What I would like to do is put this whole issue of authority into the bigger context of the grand narrative of scripture. I got this one roughly from Ireneaus (apologies if my memory is wrong), it starts with Intimacy in the Godhead before creation, then intimacy expanded as the God creates all creation but especially us as humans, division as sin enters the picture, division expanded as sin and it’s effects spread and corrupt, intimacy re-established happens at in Jesus life, death and resurrection, intimacy expanded as the Kingdom of God is inaugurated through Jesus and then his followers.
So before he created the world, Christ died for us. God was prepared for whatever choice we made in the garden of Eden, he had counted the cost and paid it up front. We were then truly free to chose him or walk away from him. I love that God was never and is never scared of our sin, sadly most christians are, and sadly most leadership decisions are motivated by this fear.
God on the other hand was equally committed to loving us and reconciling us to himself. He has always wanted intimacy with us but when we sin we are trying to grab for ourselves what we don’t believe a loving God wants to give us. Sin then becomes it’s own punishment because God doesn’t need to punish us. In fact God remains committed to reconciling, ransoming, redeeming us as an act of faithfulness to his own nature and to us, and out of love for us.
In all of this even though God has all authority, he doesn’t use it or need it to establish a relationship with us that is free and full of love. I believe that there is a power that is greater than authority in this world, and it is the power of a cross shaped love. We often use authority to control, to manage and to manipulate that which scares us most. In most christian circles we are scared of others sin (funnily we are not scared of our own sin). In church we use our authority mostly over fellow christians, when our authority is meant to enforce the victory of Calvary and the Resurrection on the forces of evil, sin and death.
We also use our authority to discipline fellow christians (what we really do is punish them for sinning) but I don’t think we can know what discipline is while we need to punish sin. Jesus didn’t punish the women caught in adultery, so what grounds do we have? Can you think of 1 sinner who Jesus confronted and punished while he was on earth? I can’t but what I do see a lot is Jesus reconciling people to his Father.
Most of us, if not all, wouldn’t know how to use authority to love someone else, what does that even look like? To think about it the only way I think of using authority to love someone is by using that authority to set them free. I think of the people in The International Justice Mission who go and raid (with the help of local law enforcement) sex trafficking rings,using authority and power to set those girls free. However when we use authority in the church we use words like submission, covering, accountability, unity. Does that sound loving or like conformity and control?
Jesus didn’t put the women in the well into an accountability group, he didn’t do that to Zaccheaus either, in fact can you think of one sinner Jesus followed up on. I think he believed that if he could win their hearts, he wouldn’t have to hold them accountable, and if he couldn’t win their hearts then no accountability structure would ever work.
I am not saying we can’t have leaders in church communities (I think leadership is helpful on an ad hoc basis for projects that the community as a whole feel called to pursue), what I am saying is that we should be known by our love for each other and we don’t need authority to make that happen.
So those are my ideas, what are your thoughts?