Protestant Authority


I’d love to hear how various protestant denominations deal with the issue of authority. Here are just a few NT passages that deal with authority (Emphasis added).

Acts 15 Council of Jerusalem

I Timothy 3:1, 5
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work…For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?

I Peter 5:1-6
So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you younger members, be subject to the presbyters.

Philippians 1:1
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

Hebrews 13:7, 17
Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.…Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Can you identify such a structure of hierarchical authority within your own Church? Do members of your Christian community take seriously the authority of their ministers; or is the individual still the primary source of authority?


How can they follow those when Protestantism is founded on the “itching ears” principle of 2 Tim 4:3 (one of my favorite verses)???
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers** to say what their itching ears want to hear.**


Many will just point the finger at themselves and say that they are the only authority, the Holy Spirit is their authority and will interpret for them. We’ve seen how that’s worked over 500 years.:rolleyes:

I’ve seen some try to say that Matthew 16:18-20 is applicable to them :eek:

In Pax Christi


I don’t have time to write out a detailed response right now.

But each Protestant denomination (or non-denomination) is different when it comes to authority . Almost all of them claim that the Bible is the sole authority, but most denoms recognize that there are various people who are more qualified to interpret the Bible.

This issue was the Big Issue for me when it came to joining the Catholic Church. I am convinced that in the last decade, many of the evangelical churches have fallen apart and become anarchies (every man, woman and child for himself) over the issue of authority. The Christians in these churches are Biblically literate from a young age, and I believe that many evangelical Christians are uncomfortable with their current church “authorities.” I believe it is simply impossible for many of them who carefully read the Scriptures to continue “doing church” the way they do it, with a Book in charge, and a humanly-appointed heirarchy to lead the day-to-day affairs of the community.

I think this is the main reason why so many evangelicals “fall away.” (According to their teachings, they were never Christians to begin with if they fall away.) I also believe it is the main reason why so many evangelicals flit from church to church in a hopeless search for a church where they can “be fed.” They aren’t looking for food, they’re looking for parents: Papa and Mama (the Pope and the Church).

I believe they leave evangelical churches because they can’t justify opposing what is plainly obvious in the Bible–the CHURCH is the authority, and the CHURCH is not just an esoteric “idea,” but a real physical body with real human leaders who have been given authority to lead by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

If evangelicals ignore this, then they are deliberately ignoring many passages of the BIble, and that is impossible to do and still be an evangelical Protestant Christian.


Of course we have spiritual authority (pastors, deacons and elders) in our churches. And those scriptures cited apply equally to our authorities also.

Those of us in denominations have presbyters over the pastors.

Glad to clear up any misconceptions you may have about us.:smiley:


From **Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity **

Nevertheless, because the scriptures are only a declaration of the source, and not the source itself, they are not to be considered the principal foundation of all truth and knowledge. They are not even to be considered as the adequate primary rule of all faith and practice. Yet, because they give a true and faithful testimony of the source itself, they are and may be regarded as a secondary rule that is subordinate to the Spirit, from which they obtain all their excellence and certainty. We truly know them only by the inward testimony of the Spirit or, as the scriptures themselves say, the Spirit is the guide by which the faithful are led into all Truth (John 16:13). Therefore, according to the scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader (Rom 8:14). Because we are receptive to the scriptures, as the product of the Spirit, it is for that very reason that the Spirit is the primary and principal rule of faith.

Position statement from FriendsFriends World Committee for Consultation
Friends consider that true religion cannot be learned from books or set prayers, words or rituals, which George Fox called ‘empty forms’. When Quakerism began in England, the Bible had only just come into common circulation in English translation and was widely read and quoted. Most Protestant groups attributed a great finality and infallibility to it. The common desire for an external authoritative standard was very strong. In religious controversies, each group tried to find support somewhere in the wording of scripture.

At times, Friends fell into the same habit. But they also believed in the contemporary revelation of God’s will, parallel to what was described in the Bible. George Fox once said: “You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from the God?”

Friends refuse to make the Bible the final test of right conduct and true doctrine. Divine revelation is not confined to the past. The same Holy Spirit which has inspired the scriptures in the past can inspire living believers centuries later. Indeed, for the right understanding of the past, the present insight from the same Spirit is essential. Friends believe that, by the Inner Light, God provides everyone with access to spiritual truth for today.


And in context with the various Bible passages that speak about Bishops, Priest, and Deacons who does the spiritual authority come from and how it is to be handed on?

