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Understanding Biblical Authority March 7, 2010

Understanding Biblical Authority


Acts 2:42
Sunday Morning
March 7, 2010
Jubilee Church – Charlotte
Rob Wilkerson

Introduction: My life so far as mostly a long chain of repeated abuses of


authority.

• Growing Up: I couldn't be more grateful to God that I grew up in a Christian


home where my parents introduced me to Jesus and the gospel, and held the
Word of God in the highest esteem. On the flip side, the stronghold in my
household was control and authoritarianism. My Dad eventually moved to a
model of pastoring that was centered on a business model. He would bring
around him "yes" men. This was very much a pyramid structure where the
pastor was CEO, elders are like VP's, and people are like employees to be
recruited, trained, and managed.

• Seminary: attended a seminary which was life-changing for me personally and


pastorally. I learned how to understand, study, and communicate the Bible
better there than at any other place in my life thus far. However, the model
was very much the same, without the authoritarianism. There was still a
pyramid sort of feeling, though it was never publicly stated. Again, the pastor
was like a CEO, the Sr. Associates were like VP's, and the elders seemed like
sort of regional managers. However, the members were definitely not like
employees. That was completely different. And so was the eldership. It
seemed like a pyramid structure, but the feeling at an elders meeting was
definitely different, and there did not seem to be a "yes" man atmosphere. I
felt that although the structure was not something I'd be comfortable with, the
atmosphere was. And it was extremely healthy for me. There was no hint of
controlling peoples' lives and that seems to be the most significant factor in
authoritarian churches.

• First church after seminary: I pastored my first church in an elder / co-


pastor sort of context. Here also there seemed, at least in my mind, to be an
unhealthy feel to authority. There was this element of controlling that seemed
to manifest itself again. And it made me very uncomfortable. There seemed
to be control in areas where there should not be…where there should normally
be a freedom of conscience.

• Second church after seminary: I pastored my second church in, again, a


pyramid sort of environment. The pastor was like a CEO, the elders like VP's or
regional managers, and the church members like employees. This had a sort
of different feel, as I found out by this time ALL churches do. But there was not
a sense of real teamwork. Everybody's opinion did not count the same. Some

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on the team were looked at with less value than others, though this would
never be stated publicly. But it was unspoken and sort of felt like this.

• Third church after seminary: I pastored a Southern Baptist Church, and


attempted to stray away from a pyramid environment, though I'm sure I
struggled. As the Sr. Pastor I wanted to purposefully make the deacons feel as
if they were the team, but it was hard. The concept of team and biblical
authority without control was in my head, but I'm sure didn't reveal itself as I
wanted.

• Fourth church after seminary: I attended as a member. It was a part of


Sovereign Grace Ministries. And the pastor there became one of my best
friends. He and his wife excelled in triage for my family during most of my
tenure at a very difficult Southern Baptist church experience. I left that church
and moved to the SGM church were I served and attended for three years as a
member. But even here, there was a pyramid sort of approach, except without
any VP's underneath the CEO. Team was a concept known largely only to the
apostolic team. I didn't really see it operate in a real sense at the leadership
level. While there were care group leaders, they didn't seem to really function
as elders on a team with equal voice and leadership. So there was still this
overarching sense of control that was largely unbiblical and unhealthy.

• Fifth church after seminary: the church plant I now pastor. I immediately
moved to developing teams of people to lead various areas so I would have
less authority. And this was sort of my attempt to fix bad authority. But as
Carl Herrington is famous for saying, the answer to bad authority isn't NO
authority…it's good authority. So after my baptism in the spirit in March of
2009, I met Euan for the first time…the night of his first Sunday with you. And
then I met Carl about a week later. From there began what has been the most
biblical and healthy context of authority and leadership in the local church. In
short, there is a clear understanding of leadership, but without unbiblical
control. And the reason for that is the philosophy AND practice of the apostolic
ministry. A good summary of it would be to say that it is the relationship of a
parent to child, then parent to teenager, then parent to adult child. Ultimately,
when a church has its own elders and team of leadership in place, it is self-
sustaining, self-governing, and can be reproducing so that the oversight and
leadership the apostolic guy first had turns into one of simply guarding and
guiding. They always retain a position of authority over a church that is biblical
because it guards the gospel in the local church, and guides the establishment
and reproduction of the church.

