Biblical Authority: Positional or Relational?


The Big Mistake in the Organic Church Movement

House Churches are biblical; church buildings aren't. A multiplicity of non-power-hungry elders who don't inhibit the members of the body from ministering and fulfilling their functions is biblical; vs the opposite. But I wonder how much of the house church movement, and its downplaying of first century apostolic authority, and its downplaying of almost all present day elder authority and responsibility (rather than just condemning its abuse), is just part of the bigger movement of "the mystery of lawlessness ... already at work," in the world 2Thes2:7, disdaining all authority structures in all realms, and riding on and making use of the commendable attempt to return to a Biblical ecclesia?
 
There is a difference between positional and functional leadership, and a substitution of one for the other can cause problems.  If Biblical authority is heirarchical and positional, let's start by considering how that might affect those who are not elders (which I assume is the majority of us in the church). If eldership is positional and not merely functional then "there am I in the midst of them" Mt18:20 does not equal "when ye come together in the church" or "when ye come together therefore into one place" etc etc 1Cor 11 - 14 or "the assembling of yourselves together" which we are not to "forsake" Heb10:25; and thus non-elders have an obligation to attempt to gather with more complete groups when feasible rather than just shooting some pool together over a few drinks now and then. So the church is organic since it is his body, but the whole foundation of some versions of organic church, relational church, and simple church doctrines must reinterpret all references to rightful hierarchical authority structures in the New Testament to be merely functions to be able to consider their practices to be Biblical.
 
 

The Father/Son Relationship in the Godhead

The Father/Son relationship in the Godhead is a hierarchical one.  Frank Viola is wrong on this topic because he claims the relationship between the Father and the Son is not positional/heirarchical in his chapter on "Who Is Your Covering."
 
In value and essence, Christ is equal to God the Father in every way. Jesus, “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” Phil2:6. But in position, "The Father is greater than I", Jn14:28, and therefore Jesus always functions in the role that a son does to a father.
 
* The Father gives, the Son receives, “so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself,” Jn5:26. Jn10:29, "My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all."
 
* The Father teaches; the Son learns, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me,” Jn8:28. * The Father sends; the Son goes, “he that sent me is with me,” Jn8:28. Jn13:16, "neither [is] he that is sent greater than he that sent him."
 
* The Father commands; the Son obeys,“I do always those things that please him,” Jn8:29. "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me," Jn6:38.
 
* The Father loves and shows; the Son submits and watches. Jn5:20, "For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth."
 
Both submit to each other but only in ways appropriate to their offices; the Father submits by loving and giving up his self interest for the sake of the Son, and the Son submits by giving up his own will to do the will of the Father, so there can be prefect unity and harmony together. It would be inappropriate for the Son to teach, or send, or command the Father.
 
From eternity past, Christ functioned as the Son of God. Rm1:3-4, “his Son ... which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness.” Who was it that was made flesh? It was “his Son” as the beginning of the verse states. Also, he had to be“made” flesh, but he only had to be “declared” to be the Son that he already was from eternity past.
 
And for eternity future, Christ will remain in an inferior position to the Father. “And when all things shall be subdued unto him [the Son], then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him [God] that put all things under him [the Son], that God may be all in all,” 1Cor15:28.
 
We (especially in the organic church movement) want to know Jesus first and only in simplicity without encumbrance. Well, this is an important thing to know about Jesus, that he is forever in a positional/hierarchical authority relationship with his Father that greatly affects everything about him.
 
 

The Three Family-Related Authority Structures

The three family relationships are mentioned together in the same order in two places and the three relationships certainly seem parallel to each other in the texts. They are obviously the same kind of relationships.
 
Eph5ff:
* "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands ... as unto the Lord ... as the church is subject unto Christ ... that she reverence her husband.
 
* Children, obey your parents ... in the Lord ... honour thy father and mother.
 
* Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters ... as unto Christ ... as the servants of Christ ... as to the Lord."
 
