Monday, April 18, 2005

Authority Issues



+ Irenaeus of Lyons

I wrote previously that

...trust is the willingness to feel badly [because of our relationships with one another], and deciding that in the light of the healing and love we’re receiving from Christ and his Church, we will stay with one another, and be obedient to him anyway.

If we will risk this, if we will accept the potential pain that comes with these relationships into which he calls us, then we can obey.

When discussing Clement's "come to Jesus talk" with the Corinthians, I wondered when one is justified in throwing off authority? Clearly, it depends on the nature of that authority.

I probably don't need to describe the destructive context of obedience, which is possibly what many of you are thinking of right now: signing over one's personhood to some powerful or charismatic figure who will take a very paternalistic role because one is just not clever or good enough to make one's own decisions. Often the decisions made by the authority figure will be for his own benefit, or the perceived benefit of "the community" at the utter expense of the individual.

Obviously, that's not godly authority, nor holy obedience.

The proper context of obedience occurs in communities in which the members are dedicated to one another for "the long haul." If God really is transforming us in that context of commitment, we can trust one another to care for us. Authority is not found in the dictates of a central figure, but in the counsels of the community at large.

We are responsible to one another, to listen.

We are responsible for one another, in healing, truth-telling, and sharing burdens.

Life in God's New Community draws us out to share our brokenness and confusion, as well as the joys and disappointment of everyday life. That intimacy is a gift we give God by handing it to one another. The recipient of the trust has an obligation to speak truth honestly.

Here's where it gets really difficult: that whole "agents of redemption and change" stuff.

The intimacy comes around to redemption, not mere catharsis. We do this because we believe that the Holy Spirit gives wisdom to the community for its healing. That wisdom will come through the counsel of friends in the community. That means that we have an obligation to listen our friends. Not to agree, and certainly not to obey slavishly, but to create a non-defensive place in ourselves in which we can really listen.

There is pain in that.

We're used to feeling pain because authority so often negates personhood instead of offering God's healing. But in trusting, loving relationships, it means something else. It's the pain that comes with realizing that we as individuals cannot be the final arbiter of God's will. It's the pain that comes when we cannot live according to our momentary whims - for we are dedicated to something bigger than ourselves. It's the pain that comes with learning we don't have the freedom - or damning responsibility - to orchestrate our own redemption.

There is another freedom in that. It's the freedom of listening to a Jesus who isn't mediated to us only by our own understanding. It's the freedom that comes with not needing to be right all the time in order to be "successful." It's the freedom and rest that comes with knowing that this community shares one's burdens. One does not succeed or fail alone.

What do you think? What is healthy authority? What is healthy, holy obedience?

4 comments:

Rick said...

Great post. I think so often folks get concerned with making the "right" decision that it can actually prevent them from making the halthy decision. have attempted to ask myself what is healthy? Obedience to God can change considerably when I view things froms a perspective of healthy.

Discernment is always for the next step.

Nice thoughts. I enjoyed your post.

Rick

Timothy P. said...

This is something that I have been dealing with quite a bit lately. I appreciate this post, because it put into words what I knew in my heart. It is hard to walk in holy obedience when there is a parent or elder or authority figure who has a very different opinion of holy obedience. Many who grew up with modernism believe that holy obedience is doing whatever they say. You have identified the problems with this school of thought.

I would be interested in seeing someone unpack possible bridges that we (gen-Xers/millinals/postmoderns/community driven people) could build with those who have gone before us. How can we lovingly enter into community with them, and express to them that "even though I am not doing what you say, you are respected, and loved, and important in my community"?

Allison said...

Oh, you damn "emergent people." (That was kind of a joke).
IF we, as a community, are dedicated to the Truth, then I think an equal authority for all its parts would be healthy for that community.
BUT, go to a SB, Meth., Pres., whatever church...you'll be able to recognize the designated lay people who seem to have more authority than the congregation.
Get in this emergent mix of churches...you'll find the same, although somewhat less intentional, I think. You'll be able to identify the "designated talker" or "discussion leader", whatever. There is a little bit of a higher authority in both scenarios.
Both are healthy. Both have the ability to encourage growth as a community if that authority is accepted humbly and carefully.
Pretty sure you weren't pinning the one against the other...that's just where I took it.

Kyle said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Rick.

Timothy, I think you ask a really good question. I think do build those bridges with the other Christians (who indeed ought to be fellow members of the Community), we have a share the things that make for a common life, not just discuss "the way things ought to be done." I think if we get to talking about that, we've already missed the point considerably.

Have coffee, go fishing, whatever. In my relationships with the "normies," I've been seeking to share "redemption stories," about how God is healing people in our own contexts.

That doesn't mean there's not a place for discussing seriously and frankly the matter of how some ways of being together ("doing church" if you must) are much healthier and more efficaciously redemptive than others -- there is. Indeed, some of those ways of being together that many honest, good, faithful people engage in are just really bad for them. That has to be discussed. (Where's Alan?) But that can't be the starting point -- we've got to trust each other first.

Which is why I probably couldn't discuss this with, say, Al Mohler. Oh well.

Allison, I think "careful" is a good word to use. And you're right, I would never argue for a strict egalitarianism in the community: clearly, not all members could handle that that responsibility, and not everyone has the gifts to exercise it in a helpful way. A leader can't lead if no one is following, I guess?

Thanks, folks!

K+