Or does one simply appoint themselves a Bishop, Priest or Deacon?


holy_wood, it all depends on the denomination.

I grew up in a denomination called “General Baptist Conference.”

The “Conference” is the organization of men in charge of this denomination. I’m not exactly certain how the men in charge of the Conference were placed there then, and it’s probably changed over the years. But I can say with certainty that they were and are men who were college-educated and usually seminary-educated, usually pastors or missionaries. These are not self-appointed individuals.

These men in the Conference were in charge of the denomination, making sure that churches were well-run and that any deviation from the Scriptures or from the church doctrine was dealt with. If a member of the GBC had a complaint and couldn’t get it dealt with in their local church, they would appeal to the Conference.

Each church in the GBC has a Senior Pastor. Bigger churches have Associate Pastors, Youth Pastors, Christian Education Pastors, and Music ministers. My old church has a Children’s minister, too.

The pastors are ordained by the GBC. They are in charge of their church, but they are answerable to the Conference.

While I was growing up, each church in the GBC also had deacons, who were members of the congregation that were nominated and voted upon by the members (vote of approval). Back then, the deacons did the duties that are prescribed in the Scripture for elders. But in recent years, the GBC churches have elected not only deacons, but elders. The elders, along with the pastors, are in charge of the spiritual needs in the Church, while the deacons take care of the physical needs (taking care of the poor, etc.)

Often the Music minister and Children’s minister are not ordained pastors, but professionals who have a degree that makes them qualified for the special work of leading a large church music program or children’s program.

In the GBC, the congregation “calls” their pastors. When a church needs a new pastor, a Search Committee is formed (usually by election), and they search for suitable candidates. They invite candidates to the church, and these men preach, teach, and visit, as well as undergo interviews and examinations. It is an arduous process. At the end of the process, the Committee may (or may not) present a recommendation to the congregation in a specially-called business meeting to “call the pastor.” The congregation will vote Yay or Nay. In the church I grew up in, the vote had to be 100% “Yay”, or the pastor was NOT called. I don’t think this is true in other churches.

Each church also has officers who are members of the Congregation. The Trustees are those who are in charge of the church building and grounds. They often control a great deal of money (e.g., new roof, etc.).

There are lots and lots of committees for laypeople to become involved in, and usually in the GBC, people are elected to these committees. Usually the committees are only open to church members, although this may have changed over the years. Many of these committees have a sizeable budget to work with. I was in charge of VBS one year at my church, and had a budget of several thousand dollars.

The qualifications for all these people were and probably still are pretty strict. The passages in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy are used when selecting deacons and elders. I would imagine that nowadays, background checks are probably done on many of the committees positions to try to prevent sexual and other abuses.

It was all very organized and “comforting” when I was growing up. I had a lot of security within the authority of my GBC church.

But I fear in recent years, a lot of this authority structure just isn’t there anymore. It’s been quite a few years since I was active in the GBC, but my mom was active until she died in 2000. She told me things had changed quite a bit. I can’t tell you what the specific changes are.

Like I said in my earlier post, I think this disintegration of authority structure is one of the reasons for the attrition of so many evangelicals.

And every church is different. I was a member of a Christian church while in college, and they have a totally different authority structure than the GBC. When we lived in North Carolina, we were members of a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and they had a totally different authority structure than the GBC and the Christian church! We’ve also been members of the Reformed Church and the Evangelical Free Church, and both of these are totally different than all the others!

So you can’t make any general statements about authority structure in Protestant churches. Some are very strict in their requirements for leaders, while others are more relaxed.


Of course…that’s the way it works in ,my church…the pastor and deacons are all self appointed…isn’t that the way it is supposed to work in all churches…:rolleyes: :banghead: :bigyikes: :shrug:

Actually it is a variant on what Cat described…


What kind of a variant?

  • Not as large of a church
  • Not sure how a new senior pastor would work. Ours has been here about 25 years or so.
  • Elders are nominated by the pastor and elders and ratified by congregation
  • Deacons are nominated and voted by the congregation
  • Ministry heads (I think) are appointed


Thanks mozart. I am curious. I appreciate your sticking to the facts.


Thats interesting. But my point was that the offices of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon are biblical in nature. These offices were created by Christ (God),

As such one should know how the authority is passed on and how it has been passed down through the ages. To know who has it.

There have obviously been abuses of power in the Catholic Church. As well as in other denoms(but the problem is human sin). I know of no Christian who would believe any of the Aposles were Impeccable after the holy spirit descended at Pentacost.

