All human beings are immediately and unavoidably confronted from the time of their earliest awareness that someone other than themselves initiated their existence. This is obviously true in relation to conception and parenthood, but a deeper truth is taught in scripture. The psalmist confidently says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 ESV). Contrary to our scientific and psychological judgements, the Bible suggests that the human foetus is aware of God even in utero. The scriptures emphatically teach that the knowledge of God as Creator is universal, and unwanted, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20 ESV). As human beings we do not want the knowledge of God as Creator in our consciousness, because we it teaches us that we are totally responsible to God as our absolute point of origin.
Romans teaches us that the avoidance response to the general revelation of God as Creator is idolatry, all idols are attempts to avoid the “obligation of obedience” to God’s authority . “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:21-23 ESV) Such images are not merely contained in inanimate objects, like the wood and stone idols of Canaanite religion, they are first of all embedded in the human heart . More subtly, pervasively and influentially, we are to discern such idolatry in human cultures all of which carry the distortion of the image of God in man.
Without our consultation, the LORD invested humanity with authority from the beginning; “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26 ESV). All social structures depend on the use of authority, this is acutely related to the use of discipline and punishment in a fallen world. E.g. “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”” (Genesis 9:5-6 ESV). The context the use of authority as punishment and discipline ,within families and institutions, is another powerful force corrupting the human understanding of true spiritual authority.
Broadly speaking, cultures seem to polarise in their respect for authority. Western culture has a pragmatic approach; any respect is dependent on performance and is selfishly motivated. Non Western societies trend to be deferential on the basis of age, status, education, wealth and so on. These differences of perception and practice are determined by factors history and geography and are grounded in divine revelation. Therefore contrary to first impressions, the revelation of the true nature of authority must provide a bridge for cross cultural communication . The fullness of such insight is possible only in the Church, but its potential is rarely realised. If democratic, egalitarian and hierarchical approaches to authority are grounded in human culture rather than scripture, final clarity concerning authority can only come from understanding and sharing in the life of Jesus.
The Authority of Christ
A. Life and Ministry
When Jesus appeared on the preaching scene in Galilee there was something radically different about him compared to other teachers; “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:21-28). The effectiveness of Jesus ministry over demons was immediate because they recognised in his holiness an immediate relationship with their Creator and Judge . This basic or foundational authority of Jesus is even more radically revealed in his ability to forgive sin.
“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:5-12 ESV)”. This great sign reveals that the authority operative in Jesus is functionally equivalent to the authority of God, nothing stands outside his authority to command submission. The key to Jesus’ supreme authority however does not lie in the exercise of his divine nature but in his choice of lowliness.
What Paul says of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:6-7 ESV) must be taken with the utmost seriousness. The incarnation, the eternal Word becoming sinful flesh (John 1:14; Rom 8:3), is an incomprehensible sacrifice. In leaving behind his eternal glory and becoming mortal man Christ depended entirely upon the Holy Spirit for his supernatural deeds; ““But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”” (Matt 12:28 ESV). On various occasions we see Jesus praying, for this was part of his journey of growing as a human being (Luke 2:40). We read of how he “looked up to heaven” e.g. when he multiplied the loaves and fishes, when he healed the deaf and dumb man, and when he raised Lazarus from the dead (Matt 14:19; Mark 7:34; John 11:41). In each case he was relying on the power of his heavenly Father.
We read how “that even winds and sea obey him?”” (Matt 8:27), likewise, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27) and the disciples obeyed Jesus by following him when they were called (Mark 1:16-19). A hint as to the source of Jesus unparalleled authority comes in his encounter with the Roman centurion. “When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralysed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marvelled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.” (Matt 8:5-13 ESV). Because the centurion was under the authority of the Roman Emperor, all the resources of the Empire stood behind him. Similarly he recognised in Jesus works someone who was stood obediently under the supreme authority of God .
