What We Need to Know About Church Authority

Authority in the early church was not based on position, but rather on the group confirmation of a calling on an individual’s life. Deacons were the first group of people set apart for ministry after the apostles (Acts 6).  Having said that, job titles did not seem to be important in the early church, nor were the designations of leaders in the church as clear-cut as we would like them, or as we have tried to make them.

Predominantly, it seemed that the early church recognized apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists as key leaders in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11).  These were clearly servant leadership roles, with their main function to help the church be the church and accomplish all that Christ had called it to be.

Deacons were set aside to carry out the mercy ministry of the church (Acts 6), while elders seemed to function more in the area of oversight.  Keep in mind that the early church did not seem to have the strictly defined concept of “local church” that we do today. Elders seemed to be over a city, or geographical area (Titus 1:5).

Whatever the name given to someone in authority in a local church, Paul’s words about authority should be heeded.  Authority is intended to build up, not tear down (2 Corinthians 13:10).  Evil happens because we have failed, as Christian leaders, to use our authority biblically.

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