Through all these experiences thus far, there are three important
things I've learned.

1. First, as I already said, the answer to bad leadership, as I've learned


from experience, is not no leadership at all. It is NOT to keep authority at
arm's length. It is to settle on what the biblical model looks like and then find a
group of people or churches who seems to understand that and then commit
to build with them. Or it is to discover it on your own and build it on your own.

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Either way, you've got to be a Berean Christian when it comes to Bible study
and figure it out for yourself and move in that direction.

1. The second thing I've learned is that all those in authority are
people…and people are fallen and sinful. Therefore, those in authority
struggle just like everybody else. They're not somehow immune from sin and
suffering and struggle. What this means is that my expectation of someone in
authority has to be balanced with truth…namely, the truth that they are fallen
people. Too often I have blamed those in authority for trouble that has
occurred in the church, when in reality it's just as much my fault as it is theirs.
My fault is that I invest my security and emotions into that person, so that if
they fall somehow then I get mad, blame them, which turns to blaming the
model, which turns to me not wanting any authority at all.

1. The third thing I've learned is that since all those in authority are
fallen people, they deserve ALL of my patience, forbearance, and
forgiveness like everyone else on planet earth does. Just because they
are men in authority does not mean that when they sin they are somehow
treated with an extra measure of discipline than any other ordinary kingdom
citizen. While it's true that there's a biblical character that each leader must
have (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1), and while it is true that an unrepentant elder must be
disciplined in the presence of the entire church body so that everyone learns
from it (1 Tim. 5), it is NOT true that they somehow deserve a lesser amount of
our love and forgiveness and reconciliation. The lack of this has always, for me
at least, been a distinguishing mark of a controlling church where those in
authority are insecure legalists.

1. The fourth thing I've learned is that leadership should not and cannot
cross their biblical boundaries when it comes to leading another
Christian under their care. They don't have a biblical right to intrude into
personal areas of one's own freedom or conscience - like birth control, or
dating, parenting methods, entertainment preferences, etc. On the one hand,
believers ought to be easily persuaded by their leaders and follow their
leadership, according to Hebrews 13:7 and 17. On the other hand, leaders are
not to "lord it over" those under their care, according to 1 Peter 5. Lording it
over someone else has primarily to do with a leader's philosophy and attitude.
This kind of leader has the philosophy that informs them that since they are
leaders, they are in complete control of everything, including people's personal
decisions. And their attitude is that of condemnation and rejection if you don't.
You're somehow not on "the same page" with them, or you're still operating
under an "old paradigm," or perhaps you haven't "embraced the culture" of the
church yet. One of my best friends delivered a message one day to us based
on the comparison of Diotrophes in 2 John, and Timothy in Philippians 3. The
difference between those leaders is like night and day. Diotrophes was one
who lorded his authority over his people. And Timothy was one who humbly
led and shepherded his people.

1. The fifth thing I've learned is that there is a structure of authority


everywhere by God's design. And this structure is in government (Romans
13), marriage (Ephesians 5), employment (Ephesians 5; Colossians 3), and

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church (Hebrews 13; 1 Peter 5). There is a structure of authority in life all
throughout this world because there is a structure of authority in the Trinity:
the Spirit glorifies the Son, and the Son submits to the Father. Submission and
preference is modeled for us in the Trinity, so it cannot be booted out
altogether just because I've had a few bad experiences. In short, I must be
persuaded by those in authority over me, and I must submit to those in
authority over me.

1. The sixth and final thing I've learned is that it is only within the
structure of authority that I find my gifting and skills blossoming the
most. That is, at heart, what all of us are so concerned with, especially if we
are westerners. Westerners are so individualistic that our attention is overtly
focused on ourselves too often. It's about us, our strengths, our abilities, our
skills, our giftings, our talents, etc. Yet God has designed all of this in such a
way that it truly, genuinely, and lastingly blossoms when these things operate
within a biblical structure of biblical authority. So I truly believe that I am
gifted by God in various ways, I am only going to enjoy it and experience
fulfillment in those things when I am inseparably connected to and submitted
to a biblical structure of biblical authority.

