V. NOT EXERCISING AUTHORITY
Since an elder is the authority, how should he exercise authority? Please remember that the way to exercise authority is to not exercise authority. If the elders in the church have the attitude that they are the elders, that they have the authority, and that they are here to exercise their authority, that would be one of the ugliest things there is! We see an amazing thing in the attitude of Moses in Numbers. He was indeed an authority, but look at how he exercised his authority. On the one hand, he was being the authority. On the other hand, he was not exercising authority. The exercise of authority that I am talking about is one that neither refrains from the use of authority nor exercises authority. This is indeed wonderful. Moses was a person who was always the authority among the Israelites, yet he never exercised his authority. His not exercising his authority was his exercise of authority. I believe you understand what I mean. Everyone who exercises authority to claim that he is an elder, that he has the authority to deal with such-and-such a matter, and that he will exercise this authority, is using his authority in the wrong way! A person can only be an authority; he can never exercise authority. If you can be an authority without exercising authority, this is the genuine exercise of authority. This is what I mean by the exercise of authority.
You can find out from reading the Scriptures that Moses as a leader differs from all the other leaders of the world. Today, every leader of every nation exercises his authority, but Moses did not exercise his authority. Nevertheless, Moses never let go of anything; he was always there as the authority. After he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the Israelites dancing and worshipping the golden calf, he did not call a committee meeting. Had he done that, probably ninety percent of the people would have agreed to worship the golden calf. Moses did not give them the chance to discuss anything. He told them to take away the calf, and he ground it to powder and scattered it upon the water for the children of Israel to drink. This was not his exercising of his authority; it was him being there as the authority. In the whole record of Moses, you can see that he never exercised his authority. He was the authority, yet he never exercised authority. In actuality, he was exercising his authority in this way.
It is a regrettable thing as well as a shameful one that in some local churches there are elders who are apparently not the authority. Yet in reality they exercise authority very much. Outwardly they act very democratic, yet in fact they hold the authority in their own hands. This is a very shameful thing. If you and I are to be the elders and are to oversee the church, we have to learn on the one hand to submit to authority, and on the other hand to be God’s delegated authority. At the same time, we should not exercise authority. You should not say that since you are an elder, what you say has to count and what you decide must be done. If you do not exercise your authority, you are in reality being the authority there. This seems to be a contradicting word. How can someone be an authority without exercising authority? And how can a person not exercise his authority while at the same time he is the authority? Nevertheless, I believe the brothers and sisters know what this means in their practical experience. There is nothing contradicting about it. If you are not clear about this matter, consider the story of Moses again. He was a delegated authority. He submitted to authority, and he was acting also as the authority. However, many times when difficulty came, he submitted to God, and he did not exercise his authority. His not exercising the authority was his most dignified way of exercising authority. It is only when one submits to the authority in the church, and only when he is being an authority as well, that he can apply his authority by refraining from exercising authority. I believe that the brothers and sisters understand what I mean. This is the proper condition of an elder.
May the Lord have mercy upon us and open our eyes to see that without authority, there will be no administration, and without administration, there will be no church. May we receive His mercy to meet sooner or later such a representation of His presence in the church. This representation is the authority. Once we touch authority, we will have to learn to submit to authority and to learn to represent Him as the authority. At the same time, we should be like Moses, not exercising authority. In the end, this will itself be the proper exercise of authority.
(The Elders' Management of the Church, Chapter 5, by Witness Lee)