What Is Authority In Today’s World

Authority is a word that seems to have many meanings in today’s language. As I was thinking about this I wondered what came first, the chicken or the egg. In other words, was authority the word concevied and then defined or was a concept of authority taken and given a word to describe it.

Authority seems to be best described as something given—as in Christ was given authority by the Father to give us eternal life. He then gave us authority to overcome the wiles of the enemy.

Authority is vested in a person—it is a power or right delegated or given. It is permission to “authorize” someone or something.

Authority is not neccessarliy synonymous with control but in common usage is often associated with a person controlling a situation or a group of people.

I guess the tendancy of human nature is that when some people are given a little authority, they want more. And as I said before, not always for the right reasons.

As it seems to be in kingdom terms, authority may have the opposite meaning than what it has come to represent in the secular sense. In the book of Mark, chapter 10 verse 42 Jesus says:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the
Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority
over them. 43/Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44/and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45/For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Several years ago, the church I was a part of began a process of changing its governmental style. We were to go from a “pastor centered” structure to a team of elders with a team leader setup. It really seemed more biblical. Yet even though we thought we took all the necessary relational steps to facilitate the change, the former pastor, now a team member, left and in his leaving a hole was created that would never be filled. Many members left, not to follow him per se, but because they now had a reason or at least an excuse to try something else.

I mention this only to try and relate how hard it is to make a change—even one that everyone agrees needs to be made. It’s an imperfect world, etc. But before the atom bomb of him leaving hit, I remember walking up to a deacon in the hallway of the church one day and letting him know just how excited I was that we were being given a chance (I thought) to make things right with our fellowship. It was now our job to help fashion a place where people would be valued and each part of the body would be rasied up to take their individual places in the furthering of the kingdom of God. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that he looked at me like I was crazy—maybe he knew something I didn’t about the inherent nature of people to not do what you think they will.

Actually, I remember looking past the fear and bewilderment in his eyes and as he walked away, not really answering or understanding what had just been offered to him, I thought that he would finally come around and see what he was being extended and the chance to have imput into something he had served by rote for so long.

That wasn’t to be the case—he and his wife left the group several months later—only to be followed by more down the road.

I said that to say this: what began in my mind as an opportunity to release the members of the body of believers into their own destinies with God, turned into us serving a system and being manipulated into serving something else entirely. As the authority became more centralized, it became our job to serve this rather than to be released and in turn release others. It is sort of like going into the woods for what at the time seems like a simple camping trip, only to find yourself hopelessly lost in the forest and taking months or years to finally find yourself back to the point where you began.

Not that you don’t learn a lot during your time in the forest—but basic survival skills can only fill your belly so much. Your stomach begins to cry out for a “real meal” after you have consumed so many roots and berries that you think there will never be another item on the menu.

I am not complaining mind you—just making some observations.

However, I have come to the point where I believe that the way we have done ministry has wounded a lot of people and sidetracked many more. I see people in leadership roles worn out and tired of the grind that has become all to common.

I certainly can’t say with certainty what this thing called church is supposed to look like—but I am beginning to realize what it shouldn’t resemble.

Lets hope our ride today brings us to a clearer understanding and a place of release.

Enjoy your ride and enjoy the rain.

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9 Responses to What Is Authority In Today’s World

  1. Carey says:

    Terry:That is the most interesting, profound blog that has come from your fingertips. Thank you. It is food for thought ow which I will chew for quite a while.And authority could have something to do with the “two-edged sword that we see in Rev. 1:16. It cuts both ways, toward those persons in authority, and also toward those under authority.As far as “church” goes, don’t forget that we’ve only seen one part of the elephant, so our power to form a concept of what “church” is limited by our respective experiences. Some folks, handling the elephant’s ear, perceive it as a blanket. Others, who happen upon the leg, think of it as a tree trunk. Thanks for your very thoughtful blog.C

  2. Terry Henry says:

    Carey, how well I remember that time in the hallway at church when you told me, in no uncertain terms, that who and what we were (are) would never be received from a pulpit perspective—as if that were what we really wanted—time in the pulpit.So we spent our time in fellowship and making music at the prison every Thursday evening.Your motives were always, I think, much cleaner than mine—I probably thought that acceptance “was” being invited to share the pulpit.What I now realize is that we were both seeking acceptance from people who were, in turn, also seeking acceptance from who knows who. The system they were a part of perhaps?My time on this planet has been enhanced by knowing you and being known and accepted by you—woundings and all.That is part of our legacy.

  3. ded says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your observation, that “authority is not necessarily synonymous with control”. This is a common assumption when one thinks “like a gentile” regarding the necessity for flow charts. Who’s in charge? What if we understood authority as the greater capacity to exercise love: not mushy sentimentality, but the power to walk in patience, kindness, and without envy toward others? What if that were the authority we sought and recognized?