Now with these things in mind, I want you to turn to Acts 2:42 where I'll spend
the rest of my time. Carl heard a couple of sermons I preached a few weeks
ago on this verse and he felt that a portion of it was fitting for the series you
guys are in right now as a part of your transition. So let's turn to Acts 2:42 and
read the text together, and then I want to focus your attention on two
elements of the verse.

I. Devotion is the brand of tire that is on your church


bus.
A. The Importance of Branding Your Local Church

If Jubilee Church Charlotte is on a mission to preach the gospel to


Charlotte and the surrounding world…and if we are on a mission to
make disciples of all nations…and if we are on a mission to preach
forgiveness of sins to the nations…and if we are on a mission to plant
reproducing churches in those nations, then this biblical concept of
joining together is our vehicle. It is the bus on which all those involved
with Jubilee Church Charlotte ride into that mission.

But the bus needs wheels. Otherwise, we're just all sitting together…
family style…doing nothing. The Bible is very clear in its descriptions
and reflections of this togetherness of the early church. The vehicle was
family…but it four distinct wheels which kept it moving…which KEEP it
moving up until this very day and until the day Jesus returns.

If you can imagine the bus being wrapped with your church logo,
mission statement, and vision statement. It would be pretty sweet,

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wouldn't it? Now imagine the wheels…nothing fancy…no giant chrome


spinners and wheels. Just plain old rims sitting inside a tire, each of
which is white lettered at the top of the tire with the brand DEVOTION.
Then in smaller white letters, you read the name of each wheel: biblical
teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer.

At any point along our journey, if one of these tires has a flat, we can't
just keep going, obviously. It has to be changed. But we don't just put a
spare on it! We stop and do what it takes to repair the actual tire. Only
THESE tires will do on this bus. No other tires will FIT properly. They may
look snazzier, but they aren't the tires and wheels that belong on this
bus. The bus is a biblical church, and only biblical tires and wheels go on
the biblical church.

With this as our point of reference, let's look at what devotion actually
means.

A. The Meaning of the DEVOTION Brand to Your Church

The brand DEVOTION means something specific. In the ESV, Luke writes that
they "devoted themselves to…" In the KJV it reads, "they continued
steadfastly." This comes from the Greek word proskartereo, which means the
following:

○ to be earnest towards something…


○ to persevere…
○ to be constantly diligent to something…
○ to attend assiduously all the exercises…
○ to adhere closely to as a servant…
○ to attend or give oneself continually to something
○ to wait on continually...

Now friends, this is a very specific word, isn't it. This came right out of the
Strong's Concordance Greek dictionary. Another Greek dictionary defined it as:

○ to persist obstinately in…


○ to adhere firmly to… (Vincent's Word Studies).

Another Greek dictionary defined it this way:

○ attending to someone…
○ remaining by his side…
○ not leaving or forsaking him... (Barnes' Notes on the New Testament).

Now the early church, according to Luke 2:42, was devoted in this way to four
things: apostles' teaching, koinonia, breaking of bread, and prayer. Each of
these four objects to which we devote ourselves are like wheels on your church
bus. You can't run any vehicle with just three tires. I mean you could try, but

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you wouldn't get very far. You need all four. And it's significant that Luke, the
writer of Acts, chose to describe Devotion to the Apostles' teaching as the very
first tire on this bus.

I. Devotion to Local Church Leadership and Its Teaching


is the first tire you put on that bus.
A. Believers were devoted to the apostle's teaching, meaning
their local leadership, and not someone outside their group.

This is very important in our society where we are inundated with as many
varieties of preaching as we care to gorge ourselves with. MP3's, sermon
manuscripts, teachings, YouTube videos, etc. are all available by the millions
for your listening and reading pleasure. However, with this incredible
provision of so much sanctifying material, several things create an unhealthy
tendency in the life of a Christian.

First, they find themselves devoted to their favorite preacher or teacher. They
read their stuff almost exclusively, and listen to their messages almost
exclusively. Maybe you've experienced this yourself.

Second, their attention begins to be pulled more and more away from what
their local leader is saying, to what they are listening to and/or reading from
another leader or leaders. They think more about that than what they hear
from their local leadership.

Third, they unwittingly begin to measure what they hear from their pastor,
leader, preacher, or teacher with what else they listen to by their favorite
leaders.

