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)
- power of right (privilege)
- the power of the rule of government.
Where I had identified three areas of authority
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.