Posts Tagged ‘church discipline’

I was asked, today, to explain my understanding of Hebrews 13:17:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

I believe this passage is applicable in relation to both ministers and elders, but perhaps especially to elders, who bear the responsibility to rule under the lordship of Christ.  Therefore, we are not only talking about submitting to the preaching that comes from the pulpit but also submitting to the discipleship coming from the elders.

Most important, however, is the distinction between ministerial and magisterial authority.  This, in fact, is the heart of the issue and the cure to any wrong understanding of church authority.

Ministerial Authority: Elders (or rulers) in Christ’s church have no authority whatsoever beyond that which is given to them by Christ in his word. Thus their role is to minister the word of God as it has bearing upon the life of the flock. Furthermore, this means that they cannot, and must not, go beyond Christ’s word in order to bind the conscience of any believer regarding any issue in their life.  With regard to wisdom and prudence, decisions in their life, or anything whatsoever, the elders may not bind the conscience of a believer beyond that which is given to us in the Scripture. The Scripture alone defines the boundaries for church authority. This is the definition of ministerial authority. This the Protestant position.

Magisterial Authority: Elders in the church have authority given to them to determine things not addressed in God’s word; things that cannot be taught directly from Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence there from. In the magisterial view, church leaders (whether presbyters, bishops, popes, or televangelists) have the responsibility to practice judgment and bind the conscience on matters outside the bounds of Scripture.  This is the Roman Catholic position.

Christ has invested authority in the under-shepherds of the church. And they must practice church discipline and exercise judgment. This is essential to the church’s health and peace. But Christ would have them exercise judgment and authority only in as much as he has given them his word on the matter, no further.  For to go beyond the word bears, itself, the penalty of Christ’s judgment (1 Cor. 4:16).

For example, if an elder tells a young woman not to marry an unbeliever, he is exercising judgment within the bounds and according to the teaching of Scripture, no further (1 Cor. 7:39). He is practicing ministerial authority as Christ has instituted it in the church.

If, on the other hand, an elder tells a young woman that she should not get married at all, this is entirely outside the bounds of Scripture (not to mention entirely contrary to its teaching). He has no authority in this case. And in preventing a woman from marrying, he is abusing his position of authority which Christ has given to build up his church, not to tear it down. He is disgracing Christ and his bride, and will himself bear judgment.

It is true that most Americans suffer from an anti-athoritarian spirit. But it is also true that many American leaders suffer from a tryanical spirit.  Both of these, however, are gaurded against by a ministerial view of authority. This, as far as I understand it, is the Protestant understanding on the place of authority in the church.

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