples felt that there should be some kind of leadership in each church. It is also interesting that these elders were basically new converts.

Acts 16:4-5 Indicates that Paul and Timothy delivered to the churches the regulations decided upon by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. This would seem to establish some sort of central governing body for the church in Jerusalem and that Paul felt he needed to convey regulations to all the churches in his care. Acts 15:41 indicates that Paul established or confirmed many churches, so it did not have to be the governing body at Jerusalem that established new churches.

There are several house churches mentioned. It doesn't indicate how they got started, but I would tend to believe it couldn't have been much different than it is today. However, the one major difference I can see between today and then is that you had to be a serious believer to start one then as you would open the doors to persecution, imprisonment, or death. It wasn't a decision made lightly. (Romans 16:1-5; 1 Cor 16:19 at Aquila and Priscillas; Col 4:15-16 at Nymphas; Phm 1:2)

Actually, a few realizations came to me while doing this study.

Getting back to basics as Paul paralleled the marriage of a husband and wife with Christ and the church. Eph 4:23-32. Truly in a marriage, there is no set in stone hierarchy as far a society goes. It's not like at a place of employment where there is usually a boss over a boss over a boss. It's just a man and a woman. Yet, God established a hierarchy of the man being the head. In other words, the man really is only accountable to God. As a brother in Christ, he could be "disciplined" by the church as outlined in Matthew 18. But as the husband, he is the leader.

When we really look at the church in scripture, one thing becomes clear, Christ is the head of the church, just as the husband is to be head of the household.

Acts 2:47 shows us who really increases the church - the Lord.

Acts 20:17-28 shows who really establishes the overseers of the churches - Holy Spirit. Overseer = a superintendent, that is, Christian officer in general charge of a (or the) church (literally or figuratively): - bishop, overseer.

1 Cor 12:28 shows who sets people apart within the church - God

Eph 1:22 shows who is the real head of the church - Christ.

What I've gathered from this is that God is into order. There needs to be someone leading, establishing the rules, and keeping confusion down. There should be elders, decons, teachers, pastors, etc. The church can be held in any kind of location, even in a house. But ultimately, it is God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit that will establish those people, set apart those people, and add to the number in the church.

Bottom line to all of this is, regardless of the denomination or non-denomination, the different doctrines or non-doctrines, Christ builds the church, no one else does. God has brought many beautiful things, and many powerful servants out of the dirty, filthy, most corrupt places in the Bible. I have no doubt that out of the worst denomination or worst doctrine you can think of, God is calling someone right now, despite the work of man.

For those of us who are brother's and sister's in Christ, looking for a good church home? Just like anywhere else, you will have people who are false prophets, false teachers and some who will establish churches on their own. This is why Christ said that we needed to know people by their fruits. Too often, we tend to view the fruits of a pastor by the number of the congregation. But that is not accurate. It is by their fruits in their own personal lives that we should know them. As Paul says, 1 Tim 3:5, if a man can not know how to rule over his own house, how should he care for the church?

What does God say about this?

He [Christ] also is the Head of [His] body, the church; seeing He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from among the dead, so that He alone in everything and in every respect might occupy the chief place [stand first and be preeminent]. (Col 1:18)

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ~ Jesus (Matthew 16:18)

Thanks for the journey through scripture.
Thank you Durrick, Kendrik and Abea. Good answers and research. It's awesome how God works in so many ways and yet He is the same!
Large centralized church government concerns me. It doesn't matter if it is Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist. Anytime a group becomes that large there is a considerable amount of power to be wielded. And the saying "power corrupts" exists for a reason. Consider the wonderful example we have of the Jewish priesthood throughout the New Testament. Instituted by God, corrupted by man.

In addition, when people think their church leaders are being vetted by a higher human authority they tend to become lazy (if they aren't already). They will often just accept what is preached without question. Having any kind of leadership structure in the Church, be it at a local or global scale, does not absolve individual members of the body of Christ from their responsibility to ensure what they are taught matches up with Scripture. A considerable portion of the New Testament is devoted to warnings about false teaching both outside and inside the church.
I honestly hadn't previously given this a great deal of thought, but my initial perception is that there is nothing wrong with people that feel lead to start a church.... starting a church.

I don't know much about this subject either (the Great Commission came to mind too), but I feel that if people preach what is in the Bible, not what they think is in the Bible, then it's okay.

... We only need one Westboro Baptist Church. I'd love to quote Jon Stewart's opinion of that "church", but I'm afraid I can't here, haha.
Just had a thought. Some of the non-denominational churches are still accountable to a governing body. For example, I know of a few churches in my area where the pastor is accountable to a counsel of other pastors from other churches. This would keep him in line with Biblical teaching. The other pastors are a mixed denominational/non-denominational group.

Also, the Assemblies of God has a church planting program where they help individuals plant churches, however, they are not AoG churches, they are non-denominational. They just provide spiritual covering and accountability to the church.

So, even though it may appear that someone has gone off on their own to start up a church, it might not be so.