Thursday, June 23, 2005


Check out the “Goble Savage” blog courtesy of a new friend from cession – adventures in practical faith! Then there’s "Rhetrospect", another new cession friend, who asks a question on authority in the church. It’s more than a theoretical question for me as a pastor and also within the NZ context where some high profile church leaders exercise significant degrees of control of their churches. I don’t normally blog on these sorts of things – you’ll have noted from my recent entry that I can’t abide the tactics that some Christians bring to debate. But I just felt I wanted to explore this for myself and so…

At the outset I think it important to draw a distinction between authoritarianism and authority. Authoritarianism is most often rooted in a hunger for power and control. This is a common enough expression of our humanity (or perhaps our “createdness”) – its about our desire to “be like God”, Adam’s delusion and interestingly Lucifers…

So authoritarianism is a projection of pride.

Then there are the indisputable sources of authority: Jesus Christ as head of the church and the Scriptures. Although there is much dispute nonetheless.

The real question comes down to how authority is exercised by leaders within the church. It seems clear that God calls people to offices for the purposes of leading and shepherding the flock eg. pastors, teachers, administrators are all biblically ordained roles. But a quick survey of key NT figures offers much guidance on what is NOT a proper exercise of this authority.

Paul is an interesting place to start – much of Paul’s apostolic authority flows from his sufferings and not his stature materially or temporally. You don’t see Paul riding around on his $35,000 Harley preaching that “enough is enough”. That’s suffering for the gospel! Instead, Paul attempts in his ministry not to “lord it over” the churches under his care (2 Cor 1:24). Later in chapter 11 of the same letter, Paul suggests to the Corinthian church that they should not have put up with the type of leader “who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.” Interesting advice…

Jesus (not surprisingly) sets the tone for Paul with the same sentiment concerning “lording it over people” in Mark 10:42-43:

"You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Seems clear. And pretty counter cultural.
Finally Peter, who was himself quite the activist, choleric, assertive, driver nevertheless says to the elders in 1 Peter 5:2-3:

"Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."

So for Peter authority is not so much exercised as earned.

One thing that annoys me is the misinterpretation of scriptures which exhort believers to obedience as giving leaders authority to require obedience. It’s an illogical position. Scripture also exhorts slaves to obey their masters, but does anyone seriously contend that this authorises the master’s keeping of slaves? A scriptural command to obedience is about the character of the person under authority, not an extension of power to the person in authority.

I could go on and talk about authority being exercised best through a plurality of leaders but I’m sure I’m way over my head by now! I would say two final words. Those that have suffered abuse by authority have a responsibility before God to sort their crap out! Don’t live with that bitterness – by all means rant and rave, but once you’re done, move on (and I mean that literally as well as figuratively). Second: leaders aren’t perfect. Enough said. Enough is more than enough.


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