What Authority?

In my corner of the world, people have unquestioning obedience to authority drilled into them from birth. Those like me, who ask too many questions, soon find themselves in trouble. In this society, monuments to the past are more valuable
than blueprints for the future; the historian weighs more than the inventor.

Even the cashier is in a position of authority since he is viewed as the embodiment of the institution’s authority. That’s why my countrymen will complain to each other when stuck in slow queues but give the offending cashier a charming smile. Their legendary patience is really a sycophantic begrudging unwillingness to challenge authority.

This spills over into the church. If they weren’t cowering before authority, many church elders’ wives would testify that the day before his ordination is the last time an elder listens to any opinion other than his own. I’ve seen pastors overturn board decisions and have been deafened by the resulting silence when “this is coming from the conference,” signals the end of debate over the wisdom of any proposed course of action.

Some years ago, the General Conference President was visiting our corner of the world so it was arranged that all church members in my city would gather at the biggest stadium to meet him. These gatherings are often called “Big Sabbaths“. A relative asked me if I would be attending and while fighting the urge to ask how Sabbaths are measured, I simply asked if the GC President was Jesus. A lady nearby took of fence and felt it necessary to remind me that I was talking about an ordained man of God. I felt it necessary to wonder what Luther and the other Reformers would say.

Like them, I choose to bow only to the authority of truth. Jesus never pulled rank to make people believe in Him but people around Him were compelled by conviction to fall at His feet. There is just no authority like the authority of truth – it needs neither threat nor emotional blackmail but is content to rely on its ability to convict.

Our sinful world requires a dose of coercive power as exercised by the state for it does bring order. In the end, however, a perfect world can only be ruled by the power of conviction because as the adage goes, “a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” The church is to be a foretaste of this world – a place where the authority of truth reigns supreme.

I think Paul subscribed to this because I notice that in Galatians 1, he says “if we or even an angel from heaven, teaches a different gospel from the one we taught you, let him be anathema.” (Verse 8). Paul includes himself in “we”, meaning the authority of the gospel transcends even Paul’s.

It transcends heavenly beings’ authority too. Even being a heavenly angel is no safeguard from error as this text and Revelation 12 show. The power of the Gospel lies in Truth.

The Gospel is the plainest revelation of the True nature of reality. God is not limited to the abstract but is deeply involved in reality. The greatest revelation of God isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts but a crucified and risen Saviour acting through the agency of the Holy Spirit to impact real lives.

Without robbing leadership of its due respect, I find the power of a changed life far more compelling than a Conference directive. No list of “deeds to be done and sins to be shunned” can be as eloquent as a Spirit led life. We are all designed to bow to the authority of truth. If only we heard it more often.