Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Authority - What Is Its Place in the Church and Home?

I think most of us agree that power can corrupt. Shakespeare said it well in Measure for Measure (1604), writing,

But man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep.

In the name of authority, those with power can be crushingly oppressive, something true of both genders (as abuse of power is not born of gender but from a selfish self-focused heart). Yet we must also admit that there have been gentle life-giving shepherds who have cultivated life, not squelched it or used it for their own aims. These great leaders can be found both in spiritual realms and earthly. Names like St. Paul, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and others quickly come to mind, people who led both with authority and with a deep and obvious love.

Authority is something that we post-moderns tend to distrust, and not without good reason. Blind obedience and unquestioning acceptance, favored concepts in Modernity's "follow-the-formula-and-it-will-all-work-out-fine" mantra is what made a little man named Hitler become Fuhrer of a nation that went on to turn a blind eye to policies of gold stars and ghetto packing.

It is good to question authority, if only for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not a claim to authority is an actual one or merely a power play to gain followers. Some authority ought not to be obeyed. Jesus questioned the authority of the religious leaders, for example. Blind obedience to them equalled, "the blind leading the blind." I recently wrote a post about an experience common to many exiting abusive churches and ministries, in fact,that of the anger an abusive authority displays when someone dares to question them. Their raging response does not mean that questioning their authority is wrong---if anything, it likely proves the validity of the original questions!

However, it's also good not to question authority, if in fact the authority figure is truly placed in charge (and/or if we do not want to pay the price for rebellion). If I want to question the value of a speed limit, for example, I have every right to do so, but I need to be willing to accept the consequences of a speeding ticket handed down from an authority placed over me to see that I obey. Jesus paid taxes to Cesar, for example. If I want to question something considered to be an authority, I need to be prepared to pay the price.

Also, when an authority is established as something right and good, like God, it is not wise to ask the sort of questions that stem from rebellion and mocking. Satan questioned God's right to the Throne, questions that were birthed out of pride (a created being thinking itself higher than its Creator). Jesus did not question the authority of the Father when he walked on earth as a Man, and encouraged us to do likewise. To rest in Christ is to believe in His authority over sin and death, among other things, not to question it.

In summation, authority exists in the world, for better and for worse. And authority, in and of itself, is not a bad thing----Satan has a measure of authority, but that doesn't make authority bad, because Jesus has authority, too. What matters is who is using the authority, what they are doing with it and for what purpose.

Can we use the Scriptures to find some sort of base for comprehending authority's purpose in a New Covenant relationship?

What is the place of authority in Christendom? What is that authority for, based on what we can see in the Scriptures? If a person is a leader in the Church, why? How does one "get" authority in the Body? What and/or who are they to lead? Why and how? What does a Spirit-filled leader look like? Does it always feel good to follow one?

Note: Let's steer clear of gender in the comments of this post and concentrate mainly on authority in the relationships of the Church. Many think the family is a microcosm of the Church. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but the concept of the place of authority in the Church (based on Scripture) may help us discuss authority in a less loaded context.