CHAPTER TEN The Apostle’s Teaching When it comes to the Apostle’s teaching we must understand that there is more to consider than the mere words of the message. Along with the words there was a spiritual authority that was recognized by the church. Since I already addressed the authority of the word in an earlier chapter I want to focus this chapter on apostolic authority and how that influences the way we function as a church. A Common Misunderstanding First, I want to clarify a common misunderstanding. Even though both come from the same root word, authority and authoritarianism is not the same. Authority is delegated from God and is absolutely necessary in order for a church to be in spiritual health. On the other hand authoritarianism will do great damage and cause weakness and even death to spiritual life. Spiritual authority is only received as one comes under authority and it never demands others to submit. In contrast to that, authoritarianism places itself over others and demands blind submission and absolute, unquestioned obedience from others. Religious systems tend to become authoritarian in their approach to ministry when leaders lose their spiritual authority. It’s important to understand that while it is not always easy to know where the line is between the two, our purpose and intent has been to function under spiritual authority without becoming authoritarian. To claim that we have been fully successful would no doubt be an overstatement. However, we believe that God has honored our decision to not shy away from spiritual authority for fear of becoming authoritarian like so many churches today have done. Because of past experience of authoritarian leadership, some pastors are so afraid of being labeled authoritarian that they go the other extreme and refuse to exercise any authority. From my observation the end result has been spiritual anarchy, everyone doing what is right in their own eyes, where those who have been given the responsibility to lead and oversee the church shrink back from taking a clear stand even on issues that threaten the spiritual life of the church. The error of abusing spiritual authority is exceeded only by the error of exercising no authority. Neither extreme is pleasing to God. What we have tried to do as a church is to restore the Biblical understanding of authority and make practical application. Relationships and Accountability Second, spiritual authority can only be properly understood in the context of relationships and voluntary accountability. The early church was relational rather than organizational and inspirational rather than institutional. It wasn’t until several hundred years after the church was founded that it became an organized institution. When that took place much of the spiritual dynamic that was present in the beginning was lost. While the shift was gradual and took place over a period of years it was consummated in about 300 AD when the Roman emperor, Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This was followed by a thousand year period known in history as the dark ages. During this time the institutional church became rich and powerful and as noted by St Francis of Assisi, could no longer say like Peter, “silver and gold have I none,” but then neither could it say, “in the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk.” In spite of the protestant reformation of the 16th century the institutional church has made little if any progress toward the recovering of New Testament spiritual authority even to this day. But God has always had a people. There has always been an inspirational church along side the institutional church. From about 100 AD to the present there have been over twenty different renewal movements, often labeled as heretics and persecuted for their radical faith. We study these movements in the History of the Radical Church course we teach at Cornerstone Bible Institute. The point I want to make is that apostolic spiritual authority for the most part flows out of the inspirational stream of the church where brothers and sisters relate to one another in mutually accountable relationships under the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus demonstrated it for us in the way he related to his disciples. While he had many disciples, he chose twelve to pour his life into. He lived with them. He modeled a lifestyle of love, acceptance and forgiveness. They took trips, went boating, camped out and by spending time together in the presence of Jesus, they were shaped into a community. It wasn’t easy. They struggled, competed and tried to gain position over one another. But slowly recognizing their need to give up their competitive life 24 styles they learned that to be a leader was to be a servant. They learned that true worth was not in what they did but in who they were in relation to Jesus. They went out two by two preaching and casting out demons. They were amazed and came back rejoicing that even the demons were subject to them. Jesus told them that instead of rejoicing about that they should rejoice that their names were written in heaven. The Key to Having Authority It became clear that the key to having authority was being under authority. One day a centurion came to Jesus requesting that he heal his servant. When Jesus offered to go with him he insisted that would not be necessary saying that he too was a man under authority and could simply speak a word and it would be done. Jesus declared that he had not seen such faith in all Israel. Before the man returned home his servant was healed. Being under authority is an expression of faith that releases the power of God. Sometimes we speak of having a spiritual covering. While the Bible doesn’t use that specific term it is certainly implied in the concept of being under authority. If you are under something it stands to reason that you are covered. Like an umbrella that covers you from the rain, as long as you are under or covered you stay dry. Get out from under the covering and you get wet. In a similar way spiritual authority is a covering. Stay under authority and you will have authority, otherwise it will be lost. Someone may say, “I don’t submit to anyone but God.” Such a statement reveals a gross misunderstanding of spiritual authority and how it operates. Claiming to be under God’s authority while circumventing His delegated authority is a contradiction. While it may sound spiritual it is nothing more than saying, “I’m my own authority.” There are many illustrations in Scripture that indicate that the way we practically submit to God’s authority is to submit to those in authority over us. When Israel rebelled against godly leadership it was the same as rebelling against God. 25 Everyone is Accountable to Someone We believe it is important that everyone is under proper spiritual authority and that no one serves as his own authority. Everyone is accountable to someone. For us it is more than just something we say. We have adopted a system that makes it very practical. It’s one that connects the whole ministry together from the most recent newcomer in one of our local churches to myself as the senior apostolic leader of the whole Cornerstone network. We do this through our system of cell groups. Cell members are accountable to their cell leader. Cell leaders are accountable to their congregation pastor. Congregation pastors are accountable to the senior pastor/elder of a given location. The senior pastor/elders are accountable to the senior apostolic leader. Each level of leadership represents delegated authority. But since it involves human beings it should never be considered as absolute authority. If a cell leader gets out of line, cell members can appeal to the congregation pastor. If a congregation pastor gets out of line the cell leaders can appeal to the senior pastor/elder. If a senior pastor/ elder gets out of line the congregation pastors (leadership team where there is only one staff pastor) can appeal to the senior apostolic leader. You may wonder what happens if the senior apostolic leader gets out of line. As a ministry we have chosen three men from outside the Cornerstone ministry to serve as spiritual advisors. Should the senior apostolic leader get out of line the senior pastor/elders could appeal to the spiritual advisors who would come in to help resolve the situation. In addition to these spiritual advisors Cornerstone belongs to the Association of Radical Church Networks (ARC Net). This is an association of church networks similar to Cornerstone. The leaders of these networks meet together twice a year for teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer in mutual accountability. So everyone is under authority, including the senior leader. However, it is not something that is demanded. Submission to spiritual authority is always voluntary and involves the freedom to choose. Otherwise it becomes authoritarian.