Who's in charge of the church? Who's in authority over the church? The pastor? A bishop? A priest? Elders? A board of directors or deacons? The pope?
The correct answer—the biblical one—is none of the above. Jesus Christ alone is the founder and Head of the church—the Body of Christ.
However, the New Testament speaks of priests and pastors and bishops. Are certain people given special places of authority over people within the church? Well, yes and no.
A characteristic of the early church, and almost every period of revival since then, could be termed organic leadership. This would include leaders who either break away from existing institutional leadership, or rise up in spite of or in defiance of the institutional leadership.
Along with fresh new leaders, many believers were empowered to step up and serve within the church in various ways, which became known and described as body ministry. People within the Body of Christ—the church community—were empowered to do ministry or service.
This was an important principle of the Protestant Reformation, a reforming of the church back to its biblical foundations based on the 5 Solas. What we call body ministry now was known as the priesthood of all believers.
Do you want to see revival?
The 5 Solas provide the bedrock of theology for the church—the Body of Christ—to function as Jesus intended. What does this look like in action?
The early chapters of Acts provides some good insights, and later in the book of Acts when new people groups were reached with the gospel and new churches were established.
When I hear believers say they want to "see revival," I wonder what they mean or expect. What is seen in the book of Acts is taking place in many parts of the world now. However, there is a caveat.
A fresh work of God produces new leadership, but these new leaders need equipping.
This is why Paul spent a year in Antioch (Acts 11:26), a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:11), and two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) teaching the believers, while reaching out with the gospel in surrounding areas.
The need for equipping
New leaders and believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the ministry God calls them to do, but they need the example and guidance of more experienced leaders.
By the same token, those of us with experience often need the influence of the fresh new life and vision of young leaders.
The Holy Spirit gave the apostle Paul vision for this need of equipping God's people for the work of the ministry in Ephesians 4:11-16. In that text, Paul outlines why leaders are needed for a healthy church body (community)—
...to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13 NIV)
This is not a New Testament concept. It's always been God's design for His people to be a kingdom of priests (Exo 19:5-6). But Israel chose to reject this by telling Moses they didn't want to hear from God directly (Exo 20:19).
The church, the community of God's people, can't afford to make this same mistake.
If you want to see revival, a continuous equipping of God's people and young leaders needs to take place. Not just in America (or wherever you are), but throughout the world.
This is a huge need in many nations where God is already moving in a fresh way.
A priesthood of all believers
It was never God's intention for there to be a formal distinction between God's people and their leaders. The terms clergy and laity are not found in the Bible, they're manmade.
The basis for a formal priesthood or leadership is never seen in the New Testament, except to explain the distinction between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments).
This is made clear in the book of Hebrews, especially in chapters 7–10. Even when Jesus is called our High Priest, it's in a different sense than the priesthood of Israel (Heb 8:6).
A clear, biblical view of the priesthood of all believers is found in the first epistle of Peter—
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9)
This is also echoed in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).
All believers don't have the same calling, gift, or role within the Body of Christ, but one thing is clear—Jesus is in charge of His church.
The 5 Solas and the priesthood of all believers
So, how do the 5 Solas factor into this principle of the priesthood of all believers? Here's my own brief summary—
- Soli Deo Gloria— the primary purpose of the church is to glorify God as His living testimony on earth, as the Body of Christ (Acts 1:8; 1 Pet 2:9)
- Solus Christus— there is only one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5) and Jesus, alone, is the Head of the Body of Christ (Col 1:18)
- Solo Gratia— it is only by the grace of God that we're included into the church and how we are to serve the Lord in whatever way He gifts and calls us (Rom 12:3-8)
- Solo Fide— the church is not an institution, but an organism—a living body of believers—who are to begin and continue in faith (Gal 3:1-3)
- Sola Scriptura— the Scriptures (the Bible) are the sole basis of authority for all matters of faith, and this includes how the church is to function as the Body of Christ (John 6:63; 8:31-32; 17:17; Eph 4:11-16)
Don't give up on the church
As said before, God's intention is for all believers to be involved in the church as part of a community under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the leaders God raises up.
Do people within a church need to submit to recognized leaders? Yes, as long as the leadership doesn't violate the essence of these 5 Solas and become abusive and overbearing.
If you've experienced some form of abusive leadership connected to church, then I encourage you to not give up on the church. Seek out a community of believers and leaders who genuinely and humbly honor the Lord, and the truths of these 5 Solas.
Sure there are failures and problems, but the Body of Christ is what Jesus established. When things are not right, He will bring reform and revival.
If you love Jesus, be ready for what He wants to do on earth, and ready for His return. The time is short and there are billions who still need to hear God's story of redemption.