Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Estate of God: No Moral Code Honors Him

This is the final part of series on authority that begins at the bottom of this page.

The word estate emerged from English/French languages roughly of the 12th-13th centuries. A noble of the day owned a large house amid an expanse of land and from which common folk would gain purpose and security. Working the lord's lands provided food, a hovel in which to rest, and in many cases military protection. The Magna Carta was forced upon the English king by nobles and the church as a guarantee of the rights of Englishmen (read land-owners) in 1215. England thereby entered a time of transition from the feudal period and toward a constitutional monarchy established in 1688. During this period the estate system developed into codified laws around land ownership and thereby became a legal term still used today.

The church has become an estate to be managed. Literally holding real estate, the church estate includes leadership as lord of the manor, a taxation system supporting the structure of governance, resulting assets needing to be managed, and a common people who serve, support and receive from a controlling elite. This organized system evolved from a simple format of association of believers into a structured hierarchical authority system which became formerly state-sanctioned under Constantine. From pre-Reformation to today, ecclesiastical authority has functioned as part of a three-pronged force in culture: a balance of political and religious authority often in conflict over the economic production capacity of human labor. Political and social thinking of Western culture moved from monarchy to democracy; so too the organized church mirrored this progression. Thus, organized church currently includes constitutions, church charters, whole books of instruction, and/or simply accepted practices of governance. These established codes uphold the shared beliefs and doctrines about God and serve to recognize the interests of those whose labor supports the whole. This strikes me as a logical consequence of the historical development of church experience within changing social/political thought over time. That church thinking and expression forms a corollary to human social and political development is predictable. This is not a charge of failure against the institutional church, but an observation of a consequence of the church's historical development.

Along that developmental line a basic theme of the Bible was lost. In Genesis, our Lord warned Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to only eat from the Tree of Life. God did not want His creation to attempt to establish moral codes of right and wrong. No such code could honor Him, as our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags. He intended Himself as the source of life and the fullness of the goodness possible within the human experience. The sum of the story between the Fall and now includes the revelation that righteousness is by faith, and that faith is in Jesus Christ alone. He is the Tree of Life. He intends His perfect conscience to substitute for our fallen one by the guidance of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit.

I recently read there are about 33,000 identifiable Christian denominations around the planet! Within these are variations and thereby extrapolations of church governance among this plethora of groups. However, I suspect a common denominator. In most, the leader or leaders function with authority over church direction generally, teaching of accepted doctrines specifically, the application of moral codes of conduct usually, and to greater and lesser degrees leaders exercise authority over the lives of believers. This circumstance, a splintered faith yet a fairly common view of authority is a direct function of the passage of time coupled with a knowledge of good and evil. Which of the 33,000 organizations produce life in the spirit as a function of faith in the Presence of the Holy Spirit and which do not? How shall we judge the good or evil of any of these? However, I contend our building of communities of believers into earthly estates with Christian moral codes as the organizing feature fails the plan of God. God is not pleased by moral codes. Examine His correction of the pharisees. Faith pleases God. Our complete trust in His governance, provision, and guidance in life honors Him.

(This post now extends past a usual barrier I have set for myself of length. However, I am going to finish these thoughts as one post. Apologies to those who prefer posts of more nominal length. Here is a good spot to which one could logically return, depending on level of interest, at another time.)

As I examined my experience both with authority and as a designated authority within a body of believers, I found myself lost in a very complicated maze created by the scriptures, the practice of my particular group and the practices generally of the larger church historically. The execution of authoritative practice became an issue for me as previously narrated.

I confronted a huge dilemma.
1.I knew the world and individuals to be lawless. I had fully proven that point in my life experience. I knew personally both as victim and as agent, the pain caused by selfish human decision-making. I had recognized and accepted God's solution to the rebellion--Jesus, crucified and resurrected.
2.However, the entity which held out Jesus to me, the church, had proven to be seriously flawed in practice. I held not just my particular group as faulty. I regarded the historical system as equally culpable.

Among the questions I needed to answer:

  • Why do men jockey for position within church leadership and other body life, while faulting others for the same?
  • Why do men trust manipulation as a tool?
  • Why did submission to church authority as taught from the scripture become onerous to me? And its corollary,
  • Was I just re-entering the rebellion?
  • How could a group where love had seemed to flow so honestly become so misguided?
  • Why did the larger expression of church often produce leadership that could not be personally engaged in the simple human act of eye contact? And its corollary,
  • How did some believers manifest personal authority when leaders didn't?
  • Does one group represent the Truth of Jesus more fully than the next? If so, why and how?

The solution I came to realize that answers all of the above and more:


God is love.

God's love is the order rebellious humans need.

God calls humans out of the rebellion against Him. This is an authoritative act.

