God’s Authority, The World’s Authority

Image by Walt Stoneburner via Flickr

This is the second part of the sermon I’ll be sharing with Fellowship Church the first Sunday of July:

To say that the bible is authoritative is to say that we ought to submit to it, that we ought to admit that there is wisdom in here that we don’t know. It’s about agnowlodging that this book has something to offer us. But it’s tricky. Because the authority that the bible wields, it comes from God. And the way that God wields authority is not like the way that humans wield authority.

Human-styled authority comes in many different flavors. One flavor is is authority based on tradition. For example, most of us agree that people of older generations deserve a certain amount of deference, especially if they are related to us: has there ever existed an extended family that didn’t have a patriarch or matriarch? And then there is moral authority. For example, a person who has fought for the rights of the underpriviliged earns a certain type of respect from us. There is authority we choose for ourselves as individuals, as when we pick a church and a pastor to serve. On the other hand, there is authority determined by systems larger than us:we all know we get hired and our boss has already been chosen for us. We could probably list off hundreds more systems, people, and organizations that have authority over us.

 The interesting thing is almost every single one of these human made authority figures reaches us at a base level, at an animalistic level. I’d speculate that if we had never fallen from the Garden of Eden we would not be so easy to exploit in this way.

 Because when something in the world wields authority over us, it is playing on our fear. Or our ignorance. Or our jealousy. Or our our greed. God’s authority is both quantitativly and qualititatively different than the world’s authority.

It is quantitatively different: the sheer amount of authority that God wields over us is greater than anything else in the world. He is the maker of all things. Therefore his authority is greater than the authority of anything else in all creaton.

 But it is also qualitatively different. The quality, the nature of God‘s authority is different than the world’s authority. God is love and his authority appeals to the very best parts of us. The very highest.

 And I’m not saying that it’s easy to run the world according to God’s way of wielding authority. God’s style of authority requires imagination, it requires courage and creativity and there are times that it’s hard to see how it could work for the world to operate this way at all. .

 It wouldn’t work if When a police man pulls us over, we are not really free to say, “No thank you. I won’t take a ticket today. I don’t think I deserve one.” I don’t believe a fallen world full of broken people could be built any different way…

 But I am saying that someone living above this fallen world, someone not broken, could.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

7 thoughts on “God’s Authority, The World’s Authority”

  1. Can you explain more of this: “God is love and his authority appeals to the very best parts of us” how does this tie in with that God is Holy and Just. Are there real consequences to breaking His authority? Is God’s authority over just salvation and holy living or is biblical authority over-reaching in that the bible is sufficient for all of life now? can there be both sola scriptura and “all truth is God’s truth”? what does it mean to live under His authority?
    I’ll admit I need to go and read your previous post, but wondering what your thoughts on that is?


  2. Great questions, Steve. I don’t know if I can fully answer all of them. But I’m going to try.

    I think that there are real consequences to breaking God’s rules and expectations. I’m not thinking of ‘authority’ as a synonym for ‘rules and expectations’ though.
    I think that to ask the question about authority is to miss the point of His authority. Because his authority is not about appealing to our fear, greed, or even self-preservation. It occurs to me as I write this that if it’s true that “God is Love” and all the things that Paul says about love that they always quote in weddings (out of Corinthians, I think) are true, then we could rewrite those verses to replace the word ‘love’ with the word ‘God’
    I think if we take the idea of ‘holy living’ seriously it ends up being the same as ‘all life’
    I agree with the term ‘sola scriptura’ if it means that the bible is the most complete explanation of God’s love for the world that is possible. I agree with the term if it means that the bible is unique and experienced a special sort of inspiration and protection in the world. I think that a careful reading of scripture, though, implies that scripture is not the only source of useful information. For example, Solomon frequently refers to the value of wisdom. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to other documents not part of the bible. Various parables are riffs on culturally known tales. Some of the psalms and portions of the epistles suggest that the natural world can teach us things about God.
    The next couple posts are going to give the rubber meets the road aswer to what it means to live under his authority. In short, though, it means responding to the bible with all that we are.


    1. I believe we are on the same page in these areas. I sometimes feel that God’s Authority gets the pendulum, either God’s Authority is about giving us a good, happy life by following His guidelines and principles of life (“freedom is found in His Authority”) whether or not we trust in Him for salvation and truly commit to live our lives within His or it’s purely about sin and punishment and only about salvation.
      There is the sin and salvation part and there is the fullness of life and joy and blessings part (if we’ re willing to live the Matthew 5 way of gaining blessings, for example..). I see so many Christians, including myself at times, not seeking the bible and God for answers and comfort and peace and live by faith, which makes me think that we really don’t believe in God’s Authority. We like Jesus, but we don’t really follow Jesus. To really have God’s Authority, do we have to take it all (or have we really tried to know all it says) no matter what, over worldly “wisdom” (which seems to change as more knowledge is gained, so when is it really wisdom?) I think of issues like parenting, marriage, sex, addictions, forgiveness, anxiety, stress, anger, abortion, war, job satisfaction…live life issues.


  3. btw: I hope you’ll leave a reaction to the comment above, or to the next post. I’m always so thankful for your insight.


  4. Hi Jeff, I am a new reader here and find this conversation stimulating because I am considering a blog post on authority. I tend to believe that all authority comes from God, not that all authority is implemented in love, but that the authority over us is an instrument. The conflicts I want to examine are between authority , obedience and free will. Thank you for some terrific insights.


  5. Thanks for stopping by JT.
    Your comments got me thinking around the question you raise; in what sense does all authority come from God.
    One of the things that I think is worth considering is this:
    Joseph’s brothers, many nations opposed to the Hebrews, and even Judas and the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem all wielded authority. God allowed them to wield this authority because He is powerful enough to use their foolishness for his glory.
    I wrestle a lot with the portions of scripture that speak about how all authority comes from God. As I consider the above examples, I don’t come away with an easy and clean answer. But it does transform the question some.
    The question it leads to is in what ways and to what extent should we oppose people like this who are wielding their authority for evil. My tentative answer is that God partners with us in doing his will on Earth not because God needs our help but because this act grows us as individuals and communities. As a result, even if God allows someone or something to have authority, when this authority is being used for evil, I ought to oppose it.
    What do you think?


    1. Hi Jeff,
      Yes I am thinking along similar lines. If we look at the implementation of wordly authority all the way back to when the Israelites were clamoring for a king, and how God wanted to be in relationship with his people who continually rejected him. Fast forward to present times…nothing has changed we stiil reject Him and He still wants relationship with us. Hence though the Father knows that this authority he bestows will be used incorrectly, He also is still in the process of drawing people to himself, and the abuse of authority is another avenue to highlight our human condition and exposes our need for him.
      Absolutely we move against unrighteousness, when we are directed contrary to God by wordly authority, albeit it draws a fuzzy line sometimes, working out our faith seems obvious when we read it in the scriptures, and even more challenging in practical application, which brings us full circle back to our need for relationship. I apoligize if I seem a bit inconcise in my narrative. Thank you for responding and helping me to flush out some of my thoughts. JT


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