Col:
* Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands ... as it is fit in the Lord.
 
* Children, obey your parents in all things ... unto the Lord.
 
* Servants, obey in all things your masters ... as to the Lord."
 
How can anyone say that the husband/wife and parent/child relationships are merely functional/non-hierarchically relationships and the employer/employee relationship is a positional/hierarchical relationship expositorily, based on an exegesis of those passages (versus their own thoughts), when they all sound so similar in the texts? Especially the parent/child and employer/employee relationships:
 
Eph:
Children, obey ... in the Lord.
Servants, be obedient ... as to the Lord."
 
Col:
Children, obey ... unto the Lord.
Servants, obey ... as to the Lord.
 
Does it really sound like children are obeying functionally and non-hierarchical while servants are obeying positionally and hierarchically?!!! It's the same word: obey. How could God have said it more plainly if he wanted us to know that they are both positional/hierarchical relationships?
 
And these verses further link together the husband/wife and parent/child relationships, 1Tim: Elders are to "rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity ... Likewise deacons ... rule their children and their own houses well." Where is the mutual submission in that? Why aren't wives told to rule their husbands and children?
 
And how can anyone say that children are supposed to obey their parents for functional rather than positional reasons because parents are more mature? What if the dad is a no good selfish slacker and some other adult is more mature? Should the child obey the other adult instead of his dad?
 
It is true that before going into the three specific family-related positional authority relationships in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, Paul says in Ephesians 5:20, "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God."  People love to grab the one short verse 20, and then ignore the teachings of the next 21 verses.  What they fail to see is that all six parties in the husband/wife, parent/child, master,servant relationship are submitting to each other, but only in ways that are appropriate for each in his respective position.  A husband submits to his wife by sacrificing himself for his wife (like Christ) and not choosing the path that is best for himself but the path that is best for his wife.  The wife submits to her husband by submitting, by giving up her own will to follow her husbands lead.  It would be inappropriate for a wife to lead her husband.  It would be inappropriate for the children to make commands to their parents and the parents to obey their children, or the employees to make commands to their employer and the employer to obey the commands of his employees.
 
Hierarchical relationships provide the only way that people can walk together long-term, otherwise their paths eventually diverge.  "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Amos 3:3.  Vertical relationships are the only relationships that provide unity by providing structure, horizontal homogeneous relationships like mud provides no lasting unity.  We are all united to each other only horizontally only because we are all united to God vertically.  1Jn1:3, "That which we have seen and heard [Yeshua, vertically] declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us [horizontally]: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."  We are one with each other horizontally only because we are one with him vertically.  Jn17:20, "
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  ... that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one."
 
 

But What About Servant Leadership as Taught By Jesus?

Lu6:12ff, "He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: ... Peter, and Andrew ..., James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James ... and Simon ..., Judas, and Judas Iscariot which also was the traitor." Lu9:1ff, "Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases." Mt19:28, 20:25ff, "Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel ... Jesus called them to Himself and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant ... just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve."
 
People in the Biblical Church movement (house church, organic church, simple church movements, etc.) often forget that Jesus taught the twelve apostles about leading by serving right after telling them they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the future. He was not telling them not to have any positional authority in the church but rather that even though he placed them in positions of authority they were not to -lord it over- people but to -act- like servants. He wasn't telling them to abdicate the positions he had placed them in, just as he did not stop being our Lord or abdicate his position of authority over us by serving us. It's the manner of leadership that was at issue, not the fact of leadership.
 
Likewise in John 14 when Jesus girded himself with a towel and washed the disciples feet, "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master." Jesus did not abdicate his position as our Lord and Teacher and become a servant by serving us (function), he remained our Lord. That's the kind of leadership he wants us to imitate, a loving leader leadership not a non-leader leadership. And he didn't become the Lord by serving (function) either. He was and is the Lord in -position- regardless of how he -functions-, but he wants us to function in the power of the Holy Spirit and in love and in serving, not like the world.
He wants people in real positions of real authority who act like servants. Anyone can avoid the temptation to act like a master when he's not a master (well not everyone), but it takes the new life in Christ for a person who actually is in authority to act like a servant. The organic church movement should keep all the most extreme language we have about not controlling, or domineering, or seeking power, but serving unselfishly etc.; but apply it to elders who are actually in positions of authority. That's the real NT miracle of servant-like leadership that the Lord has accomplished by sending us his Spirit.
 