God's love established the spiritual means for humans to escape the power of the rebellion—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

This is an authoritative plan on the part of the Father, which is entered willingly by Jesus as a personal choice of His in response to both the expressed will of Father and the joy it will bring. Jesus thus exercises the human will in an act of personal authority fully in line with the authority of the Father.

Jesus fulfills the passion of the act itself motivated by His love.

Therefore, God's love is the basis for His authority, and His authoritative actions have love as the end purpose.


God is love is authority.

Jesus taught not to call anyone rabbi (honored one), teacher, or leader (guide or master) for you are all brothers. This is recorded in Matthew 23:8-12. Just prior to this instruction, when the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked that her sons be lifted into His authority sphere by being allowed to sit at His right and left in His Kingdom, He summarized His answer with

Matthew 20:25. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them...”

Authority here and in the companion recording of this incident in Mark 10:42 is the only use of katexousiazo in the NT, which means to exercise authority, wield power. This is in stark contrast to the dominion reign of Jesus in context.

Most uses of the term authority in the NT as already noted are translated from exousia, which bears the first meaning of power of choice. It is a very interesting exercise to read the places where this word is translated as authority and substitute the meanings of

  • power of choice; leave or permission
  • physical or mental power
  • power of authority (influence)
in contrast with the meanings of

  • power of right (privilege)
  • the power of the rule of government.
Finally, I conclude a simple shift in our understanding of authority within a body of believers will support an increase in love within individuals, among them as brethren, and thus develop and significantly increase life in the Spirit of God within a body of Christ.
Where I had identified three areas of authority

  • parental/familial
  • governmental/business
  • ecclesiastical
It should instead be understood as

  • parental/familial/ecclesiastical
  • governmental/business

Within a body, I believe we need to shift understanding elders from “those in charge over the flock” to “those who know the authority of the familial love of God and lead others by example.” When I think about ones of more mature love simply regarding all other believers as brothers to be served, questions I asked on the nature and execution of authority all find logical and reasonable answers.

How the suggested model might function is the stuff of more posts. This lengthy one is ended.


postmodern redneck said...

Amen, brother! Jesus said in John 13, "By this all men will know you are my disciples, because you love one another." He didn't say, "because you have the right church structure...right view on the end times...walk (or don't walk) in certain spiritual gifts....

He chose love as the distinguishing mark by which the world should be able to tell we are His. And I concluded a long time ago that most of the problems of the churches today come down to the failure to love each other and our neighbors.

ded said...

Agreed and agreed. The answer is so simple.

Thanks for commenting, postmodern redneck.

Carey said...

Yes, the church is simple, but the world is not, and we are in the world. That is the problem.

Your well-constructed treatise ended with this phrase: "...questions raised about the nature and execution of authority within a body are eliminated."
While we can simplify these issues in our minds and in our discussions, we can never truly simplify them in the playing out of life itself in a fallen world. It's just not that simple.
Perhaps this why Jesus nipped one similar question in the bud:
On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, "Tell us by what authority (exousia)You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?"
Jesus answered and said to them, "I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: "Was the baptism of John from heaven or from Men?"
They reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'from heaven,' He will say, 'Why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'from men,' all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet." So they answered that they did not know where it came from.
And Jesus said to them, "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

So what's the bottom line? Authority is not as important as...what?
I think your conclusion is a good one. Love is what the Christ-centered life is all about.

craig v. said...

As a thought experiment it might be interesting to look at how church structure and authority developed in the early church (both during and after the New Testament). We can say they got it wrong somewhere and that the problem is rooted in a failure to love. The question is what specific decisions constituted that failure? I suspect a fair reading will stir us away from easy answers and give us an awareness that might prove useful in church life today. In other words, it might enable us to put feet on your profound thoughts.

Carey said...

Yes, looking at early church history a la Craig's suggestion is a good idea.
The problem is that the revealed Word of God did not end with Jesus, but continued beyond his resurrection and ascension. It therefore was extended to include the ministrations of one who had denied the Lord before the cock crowed thrice. God's Word also continued to encompass, and acknowledge, the definitive leadership of that formerly fanatic saint-killer whose Damascus detour led not only to his own conversion, but also to a new (and old priestly) direction for the fledgling church. This apostle, this Paul subsequently laid hands on selfish, egotistical,lustful (though redeemed, and being sanctified) sinners so that the emerging body of Christ would have leadership. Those apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and pastors who had received the anointing from Paul's hands...they established the pattern of imperfect (though anointed) authority that has proved so problematical for the last 2000 years. The rottenness that you have encountered, my friends, is none other than that contagion which was begun when the serpent spoke about the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is our condition until Christ returns. The mission of the church is simply to get the word out that there's a new day a-comin, and that we can each one of us, individually, stand against the power of sin and be made clean by the blood of God's Son.

ded said...

craig v.

Thanks for always participating.

