Friday, February 5, 2010

The Transfer of Authority

By Max Strange
Leaders & The Early Church

There are celebrations, public announcements and notifications, honorariums, trophies, placards, awards, keys to the city, certificates, fanfare, applause, or a public acknowledgment that one has achieved a new office or status in societies. In the Bible, we see in a similar fashion, leaders rise and receive public recognition. Not only do we see recognition, but we also see those who are in leadership, transmit their authority forward in a visible way. In the Old Testament, the observable action was the laying on of hands. This signified a transfer of authority and a passing of one’s same-self to another. There are several of passing on the blessing with fathers to children, the transfer of authority from Moses to Joshua, the recognition of the Levities to their office, and the ordination of Saul and of David. In addition to the Old Testament, the New Testament continues this practice and carries with it all the significance of transfer. It is very important to understand how the early Christian church acknowledged its leaders so that the church today may appoint and affirm its leadership in a Biblical manner. To know this is meant to safeguard the church against rogue leadership. Men and women inside and outside the church assume leadership positions, claim to have gifting that is not acknowledged by the leadership, and self-appoint themselves in secret quarters to positions of high authority. In the end, the church is ran by thieves and bandits who run over the saints, dictate from the pulpit, twists the Scriptures, refuse to be under the authority of none, and serve none but themselves. This is why the transfer of authority is so vital as ever. The Scriptures have much to say about the importance of church leadership and the transfer of authority.

After ascending to his God given position in Egypt, Joseph brings the people Israel and his father Jacob to the pharaoh’s land. Jacob sees his grandchildren from his son Joseph, and transfers the blessing to Ephraim. The Scriptures say,

“And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn” (Lev. 16:21).
In Leviticus, we have Aaron the high priest transferring not only his sins, but the sins of millions upon a sacrificial goat. Both hands were placed on the animal in a powerful public demonstration that a spiritual transaction was taking place.
“And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness” (Gen. 48:14).
Furthermore, we see Moses transfer his priestly authority to Aaron and his sons to be priest for the people in Leviticus 8:22-29 when they laid their hands of the head of the ram of ordination. Finally, at the end of his life, Moses commissioned Joshua and transferred his governing authority to lead the people into victory. The Scripture says in Numbers 27:22-23

“And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, [23] and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses.” Therefore, we see just a few examples from the Old Testament how the laying on of hands depicts this paramount transfer of authority. The New Testament then takes that visually reality of laying on of hands and the transfer of authority and uses it to ordain leadership in the church.

In Acts 6:1-6, the church brought forth men to serve an urgent need for the Hellenist Greeks, and these men were brought before the apostles and had hands laid on them. They were given authority to serve in the capacity that the Apostles were serving and represented the Apostles as if they were still being served by the Apostles themselves.

In Acts 13:1-3, the leaders in the Antioch church, appointed Barnabas and Paul to upbuild the church and become an extension of Antioch. They laid their hands on them and sent them off. They were given authority as if the entire church at Antioch was represented by and through them as they multiplied churches in Asia.

Paul, as a seasoned church planter and elder, did as he had learned. He passed on his authority to qualified men like Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2). He, among other elders, laid their hands on Timothy and transferred elder authority to the young pastor (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). Paul even warns Timothy to not be hasty in this transfer of authority in 1 Timothy 5:22 because with it comes great responsibility, authority, and duty.

Lastly, the writer of Hebrews list the laying on of hands as a basic component of the Christian faith in chapters six, verse two. It is mentioned within the group about the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. Therefore, the laying on of hands and the transfer of authority to qualified leaders is as foundational to the church as understanding the resurrection and eternal judgment!

So, we conclude that the transfer of authority by the laying on of hands is Biblical throughout. It is a visible sign that the church has incorporated from the Old Testament to transfer authority, publicly recognize its leaders, and honor the men and women that God is raising up to serve His people. This protects the church from self aggrandizing manipulators and pseudo leaders who weasel their way into leadership positions, it places qualified men to serve, preach, teach, and transmit the sacraments for the upbuilding for all the people of God. 

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