15 March 2012

Authority and Mission: In Charge and On Charge

In best-selling book The Shack, William P. Young writes from the perspective of God the Father speaking about the Trinity:
Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or "great chain of being" as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don't need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.
The Jesus figure in the book also explains:
Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it.  You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power.  Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you.
Now, I haven't read this book and don't intend to. My only purpose is to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the concept that a hierarchy of authority is bad. Young would have us think that authority is sinful. But what did Jesus actually say?
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
He said he has all authority. And with his authority he gives commands. If authority were sinful, we should expect Jesus to use his authority to expel authority, or something. It doesn't take much to see that Young's theology leaks like a sieve. The book reviews of The Shack that address this issue of authority are plentiful and sufficient so I won't add to them; if you are interested, consult the oracle.

What I want to do instead is elaborate on the connection authority has with mission. By mission, I mean that there is some kind of goal or objective. The problem William P. Young and our culture have with authority is the connection it can have with power. I would affirm that those in authority who feed on power trips are in sin. But the authority structure within the Godhead is not about a power trip. What this neglects is another possibility for why authority exists: to execute a mission in achieving an objective. The military and its rich authority structure does not exist because of power hungry sinners (well, maybe...); it exists because there are objectives to accomplish, because there is a mission.

Have you ever been a part of a mission that lacked authority? What about deciding where to go out to eat with a bunch of indecisive people? Or people that don't want to hurt others by being assertive? You know how it goes: it finally gets to the point where one says, "Will someone just decide?" This is a confession of need for authority. Or have you ever experienced a mission suffering disorganization? I remember joining the ranks of sandbagging lines that just couldn't get a rhythm. In these situations the question I usually ask myself is, "Who's in charge here?" (Then there's always the guy who wants a power trip, assumes authority, and doesn't actually know what he's doing. Ugh.)

Yes, when authority is put in the hands of sinners, it can be abused. But authority itself is not sinful. It existed before sin. Let's look at the world before the fall:
And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it..." Gen 1:28a
God gave man an objective, a mission, a job. God exercised His authority to tell man what to do. But God also gave man the authority to execute this mission:
"...and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Gen 1:28b

Did you catch that? Dominion. The mission is to "subdue" the earth. Force it into submission. Dominate it. Rule over it. Before sin, before the fall, there is a mission and there is authority. We must conclude that authority itself is not sinful. We see God exercising authority and putting man under a charge. To be "in charge" with authority is to be "on charge" with a mission. They go together. Part of God making man in His image was to establish the man with authority just as God has authority. We really need to go no further in showing that authority is good than observe that God has authority. (How Young misses that the world is God's to command as He pleases is baffling.) Authority is good in God's hands, and, because he endowed man with His image and charged man, authority is also good in man's hands.

But sin does indeed cause authority to go bad in man's hands because we will insist on using the authority to serve ourselves. We change the mission. The abusive husband's mission is to gratify himself. The oppressive government's mission is a life of fame and posh for those in power. The iron-fisted father's mission is to impress his community with his obedient children. The mission always turns selfish.

God the Father made a plan in eternity past to execute a mission, to achieve an objective. We are told that His mission is to "unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth," Eph. 1:10. His purpose in this was to bring about "the praise of his glory," Eph. 1:6,12,14. Part of how He designed to show us His glory that we would praise Him is His demonstration of power:
...When he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So part of God's whole purpose, His mission, is to demonstrate His power, His authority, and He did this by sending Jesus to the lowest depths of weakness and then raising him to the highest place of authority. The Father made Jesus "head" over all things; he is the authority, the King of kings and Lord of lords. (Again, how Young can miss this, I can only conclude he hasn't read the Bible.) But Christ's continuing authority isn't without mission. Our forever purpose will be to praise the glory of God through being united to God. Christ's authority and our submission will forever be beautiful. This is God's mission to eternity.

So I ask of us: What is our attitude towards authority? Even if the authority we are under is sinful, do we submit and entrust ourselves to the greater authority (1 Pet. 2:23, 4:19)? Will we follow Christ's example of submission (Php. 2:5-11)? Will we heed the call to demonstrate God's character to the world through how we structure authority and submission in our relationships, including husband-wife (1 Pet. 3:1,7; Eph. 5:22-33), employer-employee (1 Pet. 2:18, Eph. 6:5-9), government-citizen (1 Pet. 2:13-14), pastor-lay (Heb. 13:17), and parent-child (Eph 6:1-4)? Will we keep sight of the mission to glorify God in our authority?

I pray that we the Church might reclaim a Biblical view of authority and submission and mission, that we would be in charge because we are on charge, to the praise of God's glory.

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