Our generation asks “who is it that thinks they get to have authority over someone else?”
Very few do not feel the urge to ask the question: who is forcing their view or their truth? Who is doing this, and what gives them the right to use their position as power over others? And certainly these are good question to be asking. Though perhaps they arise out of a priory commitment to pluralistic thought, and relative truth, as many normal post-moderns would. Maybe, perhaps they are right in asking such questions. And maybe, the implied answer is in fact that many are asserting their power over others wrongly indeed. Maybe.
Of course those who’s heads are most commonly found on the chopping block of a “post-christian” west, are well …the Christians. Maybe, this is because Christians in times past and present have wrongly asserted their claims to ultimate truth. And maybe, their claims, though potentially true do not warrant such strong assertions as have been made.
That said, what remains to be defined, and re-defined is the Christians meaning of the word, authority. Long before Christians the word existed. And just like in our time, the very man who could not find any reason to sanction the execution of our Lord, gasped at Jesus’ own claim to being the embodiment of truth. A claim that in our own time is merely a power play. An attempt to hold ultimate authority over others, who’s personal claims, are irrelevant to that ultimate ‘ugly’ truth that we claim to hold. What ignorance! Yet in the story of Pilot and Christ. Pilot, though not seeing any reason to execute, found himself, in all his power, powerless to do anything else. “What is Truth” he says. If he had the authority why could he not do what he wished, and set Jesus free. Pilot doubted the whole idea of the power of truth when he was powerless to act on what he knew was the truth.
So what is Christs own definition of authority? Perhaps Christians, when they have in history “wrongly asserted” themselves on the basis of their claims of ultimate truth have done so outside of what the “True” Christ centered definition of what “authority” really means. Maybe that is what they have done. Maybe they were wrong.
Lets take a look then at Christs own attempt to re-define for his closest followers what authority really aught to look like.
Here is my paraphrase of LUKE 22:24-30
24 The disciples were arguing about which one had the most authority (Peter was likely winning the argument). 25 Jesus interrupts, “You guys are thinking like Gentiles. Its not going to be like their authority where the person with authority tells everyone else what to do and gets all the benefits.” 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, whoever wants authority will be a servant. 27 Typically, the one being served has the authority but I am showing you a different way. As one who has all authority given to me by God, I Serve. 28 You know because you have stood by me in this. 29 I’m giving you the same job my father sent me to do 30 so that in the end you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, and their you will have great benefits.
Clearly something was lost somewhere along the line. Was it his disciples who distorted that message on authority. That would be a problem if they did for their messages to the churches are inspired “Holy Writ” another claim of absolute authority. Though again, before we judge its claims to ultimate truth lets observe its content and the definition of its words.
Peter for instance. A man hungry for power during the life of Jesus. A man rebuked for his desires to see Jesus take office. Lets look at his message to the scattered 1st Century audience.
1 Peter 2:21 Peter gives a message to the all scattered Christians across the empire. In summary in chapter two and three are multiple reminders to ‘submit’ or to ‘serve’ authorities, in the midst of pagans to simply live such good lives that pagans would not be forced by would desire God. This lifestyle was a was of serving the pagan’s in order to see them come to faith. In conclusion he writes, “…Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
Chapter 5 he addresses the leader. The one in the church with the most “authority”. What was Peter’s reminder for how to be a good leader over people. First there is the word for the leader and he is called overseer. Peter also refers to them like the prophets of the OT, that the overseer is a shepherd. Not just ‘telling the sheep what to do’. But carrying for them. Serving them. Assisting them to come closer to God. Not insisting that they “obey those in charge” but pointing them to Jesus as the authority. The one who showed his authority by submission and service to all of humanity.
What about the other apostles? All who were present with Christ maintained the same definition of authority. Even Paul who had not been with Christ and was a major persecutor of the church in early days. In Philemon instead of telling those under his authority what to do. He points them to the example of Christ. He appeals on the bases of Love. That for Philemon to do the right thing he must not do so out of compulsion but love and a desire to serve the one who legally was required to serve him.
We could go on and on. But something changed. The definition faded as the church faced new challenges. When persecution was removed and honor and privileged was given how did the church respond? (more) How did Christs definition wane? What period could be marked by the recovery of a right definition of authority? We already claim to have it, as we claim ultimate truth in Christ. Maybe, this is the time. Maybe amid this post-christian west we could rediscover the true and intended nature of Christian authority.
I am 26 now. As I grow in my own ‘authority’ I am excited. I used to be afraid to think about that word and use it, and especially for myself. But as I am recovering its real meaning as a Christ follower, I’m excited. I know that when people look to me as an authority it will remind me of Christs words. “If you want to exercise authority you need to serve people” and not just in a general sense. I am to serve their relationship with God. Help point them to Christ. Remove obstacles that keep them from walking with God, and make my own sacrifices so they can keep growing.
Authority when Christ is the ultimate = Responsibility
As an authority I am responsible for others. My job is to care for people more then myself. This is why we can still look up to leaders. They are responsible for others.
Conclusion for Post-moderns and Christians:
1. Postmodern man wishes to remove the word and the idea of authority. But maybe we should as good post-moderns be asking, what gives them the right to do this? By what authority would you wish to remove authority? And what will you do once its been removed?
2. Christians, recognize the social climate we live in. People are asking good questions. Do we respond by asking those who ask such questions to be quiet and fall in line? We must take this as a great opportunity and responsibility to give a good answer. Authority can be questioned and ought always to be defined in the way Christ defined it. That is our model.
The Christian answer to postmodern questions and criticisms is two fold: that words of have power, so we ought to be sure we have the right definition. And the right definition of words demands action.
Words, Ideas, and Actions alike lose their power in a postmodern world. It is ultimately all speculation, and all relative, if our feet give way to this undertow, we will altogether lose our right to speak at all. The most integral of committed post-modern thinkers have given up speaking, thinking, and doing all together.