This is part five of a blog series by John Alley on the subject of apostolic authority. These are taken from Chapter 5 of his book, The Apostolic Revelation. Part four is available here.
Authority in Church Discipline
The local church (specifically the elders or leaders), does have all the authority needed to deal with matters of discipline and correction. The senior minister and the leaders should be carefully guarding the life and holiness of the church, by the grace of God and the authority of Jesus. But they are, or should be, accountable to an apostle. That apostle should hold them accountable for good church discipline, and will need to act if discipline is wanting.
No doubt you remember the very strong position taken by Paul in dealing with the Corinthian church over the extreme immorality of one of the members. Paul was distressed that they had not dealt with it appropriately themselves. Here is part of that passage:
“And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”(1 Corinthians 5:2-8).
Apostles will work to maintain the spirit of holiness and the purity of the faith in the life of the church
Notice the exercise of apostolic authority. Alone he passes judgement and says that in the meeting of the church he will be with them in spirit, and the power of Christ will be present. He commands that they are to hand the man over to Satan so that his sinful nature (the flesh) will be destroyed, in order that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Why did Paul take such a strong stand? Because the church did not do its job, and the sin, left undealt with, was very dangerous — in time it would affect the whole church with a weakness for moral sin, as he reminded them — “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast” (1 Corinthians 5: 6-7).
Some years ago I returned to my home church to discover the pastors and elders struggling with a serious problem. Here is what occurred.
A man in the district had been excommunicated by the leaders and members of a sister church, because he was a serious troublemaker who had filled the town and the churches with false accusations and terrible stories about the pastor and the church. This man had a history of arrogance and stirring up trouble, and now he had sworn himself to destroy that church and my church, as well as both the pastors.
During my absence he had telephoned my senior associate pastor and issued all kinds of threats — he was going to come to the church, he would expose the church, he would bring the media, etc. The leadership team met in my absence to discuss what to do, and agreed on the following course of action. They informed him that because of his excommunication from a sister church, he was therefore also excommunicated from us, and was as a result forbidden from attending our church. If he did so, we would call the police to remove him, if necessary.
(Note that the whole purpose of church discipline is undone if someone under correction or excommunication can simply walk into another fellowship. The purpose of discipline is to bring the person to repentance, and to then restore them to the fellowship of the church they are meant to have relationship with.)
The next Sunday morning I arrived in time for the service, to be informed about what had transpired. The troublemaker was there too, sitting amongst the believers, waiting for the meeting. I told my associate pastor that I would begin the service, and that since he had been dealing with the man, he should invite him into the library for discussion, and advise him to leave. So abusive was this man that he carried a portable tape recorder that he would hold in front of you to record whatever you said. It was another form of threat. He claimed also to be recording telephone conversations.
Whilst the church service proceeded, he argued at great length and refused to leave. The police were finally called to the library and ordered him to leave the property. The police advised him that this was our legal right, and if he did not obey our request, the police would be obliged to remove him forcibly. He left full of threats, and declared that the following Sunday morning he would return with the media to film and report him being forcibly removed.
On Tuesday night the leadership team met again. We prayed and sought the Lord’s grace and wisdom. Then we discussed what we should do if he came again the next Sunday. The brothers felt it was better to ignore him — better, they thought, than having his accusations exposed in the media. There seemed no real answer. But the Lord always has an answer, and we had prayed for grace.
I woke on Wednesday morning with the Lord speaking a very clear word — “Exercise the provisions of 1 Corinthians 5 against him,” and by the wisdom of the Spirit, I then knew exactly what to do.
The next Sunday morning he arrived half an hour early, and sat in the auditorium ready for the meeting. I arrived early to prepare and explain to the staff, the leaders, the worship leader and the sound system operator what to expect, and what to do to support me.
I then went and sat with this divisive brother, looking him in the eyes, but speaking very softly and slowly. I quietly advised him that he was to leave, in accordance with all previous discussions. He replied that he was refusing to leave. So, I advised him further; if he refused to leave and chose to remain, then in accordance with Christ’s instructions to me I was going to exercise the provisions of 1 Corinthians 5 against him during the service. He knew very well what this was — it had been part of his threats against others for many months. I then left him to consider what I said, but reminded him that if he remained I would act against him in accordance with the scriptures.
I waited until the end of the praise and worship period, receiving the microphone from the worship leader at the climax of the final song. The power of God was greatly present at this point, and I addressed the church.
I advised the church of the circumstances of ‘a particular brother who is present’, and briefly explained the meaning and purpose of 1 Corinthians 5 and excommunication. I also advised the church that I had explained to him personally what I needed to do, by the grace of God. Once I had explained the position, I named the brother before the church, and went to God in prayer.
In prayer, I handed him over for the judgement of God, and finished the prayer by making this declaration “...and so now, in the name of Christ Jesus, he is excommunicate!”
In the very moment I spoke those words, it was reported by a number of the believers, there was heard a loud “Crack!”- something in the spirit realm was rent - and the man who had been so much noise and trouble simply rose and left the building. He has never returned, and we have never heard from him again.
Paul refers to the authority that is given the apostle for the purpose of discipline when he warned the Corinthian church that he would deal with the arrogance of some of them on his next visit. “I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you”(2 Corinthians 13:2-4).
This can only mean the apostle had power at his disposal to carry out the disciplinary actions that were needed – not political or institutional power, but the actual power of God.