 

The Limits of Biblical Authority Relationships

Many people in the Organic Church movement have more concern than they need to about Biblical authority structures because they are not aware of the scriptural limits of Biblical authority structures.  For example, the twelve apostles had more authority than anyone who ever lived besides Yeshua.  But even their authority was not unlimited.  I believe the Book of Acts, or otherwise called the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, starts out with an example of the apostles overstepping their authority as a warning against unlimited authority.  They gave God two choices to replace Judas based on a half-true criteria for choosing and then cast lots and claimed God chose Mathias while God remained absolutely silent.  Mathias was indeed "numbered among the twelve," but by the church at large, not by God. Jesus had taught them that the apostles would be his eyewitnesses and they knew the prophecy re Judas from the Psalms so they stepped in to help God out not realizing that God had a supernatural solution in mind by sending Jesus back to teach Paul, "not of man but by revelation" so that Paul could be an eyewitness of the resurrection "as one born out of time."  Just like Abraham once stepped in to help God out with Hagar when God had a supernatural plan to give Abraham a son through Sarah. The apostles did not even have the authority to choose a representative for me or you or for each other, so even more-so they did not have authority to choose a representative for Jesus, only Jesus did.
 
Also, people think that the authority of the apostles and elders operates in the spiritual realm, but all our authority structures operate in the physical realm. For example, a husband and wife become "one flesh", not "one spirit." The apostles placed some laws on the Gentile churches not to eat blood, or things sacrificed to idols, or to commit fornication. This was within their authority to do so and the church is still bound to keep those laws (whatsoever you shall bind, meaning prohibit, on earth will be bound, it's prohibition endorsed by, in heaven). Elders in a church group should lead by consensus, but they have the ultimate authority to decide things like where the next meeting will be, and what the meeting will be like, etc. But no one has the authority to decide what another person believes, for example. I am accountable to God for my doctrine and I will not be able to use someone else as an excuse for my spiritual errors. When Peter got sucked back into legalism Paul stood up against him in Acts 15.
 
We have all been in many situations where others had authority over us that made bad choices or were not the best of leaders and we know how to handle those situations without rebelling and becoming disrespectful or unsubmissive. If a parent decides we will have the meal outside when the weather report is forcasting a thunderstorm, we respect our parent and go along with the plan to eat outside and when it rains we may think "I told you so," but no real harm done, just some inconvenience to us. If we are supposed to suffer loss rather than take a brother to court we can handle a rained out meal. We can go along with more serious things than that too, like not buying a car till we graduate, or whatever it is our dad, or boss, or husband wants that is inconvenient to us, which we then do for unity, and out of respect, and "as unto the Lord", meaning we ain't doing it for that person but because we want to please God and God will reward us for it. But we would never disobey God to obey men, or let someone else decide our doctrine for us, or submit to someone acting beyond their authority, like an elder trying to choose a mate for us or something.
 
As for prophets, we are under obligation to obey the words of their prophecy, because they are the words of God, the same as scripture. However, they have to actually be prophets. Jer14:14, "The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." Jer23:25-30, "I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; ... Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD." I believe the gift of prophesy was given by the laying on of the hands of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, so there haven't been any church prophets since the generation after the apostles died. Acts8:18, "when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost," which obviously had to be the 'gifts' and 'manifestation' (1Cor12:7) of the Holy Ghost because receiving the Holy Ghost himself only comes via being saved. The church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets," Eph2:20, and you only lay a foundation once.
 
