Let’s start out conversation with some observations on authority.
• Authority is like the air we breathe, we can’t live without it.
• In a very basic way it means to have something others don’t.
• Authority comes either via position or knowledge.
• We’re either an authority to someone or under someone’s authority.
This post is about looking at authority in a positive light and trying to figure what is the best use of it. It’s easy to give up on something that is so misused, but here … we’re looking to redeem, to find the best in everything.
The best use of authority is to empower not oppress.
Authority at her best functions as a guide, helping people find their way. When authority is misused it always seeks to draw people in and force them (subtly or openly) into her mold. Great experts (considered authorities), for example, are not those who have extensive knowledge in a particular field, but those who know how to channel it so that others can open new doors and find their way to new discoveries. Let’s look briefly at three areas where authority is exercised and see what it would mean to have authority in a positive, life giving way: God, the Scriptures and the Church.
Let’s see how authority applies to God. Can God abuse authority? Wait, some may say, doesn’t this very question imply God can do wrong or evil? Why do we need to worry about how God is using his authority? After all, God is God so He can do whatever He wants, right? Here’s the trick. The issue is how we identify Him and His actions. People disagree on what God is behind or what God’s actions are. So, who’s right? Some think that God does whatever He wants no matter what we want, that He is Sovereign. He always gets his way. Others think God is respectful of our choices, that He actually allows us to truly choose and He is willing to adjust His actions around our choices. The question here is, which is an abuse of authority? How should we perceive a god who demands strict obedience, who always gets his ways no matter what, who forcefully executes his plans and who only cares about himself and nothing else? Wouldn’t that be an authoritarian god, exercising his authority in an abusive way? Wouldn’t the true God give it all up for his prized creation? Wouldn’t he use his power and knowledge to help us find our way and be the best we can be? Wouldn’t the true God use his power to lift, to empower, to inspire, to give us wings and let us fly? Wouldn’t a true God, like a father, point to us, not to him? Wouldn’t he be the highest expression of altruism? How we answer these questions determines where we see God and where we don’t and what actions we attribute to Him.
Most people, if not everybody, agree that the Scriptures have authority. The question is how is this authority exercised? How are we to understand the authority of the sacred texts? Can the Scripture’s authority be abused? The sacred text exercises its authority in a life giving way, again, when it inspires, when people find themselves in its pages, when the readers identify with the experience of those in the past, when it doesn’t give you the truth but guides you in finding the truth, when it doesn’t tell you what to do, but helps you figure what you need to do. On the other hand, following the Scriptures starts to be oppressive when it saps the life out of you, it tries to turn you into someone you are not, and it takes you on a path that is in conflict with your soul. When this happens, the Scripture become abusive in using its authority.
And last, but not least, the Church. Unfortunately more often than not the Church has been abusive in its use of authority. Actually if authority has gotten a bad rap is because of the ways the Church throughout the history has used her authority. So it’s understandable to see a movement of resistance toward the Church and to just give up on it altogether. But we need community. This spiritual path we are on is not a solo game. The truth is we need the Church and so we need the Church to use its authority to lift people up, to come along people on their unique journeys, to empower, to encourage plurality and diversity instead of making everybody fit a mold. We need the Church to encourage an innovative spirit in people, to be the wind behind people’s wings not be the one cutting them off. We need the Church’s support. Together we can do so much more, we can go so much farther. We need the Church to reclaim her authority for doing good.
This is authority at its best, authority reIMAGINED. What say ye?