Spiritual Authority


“Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority… The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren…” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

“Effective leaders value spiritual authority as a primary power base.” – J. Robert Clinton

In the study of leadership we know that leaders can lead from a variety of “power bases.” As the quote above states, the most optimal power base from which one in ministry should seek to lead is that of spiritual authority.

Clinton has written much on this, as have others. One of those that I particularly like is Mike Crow, serving with CRM in Asia, whose doctoral dissertation focused on spiritual authority specifically in an Asian context. Without oversimplifying his massive work – hundreds of pages that took about six years to complete – Mike helps us realize that the expression and exercise of spiritual authority is acutely dependent upon culture. They cannot be divorced.

But despite cultural variances, there are some biblical commonalities which Mike captures in his review of Paul’s defense of his spiritual authority in II Corinthians. This is a stimulating, provocative list. He writes that spiritual authority …

1. Is co-extensive with God’s actual working in a divine ethno-territorial assignment (10:12-18).
2. Is not for sale and must be free of pecuniary snares (11:7-12).
3. Will sacrifice and suffer for those served (11:16-33).
4. Has a revelatory component (12:1-6).
5. May work through the weak and ordinary, as well as the polished and accomplished (12:5-10).
6. Grows out of a passionate burden to see bridal love for Jesus blossom in the hearts of those served (11:1-6).
7. Is characterized by theological orthodoxy and a thirst to know the Word of God in a thorough and extensive manner (11:6).
8. Demonstrates an uncompromising antipathy toward spiritual charlatanism (11:13-15).
9. Is evidenced by divine activity in spiritual gifts (12:12).
10. Is ready to reprove and discipline when necessary (13:2-3).
11. Is most truly evidenced by the impartation of the transforming Spirit of Christ into the lives of others (13:5, 6).
12. Is not contingent on dynamic personality traits (10:1).
13. Is prior to and transcends rhetorical-oratorical-homiletical skills (10:11; 11:6).
14. Welcomes genuine spiritual authority in other leaders, but guards against spurious counterfeits (1 Cor 16:12).
15. Can be communicated through many forms as an expression of divinely given personality, calling, gifting and opportunity.

These fifteen characteristics of spiritual authority are true whether the leadership is directive or consensual, congregational or hierarchical, and apply regardless of the setting …a mega-church, emerging church, apostolic movement, house-church, or denominational setting. The application is broad.
Painting is Rembrandt’s 1657 masterpiece, The Apostle Paul.

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