Biblical Authority: Positional or Relational?
The Big Mistake in the Organic Church Movement
House Churches are biblical; church buildings aren't. A multiplicity of
non-power-hungry elders who don't inhibit the members of the body from
ministering and fulfilling their functions is biblical; vs the opposite.
But I wonder how much of the house church movement, and its downplaying
of first century apostolic authority, and its downplaying of almost all
present day elder authority and responsibility (rather than just
condemning its abuse), is just part of the bigger movement of "the
mystery of lawlessness ... already at work," in the world 2Thes2:7,
disdaining all authority structures in all realms, and riding on and
making use of the commendable attempt to return to a Biblical ecclesia?
There is a difference between positional and functional leadership, and a
substitution of one for the other can cause problems. If Biblical
authority is heirarchical and positional, let's start by considering
how that might affect those who are not elders (which I assume is the
majority of us in the church). If eldership is positional and not merely
functional then "there am I in the midst of them" Mt18:20 does not
equal "when ye come together in the church" or "when ye come together
therefore into one place" etc etc 1Cor 11 - 14 or "the assembling of
yourselves together" which we are not to "forsake" Heb10:25; and thus
non-elders have an obligation to attempt to gather with more complete
groups when feasible rather than just shooting some pool together over a
few drinks now and then. So the church is organic since it is his body,
but the whole foundation of some versions of organic church, relational
church, and simple church doctrines must reinterpret all references to
rightful hierarchical authority structures in the New Testament to be
merely functions to be able to consider their practices to be Biblical.
The Father/Son Relationship in the Godhead
The Father/Son relationship in the Godhead is a hierarchical one.
Frank Viola is wrong on this topic because he claims the relationship
between the Father and the Son is not positional/heirarchical in his
chapter on "Who Is Your Covering."
In value and essence, Christ is equal to God the Father in every way.
Jesus, “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal
with God,” Phil2:6. But in position, "The Father is greater than I",
Jn14:28, and therefore Jesus always functions in the role that a son
does to a father.
* The Father gives, the Son receives, “so hath he given to the Son to
have life in himself,” Jn5:26. Jn10:29, "My Father, which gave them me,
is greater than all."
* The Father teaches; the Son learns, “I do nothing of myself; but as my
Father hath taught me,” Jn8:28. * The Father sends; the Son goes, “he
that sent me is with me,” Jn8:28. Jn13:16, "neither [is] he that is sent
greater than he that sent him."
* The Father commands; the Son obeys,“I do always those things that
please him,” Jn8:29. "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own
will, but the will of Him who sent Me," Jn6:38.
* The Father loves and shows; the Son submits and watches. Jn5:20, "For
the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself
Both submit to each other but only in ways appropriate to their offices;
the Father submits by loving and giving up his self interest for the
sake of the Son, and the Son submits by giving up his own will to do the
will of the Father, so there can be prefect unity and harmony together.
It would be inappropriate for the Son to teach, or send, or command the
From eternity past, Christ functioned as the Son of God. Rm1:3-4, “his
Son ... which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and
declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of
holiness.” Who was it that was made flesh? It was “his Son” as the
beginning of the verse states. Also, he had to be“made” flesh, but he
only had to be “declared” to be the Son that he already was from
And for eternity future, Christ will remain in an inferior position to
the Father. “And when all things shall be subdued unto him [the Son],
then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him [God] that put all
things under him [the Son], that God may be all in all,” 1Cor15:28.
We (especially in the organic church movement) want to know Jesus first
and only in simplicity without encumbrance. Well, this is an important
thing to know about Jesus, that he is forever in a
positional/hierarchical authority relationship with his Father that
greatly affects everything about him.
The Three Family-Related Authority Structures
The three family relationships are mentioned together in the same order
in two places and the three relationships certainly seem parallel to
each other in the texts. They are obviously the same kind of
* "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands ... as unto the Lord
... as the church is subject unto Christ ... that she reverence her
* Children, obey your parents ... in the Lord ... honour thy father and mother.
* Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters ... as unto Christ ... as the servants of Christ ... as to the Lord."
* Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands ... as it is fit in the Lord.
* Children, obey your parents in all things ... unto the Lord.
* Servants, obey in all things your masters ... as to the Lord."
