Can you think of an instance where an evangelist, elder, deacon, etc. might have his authority removed? A situation has happened in our local congregation that has sparked many questions about biblical positions of authority. Here in the United States, our legal system is such that anyone who desires to lead a Christian congregation may do so without having to pass any biblical litmus test. And sometimes a church may legally hire or fire the church leader without biblical warrant. If an evangelist is fired, he loses financial support. But does he really lose his biblical authority? (Is he still an evangelist?) The Bible makes it clear that the evangelist can make use of his "right" to financial assistance while ministering to God's people as an evangelist. How can an evangelist be deprived of that "right"? Our laws enable us to "fire" the evangelist, thereby removing his access to support, but is that really scriptural? In my view, either the evangelist cannot be kept from making use of that right without his own consent to do so, or he must lose his authority as an evangelist and therefore has no right to assistance anymore. Any advice? -- Jason

Very good question! Here are a few thoughts which I hope will prove helpful. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:2, "Even though I may not be an apostle = missionary to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." I think this means that while his gift as an apostle missionary was related to his being called by God / being gifted to be an apostle, still for all practical purposes, this worked only in the context of relationship. If relationship has been destroyed, then the apostle or evangelist (or other leader) no longer functions in the same way as before.

Now if relationships have deteriorated to the point that someone has been fired, he will no longer be serving as a preacher in that context--and thus presumably his right or claim to support is undermined (and this could be extended to other authority figures as well). I think that makes sense. The question of the scope and nature of authority of leaders is a problematic one, and one often discussed, especially within our movement since about 1988.

You will have noticed that I am not even addressing the matter of authority. That may be in part because Paul was so hesitant to do this (e.g., 1 Corinthians 4:21). On the one hand, authority is given to the evangelist by the people he leads. If no one listens to him, the matter of his authority is a moot point. (Even Jesus could not do many miracles in some places, because of the absence of faith.) On the other hand, the authority comes from the Lord. At the very least, we can agree that it is based on the authority of the Word. So I am saying that we must distinguish these two aspects to authority: divine and congregational. I also think in some circumstances it is best not to appeal to one's authority, because relational dynamics in the congregation may not be healthy. Alas, we all must deal with a certain level of dysfunction.

Final thought, summing up: If an evangelist / elder / preacher is removed from his local context, then he has no more authority within the ambit of his former ministry than what is allowed him by its members.

[For more, see my audio series, New Testament Leadership.]

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