Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The Place For Authority
Throughout the book, Austin emphasizes that authority is always personal authority. It resides in persons and not in things. Despite a seemingly vigorous corporate ecclesiology, he nevertheless affirms that “authority resides in the individual believer.” The church cannot exist without its individual members and their confession of faith in Jesus Christ. The church quite properly has its offices, creeds, traditions, and, above all, the Scriptures. Yet authority in the full sense is to be found in none of these by itself: “Authority resides in the individual believer who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaims faithfully her allegiance to the suffering Jesus, and thus to her Lord, and thus to the Triune Reality that is the source of all authority in heaven and earth.” Yet the individual’s confession of faith is dependent on the larger community which authorizes her to make this confession.Fascinating Captain! Authority is, of course, one of the great dividing lines between Old and New Testament and between Catholicism and Protestantism. The theological concept of priesthood is very important in all this. The Reformation was born of abuses of ecclesiastical power. And yet, lack of centralized authority threatens to drive the American church in particular into meaningless oblivion. This presents an interesting fusion of the central and decentral authority models.
Authority indeed resides in persons, but it is earned, not granted. he purpose of the institution is not to hold or grant authority, but to insure that those in positions of authority have indeed earned it. Institutions are gate keepers. Two quick thoughts.
One is how democratic such a model is. Is America a Christian nation? It is indeed in the idea that how we hold and transfer political power is modeled on how it would seem God intended the church to do so. (Big hint there as to why I am a Presbyterian.)
Secondly, just as a democratic nation requires a high level of education amongst its citizenry, the same is true for the church. Otherwise, it will be possible for the unsuitable to claim authority. And yet, Christian education is virtually dead in the church today.