How can anyone say that the husband/wife and parent/child relationships
are merely functional/non-hierarchically relationships and the
employer/employee relationship is a positional/hierarchical relationship
expositorily, based on an exegesis of those passages (versus their own
thoughts), when they all sound so similar in the texts? Especially the
parent/child and employer/employee relationships:
Children, obey ... in the Lord.
Servants, be obedient ... as to the Lord."
Children, obey ... unto the Lord.
Servants, obey ... as to the Lord.
Does it really sound like children are obeying functionally and
non-hierarchical while servants are obeying positionally and
hierarchically?!!! It's the same word: obey. How could God have said it
more plainly if he wanted us to know that they are both
And these verses further link together the husband/wife and parent/child
relationships, 1Tim: Elders are to "rule well his own house, having his
children in subjection with all gravity ... Likewise deacons ... rule
their children and their own houses well." Where is the mutual
submission in that? Why aren't wives told to rule their husbands and
And how can anyone say that children are supposed to obey their parents
for functional rather than positional reasons because parents are more
mature? What if the dad is a no good selfish slacker and some other
adult is more mature? Should the child obey the other adult instead of
It is true that before going into the three specific family-related
positional authority relationships in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, Paul says in
Ephesians 5:20, "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of
God." People love to grab the one short verse 20, and then ignore
the teachings of the next 21 verses. What they fail to see is that
all six parties in the husband/wife, parent/child, master,servant
relationship are submitting to each other, but only in ways that are
appropriate for each in his respective position. A husband submits
to his wife by sacrificing himself for his wife (like Christ) and not
choosing the path that is best for himself but the path that is best for
his wife. The wife submits to her husband by submitting, by
giving up her own will to follow her husbands lead. It would be
inappropriate for a wife to lead her husband. It would be
inappropriate for the children to make commands to their parents and the
parents to obey their children, or the employees to make commands to
their employer and the employer to obey the commands of his employees.
Hierarchical relationships provide the only way that people can walk
together long-term, otherwise their paths eventually diverge. "Can
two walk together, except they be agreed?" Amos 3:3. Vertical
relationships are the only relationships that provide unity by providing
structure, horizontal homogeneous relationships like mud provides no
lasting unity. We are all united to each other only horizontally
only because we are all united to God vertically. 1Jn1:3, "That
which we have seen and heard [Yeshua, vertically] declare we unto you,
that ye also may have fellowship with us [horizontally]: and truly our
fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." We
are one with each other horizontally only because we are one with him
vertically. Jn17:20, "
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on
me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art
in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world
may believe that thou hast sent me. ... that they may be one, even
as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect
But What About Servant Leadership as Taught By Jesus?
Lu6:12ff, "He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose
twelve whom He also named apostles: ... Peter, and Andrew ..., James and
John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James ... and Simon
..., Judas, and Judas Iscariot which also was the traitor." Lu9:1ff,
"Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and
authority over all devils, and to cure diseases." Mt19:28, 20:25ff,
"Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration,
when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have
followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes
of Israel ... Jesus called them to Himself and said, You know that the
rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great
exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but
whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant ...
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve."
People in the Biblical Church movement (house church, organic church,
simple church movements, etc.) often forget that Jesus taught the twelve
apostles about leading by serving right after telling them they would
sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the future.
He was not telling them not to have any positional authority in the
church but rather that even though he placed them in positions of
authority they were not to -lord it over- people but to -act- like
servants. He wasn't telling them to abdicate the positions he had placed
them in, just as he did not stop being our Lord or abdicate his
position of authority over us by serving us. It's the manner of
leadership that was at issue, not the fact of leadership.
Likewise in John 14 when Jesus girded himself with a towel and washed
the disciples feet, "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for
so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you
also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example,
that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a
servant is not greater than his master." Jesus did not abdicate his
position as our Lord and Teacher and become a servant by serving us
(function), he remained our Lord. That's the kind of leadership he wants
us to imitate, a loving leader leadership not a non-leader leadership.
And he didn't become the Lord by serving (function) either. He was and
is the Lord in -position- regardless of how he -functions-, but he wants
us to function in the power of the Holy Spirit and in love and in
serving, not like the world.