  4. Ben Cotten says:

    It’s all been very surreal for me and Heather. We left Boone for Raleigh just before everything really blew up. But, we both saw it brewing for some time before. Being in Raleigh, and being a part of the family at the same time, was like watching the Katrina disaster on TV. I was miles away, but also inextricably connected. I remember coming up for the “final” meeting just to lend some support to the family. I bet many of us remember that meeting! It was not the church I had known. My good memories of my time there are still good. I still love LWCF and think about it often. So, my perspective is probably a little more removed than many of yours. I just wonder if it isn’t too easy to just point at the system of church government and call that the problem. Don’t get me wrong (really). I believe we should learn all we can from this. But, any system you choose (home church movement, Emerging, modern, post modern, committee led, top down, Elder led, etc.) is only as good as the individuals that make it up. The integrity of the group is dependent on the integrity of its members. The breakdown at LWCF was in consistent unwillingness to confront sin in a loving manner, unwillingness to forgive, unwillingness to listen to the flock bleating at the approaching wolf, a myopic view of spirituality, spiritual pride, selfish ambition, etc. Sure, the system of authority there was flawed. I can agree with that. Really, I do. But, for me, the weight of the lessons to be learned about integrity, friendship, loyalty, forgiveness, and courage far outweigh the lessons to be learned about how churches are governed. It wasn’t the system that robbed you. It was the sin of those you trusted. I hope that makes sense and doesn’t come on too strong. I haven’t had my coffee yet and Heather isn’t here to say, “Honey, that’s a bit much.” 😉

  5. Terry Henry says:

    Man…that’s some heavy stuff. And I guess raises as many questions as it begins to understand. I guess the reason I keep coming back to system is that everything revolved around serving it most of the time. Even relationships were molded by the system which, as you mentioned is only as deep as the integrity of the members. But you are right in that sense. When it was percieved that you were not in agreement with perpetuating someone else’s goals, you became a thorn and were marked from that point on. It was very hard to ever get on the other side of this. I remember a time when my wife made an observation at an elders meeting about a committee that we were supposed to have some input in and had seen some decisions made without us being involved. The persons in question were very upset with us and in a lunch meeting later that week to discuss the matter, whether we were right or wrong in our observation was never brought up. What was at issue was that we had “exposed” this person in public (we were under the impression that elders meetings were safe, family places) and that we needed to repent for that. It wasn’t until a year later that I learned that our participation in that committee was suspect because we “had an agenda” and the committee never met after our public comments about it. And here I thought that our uniqueness was supposed to be beneficial. So to me, whether relationship or system, it all seems tied in together somehow. Thanks for the food for thought.

  6. Ben Cotten says:

    Yeah, I guess over time the system morphs into a reflection of it’s members. (like dogs and their owners?) It stops being something that serves the church, but the church begins to serve the system. That is a dangerous place to be. The Church at large is certainly wrestling over these issues these days. How we do church and how the Church has become a weakened and irrelevant entity in our culture. But that’s off topic…

  7. Terry Henry says:

    It’s not really off topic—just a part of the whole thing.
    I guess it really boils down to Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
    Many times we have to wait to see the results.

  8. ded says:

    Where does the fault lie in our failure to live honorably together as God’s children, our sick hearts or the systems we create? The sick heart, of course, reaches back to Creation and the fall. It would have to be the primary culprit. Yet, the functioning of the system and its power over individuals needs to be examined. It is a truth that any system will be flawed because flawed people populate it. But what about the power of the systems to subjugate people? This presents a conundrum. We are still instructed to be involved in fellowship. Is a flawed system acceptable in order to achieve submission to the mandate? If we subscribe to “It doesn’t matter which system,” do we not automatically accept the flaws that the system inherently has and the consequences of that? If these systemic flaws are indeed a function of men’s fallen hearts, did God ordain us to live under the authority of fallenness? It is an inevitable conclusion, if we allow flawed systems to rule over people. Tangent: I accept the free-will reality as an unalterable part of life and respect anyone’s decision to participate in any group regardless of the representative system. This is not about abrogating anyone’s choice. Going back to the original thread. Did God intend we enter into something flawed? I contend He did not. In fact, Jesus warned us not to follow the example of the gentiles and lord it over one another. In fact, our religious systems do just that. In so doing, we subject the flock to the flaws of human hearts, and inevitably, relationships suffer as the system forms and perpetuates itself. I agree with everything Ben has said. Yet, I ask do we not need to look deeply at what we are talking about? Human beings being what they are–heart, mind and soul–should we continue to look to gentile-oriented systems, which invite the impact of the fallen human heart to lift into positions of authority, as the means of serving our need for fellowship within the family of the Father? Would it not be more prudent, practical, and purposeful to move into the spiritual dwelling the Father designs?

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