Tag Archives: Authority

What is a Christian vision of Authority?

I have recorded and published a new podcast in my “What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?” series. This one takes on the topic of authority.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Introduction:

  1. Christianity uses the language of authority. For example: God is sovereign, Jesus speaks with authority. Jesus is the King. Christians are servants, of Christ.
  2. As a culture we have become uncomfortable with authority. It feels oppressive. Freedom comes when we throw off authority. In fact, a lot of good has come from throwing off oppressive authorities.
  3. There have been many abuses of human authority in the realms of government and religion. We misuse authority when it becomes merely a tool of the powerful against the weak as a way of securing self-interest.

A Christian vision of Authority:

  1. Jesus came as a King, but did not act like the people thought a king should act (with power, coercion, military strength).
  2. Instead Jesus came in humility. He taught an “upside down kingdom”. He died on the cross.
  3. Nevertheless, his death (and subsequent resurrection) was an act of victorious power over our most vicious enemies: Sin and Death.
  4. The pattern of Jesus’s life and death undermines the human vision of authority of the powerful over the weak and gives a truly Christ-centered vision of authority that serves instead of demanding service.
  5. Finally, God has authority as Creator that humans can never have. Abuse of human authority comes when we reject Jesus’s pattern or try to take God’s authority for ourselves.

You can listen to the podcast here. You can also subscribe through any number of podcasting Apps.

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Exile and Political Engagement: Submission and Taxes

This post is part of a series (Post 1: Introduction and Outline, Post 2: Four Key Principles for Christian Political Engagement)

Part 2: Kinds of political engagement

We must now turn to practical matters. Having established some guiding principles, what types of political engagement should Christians participate in and how should they go about participating?

Obedience to the law

“Obedience to the law” may not necessarily be a form of political engagement but it does form the basis for many other types of engagement/non-engagement. For Christians, obedience to the law should be the norm, even in response to a government that is hostile towards Christianity. Romans 13 states “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities… whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (v1-2). Likewise, 1 Peter 2 says “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (v13-14).

Mere begrudging obedience is not enough. We are also called to “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:16) and give them the honor and respect which is due to the civil authorities (Romans 13:7). Christians are also called to pray for “kings and those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Even though Christians have another citizenship and have a higher allegiance, under most conditions, we honor God by honoring the authorities he has placed in our lives and we honor those authorities by obeying the law of the land.

Paying taxes

One of those laws which we are specifically called to obey is the law of taxation. Romans 13:7 states “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes. If revenue, then revenue.” Jesus Himself was challenged on the question of taxes. In an effort to trap Jesus the Pharisees asked the question: “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Mark 12:14) Pointing out whose face was on the coin Jesus responded “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).

So we have two clear instances of specific instructions to pay taxes to the civil government in accordance with the laws of the land. But there is something behind the root of the objection to pay taxes that goes beyond self-interest. In paying taxes you are offering material support to a government that, in all likelihood, is doing something rather immoral with that money. The Romans were an oppressive government towards the Jews, and later towards the Christians. Much of that tax money went to pay the salary of soldiers who oppressed the very people paying taxes. Today, many might object to things the American government funds (personally, I object the government funding Planned Parenthood). Others may object to funding government wars or foreign intervention. Yet, even towards the oppressive Roman government Paul and Jesus instruct the people of God to pay the taxes that are due.

This highlights an important moral distinction. Even though tax money might be used in an unjust way, the Christian does not bear the guilt of how that money is used. Instead, the action of paying taxes is commended because it is a way of submitting to the authority which God has instituted.

I spoke with someone once who argued that there was no difference between a robber stealing from your house in the middle of the night and a politician collecting taxes. Both were taking what they did not earn and doing so under threat of coercive force. I can sympathize with the argument but the difference is that one is an authority established by God, and the other is not.

Tomorrow’s post: Serving in the Government

Pastoral Authority: What it is and what it isn’t

Several recent discussions, one on the pastoral role in general, one on pastoral abuse, and one regarding the role of women in ministry, while disconnected in content, have brought up the question of whether or not pastors (or church leaders, elders, etc.)* have authority and, if they do, what the nature of their authority is. Since I am a pastor, this is probably something I should have a handle on and it is this topic I would like to explore in this post.

Do Pastors have authority?

I need to confess that I come to this topic with a perspective this is anti-hierarchical. I believe in the priesthood of all believers. I am wary of anyone, pastor or otherwise, who claims to speak or lead with authority. So, the first question is this: Do pastors have authority in the church?

I would argue that yes, there is a place for pastoral leadership in the church and that leadership carries with it authority. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and respect their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” 1 Peter 5:5 says “you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” In this context, the term “elder” is probably referring to the office (see 1 Peter 5:1-2). In the qualifications for overseers Paul says that an elder must “manage his own family well and see that his children obey him” since to do so demonstrates that he would be able to “manage” God’s church (1 Timothy 3:4-5). So, it seems, that God intended some hierarchy within the local church structure and that the members of that church should “submit” themselves to those leaders, holding them in high esteem (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

What is that nature of that authority?