He wants people in real positions of real authority who act like
servants. Anyone can avoid the temptation to act like a master when he's
not a master (well not everyone), but it takes the new life in Christ
for a person who actually is in authority to act like a servant. The
organic church movement should keep all the most extreme language we
have about not controlling, or domineering, or seeking power, but
serving unselfishly etc.; but apply it to elders who are actually in
positions of authority. That's the real NT miracle of servant-like
leadership that the Lord has accomplished by sending us his Spirit.
The Limits of Biblical Authority Relationships
Many people in the Organic Church movement have more concern than they
need to about Biblical authority structures because they are not aware
of the scriptural limits of Biblical authority structures. For
example, the twelve apostles had more authority than anyone who ever
lived besides Yeshua. But even their authority was not
unlimited. I believe the Book of Acts, or otherwise called the
Book of the Acts of the Apostles, starts out with an example of the
apostles overstepping their authority as a warning against unlimited
authority. They gave God two choices to replace Judas based on a
half-true criteria for choosing and then cast lots and claimed God chose
Mathias while God remained absolutely silent. Mathias was indeed
"numbered among the twelve," but by the church at large, not by God.
Jesus had taught them that the apostles would be his eyewitnesses and
they knew the prophecy re Judas from the Psalms so they stepped in to
help God out not realizing that God had a supernatural solution in mind
by sending Jesus back to teach Paul, "not of man but by revelation" so
that Paul could be an eyewitness of the resurrection "as one born out of
time." Just like Abraham once stepped in to help God out with
Hagar when God had a supernatural plan to give Abraham a son through
Sarah. The apostles did not even have the authority to choose a
representative for me or you or for each other, so even more-so they did
not have authority to choose a representative for Jesus, only Jesus
Also, people think that the authority of the apostles and elders
operates in the spiritual realm, but all our authority structures
operate in the physical realm. For example, a husband and wife become
"one flesh", not "one spirit." The apostles placed some laws on the
Gentile churches not to eat blood, or things sacrificed to idols, or to
commit fornication. This was within their authority to do so and the
church is still bound to keep those laws (whatsoever you shall bind,
meaning prohibit, on earth will be bound, it's prohibition endorsed by,
in heaven). Elders in a church group should lead by consensus, but they
have the ultimate authority to decide things like where the next meeting
will be, and what the meeting will be like, etc. But no one has the
authority to decide what another person believes, for example. I am
accountable to God for my doctrine and I will not be able to use someone
else as an excuse for my spiritual errors. When Peter got sucked back
into legalism Paul stood up against him in Acts 15.
We have all been in many situations where others had authority over us
that made bad choices or were not the best of leaders and we know how to
handle those situations without rebelling and becoming disrespectful or
unsubmissive. If a parent decides we will have the meal outside when
the weather report is forcasting a thunderstorm, we respect our parent
and go along with the plan to eat outside and when it rains we may think
"I told you so," but no real harm done, just some inconvenience to us.
If we are supposed to suffer loss rather than take a brother to court we
can handle a rained out meal. We can go along with more serious things
than that too, like not buying a car till we graduate, or whatever it is
our dad, or boss, or husband wants that is inconvenient to us, which we
then do for unity, and out of respect, and "as unto the Lord", meaning
we ain't doing it for that person but because we want to please God and
God will reward us for it. But we would never disobey God to obey men,
or let someone else decide our doctrine for us, or submit to someone
acting beyond their authority, like an elder trying to choose a mate for
us or something.
As for prophets, we are under obligation to obey the words of their
prophecy, because they are the words of God, the same as scripture.
However, they have to actually be prophets. Jer14:14, "The prophets
prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded
them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and
divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart."
Jer23:25-30, "I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in
my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be
in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets
of the deceit of their own heart; ... Behold, I am against them that
prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my
people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them
not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at
all, saith the LORD." I believe the gift of prophesy was given by the
laying on of the hands of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, so there
haven't been any church prophets since the generation after the apostles
died. Acts8:18, "when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles'
hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me
also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy
Ghost," which obviously had to be the 'gifts' and 'manifestation'
(1Cor12:7) of the Holy Ghost because receiving the Holy Ghost himself
only comes via being saved. The church is "built upon the foundation of
the apostles and prophets," Eph2:20, and you only lay a foundation once.
The Motivation of Those Who Deny Positional Authority Is Biblical
My motivation in writing this is for us to be Biblical. We will be
harmed or miss important benefits if positional authority is God's
design and we miss it because of, for example, our eagerness to escape
from the problems and abuses of IC leadership.
