2 Signs of Abusive Church Authority

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woman with mouth taped shut

1. Not all who say they are a spiritual authority actually are. According to the standards Paul sets up in I Timothy, it is not easy to become a spiritual authority, and there are clear things one can do to violate that authority and be removed from it (or to continue in a position illegitimately). I have no moral, biblical obligation to subject myself to self-proclaimed authorities who do not, in fact, meet the Bible's clear guidelines for who is and is not a legitimate authority in a believer's life.

2. Legitimate spiritual authority is under spiritual authority. I have a strong conviction in the checks and balances that the Church has put in place over the last 500 years since the protestant reformation. I note too that the spiritual authorities with whom I've personally had bad experiences each built their authority independent of established authority in their own life. They started independently, then build their own pseudo authority structure around themselves. But they never repented for originally walking away from their own personal God-given authority structure, and like the last quote above predicts, became their own narcissistic center of their own authority universe.

Personally, I have put myself in a church structure with a presbytery. It too is an imperfect authority system, but I'm coming to value it deeply nonetheless. Years ago, the Church in wisdom (in my case, the Presbyterian Church of America) recognized that everyone needs to be under authority to someone. My pastor often says that if we don't like something he does, we have a place to take that and be truly heard.

He is under authority – a long established authority structure that is not beholden to him as its narcissistic center. I note that many believers in my neck of the woods are returning again to denominations with long established authority structures after similar experiences to mine with those who started their churches outside of an authority structure.

When I write on authority, I know I must write about it with the two limitations I stated above. Any discussion of authority without acknowledging the potential pitfalls with its abuse is simply irresponsible. Yet, I believe that God still gives us legitimate, loving authorities in our lives for our good.

The best authorities speak wisdom into my life and wait patiently for me to hear it. They don't shame or pressure, but they speak truth and offer suggestions based on their observations. Every one of us needs those types of people in our lives, and when we find them, they are a good gift from God to help us along the treacherous journey of life.

I've linked to this sermon on God's Good Undershepherds many times before, but I will do it once again. It is a powerful exploration of the yearnings in our hearts for someone we can trust to speak into our lives and the problems sin has brought into our world as we wrestle with that longing. It made me cry this morning as I listen to it again, for I resonate deeply with what my pastor says in it. 

Adapted from Wendy Alsup's blog, theologyforwomen.org. Wendy has authored three books, including The Gospel-Centered Woman. She is also a wife, mom and college math teacher who loves ministering to women.

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