Concerning the Nature and Purpose of Church Authority

While chosen and recognized by the people, church elders receive their authority through the Holy Spirit who called them, endued them, and appointed them for service (Acts 20:28). Service, not power or prestige, is the purpose of church officers, as of all believers. The Christian follows his Lord in the way of the cross. Jesus repeatedly reversed the disciples’ thinking. They sought worldly greatness – places of honor in his kingdom; but he asked if they could drink his cup of suffering, and told them that he came, not to be served, but ‘to serve and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Matt. 20:25-28).

Peter learned that lesson, and he later warned elders not to lord it over those entrusted to them, but to be examples to the flock; more than others they must gird on humility, as Jesus girded on a towel to wash his disciples’ feet (1 Pet. 5:3, 6).

No teaching of Jesus is more easily grasped; none is more basic for Christian living; none is more often forgotten, betrayed, and resisted. Yet it remains the hallmark of Christian leadership; without it, the Lord’s order for his church collapses in shambles. Church government is the rule of Christ’s kingdom of grace and sacrificial love. Without that love, church rule can become the worst kind of oppression, that which destroyed the soul.

– Edmund Clowney, The Church, pp. 206-207.

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