What about the motivations of those who oppose positional
authority? To lead up to an answer to that question, let's
consider the first half of 1Corinthians 11. The section really
begins in verse 2, "Now I praise you ...," as many of the major sections
in 1Cor begin with a phrase like, 1Cor7:1, "Now concerning the things
whereof ye wrote unto me ...", "Now as touching things offered unto
idols ...," 1Cor8:1, "Now concerning spiritual gifts ...," 1Cor12:1,
"Now concerning the collection for the saints ...," 1Cor16:1. The
section is part of the bigger section about church gatherings in 1
Corinthians 11-16, and is part of the section on the two church
ordinances in Chapter 11: the Headcovering Ordinance in 11a and the
Lord's Supper ordinance in 11b. The chapter is divided into two
parts, 11a and 11b, by the phrases, "Now I praise you ...," in 11:2
which begins the passage about the Headcovering; and "Now ... I praise
you not," in 11:17 that begins the passage about the Lord's Supper.
The first thing to note is that Paul was not writing to scold the
Corinthians about anything in the first half of 1Cor11. Instead he
-praised- them for the way they were keeping the headcovering
ordinance, "Now I praise you, brethren, that you ... keep the
ordinances," 11:2. Ordinances are authoritative apostlic
transmittals from the apostles to the church, also translated in verb
form as "delivered" in verse 2. Other apostolic transmittals are
the Lord's Supper in 11:23ff "For I have received of the Lord that which
also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus ... took bread: and ...
brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you:
this do in remembrance of me;" and the gospel in 1Cor15:1ff "I
declare unto you the gospel ... for I delivered unto you first of all
that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according
to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the
third day according to the scriptures."
So the Corinthians were doing a good job keeping the headcovering
observance (the passage is not about Paul scolding them for looking like
prostitutes or some such made up stuff), so why did he write about it
to them? So that they would 'know' the meaning of what they were
doing more fully; like some churches give a communion meditation before
the Lord's Supper to help people better understand the meaning of the
symbolism. Paul said he praised them, "but I would have you KNOW,"
So what is the meaning that underlies the Headcovering Ordinance?
It is the authority structure of male and female that God created.
"I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the
head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God,"
11:3. By the way, "man" in this passage means "male," not husband,
as some have translated it; and "woman" means female, not "wife", as
some have translated it. Verse 11 would not make sense if Paul
were talking about "husband" and "wife": "As the 'wife' is of the
'husband' even so is the 'husband' also by the 'wife', because all men
are born of women but not all men are born of wives. The amazing
thing about 1Cor11"3 is that Paul says Christ is the head of EVERY male,
not just Christian ones. Because, God instructed that only males
were allowed to be high priests of Israel, for example, even unbelievers
like Caiphas; and only males were allowed to be apostles of Christ,
even unbelievers like Judas; but no women, not even believing women,
were allowed to be priests or apostles etc.
"The head of the woman is the man," refers to the special subordinate
role that God created for females. This is borne out in the three
special ministries of women - Modest Dress, Quietness, and Submission -
found in three parallel places about the society, the home, and the
1) In Society, 1Tim2:9-15: “In like manner also, (Modest Dress:)
that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and
sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
but, which becometh women professing godliness, with good works. (Quietness:) Let the woman learn in silence (Submission:)
with all subjection,” 1Tim2:9-11. Paul does not start talking about the
church until 1Tim3:1, “If a man desire the office of a bishop."
2) In the Home, 1Peter3. “Likewise, ye wives ... (Modest Dress:)
whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the
hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be
the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, (Quietness:)
even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of
God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women
also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, (Submission:) being in subjection to their own husbands: even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord,” 1Pet3:1-6.
3) In the Church, 1Cor. “Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth (Modest Dress:) with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head ... let her be covered,”1Cor11:5-6. “Let your women (Quietness:) keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; (Submission:) but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law,” 1Cor14:34.
The last part of 11:3 says, "and the head of Christ is God." This
verse puts to rest all challenges against the goodness of positional
authority because it shows Christ in a subordinate postition in the
Godhead. I showed earlier how the Father commands, the Son obeys;
the Father sends, the Son goes; etc.
