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Welcome back to week 22. Last week we briefly examined women being ordained as officers of the church. This week we will consider the church’s authority in relation to the life of the believer and biblical counseling. What authority, if any, does the church have over individuals and the counseling process?

One day during my pre-teen years I was playing outside on a hot Florida day. As I was running through the back yard of our house, which was adjacent to a typical South Florida canal, I tripped and fell. Although the fall was not frightening, what came afterward was indeed very scary. 

One of the major concerns in regard to living next to a South Florida canal is the type of wildlife that considers the surrounding area its home. As I fell down in the grass, I came face to face with a big black water moccasin. He was clearly furious that I had invaded its space and startled him. He rose up with his mouth open ready to strike me, but thanks to God’s grace I was able to jump up and run off unharmed. The reason I was able to respond to the danger was because I have a brain that quickly evaluated the situation and, sent electrical impulses through neural pathways to the appropriate parts of my body which commanded it to react accordingly. Our brains have authority over our bodies so that we can function. This analogy holds true for the church’s relationship to the individual believer and/or counselee. Christ is the head of the church, and the church is His body (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:24). The Head tells the body what to do. 

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul talks about being controlled by the Spirit rather than by some kind of worldly stimulant. In verses 19-21 he starts to paint the picture that a Spirit filled person should be joyful and submissive at heart due to a reverence for God. In verses 22-24 Paul advances the picture of a Spirit filled life and appropriately likens it to a godly marriage. He does this by comparing its roles to that of how the body of Christ (i.e. the church) ought to function in relation to its head, who is Christ. The wife, like the church body, ought to submit to those who have authority over them –namely Christ (Heb. 13:17). Just as the physical body submits to the brain’s authority so the spiritual body (i.e., the church) submits to its Head –Christ.

Therefore, church leadership has a delegated authority. When we say, “delegated authority,” we mean the entrusting of a task or responsibility from a greater to a lesser person. God, the greater Person, has delegated authority to church leadership, the lesser person(s). This concept is nothing new. For example, God delegated authority to Adam when He commanded him to subdue the earth and rule over it (Gen. 1:28). Adam did not have the authority on his own. He was to act with authority given to him from his superior; God. Adam simply represented God in the sense of working out the command God gave him.

Another, more modern day, example could be that of the police officer. The police officer has delegated authority. He or she is not the authority in and of themselves. They are representatives of a greater, God ordained, authority; the government (Rom. 13:1). We obey the police officer not because they are Steve, or Sue, or Tom, but because of what they represent. They have a delegated authority. 

When a pastor or elder teaches and exhorts us about the seventh commandment, which commands us to not lie, he has authority in a sense. His authority lays in the fact that He is repeating and expositing God’s commandment. We are to listen to him because He is teaching what God has already taught. 

The same would go for the counseling process. We are to listen to the biblical counselor in-so-far as they teach God’s Word, accurately. As with the pastor or elder, the counselor has no intrinsic authority. It is because of Who they represent and because of what they teach that there is a delegated authority. We submit to them because they are submitting to Christ and teaching us His Word. Christ has the intrinsic authority because, again, He is the Head of the church.   

We hope our short time considering the authority of the church over the believer and counseling practice was helpful. Lord willing, next week we will begin considering some more specific counseling questions which build off the theology we’ve been learning. Please join us again next week when we will briefly discuss the goals of biblical counseling. Until then may our Lord bless you and keep you.

Foundations of Biblical Counseling: Ecclesiology, part 3 The Goal of Biblical Counseling