First, we need to say what it is not. Jesus teaches an “upside down” kingdom. He instructs his disciples:

“You know that the 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, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Similarly in the 1 Peter 5 passage referenced above Paul says that elders should lead “not pursuing dishonest gain… not lording it over those entrusted to you.” Church authority is not a power grab. It is not coercive. Submission to authorities is not something demanded by leaders, but something given voluntarily. Godly leadership looks a lot different from worldly leadership. Godly authority looks very different from worldly authority.

Authority exercised by pastors is also not independent. It is a secondary, derivative leadership. First, pastors must act in submission to Christ. There is only one Senior Pastor (Chief Shepherd) and He will hold all other under shepherds accountable (1 Peter 5:4). Second, pastors are subject to the Word. Preaching can be described as an “authoritative” action but that authority only goes so far. The Bible is authoritative but the interpretation is not. The sermon a pastor preaches can, and should be, evaluated by the hearers to ensure that it aligns with God’s revealed Word. A congregant who comes to me afterwards and tells me they think I misinterpreted a portion of Scripture is not disrespecting my authority, since my interpretation wasn’t authoritative anyway. We are both subject to the Scriptures. If I were convinced my interpretation was correct my aim would be to convince the congregant, not simply tell them to defer to me because I am an “authoritative teacher.” Third, church leaders submit themselves to the church, in a sense, since the church must watch the life and teaching of the pastor to ensure that they remain eligible for church leadership per the requirements of 1 Timothy and Titus.**

So what is the purpose of church authority? It is given for the building up of the body (Ephesians 4:11-13) and for the shepherding of the flock (1 Peter 5). The pastor is the servant following the example of Christ (Matthew 20:27-28). Pastors are to follow the example of Christ, giving of themselves for the sake of the church and doing all this as those under authority.

How do church leaders exercise their authority?

To say that pastors are fundamentally servants does not, however, flatten church structure, it just defines the way in which pastors and elders exercise leadership. Some “leadership” activities of pastors include guarding and transmitting sound doctrine (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13-14), appointing and installing leaders (2 Tim 2:1-2; Titus 1:5), shepherding the flock, which includes feeding with spiritual food and keeping out the wolves (Acts 20:28-31). Pastors and elders also bear much of the responsibility for church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 13, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Matthew 18:17).

Perhaps the best “modern” word to describe the role of pastors is “responsibility.” Pastors and leaders have a heightened degree of responsibility since they are the primary teachers, interpreters, and guardians of the gospel. Their lives and teaching are viewed more closely and are held up as a model for right living. This means that leaders sometimes need to exercise authority for the protection of the flock as a whole.

This heightened responsibility, when faithfully carried out, makes pastors and church leaders worthy of respect, but they are never “above the law.” In fact, if I understand Scripture correctly, they will be judged more severely (James 3:1). It is wise and necessary, therefore, for pastors and church leaders to hold their position with utmost humility.

Bottom line: Pastors have been granted limited, derived authority, not to be “lorded over” others but for the purpose of shepherding the flock with utmost humility. If you’re a church member, godly leaders should be respected for their service. If you’re a church leader, don’t “demand” that respect. Instead, serve your church by appealing to the truth of the authoritative Word and pointing them to the true Chief Shepherd.

*From here on I will be using the term “pastor” to describe the highest leadership position in the church. Depending on your view of church structure you could read this as pastor/elder, church board, bishop, etc. The NT more often speaks of church leadership in general than pastoral leadership in particular. However, I use “pastor” here since it is the position most commonly associated with local church leadership. If pressed, I would probably argue that “pastor/elder” would be the most precise term but “pastor” smoothes out the language of the post.

**In a Baptist setting (like the one in which I am a part) this is formalized in church policy. The congregation votes to call pastors, appoint elders and deacons, and modify the church constitution. In a strict sense, the board is the “boss” of the pastor and the voting members are the “boss” of board. Even if, in your church, this isn’t upheld by church policy individual Christians still bear the responsibility to evaluate the life and teaching of their leaders.

Six signs you’re a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist

It’s always easy to point the finger at someone else and smack them with a label. “You are a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist” But, one of the main points of Soul Searching was that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the dominant religious instinct in America today. If that’s that means I need to start the evaluation process, not with others, but with myself. If we’ve established that MTD represents a significant diversion from historical and biblical Christianity then the next question is this, “have we diverged from historical and biblical Christianity?”

Here are six signs you (or I) might be Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. Even if you don’t agree with any of these statements cognitively, ask whether you agree with them in action.

You might be a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist if you agree with the following statements:

1) Everyone decides for themselves what is right (i.e., “it’s right for her”).

2) All religions are basically the same because they help people be moral.

3) The best part of Christianity is that it makes me feel good.

4) You should choose a faith based on personal preferences. (4b: It’s generally not a good idea to try to convert someone to another faith).

5) God doesn’t really place any hard demands on my life, and it’s unlikely that he will.

6) Religion is only a part of my life when I am having a problem.

The biggest sign you’re a moralistic therapeutic deist is if, when you consider the role of God in your life, you see God as the servant and yourself as the Master. The question is this: Who is in charge? Who has authority? MTD says the autonomous self. Christianity says God.