In verses 4-6, Paul says that a man must not have anything on his head,
and a woman must have her head covered during the prayer and prophecy in
the church meetings. This is because the headcovering shawls on
the heads of the women symbolize the authority position of males in
between Christ and females as 11:3 said, "the head of every man is
Christ; and the head of the woman is the man." Prayer is man
speaking to God and prophecy is God speaking to man. Women are
present and participate in the corporate prayer along with the men in
the church service so though they are praying along directly to God in
their hearts the headcovering symbolizes that they willingly accept
their God-given subordinate role. And the women recieve the
prophecy from the prophets along with the men in the church service also
but the headcovering symbolizes their submission and acceptance of
their God-given subordinate roles. And by the church doing this
ordinance as a church service observance, the whole church shows and
symbolizes their submission and acceptance of God-ordained authority
In verses 7-9, all three verses beginning with the word "for," meaniing,
"because," Paul gives three reasons to show the appropriateness of the
male-female authority structure and the subordinate role of women.
None of these reasons are cultural; they are all from the account of
creation in scripture which does not change from age to age or from
culture to culture. I repeat, none of these reasons are cultural,
so this apostolicly commanded observance cannot be explained away with
cultural reasons. 1) Vs. 7, the man "is the image and glory of
God, but the woman is the glory (not image) of man." The word
"image" here is like an external picture on a coin, like when Jesus
asked to be shown a coin and asked whose image was on it. Most
women I know are not unhappy that they do not look like males. 2)
Vs. 8, "the woman is OF the man," meaning Eve was made from Adam's rib
and the one who comes first and is the source of the other has a higher
rank (Lu20:40-44; Jn1:30). 3) Vs. 9, "Neither was the man created for
the woman; but the woman FOR the man." If something is 'for' something
else it has a subordinate purpose. Woman was created to be a
'help', to play a supporting role. Gen2:18, "It is not good that the man
should be alone; I will make him an help meet FOR him."
Verse 10 says that angels are watching. “God, who created all
things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities
and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the
manifold wisdom of God,” Eph3:9-10. Angels are very concerned
about authority and service and the Headcovering Ordinance is a
testimony and object lesson to them of the grace of God to the church,
that while the rest of the world is throwing off all authority and
participating in "the mystery of lawlessness," the church is submissive
and obedient. This is symbolized by shawls on women's heads which
symbolizes "power," the KJV word for "authority" on their heads, showing
we are 'under' authority.
Verses 11 and 12 teach the mutual submission and interdependence that is
also part of all relationships in authority structures, though in the
manner appropriate for each role, as discussed earlier. Lest males
get puffed up they need to remember that "Nevertheless neither is the
man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman;
but all things of God." No man except Adam was not dependant on a
woman for his entry into this world.
In verses 13 to 15, Paul demonstrates the support of nature. God
made women so that it is natural for them to have longer hair than men,
and their long hair looks like the headcovering shawls.
Finally in verse 16, Paul says, "But if any man seem to be contentious,
we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." The word
contentious is from the greek word [‘philoneikos’] meaing "love of
power." The reason that men do not like the message of the
headcovering ordinance, and do not like the idea of authority structures
and subordinate roles is not really that they are trying to protect
others from being mistreated but that they themselves would not be
content in a subordinate role. But God requires all of us to be
content in subordinate roles, to bosses, to presidents and mayors, to
parents, to himself, etc. etc.
The only other place in the New Testament this greek word for
"contentious" is used is in Luke 22. “And there was also a strife
[‘philoneikos’] among them, which of them should be accounted the
greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise
lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are
called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest
among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that
doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that
serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that
serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And
I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that
ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones
judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Lk22:24-30. This is one of the
goals of the headcovering ordinance: to help us come to the kind of
understanding of authority that Jesus taught in Luke 22.
If any man was contentios against keeping the Headcovering Ordinance in
Paul's day he was going against common practice of "the churches of
God," vs. 16. If any man is contentious against keeping the
Headcovering Ordinance in our days he either hates submission and
obedience or he is duped by and reflects the culture of the world around
him. As the world throws off all Godly constraints and authority
structures so do they then reinterpret all the verses about authority
structures in the Bible to match the culture. As the world
redefines the role of women so do they in the church then reinterpret
the scriptures to match the culture they are in.