The Limits of Authority (Introduction)

Shutting Down a TyrantAs some of my readers are already aware, I have been acting as pulpit supply for a small Presbyterian church near my hometown for several months now, and I have previously mentioned my concerns about heavy-handedness on the part of the previous pastor.

I was contacted this week by a member of the church’s session to let me know that the church was moving into the candidating phase, which means that they are actively looking for a permanent replacement for the previous pastor, and I’ve been invited to take part. In short, it appears that they church is interested in having me put my hat in the ring to become their next pastor.

Needless to say, this has led to a good bit of soul-searching on my part, especially since I have some strong concerns about various aspects of this denomination’s practices. It’s also lead me to reexamine Scripture and the Westminster Standards regarding the limits of authority.

Before I can begin treating of the subject of authority and its limits, I should make a few preliminary statements:

First, I make a distinction between the terms Reformed and Calvinist. One cannot be Reformed without being a Calvinist, but one can be a Calvinist without being Reformed. That is, Calvinism deals specifically with questions regarding soteriology (which is just one aspect of theology as a whole); being Reformed entails assent to an entire theological system (covenant theology, church order and government, etc.) that includes a specific set of soteriological views (i.e., Calvinism). Hence, while some organizations and individuals might refer to themselves as Reformed (e.g., C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, etc.), as they do not subscribe one of the Reformed confessions (the Three Forms of Unity, the Westminster Standards, the Second Helvetic Confession, or the 1689 London Confession) calling them Reformed is without historical precedent.

Second, while much of what I have to say regarding the limits of authority will be said against the backdrop of the problems that have come to light within Sovereign Grace Ministries, it is applicable to any denomination or group of churches.

Finally, this short series of posts will indirectly deal with the question of membership vows, the nature of church offices, the nature of the Church, and the question of church discipline. I want to make it clear at this point that I am writing from a distinctively Reformed perspective. Therefore, I will regularly be referring to the Westminster Standards because I believe those Standards to be a faithful summary of what Scripture teaches on these subjects.


"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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