Fourth, they develop a growing measure of criticism toward their own leader to
the point that their attitude, esteem, or respect for their leader begins to drop.

Fifth, during this time there is a freedom to begin speaking about the other
problems they see in their leaders' life, because their outside view of the
public ministry of the leader or leaders they really respect has become the
standard for them….and they generally don't even recognize it.

The sum effect of all this is a discontented, disengaged, and ultimately


disrespectful mindset toward the leader God has put in their life to lead them.

By contrast, I want you to see what's going on in Acts 2:42. The


believers there were devoted to the teaching of their LOCAL leadership, and
not someone else outside their group. Again, referring back to the definitions
of "devoted", these people were earnest toward their leaders…persevering
with them…giving themselves continually to the teaching of their leaders, and
not some other leader. These believers adhered closely to the teaching of
their leaders, acting almost as a servant to what their local leaders taught

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them. The word means to wait on and attend to closely, and these believers
watched and followed closely what their local leaders were teaching them.

For years, this was altogether NOT the picture of my life. I sat under
my father's teaching and preaching for many years, and was somewhat
devoted to it. However, I found myself listening to John MacArthur all the time.
Well when I attended his church during my seminary years, I found myself
strangely attracted to listening to John Piper all the time. And before I went to
seminary, for example, I would read the books they were using in the
classroom. But when I got to seminary, I wanted to read the books that
weren't required in my class. Overall, there just seemed to be this underlying
discontentment about who I was submitted to so that they never seemed to be
as good of a preacher as the other people I'm listening to or reading from.

Thankfully, since that time I've seen the error of my ways, my lack of
commitment to the leaders God put in my life, and I'm making
conscientious efforts to be really devoted to the teaching of the
apostolic team in my life. So I've listened to every sermon I can by John
Lanferman…every MP3 available to me from Carl Herrington, and am working
my way through all the writings and sermons I can by Terry Virgo. And even
during this time, I've listened to messages by P.J. Smythe, Brian Mowry,
Edward Buria and other apostolic leaders in the New Frontiers movement, and
what I noticed was this tendency creeping up again to begin preferring to listen
to some of them over the guys who are overseeing me right now. Amazing,
isn't it, how sneaky discontentment is. It's not wrong to listen to these other
guys, but I want to be devoted to the teaching of those who lead me, and not
the men who lead others.

Part of this is about vision. An apostolic leader knows the culture and
needs of particular, individual churches and demographics of
Christians. Paul demonstrated this in each letter he wrote. There was this
incredible sense of knowing exactly what the people needed to hear. But then
there were groups like the Corinthians and Galatians and Colossians who
seemed to become so infatuated with other preachers, teachers, leaders, and
apostles which had the effect of causing them to question Paul's apostleship
and authority over them. This thing can be very destructive. The bottom line
is that God is going to hold us accountable for our devotion to our own local
leadership's teaching and not for our devotion to another who doesn't even
have a direct connection to our lives and sanctification.

Carl knows me. He knows you as well. He has direct connection to both our
church plants. He knows the needs in each church. He can see the vision for
our respective church areas perhaps better than we can. He's flying at a
30,000 foot perspective about what we're doing. And I'm flying at 10,000 feet.
How much sense then would it make for me to invite his apostolic leadership
into my life, my marriage, my church family and then spend my time talking to
other apostolic leaders and listening to them more than I do Carl? I'd be even
more of an idiot than I already am, no doubt.

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A. Believers were devoted to the apostles teaching, meaning the


Scriptures for us, since their teaching would simply have
been what Jesus taught.

Finally, lest there be any confusion on whether or not my focus is on God or


man, let's look at the next word in this first phrase of the devoted lives of the
early believers. It says they were devoted to the apostles' teaching.
This is of supreme importance because what they taught then is what we have
now as the New Testament. The reason this is important is because what they
taught provides the source from which leaders derive their authority. No
leader - pastoral, apostolic, prophetic, or otherwise - has inherent authority.
There's really no such thing, except in the case of the Levites in the OT, and
Jesus Christ in the NT.