 

The Motivation of Those Who Deny Positional Authority Is Biblical

My motivation in writing this is for us to be Biblical.  We will be harmed or miss important benefits if positional authority is God's design and we miss it because of, for example, our eagerness to escape from the problems and abuses of IC leadership.
 
What about the motivations of those who oppose positional authority?  To lead up to an answer to that question, let's consider the first half of 1Corinthians 11.  The section really begins in verse 2, "Now I praise you ...," as many of the major sections in 1Cor begin with a phrase like, 1Cor7:1, "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me ...", "Now as touching things offered unto idols ...," 1Cor8:1, "Now concerning spiritual gifts ...," 1Cor12:1, "Now concerning the collection for the saints ...," 1Cor16:1. The section is part of the bigger section about church gatherings in 1 Corinthians 11-16, and is part of the section on the two church ordinances in Chapter 11: the Headcovering Ordinance in 11a and the Lord's Supper ordinance in 11b.  The chapter is divided into two parts, 11a and 11b, by the phrases, "Now I praise you ...," in 11:2 which begins the passage about the Headcovering; and "Now ... I praise you not," in 11:17 that begins the passage about the Lord's Supper.
 
The first thing to note is that Paul was not writing to scold the Corinthians about anything in the first half of 1Cor11.  Instead he -praised- them for the way they were keeping the headcovering ordinance, "Now I praise you, brethren, that you ... keep the ordinances," 11:2.  Ordinances are authoritative apostlic transmittals from the apostles to the church, also translated in verb form as "delivered" in verse 2.  Other apostolic transmittals are the Lord's Supper in 11:23ff "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus ... took bread: and ... brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me;"  and the gospel in 1Cor15:1ff "I declare unto you the gospel ... for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."
 
So the Corinthians were doing a good job keeping the headcovering observance (the passage is not about Paul scolding them for looking like prostitutes or some such made up stuff), so why did he write about it to them?  So that they would 'know' the meaning of what they were doing more fully; like some churches give a communion meditation before the Lord's Supper to help people better understand the meaning of the symbolism.  Paul said he praised them, "but I would have you KNOW," 11:3.
 
So what is the meaning that underlies the Headcovering Ordinance?  It is the authority structure of male and female that God created.  "I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God," 11:3.  By the way, "man" in this passage means "male," not husband, as some have translated it; and "woman" means female, not "wife", as some have translated it.  Verse 11 would not make sense if Paul were talking about "husband" and "wife": "As the 'wife' is of the 'husband' even so is the 'husband' also by the 'wife', because all men are born of women but not all men are born of wives.  The amazing thing about 1Cor11"3 is that Paul says Christ is the head of EVERY male, not just Christian ones.  Because, God instructed that only males were allowed to be high priests of Israel, for example, even unbelievers like Caiphas; and only males were allowed to be apostles of Christ, even unbelievers like Judas; but no women, not even believing women, were allowed to be priests or apostles etc.
 
"The head of the woman is the man," refers to the special subordinate role that God created for females.  This is borne out in the three special ministries of women - Modest Dress, Quietness, and Submission - found in three parallel places about the society, the home, and the church.  
 
1) In Society, 1Tim2:9-15: “In like manner also, (Modest Dress:) that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but, which becometh women professing godliness, with good works. (Quietness:) Let the woman learn in silence (Submission:) with all subjection,” 1Tim2:9-11. Paul does not start talking about the church until 1Tim3:1, “If a man desire the office of a bishop."
 
2) In the Home, 1Peter3. “Likewise, ye wives ... (Modest Dress:) whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, (Quietness:) even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, (Submission:) being in subjection to their own husbands: even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord,” 1Pet3:1-6.
 
3) In the Church, 1Cor. “Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth (Modest Dress:) with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head ... let her be covered,”1Cor11:5-6. “Let your women (Quietness:) keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; (Submission:) but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law,” 1Cor14:34.
 