Christ explained the source of his authority to those tempted to doubt him; ““For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”” (John 12:49). He could boldly say, ““If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”” (John 15:10 ESV). In submitting to the will of his Father through the power of the Spirit (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38) Jesus sensed how all creation was dependent upon God for its existence and ongoing life (Matt 6:26-30; 10:29); it was from his utter dependence upon God as Father that his authority to command both nature and men proceeded.
Jesus’ dependence upon God was not submission to some external influence, it was limitlessly intimate. Here we come to the climax of our understanding of the nature of true spiritual authority. The authority of Christ, and so our authority e.g. as senior pastor, elder, evangelist, prophet, Christian person etc., does not come from relative position in a hierarchy but is a manifestation of being indwelt by God.
“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.””(John 14:8-11 ESV). The sole source of the authority of Jesus is that he is indwelt by the Father. Jesus expressed this emphatically.
“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel….I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:19-20, 30 ESV). Jesus lived by the constant awareness of the presence of the indwelling Father. This presence was not bland or neutral, it was deeply intimate;“and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:22 ESV). The intense pleasure of the Father was the source of the authority of the Son and drew forth his willing obedience. Such a pleasured authority however was immediately tested.
Satan’s first temptation struck at the core of the nature of the authority of Jesus, “And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.””(Matthew 4:3 ESV). Christ’s love for the Father was so great that he would never do anything that would cause him displeasure. There was no possibility that he would wrongfully or selfishly use his authority in the wilderness.
Jesus himself exposed the difference between fallible human authority and that which comes from above. “And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”” (Matthew 21:23-27 ESV) The authority which comes from man, such as that of the rulers of the Jews, keeps its recipients in the stronghold of fear, for what man gives man can take away. The call of God and his gifts however are irrevocable (Rom 11:29).
Some time ago I was in a largish meeting of pastors and other Church leaders. Sensing that something was amiss in the meeting, I prayed for an opportunity to say something. This came, and the message was not well received by the facilitators of the group. When I sat down someone close by remarked to me that I was “fearless”. This was definitely not true, but I would rather fear and obey God than seek the fickle approval of man. Fear of the heavenly Father and fear of man are mutually exclusive. Jesus stood outside this tension because he was a fully obedient Son.
B: Obedience to Death
In summing up Jesus’ present authority, the author of Hebrews cites Psalm 8:4-6, showing that he understands is that the original promise of dominion given to humankind through Adam has been fulfilled through Christ (Heb 2:5-9). Elsewhere the author expounds the role of Christ as heavenly high priest by accentuating his humanity, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence/godly fear. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:7-10 ESV). The stress here on obedience is the key to the manifestation of God’s authority in the life of Jesus both before and after the cross. When we see Jesus agonising in Gethsemane, “And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:36 ESV), we must not think that it is a fear of human consequences that is challenging his obedience, but fear of the awesome wrath of God signified by “the cup” (Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22 etc.) which he must drink on the cross. Christ’s authority can only reach perfection through a unique measure of suffering. The knowing submission of Sonship itself must be sacrificed on the cross if Jesus is to be one with the Father as an obedient human being. This was Christ’s reply to those who did not understand that he was sent by the Father; “So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”” (John 8:28-29 ESV). The “lifting up” of the cross, especially in the theology of John, is the site of Jesus’ glorification (John 3:14; 12:31-34; 13:31-32; 17:1). This will happen in a manner that is an absolute paradox to normal human ways of thinking, “For Jews demand [the authority of] signs and Greeks seek [the authority of] wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25 ESV). The absolute intensification of the authority of the indwelling of the Father can only come through the emptiness of the cross.
