Eight Levels of Authority for the Believer

Posted by Major Dave on 5:06 PM in ,
Adapted and summarized from material published Dr. Stephen Crosby[i]

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2 NKJV)

It is important to understand the Authority of the Kingdom, but much of what we have been taught, or have merely accepted seems to fall short of a true understanding. Abuse of authority, Bibliolatry and such have invaded much of our understanding in the Evangelical Church.

Crosby suggests that we need to understand that there are levels of authority, clearly ranked. They are:
1. Sovereign authority – The imperial authority of the Lord in His person.
2. Authority of His Word
3. Legal Authority
4. Authority of Conscience
5. Authority of Family
6. Functional Authority
7. Delegated Authority
8. Authority of Custom

Sovereign Authority
Sovereign authority rests in the person of Christ. No man, church, organization, leader, mentor, disciple, spiritual father, pastor, wonder worker, apostle, nor prophet has the right to usurp this authority in an individual believer’s life, nor come between the believer and the Lord in some misguided semi-mediatory concept of spiritual covering and mentoring. His sheep belong to Him, and Jesus declared that “his sheep hear his voice and know him”. The first authority in the life of the believer is the sovereign authority of Jesus as he speaks intimately to his followers. But can we really trust individual believers to hear this voice? This is much like an older questions posed by the Church. Can we really trust believers to read and understand the Bible? In response to that question, for a significant period of time the Bible was kept in a locked case at the front of the Church. Only the priest could understand and interpret.

The Authority of the Word
Christ is the incarnate logos. The Scriptures are literally an expression of His person. When illuminated by the active work of the Spirit, they are just as alive as is His person and require the same submission.
No subjective dream, vision, prophecy, insight, etc. is of the same stature of the revealed will of God in Scripture. Everything stands or sinks based on the Word. First generation, resurrection-witnessing, dead-raising, miracle working apostles taught the Bereans, and they were commended for checking things out with the written word (OT).

Legal (Contractual) Authority
This level of authority deals with civic affairs, legal matters, contracts, etc. Jesus taught: “Render unto Caesar…” All authority is established by God. Short of causing us to deny our faith or curse God, the believer is to comply with civil authorities. When required to choose between deep moral conviction on a moral issue, or compliance with the civil authority, the believer must make his choice and live with the consequences of being morally right and legally wrong.

Authority of Conscience
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23 NKJV)
who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) (Romans 2:15 NKJV)
There are many areas of life in which the Scriptures are silent, vague, unclear or in tension. In those areas, our conscience is the higher authority to which we must yield. Some examples of this area might be:
  • Types and styles of music
  • Wearing makeup
  • Tattoos and body piercing
  • Movies
  • Church membership
  • Clothing styles
  • Ethics in raising children
The Westminster Confession gives some excellent direction for dealing with these areas.
  1. Nothing contrary to Scripture can ever be true.
  2. Nothing in addition to Scripture can ever be binding; in may, however, be true.
  3. In essentials, conformity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things charity (love and kindness).

When left to conscience and individual’s choice may well be wrong, leading to error and even personal pain. The nature of growth in a free atmosphere of the Spirit is the freedom to be wrong. We are not free to sin. But we must be free to make big mistakes. Freedom and respect of an individual’s intrinsic worth requires risk. In this area we have the right to be wrong, mistaken, and even stupid. It is the price of liberty. Making others come to our point of view on marginal issues is not our calling. Our call is to lay down our lives for one another, not coerce each other into ideological and behavioural conformity.

Authority of Family
God established the family as an institution before the church, its offices and ordinances. The family is the smallest Church unit. The church and its leaders have no authority to tell you how to run your family except in those matters that are explicitly sin. Church leaders can implore, offer wisdom and advice, but they may not demand compliance.

Functional Authority
I sometimes wonder what would have occurred if Jesus had used the same approach the Church uses so often. Something needs to be done. Someone needs to do it. Let’s ask for volunteers – and any “warm body” will do.
Authority is based on ministry, and ministry is based on death and resurrection. When authority exceeds ministry, it is positional and has no spiritual substance. Functional authority originates in the area of my expertise. It is the place of effective service, activated by the Spirit.
Three areas serve as the source of individual functional authority:

  • Birth (natural talents: general grace given to all humanity)
  • Learning (training and experience)
  • Supernatural gifting.

The Church pretends to be good at number 3, but needs to recognize the role of common grace.
Consider the following example:
You are in a tragic car accident. Your arm is lying ten feet away. Three people are bystanders: a person who by birth is very caring, a Hindu female doctor specializing in Trauma, and a prophet. Who would you want to take charge of the situation? The functional authority in this situation clearly should go to the trained doctor.
Crosby suggests that every hour of every day there is grief, pain, hurt, abuse and confusion happening in the Church, caused by people who either do not understand the principle of functional authority or who are too insecure to acknowledge it. Most of the teaching about submission in the New Testament has to do with mutuality and not with positional authority.

Delegated Authority
This is the first level of authority at which any mortal has authority in relationship to another mortal on earth. Delegated authority is not necessarily dependent on age, ability, training or giftedness but assignment from higher authority.
John is delegated the responsibility for directing traffic in the parking lot. The bishop arrives and tries to park in the area reserved for first time visitors. Who has the authority in this situation? John does – authority has been clearly delegated to him, and this is HIS domain.

Authority of Custom
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This quote is from patristic literature. It was advice given by the church fathers to Christians who asked how they should behave when visiting a church that did not share the same practices as their own.
Every local church has its own distinctive, emphases, and calling. There are often “unspoken” expectations of how a Christian should “behave”.
Paul did not expect congregations in different geographic areas to necessarily have the same sensibilities on all issues. Consider the matter of women’s head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11. Many people today often ignore the most important part of the whole passage: “We have no such custom, neither do the Churches of God” (1 Co. 11:16). Christian liberty needs to yield to local custom when a potential conflict arises.

[i] Stephen Crosby, Authority, Accountability, and the Apostolic Movement, pages 77 – 94
Copies of the book are available from Steve’s web page at



Hummmm where do I stand? what's that Jonah? you're in a whale?

Well i'm your spiritual son and that counts for A LOT. plus you're a good friend.

I think the thing i struggle with most is: Authority of Conscience.
i have me left and right sholder angels, and it's not about what is right and wrong, but more, what is the greater good?

Identifying what is wrong is very important. Why is it that society today only does what it wants to for itself? I'm living in a province with gay marriages and all this stuff has me questioning what IS right. Everyone sins, so what if he/she's gay. we all lie. Some way or another. IT's not that we're all liars in one area, but that in some way, we all sin. And in some way, we all need Jesus.

Understanding these authorites helps me reconnect with the rules yet still retain my indaviduality.

Types and styles of music
Wearing makeup
Tattoos and body piercing
Church membership
Clothing styles
Ethics in raising children

Thanks GOD, you were vague for that.

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