“The Nature of Authority in the New Testament” (Ch 15) by Walter L. Liefeld -- By: Paige Patterson

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 10:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: “The Nature of Authority in the New Testament” (Ch 15) by Walter L. Liefeld
Author: Paige Patterson

“The Nature of Authority in the New Testament”
(Ch 15) by Walter L. Liefeld

Paige Patterson

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas

Walter Liefeld’s contribution to the volume Discovering Biblical Equality is customarily irenic and scholarly. His mostly measured assessments are those of a reverent theologian doing his best to read the Scriptures. Tat posture is always commendable. Especially notable is Liefeld’s strong position regarding the nature of spiritual leaders viewed as considering themselves servants rather than asserting themselves as authorities or, in the language of Peter, as “being lords over God’s heritage.” Liefeld appropriately emphasizes the biblical perspective of servant posture. Much of the contemporary discussion regarding rights, privileges, authority, entitlements, etc. has missed the biblical mark by light years. Hence, one can only applaud the even-handed emphasis of Liefeld regarding authority, especially his emphasis that the only real authority is God’s authority.

On the other hand, there are peculiarities in Liefeld’s understanding which must be noted. One must begin with his definition of authority. Liefeld says, “Authority in the sense under consideration is a narrower term used to describe the right to command others and enforce obedience” (255–256). If the one with authority is Christ, this definition has possibilities. Although he did not coerce obedience while on earth nor does he do so in the present, there is coming a day when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.” Certainly he does have the right to command others. However, this definition, if intended for the church, seems inadequate in its applicability. In keeping with the remainder of Liefeld’s article, in which he stresses the servant posture, it is better to argue that the authority of the apostles and of all subsequent lesser forms of authority arise first as a result of the commissioning of Christ.

In the second place, this authority is sustained on the basis of a godly life and complete obedience to the commands that have been given by Christ. For example, the Great Commission (Matt 28:16–20), has as its raison d ’etre the fact

that it is the command of Christ to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to baptize and to teach those who respond affirmatively. The apostles clearly received this authority from Christ and mediated that authority to pastors and deacons in the church of God, and, through them, to all of the people of God. All of these, in turn, are entrusted with certain authority resulting from ...

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