Are church leaders appointed by people or God?

In Covering Theology all legitimate leadership is appointed by God.  This is an application of Romans 13:1-7.  It gets difficult to sort this out, especially in protestant/evangelical churches.

Imagine Pastor Tom gets hired by Faith Community Church, an average evangelical church that follows the typical congregationalist approach to leadership.  In this approach the congregation votes to affirm pastors and council members.  The local church is largely autonomous.  Pastor Tom starts teaching covering theology and because he is in authority he starts telling everyone they should come under his authority.  He is in authority because all authorities have been established by God.  How he became leader, whether he was voted in by the congregation or appointed by a denominational official, is irrelevant.  He is in a position of authority so God must have put him there.  The congregational approach of the church gives way to more autocratic decision making.

If everyone in authority is God’s delegated authority couldn’t anyone in the congregation gather a following and get appointed as a leader and become God’s delegated authority.  Some would say no, because that person arrived at their position through a rebellion against God’s authority for that congregation.  What if that group split off 3 years ago and the rebel leader quit?  Would the next pastor be a rebel or God’s delegated authority?  What if you went back fifty years or a hundred years or even five hundred years?  The reality is if you are an evangelical your church is the descendant of some rebel somewhere.  Take the Free Methodists for example.  The Free Methodists broke off from the Methodists who broke from the Anglicans who broke from the Roman Catholic church.

If all this belief about God’s delegated authority is taken to its logical conclusion the reformation probably shouldn’t have happened we should all fold back in to the Roman Catholic church.  They have an “apostle” with church tradition and apostolic succession to back his claim.  In the New Apostolic Reformation we have C. Peter Wagner.  Wagner, an author and retired Fuller Seminary professor somehow became the “convening apostle” over the “reformation” which will sweep the church and restore God’s authority.  If I believed in a pope I know which one I’d follow.

In a curious little anecdote, Dutch Sheets, a prominent figure in the New Apostolic Reformation and C. Peter Wagner’s pastor just declared that the election of Barack Obama wasn’t God’s will.  Perhaps not all authorities are instituted by God after all.

Shouldn’t it strike us as terribly arrogant to take one person from our midst and proclaim them as God’s representative?  A humbler approach would be to recognize that God speaks through his whole body, not just the leadership.  Christ was given authority and he hasn’t given it to anyone else.  We seek to follow His authority together.