V. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH
God’s government in the universe depends on God’s authority. In the same way, the church’s government also depends on the church’s authority. The New Testament shows us clearly that the authority of the church is entrusted to the elders and is completely in the hands of the elders. Although the elders are appointed by the apostles, God has not entrusted the authority of the church to the hands of the apostles. The Apostle Paul could set up elders in the church, but when the matter of excommunication was to be carried out, Paul did not have the direct authority to excommunicate others. The authority of excommunication was in the hands of the elders in Corinth. The apostles do not have direct authority to deal with matters of the church. All the authority in the church is entrusted to the elders.
Acts chapter fifteen shows us that when one local church has a problem, and the problem is such that it affects the other churches, the question should be solved by the apostles and the elders together. In that particular instance in Jerusalem, the apostles did not make independent decisions apart from the elders. The apostles decided on the matter in conjunction with the elders. The reason for this is that the matter originated from the church in Jerusalem. Apart from the elders in Jerusalem, the apostles had no way to deal with the difficulty of the church there. Here we can see the importance of the elders’ authority. The apostles do not have direct authority to deal with affairs of a local church. The authority of a local church is fully in the hands of the elders.
I hope that the workers serving the different churches would be careful. Unless you are an elder in a local church, you have no authority to directly touch the affairs of the local church. Although some local churches have elders, the authority is in the hands of the workers; this is a big mistake. No matter how much help a worker renders to a local church, even if the church there has been established by him, if he is not an elder there, the authority of the church is not in his hands.
You could imagine that if there were no government in the universe and God’s authority were to be denied, the universe would surely be in chaos. In the same principle, if there is no authority or government in the church, it will also be improper, in chaos, weak, and off the track. If the spiritual condition of a church is normal, there will surely be government and authority. The government and authority there are the elders appointed by God in their midst.
I hope that the brothers and sisters would be delivered from the improper concept that considers this matter to be the Nicolaitans among us, or that this is the Diotrephes who loves to be the first, or that this is a contradiction of the teaching of Matthew chapter twenty. There the Lord says clearly that we should not be as the Gentiles, with rulers to lord over others. Rather we are all brothers. Every time someone says this to me, I would answer him by saying that if he can rule over himself, then let him rule over himself. There is no need for others to rule over him. I encourage him to take this way of independence from the rule of others. I believe all of you know what I mean. One time I was in Manila, and an elderly sister came to me, saying, "Brother Lee, isn’t this talk about authority a way of manipulating everybody to submit to someone?" I smiled and answered, "In that case it would be better if you are the first one to refuse any obedience. Why should you be manipulated?" We have to see that there is a problem with our human concept. It is useless to argue in theory. What we need to see is the actual condition. Among God’s children, as soon as authority disappears, immediately the church will become very weak. There is a very clear light in the New Testament, which is that in the church there are the elders as the authority.
(The Elders' Management of the Church, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)