The last part of 11:3 says, "and the head of Christ is God."  This verse puts to rest all challenges against the goodness of positional authority because it shows Christ in a subordinate postition in the Godhead.  I showed earlier how the Father commands, the Son obeys; the Father sends, the Son goes; etc.
 
In verses 4-6, Paul says that a man must not have anything on his head, and a woman must have her head covered during the prayer and prophecy in the church meetings.  This is because the headcovering shawls on the heads of the women symbolize the authority position of males in between Christ and females as 11:3 said, "the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man."  Prayer is man speaking to God and prophecy is God speaking to man.  Women are present and participate in the corporate prayer along with the men in the church service so though they are praying along directly to God in their hearts the headcovering symbolizes that they willingly accept their God-given subordinate role.  And the women recieve the prophecy from the prophets along with the men in the church service also but the headcovering symbolizes their submission and acceptance of their God-given subordinate roles.  And by the church doing this ordinance as a church service observance, the whole church shows and symbolizes their submission and acceptance of God-ordained authority structures.
 
In verses 7-9, all three verses beginning with the word "for," meaniing, "because," Paul gives three reasons to show the appropriateness of the male-female authority structure and the subordinate role of women.  None of these reasons are cultural; they are all from the account of creation in scripture which does not change from age to age or from culture to culture.  I repeat, none of these reasons are cultural, so this apostolicly commanded observance cannot be explained away with cultural reasons.  1) Vs. 7, the man "is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory (not image) of man."  The word "image" here is like an external picture on a coin, like when Jesus asked to be shown a coin and asked whose image was on it.  Most women I know are not unhappy that they do not look like males.  2) Vs. 8, "the woman is OF the man," meaning Eve was made from Adam's rib and the one who comes first and is the source of the other has a higher rank (Lu20:40-44; Jn1:30). 3) Vs. 9, "Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman FOR the man." If something is 'for' something else it has a subordinate purpose.  Woman was created to be a 'help', to play a supporting role. Gen2:18, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet FOR him."
 
Verse 10 says that angels are watching.  “God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,” Eph3:9-10.  Angels are very concerned about authority and service and the Headcovering Ordinance is a testimony and object lesson to them of the grace of God to the church, that while the rest of the world is throwing off all authority and participating in "the mystery of lawlessness," the church is submissive and obedient.  This is symbolized by shawls on women's heads which symbolizes "power," the KJV word for "authority" on their heads, showing we are 'under' authority.
 
Verses 11 and 12 teach the mutual submission and interdependence that is also part of all relationships in authority structures, though in the manner appropriate for each role, as discussed earlier.  Lest males get puffed up they need to remember that "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God."  No man except Adam was not dependant on a woman for his entry into this world.
 
In verses 13 to 15, Paul demonstrates the support of nature.  God made women so that it is natural for them to have longer hair than men, and their long hair looks like the headcovering shawls.
 
Finally in verse 16, Paul says, "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."  The word contentious is from the greek word [‘philoneikos’] meaing "love of power."  The reason that men do not like the message of the headcovering ordinance, and do not like the idea of authority structures and subordinate roles is not really that they are trying to protect others from being mistreated but that they themselves would not be content in a subordinate role.  But God requires all of us to be content in subordinate roles, to bosses, to presidents and mayors, to parents, to himself, etc. etc.  
 
The only other place in the New Testament this greek word for "contentious" is used is in Luke 22. “And there was also a strife [‘philoneikos’] among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Lk22:24-30. This is one of the goals of the headcovering ordinance: to help us come to the kind of understanding of authority that Jesus taught in Luke 22.
 
If any man was contentios against keeping the Headcovering Ordinance in Paul's day he was going against common practice of "the churches of God," vs. 16.  If any man is contentious against keeping the Headcovering Ordinance in our days he either hates submission and obedience or he is duped by and reflects the culture of the world around him.  As the world throws off all Godly constraints and authority structures so do they then reinterpret all the verses about authority structures in the Bible to match the culture.  As the world redefines the role of women so do they in the church then reinterpret the scriptures to match the culture they are in.