aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Pastoral authority

A year ago last November, a friend asked me a question via e-mail regarding where to find Scriptural warrant for pastoral authority in the local church. The following is an excerpt from my reply. (This is meant to set up a post later.)

[I take it you mean, (I wrote)] specific instructions that say that the ability to baptize, give communion, ordain, etc., resides in the local church? There are none.

For that matter, there are no specific instructions that say that the ability to baptize, give communion, ordain, etc. comes only from some specified hierarchy.

We can only infer from the practice of the earliest church. The apostles settled these matters. Jesus gives instructions to baptize specifically to the twelve. Peter & co. appointed the first deacons, for instance. Paul -- on his authority as an apostle -- appoints elders, dismisses members, and gives instructions on communion. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about the gifts of leadership which come from the holy Spirit -- that some should be apostles, some prophets, some pastor/teachers -- but does not say who is the judge of who has received those gifts.

The whole problem of authority is bound up with the apostolate. Who NOW has the power to do what the apostles did? The Pope says HE is the direct successor to St. Peter, and has the full authority to act as an apostle, defining the faith, organizing the Church, etc. The classical Reformation position is that when we are faithful to the Scriptures, the Church (however organized) has the power to use the authority of the apostles. Baptists basically say that every believer has the right to do whatever must be done; Methodists have always placed the authority to act in the powers of General Conference (as limited by the Restrictive Rules). Anglicans have retained the view that bishops are the direct successors of the apostles, but that their authority to act is diminished. The "Apostolics" believe that God simply raises up people who have the gift of governance, and no organizational stamp of approval can convey that, so their leaders kind of wander around, leading whoever wants to be led.

Most Protestants believe that to exercise the full authority of an apostle is now impossible, since none of us are witnesses to the risen Christ in the flesh -- which was the basis of Paul's claim to be an apostle. ("Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?") So, while we act as their agents, we cannot claim to act as they did.

Wesley sometimes colored outside the lines, though only with the greatest reluctance. And all of us are reminded at our ordination of his instructions to us, "Do not mend our rules, but keep them -- not for wrath, but for conscience's sake."
Tags: church, clergy, theology

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