The horrible cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) means that Jesus experiences Fatherlessness, and in experiencing such God-forsakenness is stripped of all sense of his authority as a Son. In taking upon himself the sins of the world he loses all sense of the divine indwelling (John 1:29; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24). Since “Guilt is absolute impotence with God.” (P.T.Forsyth) Christ’s consciousness experiences total helplessness on the cross. He is wholly emptied of all awareness of anything that is good in humanity; in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3) he has “become sin” (2 Cor 5:21). This is the cost of carrying God’s wrath upon the sin of the world. The purpose of such emptying however is fullness.
C: The Climax of Authority
In God’s order the obedience that leads into emptiness flows into fullness; “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11 ESV). “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt 28:18 ESV).
The New Testament stresses the authority granted to Jesus with his resurrection from the dead; “and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ 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.” (Ephesians 1:19-21 ESV). Paul’s foundational gospel statement at the commencement of Romans expounds the source of Jesus resurrection power in terms of his obedient Sonship, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:1-4 ESV).
The resurrection is a revelation to Jesus, as a real human being, of his equality with God the Father. The Lordship of Jesus, an understood way of speaking of his authority, is not something which he possesses simply by being God. It is a reality attained by his human victory over sin, Satan and death through real life struggle and suffering. Jesus has authority in our midst today as a glorified human being i.e. one of us. The pinnacle of his authority is to make us what he is; obedient sons of God remade in his own likeness. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the authority to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV cf. Rom 8:29). The sovereign authority of Jesus enables him to pour out the Holy Spirit, his Spirit of sonship, into our hearts so that we cry out, ““Abba! Father!”” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). The reception of the revelation of God as Father signifies the completion of the eternal plan of God, a plan that is achieved through the authority of the Sonship of Jesus.
Christian Authority – Christ in you
The promise of being indwelt by God and indwelling God is a central element in New Testament salvation, ““Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.””(John 14:23 ESV) . The Christian is in Christ as Christ is in God (e.g. 1 Cor 3:21- 23; Col 3:1 – 4) or, to put the same thing a little differently, as the Son is in the Father (John 14:10; 20; 17:23) . “I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you (John 14:20); ““I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.””(John 17:20-23 ESV). This can mean nothing less than sharing in the inner eternal life of the Trinity (2 Pet 1:4). A number of important conclusions flow from this truth.
The first involves the recognition that authority is a gift. The crowds recognised that Christ’s authority was given by God; “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:6-8 ESV cf. John 3:2). Jesus constantly confessed that his authority was a gift from the Father; “ For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:26-27 ESV; 10:18; 12:49; 14:10; 17:2; Matt 28:18). The authority of all new covenant testimony and ministry is one that is “given” (Matt 10:1; Luke 10:19; 19:17; 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10; Rev 2:26; 11:3; 20:4) .
If the authority that a Christian possesses is a grace-given share in the authority of Christ, we cannot place a limit on such authority. A Bible teacher and revivalist known to me once challenged a group of pastors with words something like this; “Do you fellows believe the word which you speak is the Word which created the world.” This is surely biblical; “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” (1 Pet 4:11). Since “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom 10:8), we are united with the authority of him who created the universe, sent the prophets, “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles’ Creed).
The limitless gift nature of spiritual authority means that those who would grow in the exercise of authority must abandon all human effort to earn or establish such authority; whether this be trust in personality, spiritual gifts, theological education or any other human attribute. In the thought world of scripture God alone has ultimate authority; “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1 ESV cf. PS 62:11; 2 Cor 4:7). Even the most hideous powers of evil are “given authority” from heaven (John 19:11; Rev 6:8; 13:2, 4, 7, 17:12-13). The foundational Reformation slogans of grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone and Christ alone are as true today as ever before. This is why Paul prays for the Ephesians that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17). He does not mean that they lack Jesus’ indwelling presence, but that through faith in the finished work of Christ he will dwell more intensely in them and as such their knowledge of God’s power and authority will grow. In other places the apostle uses the expression “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26), this has a special reference to suffering.
Authority and Suffering
Jesus himself said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:17 ESV). He did not mean that the love of God was conditional, but that the experience of that love depended on obedience. Jesus was always sinless, but came into the fullness or maturity of the indwelling presence of God’s glory only through submission to the death of the cross .
