IV. ON BEING THE AUTHORITY
In the church not only is there the question of submission to authority, but there is also the question of being the authority. To submit to authority means that others have the authority and you submit to it. To be an authority means that authority is with you and you should act as the authority. On one hand, the elders should submit to authority; on the other, they are also the authority. Strictly speaking, this principle applies not only to the church, but to all representative authorities among human communities. On the one hand, there is the submission to authority, and on the other hand there is the exercise of authority.
In some local churches, the elders were born humble. They are influenced by the modern age and are quite democratic. They never know what authority is. You can predict that the churches under their hands will never be strong. In order for a local church to be strong, there must be some submitting-to-authority brothers who act as the authority. They will neither try to nullify everyone’s feeling, nor will they allow everyone to say what they will. In some churches, you do not touch any authority; what you touch is only arguments and much opinion. The reason for this is that, on the one hand, their elders failed to learn the lesson of submission to authority, and on the other hand, much less have the elders themselves learned to be the authority.
In some local churches, I have met some elders who, because of their unwillingness to submit to authority, have purposely made things a little more democratic. I believe you understand what I mean. Such ones want to condemn the authority that they are supposed to submit to; they do not want any authority. As a result, they do not want to be the authority themselves, and everything becomes democratic. However, I want to tell the brothers and sisters that this kind of action betrays the church and sacrifices it. In order to justify their refusal to submit to authority, they try not to be the authority themselves. Whatever things happen, they just go along with what the brothers and sisters deem best. The meaning of this, to put it in a blunt way, is simply: "I don’t mind other people’s business, so don’t mind my business. I will not be anyone’s authority, and I will not submit to anyone else’s authority." Brothers and sisters, this is something from Babel. It is something that comes from the spirit of Babel. The church in such a place should be called Babylon, because there is confusion, and the tongues have been confounded, and those in it do not speak the same language any longer. To have many languages and to have the tongues confounded is a sign of punishment from God. It shows that there is no authority. It was not a good sign to have no king in Israel and to have every man doing that which was right in his own eyes.
Brothers, whenever you propose democracy or autocracy in the church, you are denying God’s authority. In the church there is no democracy, and there is likewise no autocracy. In the church, there should only be God’s presence and God’s delegated authority. The elders need to learn to touch authority, to submit to authority, and to be the authority. The church is not a place where people express their opinion or where they debate. It is a place where God is feared, His lordship is honored, and His presence rests and is represented. Only when such is found is there the church.
To repeat, in the church, there is God’s presence, and the representation of this presence. This representation is the authority. If you submit to it and allow it to manifest itself upon you, you will eventually become the authority. If you are an elder in a local church, but you can never be an authority, you have to realize that you have utterly failed.
(The Elders' Management of the Church, Chapter 5, by Witness Lee)