One of the biggest issues we face in the church today is that of authority. This has always been an issue, it was an issue fundamental to the great reformation, it was an issue fundamental to the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. Jesus was asked by the Pharisees “by what authority do you do these things?”(Mark 21). The catholic church said their authority was handed down from Jesus to Peter and then though Papal succession. The reformers answered, No! our authority comes from Scripture. With that answer from Martin Luther and others began what we know today as evangelical theology.
Today the church once again is being asked “by what authority do you do these things?” and as always that question comes from inside the walls of the church. The charismatic branches would answer Holy Scripture and Holy Spirit. The more conservative branches of the church would still answer Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. The postmodernist would add experiential knowledge of God to those answers. Personally I believe the answer comes from all three, with this caveat when there is a conflict Scripture is trump. Can we answer from experience? Yes. Can we answer as prompted by the Holy Spirit? Yes, absolutely. Can we answer from Scripture? Yes.
The problem is not that we rely on the Holy Spirit or that we rely on our experiences and intuition. We must do that. The problems come when we do not compare those things which we believe the Holy Spirit is telling us or those things which we have believed and experienced with the Scriptures.
I have seen us too often and especially in charismatic circles have heard that the Pastor is “the Lord’s anointed”. Somehow the pastor has become the mouthpiece of God and as such is seen to be above question. I know that pastors are human, and need accountability. As someone who has worked in ministry I always welcomed the questions about how and why we did what we did. We must be thoughtful and concerned with representing Christ in the best possible ways as we minister to people, and this means that we must not fall back on the “authority” of our position to justify the things we do. We must fall back on the authority of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and yes even our experiences and beliefs, as long as we do so with love, humility, compassion and concern for those that God has entrusted to us.
Ultimately the authority of the church is not to decide what is right and wrong, or what kind of music we will play in church, or which person is more likely to make it to heaven, or which understanding of a particular passage is more correct. The ultimate authority of the church and the pastor is to represent Christ to those around us, and represent Him well.