The concept of inherent authority is simple: if I'm in authority, then


everything I do is authoritative, and nothing I do is really wrong. In this
concept, you basically get to make up the rules as you go along. And your life
becomes the interpretation of the Scriptures, rather than the Scriptures
interpreting your life. This is how so many churches get into trouble by
investing all their following and resources into ONE man instead of in a team of
biblically-qualified men to lead them. I've seen it time and again in churches
like this. There is zero accountability for their actions. Whatever they do is
right and okay and cool because…they're the leader. There are too many
examples to share here, but just look to charismaniac churches in the last 100
years, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, which by theology and philosophy
declares basically that the Pope has inherent authority and makes up the rules
as he goes along. This is very much an overstatement to make my point, but
at root it's true.

The concept of derived authority, on the other hand, is equally


simple: I have authority as a leader only when (1) my life meets the biblical
qualifications outlined in the Scriptures for leaders, (2) those in authority over
me identify me as being set apart by the Holy Spirit to oversee and lead the
people of God, and (3) my gifting from the Holy Spirit is in an area involving
authority. So basically, if I'm not biblically-qualified, and if my existing leaders
don't recognize me as the man for the moment, and if the Holy Spirit hasn't
gifted me in this way, then I'm not in any position to have authority over
anybody. In this sense, the authority I do have is simply derived from other
sources: the Holy Spirit, my leaders, and the Bible. And at any point that any
of these three do not recommend me to lead, I no longer have authority.

This may seem like something too deep to discuss right now. But the reason I
believe it is significant is because all three of these external elements that
recommend me as a leader come from the Bible itself. This is why the
apostles' taught the Bible….or what came to be our Bible, since what we have
written is as far as we know the stuff they taught to the people. God wants His
people to be devoted to the biblical teaching of our local leaders. He wants us
to be devoted to it first, because the Bible recommends them to us as our
leaders, and second, because the Bible is the substance of the truth they are
teaching us.

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What we have then is a tremendous responsibility placed on the


shoulders of the leader to teach God's Word and God's Word alone!
It's too easy to teach other things, because we are inundated with all these
other things all week long, everywhere we go. So much of what we hear
sounds so good to us. But the Devil is a master of surrounding our lives with
stuff that doesn't matter…stuff that doesn't change our lives…stuff that
doesn't lead to spiritual growth. It's just…stuff…religious stuff…stuff that only
sounds like it comes from the Bible. But it really doesn't. And our local leaders
must be men who teach the Bible…or else they have nothing from which to
derive their authority, do they? I mean let's face it. If a leader isn't teaching
the Bible, then they aren't working from the very thing they say recommends
them as a leader! That's self-contradictory.

Conclusion
I think the challenge for you as a church plant is the same for my church plant
in Statesboro, GA. We have all come from abusive, authoritarian experiences
where fallen, sinful men abused their positions in some way - whether on
purpose or not - and we got hurt in the process. But the answer to this is not
to chuck out authority. The answer is to return to the source of ALL authority,
which is the Bible - the only place where we can hear for God with 100% surety
- and see what it says about authority. And what I see is that mature, godly,
healthy Christians are able to submit to even the most ungodly leadership. I
mean the Bible is just filled with stories like this: Joseph, Moses, David, Jesus,
Paul, etc. There are so many examples, and they're meant to show us that
authority is not the problem. Sin is. And the answer to sin is the good news of
Jesus Christ…not a church split.

So we must all return to the Bible and submit to THAT first and foremost. When
you do, you'll find yourselves submitting to God. And when you do, you'll find
yourselves submitting to others in authority over you, including church
leadership. And when you do, you'll find your lives beginning to take on the
DNA of the vision your local leadership is casting, rather than the DNA of the
other people you listen to and read from. And when you do you'll find that
your church begins to grow, because every one is getting behind the vision set
by their local church leadership, which is itself accountable to apostolic
authority, which is itself accountable to the authority of an apostolic team.

Devote yourselves to your local church leadership's teaching.

Devote yourselves to the biblical teaching of your local church leadership.

Devote yourselves to a kind, loving, good God who is your absolute authority.

Devote yourselves to your Bibles so you can make your heart devoted to God's
authority in your life.

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Don't exchange the tire on your church bus that's branded DEVOTION with
another brand just because the one you had experienced a flat. But another
one on, and trust God with it.

Amen.

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