On Wednesday I posted on Deconstructing Faith in A Safe Environment, which reminded me of George Patterson's "Three Levels of Church Authority" that I learned about during my time in seminary. I have always found this helpful for discussions such as I described in my last post and thought that it would be worth sharing with you all here for your own faith discussions. So here it is:
THREE LEVELS OF CHURCH AUTHORITY
This document may be freely translated, copied, and published in any language and any country. It must carry the following copyright statement.
Copyright © 2002 by George Patterson
To differentiate between New Testament commands, apostolic practices and human customs has proven over the years to be most helpful, for settling church disputes, for ascertaining the level of authority for a church activity, and for making plans and establishing priorities. The method is a simple one.
The FIRST level of authority is New Testament commands. We must obey them and must not hinder others doing them. These include Jesus' commands, which are foundational, and those of the apostles written in their epistles. These build on Jesus’ commands and are for Christians who are already under pastoral care in a church. The basic commands of Jesus, which were being obeyed by the 3000 new believers in Acts chapter 2 in their most basic form, include:
• Repent, believe, and receive the Holy Spirit. • Be baptized. • Break bread. • Love God, neighbor, fellow disciples, enemy (forgive). • Pray.
• Give. • Make disciples (witness, shepherd, teach)
The SECOND level is apostolic practices that were not commanded. We must not make universal laws of these, nor prohibit others' doing them. They include:
• Baptizing immediately. • Using one cup in the Eucharist. • Fasting. • Worshipping on Sunday. • Speaking in tongues. • Naming several elders to shepherd a church. • Etc.
The THIRD level is Human traditions not mentioned in the New Testament. We can take them or leave them, and we can prohibit them if they hinder obedience to New Testament commands. We must not force our own traditions and customs on other churches. Most traditions are good, and some are necessary for good church order. They include:
• Non-biblical requirements for ordination, officiating the Eucharist, baptism, church membership.
• Sunday School structure. • Wearing robes in the pulpit, not wearing robes in the pulpit. • The pulpit. • Prohibition against using wine in moderation. • Democratic processes in church business meetings. • Episcopalian hierarchy, etc.