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 Leadership and Authority


In the kingdom of heaven, the concept of authority and greatness is radically different from that which we might conclude from observing the affairs of the secular world.  They are at opposite ends of the pole.

At least on two occasions Jesus’ disciples disputed who would be greatest among them.  At that time they had a great deal to learn.  So do most of we present day disciples.  Jesus responded as follows:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called “Benefactors”.  But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.  For who is greater the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at the table?      Luke 22: 25-27

Will the kingdom of heaven follow the pattern of the secular world in regard to authority?

Certainly not!  They are not to lord it over or exercise authority over one another.


What does  “to exercise lordship over” or “to lord it over” mean?

The lexicon states the meaning is  “to be the Lord of,” “to rule over” or “have dominion over.”  Remember Jesus said that this was not to happen among His disciples.


W hat does “exercise authority over” mean?

To “exercise authority over” means “to have power or authority over” “to use power.”  The use of power or force is not permitted in our relations with one another.  Can any one who regards the word of God seriously, believe that Jesus is emphasizing  “rulership” instead of “servanthood”?  No, Jesus is promoting the servant-leaderconcept.


Is the benevolent use of force permitted?

No there are to be no such “benefactors” among the disciples.


What is the measure of greatness in the kingdom?

Greatness is achieved by service.  The leader is to be the servant.  This is so contrary to our normal view that it is very difficult to accept.  Those who assume leadership is exercising authority have missed the point.  

Thus the last shall be first, and the first last.    Matthew 20: 16


Would anyone dare to be called, “your eminence” in light of this passage?

Certainly not.  Christ is the preeminent One; we are brethren.

Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.    Matthew 18: 4


In the kingdom of heaven, what is the mark of greatness?

Humility.  Only the humble should be in position of leadership.  The true leader does not exalt himself, nor does he need to do so to fulfill his role.

But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.  And do not be called leaders; for one is your Leader; that is Christ.  But the greatest among you shall be your servant.  And whoever exalts himself shall be humbles; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.  Matthew 23: 8-12


What prompts this discourse by Jesus?

Jesus is commenting on the practices of the Pharisees and scribes who have taken the chair of Moses.   They rightfully instruct in regard to God’s will but they are motivated by the desire to be noticed by men.  They love the places of honor and the respectful greetings.


What principle is the Lord enunciating?

Don’t be called by titles that set you apart from your brothers; in principle don’t wear clothing that identifies you as God’s envoy.  In our everyday parlance, don’t be called pope, cardinal, bishop, archbishop, father, pastor or reverend.  We are brethren.  Don’t wear special garb that sets you apart.  Christ is our Leader, Christ is our Master, Christ is our Teacher and God id our Father.  We serve one another.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.    Matthew28: 18

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.   Ephesians 1: 22, 23


Who has all authority? Is any left over for His servants?

Christ has all authority.


Did He delegate authority to others?

No, Christ gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelist, some as pastors and teachers.  He appointed to a work, to a responsibility not to a position to exercise authority.


But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles  lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve , and to give His life a ransom for many.   Matthew 20: 25-28


What prompted this statement by Jesus?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee asked that her two sons might sit on His right and left hand in His kingdom.  The motivating factor was pride.


How do the rulers of the Gentiles function?


Who has all authority over the body of Christ, the church?

Christ is the one head; He has all authority.  He, as far as I can tell, has not given any man authority over another.  We shall look at other passages later that are thought to give authority to others.  Please note, Jesus said, “It is not so among you.”


How does Jesus establish the “slave concept” of leadership?


What is the word Jesus uses to describe those who would be first?

Servant or slave.  Does this word connote authority and power?  I think not.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.    1 Peter 5: 1-3


Is the elder, the pastor, the bishop an exempt class? Has God appointed these to exercise authority?

No, He has not.  They are to exercise oversight but not by lording it over those in their charge.  This is the same admonition that Jesus gave to His disciples.  Elder don’t lord it over others.  The idea is shepherd- flock, leader-follower.


How then if not by authority as elders do they exercise oversight?

Elders exercise oversight by being examples to the flock.  This is important; many people don’t get it, but elders exercise oversight by example.


Why is the model of the eastern shepherd, as opposed to the western shepherd, important to understand?

In the east, the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out, when he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.  (John 10: 3-5)  The eastern shepherd had a close relationship with the flock, he knew his flock by name and the flock knows him.  Therefore the flock trusted the shepherd and would follow him.  The shepherd in turn, fed and protected the flock even to the point of laying down his life. The western shepherd on the other hand uses dogs to control the flock.  If a sheep gets out of line, he sics the dog on him

If the true shepherd has no authority such as men exercise in their relationship with subordinates and is not to lord it over their charge how do they function? They function by the authority and power of their example.   They are to be exemplary in love and faith, above reproach, temperate and prudent, able to teach and all the other qualifications given in 1 Timothy and Titus 1.  Their “power” is by example.  They naturally take the lead in spiritual matters.

