According to the scripture, the heart of leadership in the Church is servanthood (Mk 10:42-45). It also includes the responsibility to guide, teach and sanctify others, an authority that comes from God and delegated to the leaders (for example, 1 Thes 5:12-13). At the same time, the authority is to serve the members as representatives of God, to guide the community, discerning together the will of God. Authority does not mean that the Church can outlaw and suppress dissent. The members have the right to express dissent, and when there is dissent, it is a call to discern together, as evidenced by the Jerusalem Council and many instances in the bible, and throughout the history of the Church. The authority is a sign of unity of the Church, a community of equals. When authority is considered as a sign of privilege and right to rule over others, it leads to misuse of power, destroying the unity and the real spirit of authority.

Every member of the Church, including those in authority, is called to be submissive to others (Eph 5:22). Similarly, leadership in the Church does not give unlimited powers. The leaders are accountable to God and to one another. The leaders should be open to the voice of God expressed through others, and to exercise their authority keeping the ethical principles of uprightness, justice, love and mercy. Above all, they should exercise their ministry with special care and concern for the poor and the marginalised.

Recent decades have witnessed a renewed interest in Authority in the Church, especially in the wake of sex abuse by the clergy, financial and other scandals in the Church. One of the theological difficulties in the dealing with Authority in the Church is the concept of hierarchy in the Church, integrally connected to ordination. Are hierarchy and servant leadership compatible? Is the authority in the Church given by God alone, or does the community have any role in it? Are the leaders in the Church accountable to God alone, or to the community as well?

March 2021 Issue of Asian Horizons: Authority in the Church

Published: 2021-02-28