Any sin they or there successors commited did not negate there God-given authority. Just as the Pharisees sins did not negate theres.

Matthew 23:1-4

Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe,that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

I do not believe every Bishoip, Pastor and Deacon in the Protestant traditions appointed themselves to those positions.

I do believe if you go back far enough you will find one man or a group of men who did based on there own authority started there own clergical body.

And thats where the problem arises. When anyone can start up there own Church there lies no true authority. And the doctrine of God becomes incresingly distorted.


holy_wood, the OP asked the following question:

“I’d love to hear how various protestant denominations deal with the issue of authority.”

I agree with much of what you say, holy_wood. But the OP wants to know about various denominations and non-denominational ecclesial communities. So at this point, I think it would be good to hear from a few others.

I know that I have described “autonomous” vs. “denominational” churches before on CAF, but it’s worth reviewing.

Churches that are autonomous have NO central denominational governing body. Each church operates on its own. Its pastor, elders, deacons, and other officers are selected or elected by the church itself.

Examples of such churches are the Christian church, the Evangelical Free Church in America, and of course, the non-denominational churches.

There may be a “loose” organization that these churches communicate with, but they are NOT accountable to these organizations. The organizations exist mainly as a clearinghouse to help the various churches find what they need, provide seminars, and sometimes, to run a college or seminary.

Churches that are “denominational” have organizations that are in authority over them. Sometimes these organizations actually appoint the pastors, and sometimes they don’t. But the pastors ARE answerable to the organization. The church is assessed for a certain amount of money to keep the denominational headquarters up and running.

Examples of these churches include the Methodists, the General Baptist Conference, the Southern Baptists, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (a VERY strong denominational organization runs these churches), and the various Lutheran denoms.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each authority style.

An autonomous church has total control over what they will teach and preach, and how their monies are spent. They can support whatever missionaries they please. They can start a mission or a school or a theater or a bar. No one will interfere with them or try to stop them.

On the other hand, there is no authority to stop a heretical or even criminal pastor. A member who has been wronged can’t appeal to a “higher authority” (other than secular authorities, like the cops if a crime has occurred).

Also, the church has only the monies that it takes in. If things get “slow,” often the church will have to shut down due to lack of funds. There is no denominational organization to send them an emergency check.

Finally, the autonomous churches sometimes (but not always) tend to be “pastor” centered, and when the pastor leaves or dies, the church shrivels up and dies.

A denominational church is often told by the denomination what to teach and how to teach it. There are Statements of Faith that must be adhered to, and certain programs that are allowed, while others aren’t allowed. (e.g., AWANAs is allowed in many denoms, but not in others). This may seem like a disadvantage, but it’s actually an advantage. All the material has been checked and re-checked for Scriptural accuracy. Many of the material are supplied by the denomination.

A denomination has more “money,” since the monies can be spread out among the churches. This means that the denomination can mount an organized “missions” effort, and pool resources to support career missionaries.

There are also other resources that a denomination can supply: seminars, conferences, mentors, etc.

And of course, the denominational headquarters is available for members who have grievances, and they have the POWER to do something about a grievance. For example, if a pastor is accused of sexual irregularities, the denomination can take away his/her ordination and forbid him/her to preach in their churches. They can also help the victim to file criminal charges, and stand behind the victim. And they will be there to support the church congregation that is rocked by this kind of horrible sin. They can supply an interim pastor, counselling and healing, and monies to keep the church afloat during a time when many members might quit.

It is very important for Christians to understand what type of church authority they are submitting to when they become involved with a church. I personally would NEVER, EVER get involved with an autonomous church again because of the lack of accountability of the pastors and church leaders. When we were kicked out of our Evangelical Free church, we looked for a “denominational headquarters” to file a grievance with over the way we were treated (cruelly). But there ISN’T a denomination headquarters in the EFree churches; each church is its own final authority. So we were s-c-r-e-w-e-d and this church continues to meet and these pastors continue to preach and destroy who knows how many other people? (We have spoken with a counselor who claims that many damaged patients come from our former church.) And there’s NOTHING we can do about it except pray!


Thanks for your input holy_wood.

Do you believe that the governing authority of your Church is protected from error with respect to matters of faith and morals?


fine I’ll back off a little.:smiley:


Well yeah.:confused:
I would not be a very good Catholic if I believed otherwise.:slight_smile:

Oh yeah. I believe only the Pope is error free. When he says he is.



Sorry mate. That question was meant for Mozart-250.


Well next time be more specific.:smiley:


Yeah, my bad. :thumbsup:

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