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.   Acts 20: 28   KJV


Doesn’t this verse indicate that elders are “over” and thus in a position of authority?

No, it does not.  You will note that I purposely quoted from the King James Version because it does say “over.”  This is a flat mistranslation.  The correct translation is “among” or “in” and later translations, such as the NAS, have corrected the verse.


Was this mistranslation an accident?

No. It was not.  As excellent as the King James Version is, we must note that the King charged the translators to follow his instruction in certain matters.  Three examples are listed below that are of particular interest to heirs of the Restoration Movement.

·        Not to translate “baptizo,” but to transliterate the word so as not to undermine the practice of infant baptism.  Can you imagine the impact if the word had been correctly translated, “to immerse.”

·        Not to translate “ekklesia” but instead to use the word “church” which connotes a polity or organizational system in the body of Christ.  Would we have had a different notion if the word had been correctly translated “assembly” or “congregation?”

·        To uphold “bishop rule,” to insure that the “divine right” of the king to rule was supported.  Would many have a hierarchical concept of church organization if the translators had done their job?

Sometimes there would be mistranslation as in Acts 20: 28, where “over” is used instead of “in” or “among”.   Sometimes where a word has a range of possible translations, those words that supported “bishop rule” would be chosen.  .


But doesn’t the concept of “overseer” support the idea of one having authority?  Yes it would in the Gentile’s world, or in the secular world, but in the kingdom of God, overseership is exercised, “nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”    The “authority” of the elder is their “example”, not the raw power  to command or compel.

And we beseech you, you brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake  and be at peace among yourselves.    1 Thessalonians 5: 12, 13  KJV

But we beseech you brethren, to know those who labor among you, and take the lead of you in (the) Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them exceedingly in love on account of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves.   1 Thessalonians 5: 12, 13    Interlinear Greek English New Testament


What is the point of interest?

Our attention in on “over you in the Lord.”   Compare this with Romans 12: 8 were the same Greek word occurs.  The NAS translates this word as “he who takes the lead.”   This gives an entirely different flavor to the passage.  Note that the Interlinear Greek English New Testament gives that translation first.


Why are leaders to be esteemed?

Please note also, leaders are to be highly esteemed on account of their works, not the position or “office” as some suppose.  The “leading” is not about authority but caring for the flock.

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.  1 Timothy 5: 17   KJV 

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  I Timothy 5:17  NAS

The well who take the lead elders of double honour let be counted worthy, especially those labouring in word and teaching.  1 Timothy 5: 17   Interlinear Greek English New Testament  (excuse the word order)


Is “rule well” the only possibility?

The Interlinear gives us an alternative to the translation “rule well”.  Remember that Jesus said that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their charges and exercise authority over them but that it should not be so among his disciples.  If a disciple is both a “ruler” and a “servant”, how do we reconcile the two concepts.  There are only two possibilities.  Either one “serves by ruling” or he “rules by serving.”   The later is the case.  If we must have the translation “rule” then let’s use it appropriately.  In the kingdom of God, one disciple of God does not exercise authority over other disciples.  They do not lord it over the Lord’s heritage, it is the Lord’s.  We are brethren; we are servants.  The elders lead by example.  Even the Apostle Paul said, “Nor that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.”  2 Corinthians 1: 24

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves for they watch for your souls, and they must do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.    Hebrew 13: 17   KJV

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.  Hebrews 13: 7    NAS


What is the focus?

Again we are focused on “rule over you.”  The NAS has it right, those who “rule over you” are “leaders”.  This word gives us the appropriate meaning.  These leaders are not necessarily identified as “elders” in this passage they are the ones who spoke the word of God to you.


What is the connotation of the Greek word translated, "obey"?

There are several words that are translated “obey.”  We find:

·        Peitharcheo- to obey a chief or ruler

·        Peitho- to persuade

·        Hupakoe- to hearken submissively

The “obey” in Hebrew 13: 17 is from “peitho.”  The flavor of the word is “to be persuaded by.”  The passage could well be translated “be persuaded by your leaders and submit to them.”  We submit not because of “office” or authority but because of work and example.   Because of their past spiritual leadership, their exemplary lives and the wisdom they continue to display.

The NIV has, “Obey your leaders, and submit to their authority.”  As far as I can tell the word “authority” does not appear in the Greek text.  Check it out.  Judge for yourself.



How do these concepts work in actual practice?  Are they practical?  Do they enhance spiritual growth?  Can the church function, using these concepts?  They did in the first century.

Some may be skeptical that the “authority” delineated above would not work.  The following are examples of the working of this “authority” in the first century.


