To have authority is to have the power to give orders or make decisions: the power or right to direct or control someone or something. To be an authority is to have the confident quality of being somebody who knows a lot about something or who is respect or obeyed by other people.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s an unspoken belief that states that: “If we could just get our churches in order under the correct authority, then we would see evidence of God moving in them.”
When I learned about the bishops of the early church, I discovered that their based their authority on a chain of succession going as far back as the Apostles to himself. According to this site, every Pope in the Roman Catholic church is considered to be the immediate successor to Peter and a part of an unbroken chain of succession that originates with Peter as the very first pope. But every church that exists apart from Catholicism does not have that luxury.
Authority then, exists in several forms. The authority of the elected president of the denomination over it’s board of pastors that discuss, debate, and decide policy. The authority of the seminary president over the teachers and students he is in charge of. The authority of the pastor over the believers that attend his church. The authority of the church elders as overseers over their younger brothers and sisters in the faith. The authority of the head of the household as the spiritual leader of his famiy. With all of that authority, there must be evidence that God is blessing the churches through the various forms of authority in an orderly way, right?
Maybe this love with our own authority has blinded us to the one true source of authority that we all share: Jesus Christ as the head of the Church, all Christianity, everywhere. The rest of us are on level ground. Sometimes I think they forget that the image of Jesus as the shepherd applies with spiritual authority, which no human can wield. As to the administration of the church’s day to day affairs, the various options from scripture all have their ups and downs.
In the Old Testament, Moses was overwhelmed as the shepherd-leader of Israel. He would spend the better part of the day trying to resolve conflicts. His father in law suggested that he delegate that authority so that the leaders of the various tribes could deal with the majority of small matters. It is not that dissimilar from the New Testament model where overseers are elected to help manage the churches. It works best in dealing with smaller, localized groups.
In many cults, the authority of the leader is equivalent with that of a prophet. They have no checks or balances on their power and that allows for any number of bad consequences to result. Even in regular churches, the lack of accountability has done a lot of harm. There’s an old saying; “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Christians should add: “Spiritual power corrupts spiritually.”
Considering that there’s no shortage of abuse coming to light from the most authoritative church that exists – in Catholicism, we can see that there is a measure of spiritual corruption of those in authority for they have no accountability. How much more so are all other churches at risk for the same behaviors? Are all other churches just so good as to be able to avoid these problems, or are they far betting at hiding these sins?
If power and authority has corrupted Christianity, then humility and surrender as well as apologizes and the dismantling of the systems that allow for the abuse to be perpetuated would be the surest remedy. Perhaps, then God would restore the churches and our leaders would be more like the judges; men and women whom God calls to lead, be accountable to him, and humbly looking to serve Him.