This is a right use of apostolic authority, for the sake of the church, the believers, and the individual who is under judgement. It is usually the means of saving them — rescuing them from their darkness. In most cases it is the one means remaining of restoring them to faith, repentance and Christ. In the case referred to in the Corinthian letters, that man too was saved from his sin and restored to the fellowship of the church (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).
Apostles are not afraid to exercise discipline, and will work to strengthen the resolution of the elders and the believers to maintain the spirit of holiness and the purity of the faith in the life of the church. “For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach - and that for the sake of dishonest gain... Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith...” (Titus 1:10-11,13).
General Authority as an Apostle
We have identified specific areas of authority for an apostle in relationship with specific churches, and we also made note of areas in which an apostle does not exercise authority, but gives freedom to the leadership and vision of others. There is, nevertheless, a general sense in which an apostle of Christ can speak with authority over all things.
The letter to Philemon records Paul’s appeal to a dear brother to receive back his runaway slave in a spirit of mercy and forgiveness. The slave, Onesimus, had become very dear to Paul — Paul refers to him as “my son... who became my son while I was in chains”. Paul had been greatly helped by Onesimus, but because he was a runaway slave, he felt obliged to send him back to Philemon. Paul’s concern was that Onesimus would be received and treated well, and so he writes, “...although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love” (Philemon 8-9).
Here we see an example of the general authority of an apostle. There is a sense in which he could truthfully command the believer to do anything needful that is in accordance with God’s will — anything right and holy in God’s sight. Yet the church does not function by rules and regulations; it can never thrive on orders alone. The real heart of the church is love; our real strength as God’s people is in relationship, and the apostle will function more by appeal than command, even though it is within his authority to speak boldly.
The apostle lives and works with this tension, knowing he holds far more authority than he can usually display, and humbly loving, encouraging and exhorting the saints.
On the other hand, with regard to preaching the revelation of Christ, the grace of God, and an appropriate response to it, boldness remains! There are times when the apostle and every minister of grace must be bold, as we see here: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim 6:17-19).
The ‘Rule of Thumb’ for Authentic Authority
A rule is a principle or a standard by which we measure things. When we speak of a ‘rule of thumb’, this usually means measuring something based on experience or practice, rather than theory.
A rule of thumb is a simple, quick, easy and reasonably accurate way to measure something. It is a way in which we can tell quickly if something is genuine, and if it measures up to what it should be. Such a ‘rule of thumb’ is needed to help us in assessing the validity of the authority or authorities that are in the church.
Two such ‘rules of thumb’ I feel are to be applied to the use of authority. These principles would apply to apostles and to any church or denominational leader.
Firstly, “no authority without relationship”. Personal, committed and loving relationships are the heart of what the church is all about, and these are the true foundations for genuine authority in leadership. We have seen too much institutional Christianity, or churchianity, and it is time that this should no longer be the nature of most of the visible church. We have seen religious leaders make decisions that affect churches from a position of institutional authority, yet have no real relationship with those churches.
True apostolic authority requires heart relationship. As Paul, who exercised great authority, described it, “I became your father”(1 Corinthians 4:15). This is simple really. If you do not have relationship with the pastors, the churches, the elders, the cities, etc., you do not have authority over them.
Secondly, “no authority without responsibility”. No one should be making decisions or exercising authority affecting the believers, and not also feel responsible for how it works out in the lives of the people.
An apostle who relates to a local church and is in relationship with the leaders will feel a concern and responsibility for their wellbeing. He will care about them personally. When he makes a decision, he knows it will directly affect the people to whom he relates.
As Paul declared, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). That’s the burden that must be on the heart of everyone serving as an apostle. An apostle will have a caring responsibility for the results of every decision.
In summary, it is the relationship and responsibility factors which will largely determine whether authority is genuine or spurious. The apostle will have relationship with Christ, and responsibility to Christ. The apostle will likewise have relationship with, and responsibility for, the leaders and believers.
Apostolic Authority over Finance
Apostles have grace to handle finance for the Kingdom of God. In reading about the church in the New Testament you come across what might seem a curious idea. The believers laid their gifts at the apostle’s feet (Acts 4:35, 37, Acts 5:2).
From the beginning apostles were trusted with finance, and in the church of the coming days apostles must also be trusted. The apostles have authority to handle finance for Christ, and He will be placing in their hands very large resources for the work of the coming days. Apostles should be directing the available resources of the church according to the greatest need and opportunity in the world today.
There are principles of ministry here. The resources of the church should serve the vision of the church, and those who are not the authorised leaders should not have final control of the finance or property of the church. Unfortunately, too often, subordinate leaders such as deacons or the treasurer use the financial levers of the church to control the pastor and the life of the church. This should never be.
In many places, once the constitution is established, the church is subservient to the constitution, and once the budget is drawn up, the church is bound to the budget. On the contrary, the constitution and the budget should serve the vision of the church and the leadership of those who are responsible for the implementation of it.
We have made this very clear in the ministry of our church. The leader of the ministry, and the vision given by God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit are to be served by the finance and the personnel in charge of financial management and administration. The treasurer is to be a servant to the leaders and does not dictate policy or make final decisions on the use of finance. That is the prerogative of the authorised leaders of the church.
In the coming days we will again see very significant amounts of money laid at the feet of the apostles. Wealth is about to flow into the Kingdom of God for the sake of the gospel. It will flow to those apostles who have the calling and anointing to handle millions of dollars for the cause of Christ. New works will be raised up across the nations. The apostolic ministry and those in submission to it will prosper, even in days when the world is in financial recession.