It encourages me that you would think anything I had written was worth looking for feet to put upon it!

I appreciate the logic of the response. My search has turned into "Okay, Lord. What do we do now? If we are in a desert, then lead us out."

I don't think we have to worry about trying to fix the organized church by remedies based on our logic. However, I am not going to try and persuade anyone in it that they should proceed one way or another. There may be benefit from the search for answers you suggest, but I wonder if we cannot guess what went wrong.

One or more followers put their eyes on leaders in a way that was not trusting God and deferred when challenge was called for; the leader, too, had removed his heart's eyes from God and accepted that deference. The leak had sprung and the little Dutchboy wasn't there to even try and poke his finger in the hole.

I started to include a small suggestion for proceeding from here in the post, but decided it was too long already. The size of the blog post has proved a bit of a challenge to me. What do I say that remains focused on topic when my mind grabs at six different but interesting tangents?

I just started a book entitled Reimagining Church. I am thinking it will be much more useful than my thoughts.

carey-response to first comment:

Your feedback lead me to edit the post regarding "eliminating" questions. I eliminated the phrase.
;^)I get carried away with rhetoric and need the check and balance of brothers, which is the whole thesis of my take on authority. We should not do away with leaders, but leaders should have to answer to all the brothers as an equal.

response to your comment #2:

I infer two things from your comment.

You appear pragmatic and certain we must just live with the failure of men as the natural recourse of things. I would agree. I think that is why Jesus allows 7 X 70 forgiveness. His infinite grace and mercy applies even to those who take on leader responsibility.

You seem to be making the issue the nature of the man in the position. While this has bearing no doubt on what will be experienced, I disagree that we must accept living according to the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Men will be who they are, but I am reaching for a life in the Holy Spirit. This trumps man's wisdom.

In my mind, if it is true that we must be resigned to the constant tyranny of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then the crucifixion and resurrection did nothing to deliver us from sin. Why did you write Glass Half Full if pragmatism is the way we should live?

I think, and this is why I write, that we can find a place where we are at rest in the Tree of Life. This will occur for individuals and beyond as these individuals learn the way of fellowship there.

Since I throw out the label "pragmatist", I understand if you want to call me an "idealist!" The Mind of Christ is revealed in neither your knowledge nor mine, but in our love for one another!

If that be true, is it too much to expect those further down the path to uphold that among us?

Love ya', carey!!

Carey said...

I enjoy our banter. Thanks for the opportunity. You probably noticed I'm not real linear--not real point-by-point in my responses. That's because I'm so obsessive about being creative. I tend to read the whole blog and then shoot from the hip based on my incomplete comprehension of your well-thought-out ideas. Forgive me. Maybe your longsuffering blogly authority will teach me a thing or two about staying on track.
Meanwhile back at the tree, the tree of Life, that is...
Maybe what I'm trying to say is that, as we're perched up there in the Tree of Life (thanks to Jesus), let's look up at the sky from whence He will come, instead of down at the ground where those fallen apples from the past lay decomposing. How's that for idealism?
2.) Since you did mention, in one paragraph of your treatise, the governmental component of authoirity, I thought I'd throw this little firebrand in: One of my conservative pals forwarded an article to me in which some other conservative blogger was blasting Barack Obama (probably President Obama tomorrow) for criticizing the Constitution. Excuse me? If the document had been perfect, our forefathers would not have had to fight a Civil War over the unresolved issues four score years later. The Constitution, as amazingly accurate as it is in its provisions, is not, however the Word of God. For I have read the Word of God, and to the Constitution I must say: "You're no Word of God, sir Constitution!"
Am I rambling too far from the authority topic?
It's because: We're about to experience a tsunami of worldly changes. We need to, as Christians, closely examine how our ruminations about authority may pertain to the desperate world (and its authority sources) that so late and soon bears down on us like a mountain-down freight train as it careens through the dark of night. CR

ded said...

Great response!!

Yes, let's sit in the Tree and consider the sky above. There is no better way to ride out the tsunami.

Those of us who dwell in the love of God will have much work caring for those who are at the mercy of the baying hounds of an authority structure that knows nothing of love.

Reed said...

Great stuff gents. Somehow the Beatles "All you need is love...." keeps running through my head. Oddly enough through all the muck God is still lovingly working on redemption in all of these flawed systems. I agree ded, that there is no clear path as to where we go from here. Thanks for the opportunity to trod the path with you in the wild woods.

Josiah said...

I just wanted to note that I have enjoyed reading your personal history blog although I have not been commentin. I thought to add that we find his authority not only in the scriptures but in his current personal leadings and dealings with us. In a similar way we do not look to a church model in the scriptures alone but move as a people of faith with millenium of heritage and into a sure destiny. And the experience in the scriptures gives us a note with which we can harmonize as we make a new song unto the Lord.