Biblical Submission & Authority in the Church

Biblical Submission & Authority in the Church
By Chris Foster

From the first century church until today’s, there have been misconstrued notions as to what constitutes true Biblical submission and what establishes true authority. The spirit of Nimrod has attempted to make its way into the church and has been addressed in several passages. I believe the most revealing rebuttal to this brutish spirit is found in Revelation- 2:6 and 15.

“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”

God hates (present tense) the deeds, as well as the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. “Nicolaitan” is the compounding of two words; Nike which means to conquer or triumph, and Laos meaning the people. At times Laos was used to mean the common people and is the basis of our English word, laity; both having the same root, lay. The word, laity, is used to distinguish the non-clergy from the clergy, and as is the case with many words, laity has evolved to also mean a distinguishing of the saints from the ministry.

The Doctrine of the Nicolaitans was in principle, the teaching whereby the ministry ruled over the common people. Its foundation relied upon the concept that the ministry was to be distinguished above, and remain separate from common church folk, i.e. the saints. Thus the understanding of authority and submission became tainted with this unbiblical view. Common folk (saints) that did as they were told by the ministry were considered submitted, those who did not were considered rebels. The ministry became the self-perpetuating authority triumphing over and conquering what they considered “just saints.”


The Bible does not teach that God intended for there to be ministers, and then separate and distinct from the ministers are the saints. By definition, a saint is one who is consecrated, set apart for a special purpose, and a minister is an attendant, a waiter, or servant. We have all been saved to serve; we were not saved to sit. God set all of us apart for the purpose of service. All are not called to the ministry of the Word, but we are all called to be involved in the work of the ministry.

Ephesians 3:8 tells that God gifted men. Verse 11 shows how He gifted them; as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

For what purpose did He gift men? For the perfecting (katartismos-complete furnishing, or equipping) of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the edifying (oikodome – architecture, or building up) of the body of Christ. God gifted men to equip people who have been set apart.

Set apart for what? For the work of ministering to and building up of the Church! A saint that is not ministering may indeed describe some who attend our churches, but there is no biblical foundation whereby the saints are to be distinguished separately from the work of the ministry.


If that is true, then what is the correct Biblical view of authority and submission? Authority to some may be defined as those in charge and submission defined as those who comply with that control, but that is not what the Bible teaches.

The word “submit” used in the Bible in the Greek form is hupotasso, meaning to subordinate oneself, be under, subdue unto, be made subject to, submit self to. Notice the primary definition did not say to be made subordinated, but to subordinate oneself.


Etymology, the study of words in their original application, tells us that the word, submit, in its original application was a military term used in battles and forays. For example, three leaders would be chosen to attack an enemy position. Possibly a frontal and two flanking maneuvers would be employed. The leader who was chosen for the frontal attack would carry the greatest responsibility for the success of the campaign. Those involved in flanking maneuvers would obligate themselves to come to the aid of the leader with the greatest responsibility. They would submit themselves, not because of rank, but because of an understanding of responsibility. They understood the mission and chose to become responsible for its accomplishment.

If I may play on the word, submission; sub meaning under, and mission meaning purpose. True submission then is taking responsibility for accomplishing the purpose.

We can apply this truth to Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:22. The woman is not considered a second class citizen nor is she to be ruled over. The husband is given responsibility for the purpose and direction of a household, which is to glorify God. The woman obligates herself to help accomplish that purpose and thus has a part in bringing that glory to God. Thus she fulfills the role of the submitted one, not by constraint, but willingly.


Jesus gave us the correct view of authority in Matthew 20:2527. The people who are greatest in this church are the people who are serving. Authority is commensurate with service. Proportionally, the lesser becomes the greater, in the Kingdom of God.

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Fred Childs recently published a book, “Church Leadership Essentials,” which contains a chapter entitled, “Leadership is not Control.” He writes about control relative to the church. “Leaders are called to lead people and control process, not the other way around.” He cites several instances where leaders have used obnoxious tactics to gain control over others and makes it clear that it all boils down to one thing. A very small person can dominate others, but it takes a real leader to influence others to become more than they are.

The question is not – are you in charge? but – are you involved in doing what God has charged you with doing?

In other words, are you submitted? or, do you exercise authorityover others?

(Respectfully Submitted)

Editor’s Note: Bro. Chris Foster is the pastor of New Life United Pentecostal Church in Las Cruces, NM.