Problem:  The selection of an Apostle to replace Judas Acts 1: 15-26


·        Peter outlines the problem to 120 persons, men and women

·        They put forward two men

·        They prayed

·        They drew lots to select one

·        Matthias was selected


Problem:  Grecian widows are not being ministered to     Acts 6: 1-6


·        The 12 Apostles summed the congregation of disciples

·        The disciples selected seven men of good reputation to solve problem

·        Approval of the whole congregation

·        Apostles prayed and laid hands on them


Situation:  Report at Antioch   Acts 14: 27- 15:3

·        Paul and Barnabas reported after gathering the church together

·        Brethren determined to send Paul and Barnabas

·        Sent on their way by the church


Problem:  At Antioch some men from Jerusalem were teaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised to be accepted by God.  This was a major doctrinal issue.

Solution:  Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem after great dissension and debate at Antioch.  Acts 15:4-29

·        Received by the church and the apostles and the elders

·        Apostles and elders came together

·        Peter spoke God’s acceptance of Cornelius, a Gentile

·        The multitude kept silence as they listened to Paul and Barnabas

·        James speaks and gives his judgment

·        Apostles and the elders, with the whole church choose leading men to go to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas

·        Letter sent to Antioch by Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas


Situation:  Return to Antioch   Acts 15: 30-34

·        Gathered the congregation together and delivered the letter

·        Judas and Silas encouraged and strengthened the brethren

·        Sent away from the brethren in peace


Problem: A brother sins    Matthew 18: 15- 20


·        Go and reprove him in private, if he won’t listen

·        Take one or more brethren with you, if he won’t listen

·        Tell it to the church (not to the elders), if he refuses to listen

·        Let him be as a Gentile and tax-gatherer


Situation:   Many problems and difficulties arose in the early church.

Solution:   Letters of instruction.

·        The epistles of the New Testament were written, for the most part, to the church and to the saints, not to the elders.  The epistle to the Philippians includes the elders and the deacons.  Many problems were addressed but it was the church that was expected to deal with these problems.  Undoubtedly the elders would take the lead in the local congregation but the idea that the elders were some kind of decision-making body is not supported.

Personal observations:

Has the writer of Plain Talk ever been an elder? 

Yes I have been an elder in the churches of Christ.  I do not now recommend that type of authoritarian eldership.  I feel I was a victim of my own ignorance but have no one to blame but myself. 

Who should participate in making the decisions of the church?  

Every member of the body who is affected by the decision.  

But are we not to submit to our leaders?

·        Yes we are.   . Be persuaded by your leaders and submit to them.  Why?  Because our leaders have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.     Hebrews 13: 17

·        Subject yourself to the righteousness of God.   Surely this includes everyone.   Romans 10: 3

·        The Corinthians were to submit to the household of Stephanas as they were the first fruits of Achaia, and they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints, that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone that helps in the work and labors.  ! Corinthians 16: 16

·        Be subject to one another in the fear of the Lord.   Again this includes all disciples.   Ephesians 5: 21

·        “Wives be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be subject to their husbands in everything.  Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her.”   Usually the attention is focused on the wife submitting, but the verse also says something about the husband loving and dieing.   Ephesians 5: 22-25

·        Wives be subject to you own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord, husbands, love your wives, and do not embitter them.   Colossians 3: 18, 19

·        “But he gives a greater grace.  Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Submit therefore to God.”   This includes everyone    James 4: 7

·        “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”   This includes everyone.     1 Peter 2: 13

·        “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”    All of us are to put on humility toward one another.     1 Peter 5: 5

Humility is one of the keys to receiving God’s grace.  If our vessel is full of ourselves there is no room for God to give His grace.  Jesus humbled Himself.  Although He existed as God, He did not consider that as something to be held on to, but emptied Himself taking on the form of a bondservant, humbling Himself to become obedient to a death by crucifixion.  Help us Father to have this attitude.  Submissiveness is not just for women and children, it is the way for all believers.

I hope this essay will not be construed as being opposed to elders.  That is not the point.  The intent is to encourage elders as God intended them to serve.

·        Elders serve “in” and “among” the flock rather than “over” the flock

·        Elders oversee by example, not lording it over the flock.

·        The congregation should make decisions with the elders leading the flock not sequestered from the flock.

·        Teaching the flock is a primary responsibility of elders.

·        Teaching the lost is the primary, but not solely, the responsibility of evangelists

·        Any hierarchical organization of the congregation, whether it is pope, cardinal or elder, is counter to God’s intent.


What is the objective of Plain Talk in regard to this subject?

The purpose is to present a perspective that may not be known to present day heirs of the Restoration Movement and others but was advocated by E. G. Sewell, David Lipscomb, Lee Jackson, Tolbert Fanning and others.  This work is one of persuasion not compulsion, reason not confrontation.

This work will utterly fail if it seeks to undermine or depose any existing eldership.  Change takes place first in the heart, and then without, in actions and practices.

Take what you can,

Reject what you must,

But always share and uphold the truth, as you understand it.

God bless

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Last Update   09/26/12