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Monday, 1 October 2012

A Different Kind of Authority

I guess I used to think that authority in the church was basically the same as authority in the world but that we were nice about it! I thought that when Jesus was telling us not to lord it over people like the Gentiles do (Mark 10:42-45) that he was just talking about the way in which authority is exercised. We were still to exercise authority 'over' people but that we were to be gentle and considerate about it.

Because the kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36), I now see that authority  in the kingdom and therefore in the church - the kingdom community - is of a totally different nature, kind and order. Authority in the kingdom is not 'power over' but 'power under'. It is not hierarchical - it is not about who's in charge, who has the last say, where do the lines of government lie, who's accountable to who? When we think that way, we are beginning to imitate the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we must look to the Godhead for our model.

In the Godhead there is total equality, yet not one that is grasped at (Phil.2:6); rather, there is a willing, voluntary, beautiful submission of the Son (and the Spirit) to the Father. It is in this model of the community, or family, of the Godhead that we must find our example. As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth. And the heavenly model of family is the context in which authority must be understood.

For of course there is still a place for authority and leadership. And in the church that includes issues of direction, decision-making, instruction, purposeful restraint (in the sense that it is not a free-for all, for everyone to do as they see fit) and even discipline. But they must be seen in the context of family - and the heavenly model of family (Eph.3:14-15) - in which the desire of the father/parent is for the realisation of the full potential of the son/child.

And it must also be seen in the context of the counter-cultural, 'power under' dynamic of the different kingdom - authority that serves, sacrifices and empowers. I hope to develop this more tomorrow.


  1. I like this Trevor - I think we often misread what the bible means when it speaks of those 'over' us. I long to see what the church looks like when we submit to one another in reverence to Christ.

  2. Yep, like this too. This kind of thinking could bring us to a completely new view on what leadership is and how it's implemented. If our view and implementation of leadership makes it hard not to 'lord it over' and hard to 'submit to one another' then a new way of thinking is what we need. Bring it on!

  3. Trevor this made me think about Robert Greenleaf's servant leadership philosophy which remains popular in the business world. Here's a flavour:
    I think one of our greatest challenges is to understand and articulate the nature and outworking of authority and leadership in a culture where everyone is free and powerful.

  4. Thanks for that, Mark. I am not very familiar with the world of business, but I liked this brief article; thanks for the URL. I recommend my readers to take a look.
    It makes me think that if business is getting into this - an inevitably this-world field of activity - how much more should the church, the citizens of God's different kingdom, be setting an example.

  5. Trevor I think church leaders could learn a lot from business leaders. I often hear church leaders emphasise that the church should not be led like business whilst I often see business leaders leading businesses based on kingdom principles. My sense is that church leaders critique business leaders based on a caricature of leadership that more resembles their own than your average business leader!

  6. Your point is well made, Mark, and I hear it!