It is suffering which challenges our belief that God is a faithful, loving and good Father. Our response to pain, deprivation, rejection and misunderstanding reveals the true extent of our spiritual authority. Paul’s apostolic testimony moves in this sphere, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10 ESV cf. Phil 4:11-13). As Paul knew supernatural presence and power through frailty our faithful obedience through sacrifice for Christ’s sake intensifies the indwelling presence of his Spirit and grows our functional spiritual authority. Another way of putting this is: Jesus disciples us in exactly the same manner as he was discipled by the Father (John 15:10). There are no exceptions to this mode of life.
Illustrations: Yonggi Cho, Ed Silvoso, Miles.
Ultimately all authority flows through Christ to us from the Father; “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Cor 8:6 ESV cf. Eph 4:6). The passage in Hebrews which relates Christ’s perfection to his passion (Heb 5:7-10) points back to Gethsemane. Here Jesus prays in the most uniquely intimate way; ““And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.””(Mark 14:36 ESV) Unlimited anguish is united to the tenderest awareness of the heart of God as Father, “Abba” , with an acknowledgement of sovereign power, “all things are possible for you.” It is this complex of revelatory truths actualised in the midst of suffering that deepens Jesus (human) faith that God has the authority “to kill and to make alive”, that is, to crucify and resurrect him from the dead (Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6; 2 Ki 5:7 cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28). This means that the gospel of divine Fatherhood is the framework for all legitimate exercise of authority. God has moral and spiritual authority over our consciences because he is revealed as a faithful Father. This loving authority is the only true authority in the universe.
The revelation God gave Paul of the gospel, that God raised Jesus as his Son from the dead in the power of the Spirit, is the foundation for his apostolic authority; “(Christ Jesus) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5 ESV) . Paul makes the connection with fatherhood more explicit when he writes to the troublesome Corinthians, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Cor 4:14-16 ESV) Exactly what this means for Paul is expressed more passionately in his letter to the Galatians, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19 ESV). This is a spiritual father who is like a mother in the pains of child birth. The sort of mature authority that God is looking for in his Church today is one that faithfully images suffering freely borne for the sake of others. It is only the indwelling Word from a suffering father that can communicate the whole counsel of God, the fullness of election, adoption, justification, sanctification and so on (Acts 20:27). In a time when there are many pressures to “professionalise” ministry only this form of authority is uniquely Christian.
True spiritual authority is rarer than we would care to admit, and what is taken to be authority is often a mixture of personal charisma, spiritual gifts, education, rank or reputation. Authority as a fruit of grace must be “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 cf. 1 John 2:20, 27). This is where we face a major obstacle in the Church today. Unless we know the Spirit as the one who proceeds from the Son of the Father (John 15:26; Rom 8:15-16; Gal 4:6-7) we will always be confused about the nature of authority. Spiritual truths such as these can only be known “from the inside” (1 Cor 2). There is no remedy for ongoing ignorance apart from the one commanded by Jesus, discipleship.
The crisis in discipleship in the contemporary Australian Church, its confusions and indiscipline, mirrors the crisis of fatherhood in wider Australian culture. The average Caucasian Australian lacks an image of an intimately present Father, whereas ethnic Australians are generally possessed by a dominant father image. Jesus liberates us from the fears of both of these father-abandoning experiences and makes possible unconditional obedience to his commands. To know the indwelling Father through the Son delivers us from seeking the favour and approval of men; “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 ESV cf. Rom 2:29; Eph 6:6; Col 3:22; 1 Thess 2:4). This is the call to true authority and it can only come through a particular form of relationship. Some may want to call it mentoring, others modelling and it is certainly discipling. According to the pattern of the post-Pentecost Church, this relationship is one between spiritual fathers/mothers and their children according to the relationships that God has appointed.
Appendix 1: Cultural Approaches to Authority
Western culture prides itself on the democratic principle of governance. Individual rights and equality are worshipped; this is what is at the heart of the current debate about “gay marriage”. Everyone knows that Australians, perhaps more than any other people, have an issue with authority e.g. our “tall poppy syndrome” is world renowned. No doubt this goes back to the very origins of Australia as a modern nation, a bunch of convicts lorded over by soldiers. This is a unique heritage and a very painful one that has come down the generations. For example, if you ask the average person on the street who was the first American President they will nearly all know the answer. But ask the same group, “Who was the first Prime Minister of Australia?” and they may all be clueless . The Aussie attitude to politicians is symptomatic of a much deeper issue. This came home to me in a very pointed way last month. We had just got off a plane from Vietnam, where respect for authority is very high. Catching a taxi home the first thing I noticed was how dismissive the driver was to the authority of the official at the taxi rank, and then he started speaking about our Prime Minister derogatively as Juliar Gillard. Since all authority from parents through to P.M.’s is given by God we must confess that our national disrespect for authorities reveals a blatant disregard for the honour of God (cf. Rom 13:1-2; 1:21). Ingrained attitudes to hierarchy go very deep amongst Australians, including (unashamedly) myself! E.g. I was with some African pastors recently and they were all graciously calling me “Dr.John”, when I kept telling them, “Just call me ‘John’”, one of the guys who has lived here quite a long time, remarked, “He’s an Aussie. ”
Most Australians are, like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, “secret rebels” Outwardly indifferent to spiritual things they are in their deepest heart fiercely opposed to God’s Lordship . The motto “no one can tell me what to do” goes very deep into the heart of what it means to be Australian. This has radically affected the preaching of the church. Contemporary churches are often fixated on being comfortable and attractive, but few dare preach repentance in a biblical mode. The average preacher doesn’t want to be thought of as overbearing or controlling; though many are. In my opinion, the typical ethnic church has an equal but opposite problem.
In South America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa I have encountered the “spirit of the strong man”. The apostolic founder or “senior pastor” of a group holds an authority that can never be questioned; this hierarchical approach to authority is expressed in a multitude of ways e.g. when I was reading a Nigerian Church’s newspaper congratulating the “mother” of the denomination on her birthday the picture of the lady that appeared on each page was the largest image, the picture of the senior pastor of each congregation was a size smaller, and the picture of the associate pastor a scale below that. What sort of a trinity do you thing that images?? It represents an image of God as Father who is somehow dominant over the Son and the Spirit. This is very common.
Some years ago I attended a meeting held by some Chinese folk. I appreciated their earnestness, zeal and prayerfulness, but when it came to the hymns exhorting us to honour our fathers and mothers I believe we had slipped from the Bible to Confucius . I have vivid memories of the look on the faces of my theology students from Asia when I was lecturing and would say something like, “There must be some areas of theology where my understanding is wrong, I just don’t know what they are. I have changed my mind over the years about some things and no doubt will in the future.” The notion that the authority figure could be self-confessedly fallible seemed not only very foreign but indigestible.
Appendix 2: Jesus’ Authority as God
There are two contending schools of thought to explain the source of the authority of Jesus. The first is that Jesus exercised his authority as God, the Second Person of the Trinity. It was natural for Jesus to give commands to nature, demons and humans because he was the Creator and Sustainer of all. No orthodox Christian can deny Jesus identity as the Second Person of the Trinity, so there has to be a sense where this interpretation is true. Some miracles seem to confirm this position, “And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”” (Matt 14:28-33 ESV). There are however very serious problems with this line of interpretation.
If authority flowed from Jesus simply because he was God, then Jesus’ exercise of authority is not a model for us. We can at best imitate Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit, but since we are not God, we cannot fully share in his authority. More importantly, this theory strikes at the heart of Jesus’ personal identity as a human being.